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April 5, 2012
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Transcoder aims to streamline production, reduce inventory

The idea of “just in time” manufacturing is associated with the automotive industry, especially with inventory-reducing logistical processes implemented by Toyota in post-war Japan. Now a video technology company known for its transcoding prowess is adopting that tag as it aims to help minimize costly bottlenecks in multi-screen video distribution.

RGB Networks is adding “just-in-time” packaging (JITP) capabilities to its TransAct Packager, the hardware or software-based component in its TV Everywhere solution that formats, segments or “packages” H.264 video streams into the four major adaptive streaming protocols: Apple HLS, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, Adobe HDS and MPEG DASH.

RGB introduced its TransAct Packager at the November 2010 Telco TV conference. It focuses only on packaging and encrypting. In the RGB portfolio, transcoding is handled through its high-capacity Video Multiprocessing Gateway (VMG) and TransAct Transcoder. Adding JIT capabilities to its Packager is an attempt to reduce the asset inventory required in TV Everywhere deployments that cater to an increasing number of video display devices.

“When you’re doing this in VOD or network PVR, if you’re going to deliver video to different devices, you put it into all formats,” said Ramin Farassat, VP Product Marketing and Business Development. “Why? Because you don’t know which ones will be used.”

The Just-in-Time manufacturing prototype

The number of required versions scales up as the number of resolutions required for each screen increases. The idea with JITP is to package not beforehand, but rather only when a client requests it. Much as automotive manufacturing tries to streamline operations by delivering components to a factory “just in time” for production on an assembly line, RGB’s JITP proposes to make video distribution more efficient by reducing costly inventory of stored assets.

“First detect the client, then resolution, then package right away at that instance,” Farassat said. “Do it in real time.”

In modeling cost curves for this enhanced functionality, RGB found that the business case makes sense even for Pay TV operators with relatively small numbers of subscribers and few hours in their video library. The RGB model assumed $2,000 per Terabyte of storage. “One of the interesting things is that the cost of disks has not gone down for many years,” Farassat said.

What certainly has gone up is the need for Pay TV operators and their content partners to prepare content for many different screens. In an interview for a Videonet report on Scaling Multi-Screen Video, HBO CTO Bob Zitter explained that five years ago the HBO media production center would make about 500 long-form program assets per month.

“It might be different versions: the SD, the HD, the PAL, the NTSC,” Zitter said. “Today, we’re making over 100,000 different versions per month.”

That astonishing 200-fold increase in version rendering has led HBO to implement what Zitter called “new manufacturing processes.” In particular, HBO has turned to a high-level mezzanine format and is looking for “commonalities” in areas such as metadata and video players.

For several years, the premium on companies that can provide these kinds of efficiencies on the distribution side has been rising. Cisco bought transcoding specialist Inlet Technologies in 2011 for $95 million and has incorporated it into its Videoscape architecture. RGB itself acquired software-based transcoding company RipCode for an undisclosed amount in 2010. Harmonic acquired Rhozet in 2007.

Farassat said that the JITP capabilities were “being tested today in two of the largest operators in the U.S. market.” Comcast Ventures (formerly known as Comcast Interactive Capital) is one of RGB’s financial backers. RGB will demonstrate JITP at NAB in Las Vegas in mid-April.