Industry Perspectives: Keeping an Eye on Video Quality
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Big changes are afoot in the broadcast business, and a faultline is appearing in the industry as content distribution pushes further online. Major announcements from large media companies backing online video channels and pushing out premium "TV" content without DRM over the internet are shaking up the industry. Where this is leading us is a question on many people’s lips as we stand either side of this digital divide wondering what innovation is going to fill in the gap. One thing is for certain: Whether program content is delivered online or through more traditional broadcast channels, the issue of image quality remains as important now as it was in the days of the Baird Television Development Company—delivering the best quality signal given the limitations of the technology that connects us to our audience.
Online video is made possible through the use of video compression technologies and broadband internet; they have become much more efficient in recent years allowing us to squeeze video of reasonable quality to audiences around the world at rates that would have been impossible a few years ago.
However, the process of encoding video, one could argue, has become oversimplified of late and this has resulted in a lower than achievable quality of content being pushed over the web. Everyday we see video appearing on high profile networks, professionally produced content that has not been correctly encoded for online delivery. It looks bad, but it does not have to be this way!
An unnecessarily high level of encoding artifacts are present in many video items online that result from the transcoding of video from one format to another at different bitrates.
It would also seem that a large percentage of online video is being pushed out as interlaced video. This is not broadcasting, and the audience are not seated in front of television sets—the online audience consumes their content through iPods, LCD’s, PSP’s and a myriad of other devices that are all designed for progressive scan video. The upshot of all of this is low-quality video, a sub-optimum viewing experience and fatigued audiences.
As with the business of TV, keeping the audience engaged is the key to staying in clover. Delivering low-quality images can cause a viewer to go elsewhere, perhaps another platform or perhaps ditch the content altogether. Delivering the best-quality video within the bandwidth constraints that exist will mitigate this risk and serve to maintain the interest of your online audience.
How one goes about encoding video for online delivery has a major impact on the quality of the end product and of the user experience. The process should not be simply limited to video compression; there are many small items which when combined and addressed effectively will make your content shine online. At Moving Media’s Digital Video Lab, we have learned through our experience, gained through encoding many thousands of video items on behalf of our clients, that building a process that covers a range of key areas ensures a high-quality product.