140 STREAMING MEDIA INDUSTRY SOURCEBOOK 2018
the next year or so should be very far along with its
plans for supporting all of these technologies.
Pricing is key when choosing a vendor, but price
comparisons are not simple, primarily because there
are multiple disparate pricing models. Most SaaS vendors offer either per-minute or per-GB pricing, which
is simple to compute, but generally are the most expensive for high-volume customers. Also, those pricing schemes may (and should) change depending on
where the software is running—if you’re running on
the service’s cloud, it should be one charge; if running
on your own private cloud, it should be cheaper.
When estimating pricing for services that charge by
the GB or minute, be sure to consider how each service
prices operations like transmuxing, which is very efficient from a CPU perspective and shouldn’t be priced
the same as encoding. For example, Zencoder charges
75% less for transmuxing to HLS or DASH than it would
to produce the output from scratch. Others charge full
price for each output format, which obviously can have
a huge impact on overall pricing.
Several services, including Elemental and Encoding.
com, offer PaaS pricing, in which you buy encoding capacity and can push as much processing through the
system as possible within a specified period. For example, with Encoding.com’s reserved cloud pricing,
you rent one or more cloud instances for a month for a
flat fee. Here, your costs are entirely dependent upon
how efficiently you feed the system and what types of
jobs you are running. Run it 24/7 and your cost per
GB should be fairly low. Let the system lie idle for long
periods during the month and you could be better off
with per-GB pricing.
In yet a third model, Hybrik runs on the Amazon
cloud, and you allocate machines using your own Amazon account. Hybrik charges a flat fee that depends on
how many machines you can simultaneously assign to
the system; 10 machines is $1,000/month, 100 machines
is $5,000/month, and so on. Again, your cost per minute
or per GB will vary based on throughput and job parameters, with configuration options like x.264 preset
(ultrafast vs. placebo) or single- vs. two-pass encoding,
which can dramatically impact encoding time per file,
having a significant impact on throughput and therefore pricing.
Comparison pricing isn’t impossible, but it won’t be
easy, so perform this step last, after you’ve eliminated
as many vendors as possible for other reasons.
While on the topic of pricing, with all vendors it’s
worth exploring how the service anticipates helping
you transition your library to CMAF over the next 12
to 18 months. Many producers currently encode their
mezzanine files into multiple MP4 files and dynami-
cally package to HLS or DASH at the edge, which re-
quires streaming software and a full-time cloud serv-
er to run the streaming software.
In contrast, files in CMAF can play in either DASH or
HLS players natively from a plain-Jane HTTP server,
eliminating the need for the streaming server and the
associated hardware. CMAF is definitely the cheaper option, and should be considered by all streaming
producers once the population of CMAF-compatible
players reaches critical mass.
Of course, you’ll need to convert your libraries to
CMAF to take advantage of this saving. As with transmuxing for DASH or HLS, this conversion is a lightweight operation that should cost less than encoding
from scratch. With PaaS pricing, this shouldn’t be a
concern, since you pay based on the processing that
you use. If you’re choosing a service that offers per-minute or per-GB pricing, and will have a large library
to convert from MP4 to CMAF, ask how the service will
charge for this conversion.
Per-title encoding customizes the encoding ladder
produced for each video based on its encoding complexity and other factors. Per-title technologies encode
simple clips at low bitrates, saving bandwidth costs
or allowing you to push higher-resolution streams to
viewers. These technologies also boost the data rate for
harder-to-encode clips, ensuring top quality. Several
cloud vendors, including Azure, Bitmovin, and Brightcove, already offer some variation of per-title encoding, and it should be considered a must-have feature
by those choosing a cloud encoding provider.
Not all per-title technologies are alike. For example, while all can adjust the data rate to match encoding complexity, some use a fixed ladder with the same
number of rungs and resolutions irrespective of content. More advanced technologies can adjust both the
number of rungs and their resolutions to provide the
optimum blend of quality and encoding efficiency.
So don’t just consider this a checklist feature; ask
about how the technology works and learn how it compares to features offered by other cloud services. For
some background on per-title, check out “One Title at
a Time: Comparing Per-Title Video Encoding Options”
Protecting content distributed via HTML5 requires
multiple flavors of DRM for the disparate platforms
you’ll distribute to, which means deployment technologies, like PlayReady, Widevine, FairPlay, and others.
This in turn spawned the rise of multiple DRM providers like BuyDRM, ExpressPlay, EZDRM, Irdeto, and
Vualto. If you already have a DRM provider, check
whether the encoding service has a fully tested implementation with that provider. If you don’t have a