Review: Digital Rapids StreamZ

The only downside on the setup was the analog breakout cable, which can be used on the analog or analog/digital cards. This cable is fairly short (about five feet in length) and very heavy; since it uses a large multi-pin connector, we found it required a stress loop to relieve pressure, which shortened the usable length a bit more. Still, going under the assumption that the breakout cable would be connected to longer cables behind the rack, this may only be an occasional annoyance. If in doubt, go for the option breakout box, so that connectors can be easily accessible from the rack’s face.

Resiliency Testing
The first test was a hardware test involving the server itself. We booted up, let the system get to full operation, and then pulled the power on one of the two power supplies to verify that the StreamZ’s redundancy worked as advertised, which it did without incident. We then turned on the Persistent Streaming Mode option, started a transcoding session, and then pulled the power on the second power supply, to see how the system would recover. It rebooted back to the Stream Enterprise software and began the transcode again.

Digital Rapids also has a Persistent Streaming Mode for live encoding, and is in the process of finalizing a product called Stream Broadcast Manager, which can control many StreamZ systems simultaneously in a failover configuration, so that if one system goes offline, another can immediately take its place. The other benefit is that Stream Broadcast Manager should be able to set encoding to run as a background service so that it can launch immediately upon reboot without requiring human intervention to log in.

Software Features
Digital Rapids’ resellers prefer to sell turnkey systems, as these units are typically placed into an existing production or post-production environment, which favor the appliance or turnkey approach. But while one can buy a DRC-Stream card and breakout cable or breakout box for use with other software programs via WDM drivers, the user would be missing more than half of the total solution, as the standalone card only comes with a limited version of the StreamEnterprisesoftware, StreamLE.

The StreamEnterprise software is robust and well-designed for both production and post-production workflows for encoding, transcoding, and deck control. We requested a system with beta software (the latest version we tested was 2.2.78) and were pleasantly surprised to find the beta release was stable and performed well. The 2.2 release adds some additional features which made the beta review worthwhile, including keyframeable software video processing plug-ins (such as color space conversion and video-on-video overlay) and enhancements to MPEG-2 live streaming, with RTP and RTSP support added to the existing UDP support.

The HD version also includes a new software program, a standalone HD preview player application that allows clip playback through the SDI and VGA outputs.

If transcoding is your primary focus, think of a StreamZ system as the core of your transcoding solution, as it can handle manual and watched folder modes. If live encoding is an integral part of your production or distribution workflow, StreamZ systems also meet exacting specifications for encoding/streaming in multiple formats and bit rates. If your workflow requires both a transcoding and an encoding solution, and speed is paramount, strongly consider putting a Digital Rapids StreamZ system on your short list.

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