Inlet Technology’s Spinnaker improves MLB.com workflow
By Carl Lindemann and Andrew Lippe
MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) is completing the job begun with adopting Microsoft’s Silverlight with the launch of Inlet Technologies Spinnaker streaming solution on opening day. “Inlet’s Spinnaker allows us to produce multi-platform video at up to 1.2 megabits per second, up from just 700 kilobits per second in 2007, a dramatic enhancement of video quality and overall user experience,” says Justin Shaffer, senior vice president of new media, MLB.com. “We’re always pushing the limits of what is possible.”
The broadcast-quality live encoding for out-of-market games delivers new capabilities that allow for producing almost instant replays. Producers can clip segments from the live stream allowing for a drastic reduction in turnaround time for delivering highlights. Inlet has also delivered what it calls Mosaic, a utility that creates lower resolution proxies of the high-res streams and bundles them so that fans can monitor thumbnail-sized video of up to six games simultaneously.
“MLBAM wanted better quality video steaming this season as a compliment to Microsoft’s Silverlight,” says Neil Selvin, Inlet Technologies’ president.
The advance that the new platform provides begins with a major jump in the stream’s bitrate, and the attendant image quality increase.
Shaffer noted that the encoder uses the VC-1 codec (which is the SMPTE name for Windows Media). The VC-1 codec is ideal, for it integrates with their Microsoft Silverlight platform. Microsoft Silverlight delivers live and on-demand video on MLB.com and the 30 club sites. The MLB.TV Mosaic, which is produced by Ensequence, allows up to six games to be watched simultaneously, also benefit from the installation of the Inlet encoder. Using Inlet’s Spinnaker, fans can customize their player and view thumbnails of up to 16 games played at once.
“Spinnaker gives MLB the power to create real-time highlights without the need for additional transcoding,” says Shaffer. MLBAM installed approximately 50 encoders in the MLBAM office in New York. MLBAM uses Apple Final Cut Pro along with Inlet encoders to edit highlights. Game highlights can be viewed without any buffering.
According to Selvin, this is just the foundation for the added utility delivered. In the past, delivering clips from a live stream meant waiting for an appropriate moment to close the stream, and begin production on the finished file. With Spinnaker, producers can cut to the chase.
“We’ve developed tools to clip highlights from live stream. In earlier generations, you had had to ID what you wanted to clip, reencode, and store before being able to post it online. Now, you just mark the ‘in’ and ‘out’ point in the live stream, and the rest happens instantly,” said Selvin.
The upshot is that the time needed to post highlights collapses dramatically. Instead of waiting up to 45 minutes to go from event to online clip, Spinnaker brings this down into the sub 5-minute range. By making highlights available fast, fans can quickly compare notes on plays by reviewing the action while their attention is at a maximum. This is expected to generate more interactivity and interest.
“Video can also be viewed in 16: 9 as opposed to 4: 3,” says Shaffer. To produce high definition video MLB utilizes Swarmcast technology. Swarmcast shares video between computers on a similar LAN, to allow multiple users on the same network to enjoy high quality video and conserve their bandwidth.
The added bonus is Mosaic, Inlet’s utility that gives the audience the ability to monitor up to six games simultaneously. With this, the dedicated fan suddenly has a view of the sport akin to a TV producer watching multiple screens.
“The new technology this season creates an experience on MLB.com that raises the bar on interactive sports programming,” adds Selvin. “This turns all consumers into their own producers.”
Time will tell whether rank-and-file fans will take to this. According to Selvin, there isn’t a single magic formula for presenting game content that needs to be discovered. Still, some fundamental things apply.
“At the end of the day, consumers want video to play and we want to make sure the experience is as good as possible,” Selvin says.