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Elemental Eases Into Comcast OTT Role

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
7/25/2011
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Elemental Technologies Inc. (ETI) has secured the pole position for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s online video transcoding needs after notching a key partnership with thePlatform Inc. , the Comcast-owned media publishing unit.

Under the deal, announced Monday, the vendor is supplying the Elemental Server to handle transcoding for Comcast's XfinityTV.com video Web portal for PCs and Macs, as well as the MSO's Xfinity TV app for the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Comcast is the first company to use a new joint offering that teams Elemental's servers with thePlatform's mpx multi-screen video management system.

The Elemental Server is the video-on-demand (VoD) transcoding system for the five-year-old vendor. Elemental has also developed another type of server -- called Live -- to handle the even heavier ingest and transcoding demands of live TV channels. Comcast's current TV Everywhere product is largely limited to on-demand content from several networks, including HBO, but the MSO is expected to launch a version that offers a lineup of live TV channels later this year. (See Comcast Keeps Eye on the iPad Prize.)

Both of Elemental's products use adaptive bit-rate streaming, a technique that adjusts bit rates and video quality to match the available bandwidth.

For Comcast's online VoD product, the vendor is creating 18 different adaptive bit-rate outputs, including streams to support Apple devices as well as Flash-based streams for PCs, says Elemental CEO and Chairman Sam Blackman.

At the high end, Elemental is creating 6.67Mbit/s streams for 1080p quality, all the way down to audio-only 64Kbit/s streams that are accompanied by a static JPEG image -- something that Apple requires for low-bandwidth 3G situations.

Elemental's technology currently doesn't factor into a Comcast-owned and operated content delivery network (CDN) that the MSO is using to deliver VoD content to digital set-top boxes. However, Elemental's system is capable of adding streaming profiles for IP-capable set-tops and other broadband-connected devices such as TVs. (See Comcast's 'Project Infinity' Takes Flight .)

Why this matters
For Elemental, the partnership gets its wares into one of the most closely watched deployments of TV Everywhere, and extends a solid year that has already seen it get chosen for Avail-TVN 's budding live and on-demand TV Everywhere platform. Blackman says Comcast is one of Elemental's top five customers, but acknowledges that most of the company's revenues today come from deals done directly with programmers such as ABC and CBS. (See Avail-TVN Picks Elemental Servers.)

The partnership with thePlatform also represents further credibility for Elemental's approach, which looks to boost performance by integrating a CPU with a Graphics Processor Unit (GPU)-accelerated H.264 transcoder.

Elemental's selection also isn't great news for Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), another partner of thePlatform's that is believed to be one of the incumbent transcoding vendors for Comcast's online video platform. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) also competes with Elemental, thanks in part to its recent acquisition of Inlet Technologies. (See Harmonic Boards ThePlatform , Harmonic's Mobile Video Marriage and Cisco Paints Inlet Into Its Videoscape .)

For more
Read more about TV Everywhere and cable's use of adaptive streaming tech.



— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable



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