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By Matt Smith

Vice President and Principal Media Evangelist at Brightcove

Having the Right Tool for the Right Job


We’ve all heard the adage I’ve called out in my headline before.  Whether you’re hanging a picture on a wall, fixing the wheel on your child’s bike or tweaking and tuning video compression, it always pays dividends to have the proper tool for the task at hand.

And no knock on pictures or bicycle wheels, but the process of tuning video compression (and the codecs therein) is not only hard work, but also an ongoing exercise.  For those less familiar with the dirty business of compression - the net result is that you the viewer are able to consume video in its most pristine form, regardless of the size of screen you’re watching on.  Modern day compression and delivery is very serious business, and at Brightcove, we take this process very seriously.  Our video solutions suite is constantly tuned to ensure that we are maximizing every bit of bandwidth to make every frame of video that you see as a user pops and is visually compelling.

Film noir as a tool

Which all brings us to Meridian, Netflix’s latest contribution to making video great again (not that it ever wasn’t great - pardon the political pun).  The eleven-minute video short was released to all 83 million Netflix viewers last week, not that any of them would have noticed.  No - Meridian was purposely created for us video people and the products and experiences we build every day, and here’s the link to prove it.  The average Netflix viewer won’t be able to make heads or tails of the content on that page, but it is gold to those of us who engineer, design and deliver video experiences today.  To the casual viewer, Meridian is an interesting short that is shot very well and is thematic and eye catching, all the while encapsulating some image sequences that are vital to test compression and viewing experiences.

This isn’t the first morsel of video tuning goodness that our friends in Los Gatos have provided.  Anyone remember the clip with the guy poking in and out of fir trees and doing cartwheels on the Netflix campus?  I once spoke with an industry journalist about the subtle nuances of said Netflix guy, whether those were his well-manicured hands in the fountain shot, and where he might be skipping off to in order to deliver that old familiar red envelope.  We could wax on all day about the content in both these clips, but the important thing is that they serve a purpose for OTT video.  They help us continuously get better at delivering compelling video experiences, as the bar is continuously set higher.

More about the video toolbox

Performance tuning and sample clips are nothing new in the streaming/OTT video space.  For the uninitiated, there are hundreds of video clips with intriguing names like blue_sky, Big Buck Bunny and DCI StEM, that have been used to performance tune the content you view on a variety of endpoints - from cable and satellite to tablets, smartphones, Apple TVs, Rokus and beyond.  In layman’s terms, many people are working hard every day with the goal of optimizing every pixel on the screens you watch so that you’re a visually happy viewer.  This is where compression and codecs come into play.  The original film and television formats that our favorite shows and movies are edited, stored and delivered in are very rich and dense (think big, honkin’ files) and are compressed in order to reach us in the theatre or on the device of our choosing.  Compression helps ‘squeeze’ these big honkin’ files into versions that help save channel count on your service provider’s network and on the content delivery networks (CDNs) that we use to consume our OTT.

So now that you’ve mastered the journeyman’s Compression 101 course, more about the tools.  Netflix’s Meridian is helpful in that it provides us with another reference source in our library of video clips, that has been professionally shot using the latest equipment and workflows. Also, free is a great price!  There are some very expensive and robust tools on the market with which we use to test and configure compression schemes.  That Netflix has provided another professional sequence to help with this process is great.

Good compression is no squeeze after all

Given the reception and buzz Meridian has created amongst us dedicated video-heads, it will be somewhat interesting to read the viewer comments on the title in the days to come.  At Brightcove, we are committed to beautiful video experiences across every screen on behalf of our customer.  When an industry leader like Netflix makes a new tool available, count on us to be among the first in line to see if we can leverage it to our customers benefit.  In Netflix parlance then. the verdict is in as both viewers and technologists:  Five Stars - and we’re hoping that subsequent seasons are released so that we can continue to binge watch and create rich, visually compelling experiences for our customers.

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