Elemental A Player To Watch

Live streaming system has Web, master-control applications

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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