Telestream Looks Back at 20 Years of Video Transcoding

Through the mid to late 1990s, many new products came to market using a variety of digital file compression formats (mpeg, jpeg, fractals)) and disk-based storage. The most common of these included systems used in production (Abekas), playout (Profile), editing (Avid), etc. but these systems were used as file-based “islands” connected using conventional analog or digital (SDI) video signals. New standard and proprietary codecs (MPEG, JPEG, etc.) emerged as companies sought higher resolutions and efficient file sizes.

At the same time, web formats (Windows Media, QuickTime, RealVideo) were becoming increasingly important for professional review and collaboration but were still a “novelty” for consumer distribution. While these products and formats were of major significance, the full benefits could not be seen without some way to interconnect the different systems.

In December 2001, Telestream introduced the industry’s first “enterprise class” video transcoding software- FlipFactory- which not only allowed compressed digital files to be directly transferred and converted between disparate production systems over IP, but also automated conversion to the web distribution formats of the day.

Over several years, the number of different formats increased—both in production, editing, and contribution, but most of all in final distribution with the introduction of OTT formats such as HLS. FlipFactory became an important mainstay of broadcast transcoding for many years, with many thousands of licenses sold around the world.

This was also the beginning of the Telestream Media Framework—proprietary software which represents the collected knowledge and experience that powered some of the most important media workflows in the world for the last 20 years.

A Struggle for Standardization
During the period between 2001 to 2010, Telestream saw continuing advances towards an IT/file-based broadcast industry, with many valiant attempts at standardization on a common format, mainly through the efforts of the MXF group. In spite of these efforts, many different file/codec/streaming formats emerged, developed for almost every stage of the supply chain. Acquisition, production, contribution, distribution, and true interoperability were increasing challenges for the industry as it moved from a “signal” based model to “file” based infrastructure using software and COTS hardware.

Transcoding Meets Workflow Orchestration
In response to all these developments, Telestream’s next significant technology development came in April 2010, when the Vantage Media Processing Platform was launched, adding intelligent decision-based workflow orchestration to the increasingly complex transcoding process. Vantage workflows allowed orchestration and automation of complex media processing tasks and broad interoperability between different systems in the new file-based ecosystem. Vantage included a set of transcoders which were designed to suit the needs of specific delivery models: broadcast, cable/IPTV and newer ABR/OTT formats (HLS, Smooth, DASH).

It became quickly apparent during the move from SD to HD to UHD (and more recently WCG and HDR) that substantial increases in compute power were required to process and transcode content. As a rule of thumb, an HD file takes 3x to 4x more CPU cycles than an SD file, and a similar increase is seen when UHD is used. The move to Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) delivery requires multiple concurrent transcodes which further increases demands. Unfortunately, these increased processing requirements outstripped the “Moore’s Law” of CPU speed increases.

Hardware Acceleration
In response to these changing demands, Telestream invested substantially to allow the use of GPUs to accelerate the transcoding processes. This came to market as Lightspeed Servers with the first model launched in 2012. Lightspeed applies massively parallel computing using both CPU and GPU technology to media processing and encoding.

The latest Lightspeed models operate over 5x faster than the first models and are now able to use multiple CPU architectures (x86, ARM) and multiple GPU frameworks (CL, GL, CUDA, Metal). As well as enhancing operational efficiency, Lightspeed technology helps media companies to substantially reduce their power costs and carbon footprint.

During this time the number of formats kept on increasing, so much that Telestream Vantage now has hundreds of transcoder components specifically for production, IPTV/VOD and for OTT media encoding along with over 20 third party “connectors” and plugins for workflow orchestration.

VMs and Cloud Migration
The industry never stands still, and the next phase of development came in 2017 with the era of containerization. Telestream worked to adapt existing software products to run efficiently on virtual machines in both on-premises and cloud environments. This involved substantial investments to refactor all of Telestream’s transcode software to run in containers across multiple operating systems (Linux, MacOS, Windows).

This made it easier, faster, and cheaper to deploy Vantage on Virtual Machines and Cloud computing platforms, and more importantly it eased the path towards the development of consumption-based business models that can run in any (or multiple) cloud infrastructures (AWS, Azure, GCP, VPC) for those customers who need this level of flexibility.

Recognizing that each customers’ requirements are unique, Telestream created two complementary ways to manage and control its cloud based transcoding software.

Vantage Cloud Port allows workflows to be designed in the comfortable graphic UI of the Workflow Designer, and run in any cloud location required, with charges based on content duration. This provides continuity for existing Vantage customers who are moving workflows and workloads to the cloud.

Telestream Cloud Transform provides all the Telestream Media Framework capabilities in a modern JSON/API centric model, thus appealing to the developer or “Devops” customer, or those who wish to manage systems using their own workflow orchestration.

Customers may choose to run Vantage on COTS servers, purpose-built Lightspeed Servers, or in the cloud with Vantage Cloud Port as SaaS, or the Telestream Cloud Transform Service. They may even elect to run a hybrid model in any public cloud, or their own virtual private cloud (VPC). Regardless of the deployment, the Telestream Media Framework guarantees that the content they produce will be of the same technical specs and quality every time.

Looking forward to the next 20 years
As formats, codecs, and processing environments continue to change and evolve, similar challenges will present themselves. How can the company do process more media with less resources as quickly as possible? How will media consumption evolve over the next two decades? These questions will be answered as they have been answered, by a dedicated team of media processing and workflow experts at Telestream that are thoroughly invested in the future of every organization that creates and distributes content in the M&E industry. Telestream looks forward to working with you over the next 20 years.

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