Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Bill Haley

New Media Outlook 2009
by Bill Haley, 1 Jan 2009

Bill Haley is President, Interactive of Allied Pixel (www.AlliedPixel.com), an integrated media production firm specializing in the convergence of HD video, web and interactive media. He is also an evangelist for PhillyCreativeGuide.com. He can be reached at [email protected].


Well it's 2009 and the term "New Media" isn't new anymore, but the phrase does endure and has come to embrace the family of digital media tools including video, the Web and interactive technologies. Let's take a look at the major trends in the New Media world.

Video and HD

A recent study by the Leichtman Research Group showed that HD penetration has reached 34% of U.S. households, up from 20% a year ago. It's reasonable to expect penetration to hit 50% by the end of 2009, establishing a long-awaited critical mass that will accelerate HD production and distribution. On the corporate front, HD integration is more sporadic, being driven primarily by marketing and internal communication needs. At Allied Pixel, about 60% of our video production is now HD. Interestingly, about half of that HD work is output at standard def resolution, with the idea of future-proofing the content for later use.

New Media Outlook 2009

There are a multitude of video acquisition formats in use today. At Allied Pixel, we support no less than a dozen formats, including HDCam, HDXDCam, DVCPro100/50/25, DigiBeta, DVCam and HDV. The production world is moving to tapeless acquisition. Rather than recording to tape, a new generation of cameras record to solid-state media. There are numerous advantages to this, such as non-linear access to shots in the field and quick ingest of footage in the editing suite. Our new Sony PMW-EX3 camera can record 100 minutes of 1920x1080, 24P footage on its twin SxS memory cards.

Having won the format war, Blu-ray Disc is poised to become the next standard for optical disc delivery. By the end of 2008, more than 1,150 commercial Blu-ray Disc titles had been released in the U.S. A dual-layer Blu-ray Disc has a 50 GB capacity, allowing up to about eight hours of HD video content (using an advanced video codec such as VC-1 or MPEG-4 AVC.) The Blu-ray spec enables some very interesting interactive features, powered by Java. There are still some compatibility issues, reminiscent of the early days of DVD. These should be largely addressed by the end of the year, though early Blu-ray players will not support the full format feature set.

New Media Outlook 2009

On February 17, all broadcasters will be required to turn off their analog NTSC signals and use the ATSC digital broadcast programming standard instead. Congress has established a $3 billion program to help consumers buy adapters that will allow existing conventional analog televisions to receive digital broadcasts. So the digital age is truly upon us.

Web and Interactive

Rich media has long been dominated by Flash. The current incarnation (Flash Player 10) supports H.264 video, paving the way to full HD video on the web. At Allied Pixel, we have been experimenting with streaming 1080P video through Flash. We have successfully encoded video at data rates as low as 1500 Mb/s and gotten stunning results. Playback requires some horsepower – for example, a Windows XP machine with a 2GHz core duo processor. This is certainly where the web is headed. YouTube engineers are also experimenting with delivery of HD videos using H.264. So... HD, meet the Web!

Flex is coming to the forefront as an alternative way to build Flash applications. Flex is a more programmer-friendly environment that includes a wealth of pre-built components and is readily extendible across an enterprise environment.

New Media Outlook 2009

Looking to topple Flash from the top of the hill is Microsoft's Silverlight. Since its introduction in 2007, Silverlight has landed some high-profile sites, including Entertainment Tonight, nba.com and NBC's Olympics coverage. In terms of video handling, Silverlight supports the VC-1 format (basically the same as Windows Media Video) – whose quality, apples to apples, is slightly inferior to Flash's VP6 and H.264. Silverlight also requires a download of the plug-in, which is a turnoff to many users. Having said that, Silverlight lives in Microsoft's .NET framework, making it attractive to the corporate IT community. I expect that Flash will continue to lead the pack, while Silverlight will be an interesting alternative for some developers.

Other interesting developments include Flash Media Server 3.5, which adds Dynamic Streaming to its repertoire. This feature allows developers to create video players that monitor playback properties, and then dynamically request different bit-rates of the currently streaming content to adjust on the fly to a users' bandwidth capacity at any given moment. This will allow for much better and more dynamic video experiences on the web – truly a game changing advance.

Alchemy is the code name for a project that was introduced in the sneak peaks session of Adobe MAX 2007 in Chicago and presented in a more mature state at Adobe MAX 2008. It's a tool chain based on LLVM that allows developers to leverage existing C and C++ libraries, to compile them to an intermediate format, and from there directly into ActionScript 3 for use within the Flash Player. This will allow developers to leverage the nearly 500 million lines of open source C/C++ libraries that now exist.

RTMFP (Real Time Media Flow Protocol) support in the Flash Player will allow P2P (peer to peer) communications between instances of the Flash Player, opening the door to some very interesting applications and ways to communicate or aggregate data between clients. A demo of the potential for leveraging this is available at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/stratus/samples

New Media Outlook 2009

Adobe has partnered with Turner Networks to develop a plug-in for the Flash player called Octoshape. It takes a P2P approach similar to Bittorrent, in that every person watching a live video talks to a pool of other users also watching the video. Octoshape grabs bits and pieces of the live video from other peers and reassembles it locally for very efficient delivery of video. It was tested on CNN during the elections and looks very promising.

Connecting the Dots

We are in an era of multiple competing formats and standards and quickly evolving tools and technologies. From the end-user perspective, this is a good thing because competition drives innovation and progress. Certainly the pieces are all in place now to solve virtually any new media challenge. The big question is not can it be done, but rather how best to do it? And hence the most valuable resource today is good old fashioned knowledge.

This new territory of integrated media production opens up incredible creative opportunities. Never has it been more true that what can be imagined, can be created. 2009 will be an interesting year indeed.

Thanks to Tom Shustack at Allied Pixel (www.alliedpixel.com) and Rob Hall at Feasible Impossibilities (www.impossibilities.com) for their invaluable help in preparing this story.

Print Article Brought to you by: Bill Haley | President, Interactive of Allied Pixel

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