Elemental A Player To Watch

Live streaming system has Web, master-control applications

Why This Matters

PacTV Expands Overseas Pipe

Pacific Television Center (PacTV), a Los Angeles- based independent transmission and production service provider, is dramatically improving the fiber connectivity to its London facility to better meet rising demand for highquality, high-defi nition transmission.

As of June 1, PacTV will be increasing from an OC3 (155 megabit-per-second) to an OC48 (2.485 gigabit-per-second) link between London and L.A. The company is also adding two HD transmit and two HD receive circuits, all 1.5 Gbps, between its London facility and BT Tower in London. PacTV’s major customers include BSkyB, CNN, Foxtel, Sky News Australia, CNBC and ESPN.

As part of the upgrade, PacTV is implementing JPEG-2000 encoders from Evertz to transmit HD signals at an average bitrate of 110 Mbps. JPEG-2000’s “lossless” compression scheme has come into favor with several large networks for preserving picture quality after multiple generations of encoding, and has lower latency than MPEG-4 encoding, notes PacTV president Richard Neri.

PacTV, which also has a New York transmission and production facility, provides satellite links as well as fiber but is seeing more of its ad-hoc business go to fiber as costs have come down. The company took advantage of the dot-com crunch and glut of fiber capacity in 2000 and 2001 to scoop up capacity, according to Neri. He estimates that about 60% of PacTV’s traffic goes over fiber today, with the rest on satellite. About 65% of the satellite customers maintain full-time links.—Glen Dickson

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.”

E-mail comments to dickson.glen@ gmail.com