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Transcoding Today: Best Practices for Broadcast & Streaming

March 19, 2021
5-Minute Read
Senior Manager, Encoding

Whether you’re broadcasting or streaming content, your goal likely involves expanding your content reach and delivering your video content to the largest audience possible.

There’s certainly an audience for every type of video content. On average, US consumers spend over five hours each day watching videos across a broad range of devices.

That’s billions of hours spent every month watching streams, recordings, broadcasts, and commercials. If you can capture even a small percentage of that time with your videos, you should be able to get significant returns on any investments that you make into content delivery.


Producing Engaging Video Content Is Only Half of the Battle

As video content consumption grows exponentially, creators and distributors are faced with a challenge: How do you present and convert your video formats to best suit internal production, post-production, and archival needs? And how can you be sure that the video content is best adapted to the viewers’ devices? The list of competing and incompatible formats for broadcast playout and streaming, as well as the ever-expanding catalog of mobile devices only continues to grow in size and complexity.

If you want to maximize your audience, you need to make sure your video files are compatible with as many platforms, devices, and while taking into consideration delivery requirements like bitrate.

That’s where transcoding comes in. Let’s talk about what it is and what you need to do to leverage this technology as you grow your audience.

What Is Transcoding?

Video comes in many formats, resolutions, and bitrates. Transcoding is the process of taking content, decompressing, altering, and recompressing it. Usually, when we talk about transcoding, we’re referring to altering a file’s video or audio format, or codec. However, video transcoding may also refer to adding watermarks or other types of graphic elements to your content.

It’s important to note that transcoding is not the same as ‘transrating’ or ‘transsizing,’ which mean the following:

  • Transrating: This is the process of altering a video’s bitrate.
  • Transsizing: This refers to resizing a video or changing its resolution.

These terms should not be confused with transmuxing video, as this refers to “repackaging” the audio and video into different formats in order to deliver it across a variety of platforms. This is different from transcoding, transsizing, and transrating because the file contents remain the same, and only the container format changes in order to support different playback types.

While the video conversion process seems straight-forward, these functions rely heavily on a robust computing infrastructure for maximum efficiency. Broadcasters that frequently transcode content require the most productive equipment assets for the job, including quicker CPUs or graphics acceleration capabilities. The proper hardware must be chosen with the right processing power to optimize speed during video conversion.

For this reason, Harmonic has focused on streamlining the best practices for designing scalable, high-performance and universal media transcoding technology.  These advanced solutions make it possible to deliver content in any format, at any time, on any device with a seamless experience for the end-user. The end goal, of course, is finding that balance for the best quality of experience delivered in the most efficient, and the most cost-effective way possible.

In practice, many companies use transcoding as a catch-all term for all three types of tasks. For our purposes, we’ll stick with the classic (and correct!) definition, which is modifying a file’s format.

5 Best Practices for Video Transcoding

The whole purpose of transcoding is to save on costs, reach as broad of an audience as possible and deliver the best media experience, all at the same time. If you can manage to succeed in both of these tasks and your videos are fun to watch, you have a successful recipe.

1. Use Multiple Codecs and Containers

Not every device or platform is capable of handling every video and audio format out there. With hundreds of video and audio formats available, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll need to adapt your content to the most popular options if you want to maximize the number of people that can enjoy it.

At the same time, you don’t want to discount less popular codecs and containers that might still be in use.

If you want to maximize your audience, we recommend using a transcoding solution that can take your broadcasts and streams and convert them into as many formats as needed. In many cases, that happens on-demand, which makes a cloud transcoding solution the best possible option.

Using a cloud transcoding solution, Like VOS®360 Media SaaS,  you’ll be able to optimize your content for as many platforms as possible. That means any viewer will be able to see your videos on their favorite Operating Systems (OS), devices, and platforms.

2. Utilize Format Conversion

To save content producers time and money, the ideal transcoding process involves an “author once, deliver anywhere” approach. The best practice approach to reaping maximum benefits from any video file begins with using the highest possible audio and image quality as a baseline, which can be modified as necessary to accommodate various delivery platforms’ characteristics.

Format conversion is an integral part of delivering an optimized video viewing experience across a range of devices. In 2021, an estimated 3.8 billion people will own a mobile phone. Mobile users accessing video streams are likely to experience a more bandwidth-limited rate than those viewing across broadband Internet networks. Streaming providers must take varying bandwidth rates into account when designing a transcoding strategy.

Along with differences in bandwidth conditions, the shift from standard definition to UHD can also largely impact the viewing quality. Depending on how a stream is formatted and displayed, the viewing experience could be disappointing in the audience’s eyes. Some display devices attempt to upgrade the content by simply stretching the pixel size. Other devices don’t change the video content but frame the 4:3 aspect ratio SD image with pillar bars. Both approaches can distort the viewing experience and provide a subpar impression in the end-user’s eyes, especially if that 4:3 image is already letterboxed within the frame.


3. Leverage AI-Driven Algorithms

In many cases, transcoding software requires your input when deciding what formats or containers to alter your video. That’s understandable, but it also makes for a non-scalable solution.

Some modern transcoding software solutions are capable of leveraging AI-driven algorithms for content-aware encoding and context-adaptive delivery that can “figure out” whether to use de-interlacing, what’s the best bitrate to use, and more.

As your audience grows, so does the need for a scalable transcoding solution that makes your job easier, which brings us to the topic of automation.

4. Optimize for Scalability and Automation

A scalable transcoding solution should help you deliver your content to as broad an audience as possible. However, that’s only possible if that solution can help you automate the entire transcoding and delivery process.

With a regular transcoding solution, you take your video files and decide which formats or containers to use to deliver them to end-users. Using a solution capable of automation and that incorporates AI-driven algorithms, you can simply upload the video and let the software take care of the entire transcoding process.

5. Use a Cloud Transcoding Service

We’ve mentioned cloud transcoding solutions repeatedly within this article, and there’s a reason for that. Video transcoding can be a very hardware-intensive process which means that if you use a regular computer for it, it usually takes a good long while.

By using a cloud solution, you remove the constraints of physical hardware. The best cloud-service providers are easily scalable, and you can use them to run almost any type of application that you want, including transcoding software.

Depending on which cloud transcoding service you use, you’ll also be able to take advantage of automation, leverage AI-driven algorithms, and get access to as many codecs as possible. In other words, you’ll be able to follow all of the best practices for video transcoding in 2021.

Take Advantage of The Cloud

If you’re going to invest time and resources into producing fun, engaging broadcast and streaming content, it’s only logical that you do everything to ensure that as many people as possible can watch it. In 2020, most people spent hours per week watching videos on multiple devices, which also means they use a massive range of file formats, even if end-users aren’t aware of it.

Cloud transcoding solutions from Harmonic can help your users experience your videos in the best format for each specific viewing condition and context: device, resolution, etc. Harmonic’s cloud streaming platform includes powerful transcoding workflows. The platform is cloud-agnostic, easy to scale, and offers a cost-effective solution for enhanced video streaming and broadcast, whether you’re running a modest stream or delivering content to millions of users at once.

Are you ready to use a customizable transcoding solution that’s perfect for broadcast and live streaming? Check out  VOS®360 Media SaaS, or contact us to talk about what you need!

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