April Showers Bring Encoding Quality, Player Customization, and Faster Uploads

Interest in online video continues to accelerate across many industries and throughout the world. Customers are getting more numerous, but they are also getting more sophisticated and demanding. We stay ahead of this wave of requirements by implementing agile development operating on 30 day iterations that resulted in a shipping release every month.

I'm going to focus this post on just a few of our recent innovations in the areas of quality and customization. We've just rolled out a new adaptive encoding engine, new player customization technology, and geo-optimized uploading.  These are features that may not be as high profile as TV Everywhere, Android, HTML5, and Facebook Open Graph, but they help our customers succeed in fundamental ways, and we're really excited about them.  Here are the details.

Adaptive Encoding Engine

A few months ago we added a brand-new scrum team charged with rearchitecting and completely overhauling our encoding infrastructure. We challenged the team to deliver a new encoding farm that was faster, more efficient, more functional, and that delivered just plain better quality than what we have been using up to this point. They nailed it.

In addition to the fundamentally better quality, the new encoding engine offers advanced features such as:

  • 2-Pass Encoding that delivers the optimal resolution and clarity for every hit delivered over the wire
  • Non-Square (a.k.a. Anamorphic) Pixel Correction that detects video that was shot in widescreen format and automatically corrects it so that it doesn't come out of the transcoding system looking "squished"
  • Source Frame Rate Detection that improves quality by encoding video at the same frame rate as the original source, which can also help with audio synchronization issues common to many formats
  • Mobile Video Angle of Rotation Correction that detects a video that was shot with iPhones and other mobile video cameras that capture video in 90°, 180°, and 270° rotation angles so that the video comes through the transcoding system properly oriented
  • 10X Faster Transcoding that gets content live faster than our old system and does it with better quality than ever

So does all this advanced technology make a difference in real life? Yes! Below you can see a video encoded from a 1080 HD source using the default settings and delivered using our standard multi-bitrate streaming with the default six renditions ranging from 261Kbps to 1.5Mbps. If you wanted to deliver even higher quality, you could add another couple of renditions on the high end through custom encoding settings, but I wanted to show the default experience here to offer a sense of what the average customer will see without any extra effort. The visual clarity you see will vary based on your available bandwidth and CPU utilization and the rendition selected, but hopefully you will like what you see.

 

You may be wondering how this new engine compares to the alternative online video platforms on the market today. Let me begin by pointing out that encoding is an art, and that hand encoding individual files is always going to offer better quality than default. On any given day on any given online video platform, you may see outstanding quality, so it is very tricky to make blanket statements about quality. It is very hard to compare encoding quality across different content. We haven't done a comprehensive comparison of all online video platforms, but we did do some spot checking using the same content encoded using default settings.

Below you will find two video players that are showing a single 700Kbps rendition of the same content encoded with the new Brightcove adaptive encoding engine and the encoding engine of another online video platform that appeared in last year's Forrester Wave comparison of online video platforms. We uploaded the file to both systems and encoded it using the default encoding settings. Then we extracted the 700Kbps renditions from each account, uploaded them to another Brightcove account, and associated them with the Brightcove player you see below. We've done our best to remove all other variables from the equation so the only difference is the actual quality of the encoding of each system. Needless to say, we're very happy with the results.

Brightcove Encoded File

Alternative Online Video Platform Encoded File

Custom Player Themes

One of the most powerful parts of our platform is Brightcove Experience Markup Language or BEML. It's an XML language that makes it incredibly easy to change the appearance and functionality of the Brightcove player. BEML solves the problems of customers who want to create customized player experiences but do not have Actionscript programming skills. BEML is a language that any traditional web developer can pick up easily, but it is incredibly powerful, and no other online video platform offers anything like it.

Since introducing BEML in 2008 we've been gathering feedback for how to make it even better. One thing we've heard is that there can be a somewhat tricky handoff between interactive designers who live in tools like Photoshop and Flash and developers who typically pick up the task of BEML development. We challenged our team to come up with a way that an interactive designer who knows some basic Flash, but who does not know Actionscript, can create custom player themes using BEML. The team delivered, and we're calling it Custom Player Themes.

A complete tutorial on how to take advantage of Custom Player Themes can be found here. To give you a taste of what's possible, a designer who knows a little Flash can independently create and apply themes like the one shown below.  The first player is the default look and feel.  The second is the themed player.

Default Chromeless Player

 

Chromeless Player with Custom Player Theme

Player with custom theme for Help Center: http://support.brightcove.com/en/docs/custom-player-themes

This is pretty cool stuff. It really opens up the creative possibilities of BEML to a wider group of people, making it easier than ever to get that custom, branded look and feel that makes your site stand out. This capability is now available to all Brightcove Professional and Enterprise customers, and we can't wait to see the next wave of stylin' players from all around the world.

Geo-Optimized Uploads

There is also one more sleeper feature that is just too cool to overlook. It's called Geo-Optimized Uploads, and it solves the problem of slower uploads from regions that are far away from our primary data center in Massachusetts. We now detect the origin of every user that is uploading content to our platform, and we route their upload to the remote ingestion farm in the data center that is closest to the customer. This change has already accelerated upload times by an average of 65%. That's material.

We're really excited about these recent innovations in our platform. The net effect is that content will get live faster, look better than ever, and create a favorable brand impression that lasts.