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    Real World Video Compression
    by Andy Beach
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My First Look at Episode 6

If you have ever read or heard me chat about the compression tools I use, you know Episode has weighed in heavily.  And that love of that application as a catch all dates back to when it was still Popwire.  Part of what drew me to this app orginally was how reminiscent it was of Terran's Media Cleaner Pro in terms of codecs and formats supports (lots) and the dials and knobs you could use to tweak the settings (also, lots).

The New Episode 6 Interface on Windows 7The New Episode 6 Interface on OSX 10.6







Back at NAB of this year, Telestream announced a major revision of Episode which has now launch.  Episode 6, now available in a few configurations is a fairly major update to the user interface and adds a whole new notion called workflows.

But workflows arent the only update - here's a quick rundown of what's new:
  • Episode Engine is now available for the PC.
  • Extended browsing, monitor and deployment possibilities. Bookmark, browse, monitor, and deploy to local folders, SMB network shares or FTP servers. You can even automatically upload to YouTube with metadata.
  • One click clustering: All versions of episode (Mac and/or PC) can collaborate and share work.
  • Built in file sharing: Episode systems will dynamically share content with each other, avoiding file sharing issues.
  • All mpeg formats (MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264) now use Main Concept codecs.
  • Split and stitch encoding is available in Episode Engine for mac and windows.
  • Split and Stitch encoding is available for all supported formats in mixed Mac and PC clusters.
  • Episode command line interface (CLI). See user manual for details.
  • Support for encoding to the new Google webm format.
  • ProRes codec is now included with Episode (all editions). This allows decoding (Mac and PC) and encoding (Mac) ProRes files without requiring the separate installation of the Apple ProRes codec.
  • New Colorspace Conversion Filter: Converts 601 to and from 709 color. In addition this filter can also convert video levels between studio (scaled) and Full (RGB) levels.
Of all these elements, here are the big standout features for me:
Cross Platform Support - Episode 5 brought about a PC version of Episode which I was very happy about.  I'm a cross platform guy - I often need to troubleshoot systems for others that are both PC and Mac, so I need to be up on both and often certain files are just easier to encode and manipulate on one OS or the other.
Clustering - Support for using both PC and Mac versions of Episode as a shared resource on a network for encoding.
Deployments - being able to save share points and then assign them to workflows
Workflows - the graphical interface for dragging together blocks of watch folders, encode settings and deployment points to create whole workflows that can then be saved .  This is such a logical way to work for me that I'm very happy to see it make it into the UI.
 Sample Worklfow in Episode 6
Webm Support - this is the first professional encoding application i've gotten my hands on that supports webm, so i'm excited to be able to play around with it more.  I've already tested out multiple freebie apps, but they always lack the control over settings I crave.

Three Flavors

Episode (priced at $495) includes support for Flash 8 & 9, H.264, Windows Media, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1, DV, 3GPP and much more, plus One-Click Clustering and file sharing, processing of one job at a time, and unlimited batch processing.

Episode Pro (priced at $995) includes Episode features listed above, plus support for high-end professional formats and parallel encoding of two jobs at a time.

Episode Engine (priced at $3,995) includes Episode Pro features, plus unlimited parallel encoding and Split-and-Stitch distributed encoding for high volume throughput at maximum speed.

Which version is right for you?

If you are just creating content for the web, the base model of Episode is likely all you need.  I typically run Episode Pro because I often find myself with a wide range of professional formats that are supported in it.  If you are encoding a huge amount of content regularly, episode engine is designed as a dedicated encoding station, similar to products like Rhozet's Carbon Coder or Inlet Technologies Armada.

If you want to see Episode Pro in action, check out the webinar I presented recently (September 28th).  I showed off some of Episode 6, though several different encoding applications were covered (in full disclosure, Telestream sponsored the webinar). 


Bound for Europe

September for me has meant (at least for the past several years) a trip to Amsterdam to take part in IBC.  This year is no different, though i'm heading out a little early to speak at a workshop the European Broadcaster's Union has put together at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.  They describe this program (called OCEAN) as:

OCEAN stands for “Open ContEnt Aware Networks”. It is a 3 year European Commission funded project (STREP) which started on 1st February 2010. Its mission is to design and develop a second-generation open content delivery system (CDN). The OCEAN system performs content caching in the broadband cabinets and exchanges, thus bringing the media files much closer to the end user than traditional CDNs. This additional caching layer is complementary to the traditional CDNs (such as Akamai, Limelight, Level3) and is interoperable with them. OCEAN deploys a network-controlled, content-aware, highly scalable and adaptive content delivery techniques. To this end, OCEAN may significantly improve the efficiency of the overall internet distribution mechanism.

For my part, I'll be there representing SeaWell (remember, my day time job?) and discussing using technologies like H.264 SVC as a way to reduce the number of encodes needed to deliver content to all the screens and resolutions they hope to reach.  It should be an interesting day and having never been to Geneva, I'm hoping to fit in a little tourist time before or after the event.

