by Kevin Louden, Product Manager at Telestream
In today’s fast paced digital world, the adoption of file-based video encoding technologies for content creation and distribution is happening at an accelerated rate. Today’s encoding solutions, which compress or convert video and audio between a variety of formats, must accommodate the needs of a broad array of customers — from the casual at-home user to the video expert and industry professional.
Regardless of the user’s level of expertise, it is important to select an encoding solution that offers extensive format support plus the highest quality and fastest video encoding speed. For many users, the ability to repurpose content for distribution to a growing number of new media channels, such as web, DVD and mobile phones, is also very important.
There are various stages in the digital video workflow process, however, one of the most critical and challenging is encoding, since this step has a direct impact on the ultimate quality of the viewing experience. With the many complexities that are involved in video encoding, this step can make or break the end product if the “right” solution is not selected.
Many of the challenges experienced during the encoding process involve file format compatibility, optimizing picture quality, and/or processing speed. As a result, video encoding can be viewed as complex due to the many variables at play, including an ever-growing number of video codecs, frames sizes and frame rates required for viewing on everything from HDTV to mobile devices.
With this in mind, it is important to find an encoding solution that addresses all of these variables and simplifies the process while offering maximum flexibility to distribute your video to more viewers in the highest quality, regardless how it is being viewed. The best solutions on the market not only ensure the highest compression quality, but also include the ability to apply video processing filters to ensure the highest visual quality of the finish content.
To help you better understand the video encoding process and produce the highest quality output, the following list has been created for your consideration:
1. Plan the Video Encoding Workflow
Your encoding tool needs to do more than simple video and audio compression. Being able to accept multiple source formats from a variety of locations and then transcode them into multiple destination formats – for TV, web, DVD and mobile devices – should all be part of the standard transcoding workflow. That said, it’s important to assess your workflow plans to find a solution that best maps to your current encoding needs, while offering the flexibility to address future needs.
2. Decide on the Destination
The nuts and bolts of the actual encode are important. What is your video source and what does it need to be transformed into? The target-viewing platform will most often dictate the specifications of the file it requires, e.g. mobile phones. Other platforms are more flexible, such as general computer playback. This requires a tool that offers a broad range of settings and variables that allow you to customize your video to accommodate a wide array of specifications for each destination device, including TV, computer, laptop, DVD, mobile phones and portable viewing devices.
3. Find Format Flexibility
Digital video files come in many different flavors. Do you need to encode the video into a few formats or many? It’s important that your encoding tool be able to support multiple formats, both for reading or decoding the source, and for writing or encoding the target format. Since formats and viewing platforms are constantly changing, it’s important to choose an encoding tool that is frequently updated to support these needs.
4. Transformation Process
During the transcode process, other transformations often need to take place, such as picture size scaling, frame rate conversion, and de-interlacing. These pre-processing or transformation processes are just as important as the actual compression or encoding, as they have a direct impact on the final visual quality. Be sure to confirm that the tool being considered can perform these often times difficult transformations with pristine quality. Some encoding tools include preset templates to simplify this process; others allow you to customize the settings. The ability to fine-tune the transformation process, using templates or customized settings, assures that the content will look its best to the viewer.
5. Quality is Key
Does the encoding tool use the highest quality codecs? Select a tool that provides high-quality output and gives you the flexibility to fine-tune and adjust your encoding settings, not only for maximum quality, but to adapt to a constantly changing landscape of viewing options.
6. Speed is Important
Associated with quality is the question of speed. Video encoding is a very intensive process that can take time. It is dependent on the software used and the computer hardware being leveraged. In some instances, high quality content can be worthless, if it cannot be delivered to the customer in time. Having a tool that is optimized for speed and has the ability to accelerate the process can be an important business decision when selecting the “right” encoding software. Also, with much of the viewing choices today going HD, the question of speed becomes even more important because of its file size and the computing intensity. Your encoding tool needs to be able to deliver high-quality content in a timely fashion.
7. Audio Complexities
Let’s not forget the audio. With HD picture comes immersive surround sound audio. Can your encoding tool handle these multi-channel mixes? Content now travels around the world, and content providers need to be able to deliver a single piece of content to viewers with different native languages. Consider how the encoding tool is going to allow you to transform a single master source to multiple sources with different languages.
8. Editing and Fine-tuning Capabilities
Does anything need to be added to or taken away from the source material during the video transformation process? Does the file need to be trimmed, or does it need to fade in? Is there a new open or close or watermark brand that needs to be added to repurpose this material for different markets or viewers? It will be beneficial to have a solution that allows you to accomplish these tasks during the encode process.
Do you need more than simple video and audio files? Is there any metadata that needs to be associated with the content to make it searchable? Many viewing platforms and devices support metadata, key information about the media content, such as the name, a description or keywords to assist with searching. It is also important that your encoding tool be able to handle this metadata.
10. Price and Productivity
Lastly, there is the question of cost. Does the encoding tool fit into your company’s business model and allow you to make money? Finding a cost-effective video encoding solution without having to compromise quality, flexibility, speed and ease-of-use will make owning and operating the tool all the more beneficial and profitable for your business.
At the end of the day, you want to get your content to a variety of people who consume video in an ever-growing number of ways. A good encoding tool will ensure that your users get the best viewing and listening experience – no matter how or where they watch the video. The ten considerations listed above should not only help you evaluate the strength of video encoding solutions, but should also help you recognize that there are various characteristics to look for when choosing the “right” encoding solution.
The quality of the software selected will have a direct impact on the overall quality of your video output and as discussed above, tools that offer an effective combination of speed, quality, flexibility and ease-of-use will equip you with the most dynamic encoding resource. Video technologies and formats will continue to advance. Your encoding solution must in turn be able adapt to the growing complexities that can come about, thereby meeting your evolving business needs.
About the author:
Kevin Louden, Product Manager at Telestream, has over 16 years of experience in video production, working on projects ranging from national television series to live multi-camera events and single camera productions. Since joining Telestream in 1999, Kevin has helped users around the world get the most out of Telestream’s hardware and software products.