You might not think about video transcoding software very often, but the technology it takes to prepare all those videos you watch on your iPad is helping drive new developments that will enable a very different experience of online video in the future.
"Video on the iPad," says Sam Blackman, CEO of video transcoding company Elemental, "has become a game changer for interest in video delivery to mobile devices." Did you know that almost every video broadcast online now needs to have 20 different copies of it made? Faster, cheaper transcoding technology could change that, too; some day, multiple personalized versions of every video could made for every individual who wants to watch it.
Today: Making 20 Copies of Every Video
Elemental announced this week that its software now runs on Intel machines, in addition to the support for Nvidia chips it has offered for several years. Specifically, Elemental now leverages Intel's new Sandy Bridge chips, which were widely criticized in reports yesterday for including baked-in Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.
While that's a real buzz-kill to the consumer markets Sandy Bridge is aimed at, the technology at issue will hopefully remain interesting and will certainly be applied in interesting ways in contexts where DRM is taken for granted. If you don't buy that, then consider this a discussion of all the cool power that Intel's application of DRM will put a damper on for consumers.
Here's what Elemental's video transcoding looks like today.
Elemental can today create a newly formatted copy of any video in 20X real-time, something essential in a world where Apple, Google and Adobe all require 5 to 7 different copies of every video to serve up depending on a consumer's bandwidth.
The company does this by using a multi-core GPU, the chip originally intended to process graphics in our computers, instead of simply the single-process serial computation of the CPU. That's an increasingly common tactic among many different companies, but Blackman says Elemental's unique IP lies largely in "deciding what parts of the image processing algorithm to do on GPU and what part to do serially on the CPU."
Below: Elemental's consumer product, Badaboom, runs circles around iTunes transcoding, the company says.
The Future of Real Time Video Transcoding
Today, video providers make 20 copies of each video just once - because the cost of transcoding is higher than the cost of storing those videos.
Imagine what might change in the world of video, as Moore's Law and other factors drive the price down and the speed up for video transcoding.
"As we can drive the cost of the computational piece of transcoding down," says Blackman, "it really opens up what you can do."
Right now, Youtube or whoever has to store all those copies of a video and they have to replicate all those videos throughout the [Content Delivery] network for fast starting. Right now that's because the cost of storage is lower than the cost of transcoding. As we get faster and faster and drop the cost around transcoding, instead of storing 30 copies around the world, you could store 1 copy and transcode in a custom way for a customer, perhaps specific advertisements and product placement. We have a long way to go before we can get to that scenario.
"Right now there's no way to customize ads on video, imagine if ESPN could target those ads directly to me as a viewer. If you were doing video formatting in real time, you could do customization in real time and make it much more valuable for advertisers. We're just in the very beginning of the monetization process, it's going to have to happen because there is a lot of content."
Blackman says he sees possibilities like product placements and changing billboards in videos beginning to arise in 2012 or 2012. I hope that real-time personalized transcoding will be used to do far more than just personalize advertisements, but ads are what pay content producers' bills - and online video needs help figuring out how to sustain itself.
"We use off the shelf CPUs and GPUs and nowhere else is Moore's law more powerful," Blackman says.
More power to video transcoding equals more real-time, more personalized and more as yet unexpected possibilities. That's why video transcoding technology is so interesting.
Disclosure: Intel is a ReadWriteWeb sponsor.