What is Video Transcoding?

Transcoding is the digital conversion of a media file from the original format, to a media file of the desired format. This is done to make video files smaller and easier to manage, as well as to make them more compatible with certain devices and players.

On the surface this may seem simple, but this process actually requires a lot of physical resources as well as powerful software to support the large amount of formats, codecs, features, and special use cases that exist in todays digital video eco-system. This article will tell you more about how transcoding for video is being used for a wide variety of new applications and how you can benefit from the best transcoding solution for your business or personal use.

Why is this important?

The video market is currently booming and consumer demand to watch videos via the internet is at record levels. Coupled with this demand is a large supply of video content being released online, from TV shows to popular vloggers, internet channels,  independent movies, mobile applications and online subscription services like Netflix. These companies and many others are responding to the growing demand of billions of people who absolutely love watching videos every single day.

In the US, 55% of people will watch a video online every single day. With new 4G signal speeds and a wide range of wifi enabled devices, people will spend an average of 30 minutes a day watching videos on their cell phone alone. Corporations from all over the country are are seeing this as a new opportunity for growth and video advertising is expected to reach 23.7 billion dollars in 2017. By 2019 digital video advertising will account for almost 40% of the digital display marketing spend for agencies.

Almost any video you will watch in your life has been through a transcoding process, whether during the editing stage, while being saved your computer, or even when it was uploaded to your favorite video sharing site. Everyday, there are new breakthroughs in transcoding to make the process easier, more affordable, faster and more secure. In order to provide your viewers with the best possible experience at the lowest possible cost, you need to be on top of the latest trends in this constantly evolving landscape.

Overview of Video Transcoding

In order to distribute content to their consumers in the most effective way, companies are always exploring better ways to compress and playback videos. This has led to the innovation of many new formats, codecs, delivery processes, resolution needs and features for better control of the eventual output. After decades of video content creation, there are now thousands of different variations that can exist for all the different applications for video in today’s world.

Generally, video transcoding is a very server intensive process and traditionally companies have used special hardware to transcode their video content themselves. With the growth of streaming video from the internet, many new innovations in online video technologies provided both the opportunity and the demand for people to create cloud based services for people to easily fulfill their transcoding needs via API.

There are a lot of different features, formats and processes you need to take advantage of in order to get the most out of the available online services for your video content. We’ve created a quick guide for you to get to know the basics of video transcoding in today’s internet age.

How can you actually use this?

Before we cover all the options, let’s define the most popular use cases are for transcoding video files. By learning about all the use cases and the differences between them, we will have a better understanding of which approach may work for us, as well as why the differences in formats, codecs, resolutions and delivery methods are important.

Websites and Mobile Applications

In the digitally connected world, people have become used to having media at the tip of their fingers, instantly accessible within just a few moments, swipes, or clicks. They have become extremely impatient when it comes to loading times for media of all formats. With the large bandwidth requirements associated with high quality video, companies are in constant pursuit to provide video playback that is smooth for the entire video and frames that do not stutter or halt. Additionally, with screen size for phones and TV screens getting larger every year, quality continues to be one of the main points of the decision making process.

Usually their videos use codecs with adaptive streaming and their videos are encoded into multiple resolutions for dynamic playback. Depending on the variety of unique devices they want to reach with their content, they may even consider transcoding the same video into many different formats.

Live Video Streaming

On the fly, live transcoding software creates streams for all the different formats and resolutions you need. The stream directly from your camera is sent to a transcoder that supports live streaming, which then encodes the stream into many different streams, and then further into individual packets. Then, each packet is synchronized with respect to the timeline of the video which allows the live stream to be broadcast in real-time to all of your required channels across all mediums, each with the ability to switch between the resolutions dynamically without buffering or skipping a frame.

Often broadcasters, youtube personalities, gamers, and large events often utilize on-premise hardware for live streaming transcoders to reduce latency and connectivity issues. Also, there is plenty of software available for amateur streamers which allows them to do the live transcoding right from their computers.

Film Studios and Post Production

Traditionally, transcoding is used for all the video before beginning the editing process to make the files more manageable. Certain codecs work better with video editing software, which can drastically cut editing times. Additionally, smaller file sizes mean easier sharing and cost-savings on storage. After editing is completed, the final files need to be transcoded again, this time into a variety of formats and resolutions for proper distribution across the various channels globally, each with it’s own specific requirements.

Transcoding Decisions

From some of the examples above you can see that each requires very unique and specific solution for their transcoding. There are even more unique options for services and features for every part of the transcoding process. In order to make the most efficient solution for your business it’s important to understand what the main components are of video transcoding are, and what makes each solution important yet different in it’s own way.

Cloud vs On-Premise

A company can choose to build special transcoding servers in-house, or they can use a more scalable approach and integrate with a cloud video transcoding company. On-Premise solutions have generally been too expensive for most companies, providing only companies with large body of content that always needed processing, and the budget to support it. Cloud solutions are generally more scalable, have less financial and educational barriers to entry, and are future proof against the changes in the video industry. The the accessibility of virtual servers growing every day, on-premise solutions are seeing a decline in market share with the gap widening every day. Ultimately, it all depends on the use case. For some movie studios, the uncompromising security of an on-premise solution may outweigh the enormous potential savings in cost. You should review your situation and make the decision that will bring your company the most overall benefit.

