Elemental A Player To Watch

WITH THE rapid growth of video streaming and IP-based transmission, a bevy of new encoding and transcoding players have entered the broadcast technology market in the past few years. One to keep an eye on is Portland, Ore.-based Elemental Technologies, which launched a live streaming product at NAB last month that may have broader applications than just streaming to a Website.

Elemental was founded in 2006 by Sam Blackman, Jesse Rozenzweig and Brian Lewis, veterans of Pixelworks, which makes, processing chips for flat-panel TV and projection systems. With the “exploding number of formats” in video, Blackman saw an opportunity to build a new chip for a multi-format codec (encoder-decoder). But he soon realized that instead of building a new chip, he could take advantage of existing programmable graphics chips, or graphics processing units (GPUs), from suppliers such as Nvidia to accomplish the same task.

Elemental developed expertise in massively parallel video processing with GPUs, which are capable of handling multiple tasks simultaneously and which Blackman says yield much higher performance than CPU (central processing unit)-based transcoding. In 2008, the company raised $7.1 million in venture- capital financing and launched its first encoding product, Elemental Accelerator. The inexpensive (sub-$300), softwarebased system, designed to work with Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and Adobe Premiere Pro editing software, quickly converts conventional video to an H.264/AVC output for uploading to the Web or burning to Blu-ray disc.

The next step

The company followed that up in late 2009 with Elemental Server, an enterprise-class, hardware-based transcoding system aimed at broadcasters and studios that handles multiple high-defi nition fi les and sells for $26,000. At NAB, it took the next step with Elemental Live. The live-streaming encoder has multiple HD-SDI, SDI and Ethernet inputs, and can encode four simultaneous 1080p output streams or up to eight 720p output streams in a single 1-rack-unit (1RU) device.

Elemental Live, which costs $34,000, aims to compete with live streaming products from Digital Rapids and Inlet Technologies. It includes H.264, MPEG-2 and VC-1 codecs, and can create streams for any device. It supports Adobe Flash Media Server, Microsoft Smooth Streaming and Apple HTTP Live Streaming, as well as CableLabs-compliant streams for digital set-tops.

While Blackman believes the main market for Elemental Live is Web video, several broadcasters have also shown interest in the product for more traditional TV programming applications including file distribution and signal conversion. For example, News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, which owns several Western stations including KTVZ Bend, Ore., has experimented with using Elemental Live as a streaming transcoder within a new IP-based master control system it has installed at KESQ Palm Desert, Calif.

Jim DeChant, director of technical operations at News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, is interested in using the Elemental technology to reprocess 720p HD signals for standard-definition, mobile or Web distribution. As an early tester of Elemental Server and Elemental Live, so far DeChant is impressed with the new product: “Both units are extremely fast.”

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