Inside Tech: Snell & Wilcox Helios eases content repurposing for broadband, mobile

With sports content providers embracing the “anytime, anywhere” philosophy of delivering content over HD, broadband and cellphones the industry increasingly finds itself with a new challenge: how does the content creator ensure the experience on each of those platforms is not just good but great? Snell & Wilcox has taken the wraps off a new product that it says will make that process easier than ever: Helios.

“Our philosophy is master once, repurpose many,” says Joe Zaller, Snell & Wilcox VP of marketing. “And we’re trying to use metadata and some clever techniques to help extract the information that the user wants.”

Helios works by pulling in video content in various formats and then converting them to other formats. That capability is due, in part, to the use of Snell & Wilcox Ph.C motion estimation technology. Helios is comprised of an IT-centric hardware platform and three modules, with one module handling video conversion (including aspect ratio, up, down or cross-conversion), another handling interoperability between different video servers (like Omneon and Avid servers), and a third handling the distribution and repurposing for multiple platforms and devices.

“A lot of televised sports today has action that runs through the screen which is great for watching on an HD set but isn’t good for the small screen,” says Zaller of the ability to zero in on one object.

Ph.C technology also lets the system focus its encoding and computational power on the parts of an image that are most important to the content creator. For example, when a regular encoder readies video of an athletic event for delivery it will spend most of its computational power on the most complex part of an image. In sports content that will often not be the athletes but rather the crowd in the stands. The result? But by being able to segment the foreground content from the background Helios can blur the background, maximizing its energy on the most important part of an image: the athletic competition.

“By directing the bits towards the object of interest the system can also deliver content at a much lower bit rate,” says Zaller. Helios can deliver up to 15 frames per second of video at 64 kbps on a 3G network while the typical encoder today delivers video at 8-10 frames per second at up to 100 kbps.

Pricing for the system and modules is to be determined but expect to see full demo versions of the system at NAB, including one that ties it into a Kahuna production switcher, outputting a live video stream from the production switcher directly to broadband and mobile devices.

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