Formats

HLS

HTTP Live Streaming is Apple’s protocol developed as part of Safari, OS X, QuickTime, and most importantly iOS. Since the video file is delivered using HTTP, it allows you to easily distribute your videos across iPhone, Apple TV, Mac and many others. The thing that makes HLS so unique is that it can optimize video quality within any given 10 second chunk, giving users the resolution that fits their network dynamically in real-time.

You can learn more about HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) from Apple’s Official website.

MPEG-DASH

MPEGs Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP is similar to Apple’s HLS solution, since it divides the original file into small segments that can be swapped out for each other in real time in case something changes with the internet connection. The goal of MPEG-DASH was to create the first universal standard, and adoption is growing with every day. Although HLS is the more popular format, but adoption for MPEG -DASH is growing every day. Unlike HLS, it’s codec agnostic which means you can add the codec of your choice, like h.264, h.265 (HEVC) or even VP9.

To learn more about MPEG-DASH, you can visit the Motion Picture Experts Group official website.

MP4

Also known as MPEG-4 Part 10, this container format is very commonly used to store videos, images and audio. This format separated itself not only with high efficiency, reliability and quality, but also due to many supported features like (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) and DRM (Digital Rights Management). All of these benefits and features make it very capable of being streamed over the internet and it has become one of the most popular formats for sharing.

 

Popular Codecs

H.264 (AVC)

This codec is famous for running smoothly on nearly any device, from iPhones to Laptops. It’s also very quick to encode, making it a huge timesaver. The main drawbacks are less than efficient encoding, causing the file sizes to be larger than ideal, as well as a lack of support for the higher resolutions, like 4k and 8K. Another huge drawback is the licensing fee that must be paid for it’s usage. H.264 often sits in the MP4 container format however it can be used with other formats as well.

H.265 (HEVC)

This codec is much more efficient that it’s predecessor, so much so that HEVC literally stands for High Efficiency Video Codec. As a result, file sizes are as much as 50% smaller using this codec. Although it isn’t widely supported at the moment, the demand from companies to save so much on data storage is driving increased compatibility. As with H.264, a licensing fee is required to use it.

VP9

This is a royalty-free codec created by Google shortly after they purchased On2 back in 2009, which owned VP8. They made the VP8 open-source and shortly after released VP9. VP9 has great performance for playback do large, high-quality videos. Although the playback is even better than HEVC, the encoding is fairly slow and many players, like VLC, still have a lot of problems playing VP9 content.

AV1

The AOMedia Video 1 codec was designed by the Alliance for Open Media, an organization formed by Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. This organization was formed in response to the growing demand for royalty free codecs.

As a result, many people are now working on the next generation of video codecs promising to make it easier and more efficient for us to consume the videos we love so much. Google even cancelled their VP10 project, which was supposed to reduce file sizes for VP9 videos by 50%, just so that they can work on AV1. Thor (from Cisco) and Dalaa (from Xiph) also joined the Alliance for Open Media and merged their technologies with AV1

NETVC

Is another royalty free codec currently being developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The are hoping that this will be the standard of the future and are currently testing results are expected to be released December 2017.

 

Transcoding Features and Terms

DRM

Digital Rights Management systems can be added to video files to protect them from unauthorized access. It can be used to prevent playback through restricted devices, or even protected from copying and distribution. Although this is used for many copyrighted works, it’s far from being universally accepted. Most governments have protections over DRM systems and have laws in place to punish those who try to bypass these systems without permission.

You can learn more about the most popular DRM systems below:

Microsoft PlayReady – With huge support and a wide range of useful features, this continues to be the most popular DRM system.

Apple Fairplay – Used for Apple videos and AAC files in the iTunes store and designed to work well with HLS files.

Google Widevine –  Supports many devices and even formats that are unsupported by other DRM technologies.

Adobe PrimeTime – Used for adobe flash in many internet browsers and computers.

Closed Captioning

Also known as subtitling, closed captioning is included in many videos used for broadcasting as additional components within a given video file. These captions span across many different languages and often increase a videos accessibility locally and around the world. There are also many different formats for closed captioning, and often times transcoding software can even re-encode one captioning format to another.

Thumbnails and Preview Images

Often times, transcoding software can create screenshots of a certain point in the media file to create a thumbnail which can be used as reference for that video on webpages and applications. Companies can even create multiple images for each video that can be used in the players timeline as “Preview Images” before they choose to jump to another part of the movie.

Transmuxing

When you don’t need to alter the video, transmuxing is used to simply change the container format, making it accessible through channels and devices which would not be compatible with the original format you transcoded. This process is much simpler and easier than transcoding, but since it tries to avoid manipulating the file it as much as possible, it only has the narrow use case we described above. Transmuxing is short for Transcode-Multiplexing and can also be referred to as rewrapping or repackaging.

Transrating

In order to reduce bandwidth for video streaming or simply to reduce digital storage, files may have their bit rate reduced without actually changing the format or codec. This is done mostly for codecs with adaptive bitrates.

Trans-sizing

This is the resizing of the video to better fit the desired channel. Often you can see a notice before a movie starts on your TV that says that the file has been made to fit your TV, this is trans-sizing. Often it is used alongside transrating to make it easier to play videos over lower bandwidth.

 

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