Aprico, Elemental, and ViewCast Highlight New Offerings at IBC

Aprico, a fully-owned subsidiary of Netherlands-based consumer electronics giant Philips Electronics, showed several implementations of its patented recommendation and targeting technology, which is designed to personalize TV channels of live and on-demand content for viewing households.

The company has signed a 20-year agreement with Axel Springer, which publishes the European equivalent of TV Guide, to leverage Axel Springer's electronic program guide (EPG) metadata for the Aprico software development kit (SDK) that Aprico licensees use to pre-populate personalized channels for set-top box and PVR users as well as the core metadata to power the recommendation engine.

"In our market research with four-person households," said Thomas Dvorak, Aprico's VP of marketing, "we found that two pieces of information—the city and time zone—were all that were needed to populate two channels for the test households: a news channel and a prime time movie channel. By doing this pre-population of channels, we found that users would increase their viewing dramatically in just 17 days, compared to more than 2 months for many other current recommendation and targeting solutions."

Aprico demonstrated a Windows Media Center plug-in for Vista and mentioned an upcoming Windows 7 plug-in for Media Center will also be available. The software takes a holistic approach, offering both recommendations and targeted advertisements based on the channel type rather than the interests of a particular person in the household.

While the concept of personalization and targeting has been around for some time, one of the shortcomings has been the recommendation engines and need for massive search capabilities, both of which Aprico seems to address. We'll look at this an other targeting and personalization solutions in a future Streaming Media magazine article.

Elemental, which recently brought Andy Beach on as VP of marketing, showed off its plug-in for the Adobe Creative Suite 4 software suite, including Premiere Pro. The plug-in software, called the Elemental Accelerator, works with NVIDIA Quadro cards on a variety of workstations, including the HP Z800 and Z600 family of workstations and Apple MacPro machines.

Accelerator takes advantage of idle Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) processing cycles, as is known as CUDA-based processing. As Jan Ozer has said in his articles regarding desktop transcoding tools, many are single-threaded, meaning that any additional processors (or processor cores) beyond the first processor (or core) would not be used for transcoding.

GPU processing with a decent graphics card, however, acts almost like a 16-20 core machine and makes the software think it is multi-threaded. In tests shown in the booth, a quad-core CPU based transcode of a short Premiere timeline took about 3 times longer than a CUDA-based transcode. The true test, though, is what it does in the real world, and we'll follow up on this with a review on an HP workstation later this year.

For those with massive transcoding needs, though, a single-machine solution for the NVIDIA Quadro cards won't really cut it, so Elemental is productizing its solution into a 2 rack-unit box called the Elemental Server that will handle hundreds of simultaneous standard definition file transcodes, with about 4 teraflops of processing power in a 2 rack unit device. The device can also handle about 10-12 simultaneous 1080p file transcodes as well.

"We're also exploring the ability to do live transcoding," said Sam Blackman, CEO and founder, "in the very near future."Viewcast showed off its H.264 encoding all-in-one solution, the half-rack but portable Niagara 2120, which has both front-panel touch-buttons and web interfaces—a trend growing in encoding solutions—as well as H.264 encoding for Adobe Flash.

"We also added Group Codec Start from our SCX 6.0 software," said Jeff Kopang, Viewcast's VP of marketing, "to allow a user to set up the profiles from the web interface, but launch all the profiles—CIF and full resolution, for instance—with a single stream button on the front of the 2120"

Viewcast also showed the Niagara 7500 HD streaming device, which allows resizing, scaling and cropping of HD source materials. The Niagara 7500 has the same SD/HD SDI inputs as the Osprey 7500-E card which has been available for the last year.

"We have customers that are making the HD investment, but still have significant legacy SD production workflows," said Kopang, "so we crafted the 7500 to switch on-the-fly between HD and SD sources."

The Niagra 7500 is a two rack unit device with 4GB of RAM, a dual quad-core processor, and capacitive touch control interface. The interface has touch-sensitive alarm monitoring, both a network and valid incoming video indicator, headphone volume controls, and two large VU meters. On the left side of the screen a large confidence monitor is also available and is touch-screen capable, which will allow implementation—in a future version—to switch between the current incoming video option or a post-encode stream monitor.

Niagra 7500 uses Windows Media (9 Advanced) and Flash H.264, but will soon be shipping it with the codec set on the Pro II (which includes 3GPP and Real).

"We announced this product at NAB," said Kopang, "but wanted to bulletproof the software, so the unit will start shipping at the end of the month. We also anticipate support in the first quarter of next year for Silverlight 3, including H.264, as well as Smooth Streaming."

Viewcast sees its Niagara products as stand-alone devices that an audio-visual (AV) integrator can rapidly plug in to an existing box-based solution, but also provides an SDK for the 7500 card that integrators are beginning to use in custom solutions that are Windows-based.

IBC continues through today, September 15, at Amsterdam's RAI Convention Centre.

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