Then its off to Amsterdam and the International Broadcaster's Conference (or European NAB as I often think of it).  IBC is always a fun, and tiring event - it is a vast show with everything from High-end production equipment, mobile network delivery companies, and even a variety of transmission and radio companies (it's not a show without checking out the latest folding parabolic transmitter i'll never use).  It is also a reunion of sorts, as I'll run into old college friends, former work colleagues, and random people i've met in my time of working in the online video industry.  I'm also hoping to catch up with those attending the show who've read my book or followed my work in compression - its always fun grabbing a beer and chatting about the geekiest of production topics.  If you happen to be attending the show, use the RWVC contact form to drop me a note and we can plan to get together!  If you aren't attending the show, don't worry, i'll be posting a few notes during the show about some of the cooler things i see while i'm there.






Telestream Grabs Anystream 

Late last week it was announced that Telestream was purchasing Anystream from Grab Networks.  Anystream was the transcoding piece of a multi-company merger (first Anystream bought Cauldron Solutions, then merged Voxant, when they were renamed Grab Networks).   I spoke briefly with Dan Castles (Telestream's CEO) this morning regarding the acquisition.  Some, including myself, have questioned where this acquisition fits in at Telestream, as they have appeared to outsiders to be primarily focused on desktop and Mac based solutions for the past several years.  Dan says thats not quite right. "While we have focused in recent years on desktop solutions, it's only because this market didn't exist previously for us.  We started in the enterprise space and have stayed committed to it - in fact most of our engineers are still focused on products like Flip Factory and Vantage for our enterprise customers," said Castles.
Vantage is a newly announce addition to Telestream's offer at this years NAB and combines a number of features (such as transcoding and quality control) to create a more an automated workflow than previously offered.
Castles concluded by stating, "With this purchase, Telestream can deliver file based transcoding workflows for everyone from the consumer to enterprise customer, both on the Mac and PC."
Thats a pretty broad swath, but if you look at their portfolio, they do indeed have the products to back it up.  Telestream offers a range of products with a good mixture of both PC and Mac based solutions (though not all solutions are cross platform, it should be noted).
For desktop customers, Telestream offers a variety of tools including:  
Flip4Mac,  a plugin component for QuickTime that allows it to playback and trancode Windows Media Video on the mac.  Prices for Flip4Mac range from free (player only) to $179 (HD and SD, 2 pass encoding support, integration with Compressor and Final Cut Pro). Flip4Mac is a Mac only solution.
ScreenFlow Screencast ($99), a Mac desktop based screen and video capture and editing tool for creating your own video podcasts.  
Wirecast ($449) allows you to broadcast a live stream from your desktop or laptop (Mac based).
Episode Encoder ($495 and up) is their desktop based transcoding solution.  It is geared towards the prosumer set with solutions that start relatively inexpensive, but scale to include distributed encoding nodes and other high end features not typically seen in desktop applications (See Episode Engine on the enterprise list). Episode 6, the newest release is expected to ship in the next 30 days.  Episode is both Mac and PC based.
On the Enterprise side, Telestream has:
Flip Factory(starting at $5495) is their original high-end transcoding system designed for broadcasters to deliver content to a variety of platforms (mobile, web, TV, etc).  Flip Factory is a PC based solution.
Vantage (price undisclosed) combines transcoding from Flip Factory with capture, media analysis, management, and QC for completely automated infrastructure for transcoding content.  Vantage is a PC based solition.
Episode Engine ($3950 and up) expands the reach of Episode Encoder by allowing it to distribute its encoding tasks to server based nodes.  Like its front end cousin, Episode engine is both Mac and PC based.



Webinar Coming Soon - suggest topics!

I'll be presenting another free webinar in September (date is TBD) through the fine folks at The topic is specifically compression for the web and I'll highlight things like encoding for your own server vs encoding for YouTube and the like. What other areas of compression for the web would you like to see covered? Got a pressing problem or something you'd like help with? If so, use the contact link above to shoot me your request and I'll attempt to cover it during the event! Check back for details on date and time as well, that should all be wrapped up and announced this week!


News Re-cap from the Week

Lots of news has been hitting the web this week.   From OTT to Playon here is a rundown of this week’s eye catchers:

OTT (over-the-top)
WiPhoto by Mr.T in DC th announcements of Google TV, Streaming Media Global brings us a discussion over gatekeepers. In theory, he who owns access to the home can define what the consumer watches and pays for, this can be critical to broadcasters who want to push their content. This article reviews some key challenges that the major players will face.

More on TV

Paid Content reports that Cablevison has been working on a new service that lets digital cable and broadband subscribers see the content of their computers on their TV’s. Executives were fairly quiet about it during last week’s earnings call but reported that it is working very well in trial. The experiments they have been trying will allow viewing on iPad, iPhone or PC. COO Rutledge envisions the iPad being used in Cablevision homes to access Broadcast TV as well as Video on Demand.

Hulu on your iPodtouchPhoto by Claustichi
Playon which allows users to stream personal media and other videos to gaming consoles has announced the ability for users to download video to the iPhone or iPodTouch without downloading an app. This will open the ability to view Netfix or Hulu on your iPhone or iPodTouch. The next task on the list for Playon is compatibility with the iPad.

Google and Verizon to End Net Neutrality?
Photo by hiconomicsBoth Google and Verizon denied to the New York Times that they are trying to end net neutrality. Reports from Mashable however do seem to inidicate that they are in fact talking.