New products from Sorenson, Encoding.com make sense of video encoding 'chaos'

Jim O'Neil

Encoding.com and Sorenson Media, two of the biggest video-encoding specialists in the market, both released new products this week that spoke to the accelerating fragmentation of their markets, as an expanding universe of devices and video codecs continue to make life challenging for content producers.

Encoding.com made news with its new Vid.ly platform, which actually encompasses a couple of innovations for the company. The highlight is it's ability to generate short URLs, as in, say, http://vid.ly/0x1y2z, or, if you're willing to pay a premium, http://vid.ly/JimONeill/0x1y2z. I uploaded a short, slow-motion video of my dog slurping Gatorade from a bottle (hey, it was the best I could do on the fly and I wanted to try the slow-motion feature of a camera I've just picked up). It was simple to upload and Vid.ly emailed me the link when it was finished encoding. The beauty of it all was that the video was ready to go in 14 different formats for five browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, Opera and Safari, as well as for mobile platforms Finn and Gatoradeincluding Android, Apple, BlackBerry, Nokia, Opera, Samsun and Sony Ericsson, and on Nintendo DS, PSP and Wii. It was that fast, and that simple.

And, that's the free version.

The pro version, Encoding.com President Jeff Malkin told me, is slated to roll out by the end of the first quarter and will address the professional media workflow with features like an API to programmatically add, delete or modify a high volume of vid.ly urls, the ability to use vid.ly urls with your own CDN network, and the ability to customize the encoding profiles for adaptive bitrate delivery for Apple iOS devices.

"Content producers are being overwhelmed with encoding demands for new devices, formats, browsers," Malkin said. "It's chaotic. They don't know how to do it, they can't do it and that's what we set out to solve with the launch of Vid.ly. We'll host the video, detect what device or browser the end-user is requesting the video from, and we will serve up the correctly optimized video for that device."

The free version, by the way, limits users to videos no larger than 1GB, but places no limits on the number they upload.

"We think the Twitter usage will be huge," Malkin said. "Just like when Bit.ly came to market and exploded, we see the same thing happening with Vid.ly."

Malkin said the "Aha! Moment" came in June and said Encoding.com has been working on it since July, devoting roughly half its engineering time to the project. "We're seeing larger and larger enterprises using Encoding.com, we're moving up the market," he said. "But we think Vid.ly will help us move down market to consumers and prosumers, and that's a big market to be in."

Sorenson, meanwhile, also just rolled out an encoding solution that it expects will help content producers and video professionals navigate what has become an increasingly dense maze of formats.

"While the fragmentation is going to be great for the encoding business, it's really tough on content producers," said Eric Quanstrom, Sorenson's COO. "The sheer volume of renditions per asset across the board is huge. Even two years ago, people viewed source: content as a 1-to-1 ratio. That paradigm is dead."

Instead, he said, the norm is for five to six renditions, minimum, for most files. "Netflix has about 100 renditions of every piece of their content," he said.

"For us, getting Sorenson Squeeze 7 to market was critical because we've been hearing from customers for months that they really want to find ways to get their encoding done more quickly to allow them to have more time to focus on their core business," Quanstrom said. "We think that that's what this upgrade is going to do."

Quanstrom said that when Google announced it no longer would support H.264 files on its Chrome browser, opting instead to focus its energies on developing its open-source codec, WebM, it prompted some hand wringing in the industry. "It was a shock to those who thought H.264 had achieved some sort of standardization," he said. "But it really is consistent with everything Google has been telling us about their philosophy. It does have enormous implications for mobile and tablet devices that have Chrome as a default browser."-Jim

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