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Streaming Video Formats For Digital Asset Management

by Naresh Sarwan on September 22, 2009

This article is the second article, in the series, starting with Using Streaming Media With Digital Asset Management Systems and ending with: What Streaming Media Player Should Be Used With Digital Asset Management Systems?

For audio, MP3 is generally the format of choice as it is ubiquitous and widely supported, although the OGG or Vorbis format is gaining popularity amongst vendors because there are no patents restricting it’s use (unlike MP3). With video, however, the options are more complicated due to rapid technological progress in the whole area of video delivery via the internet and competition between vendors for format supremacy. The following are the more well known streaming formats available:

  • Flash Video (FLV)
  • Windows Media Video (WMV)
  • QuickTime
  • RealMedia
  • H.264/MPEG4

Flash Video (FLV)
A popular choice because of the wide support for the Flash player in most web browsers. Flash also has the advantage of working on both Macs and Windows PCs. Flash Video is probably the most ubiquitous streaming video format, due in no small part due to its adoption by larger sites such as YouTube.

Windows Media Video (WMV)
WMV is usually successful in corporate environments where Microsoft technologies proliferate on the desktop. Outside Windows environments, the results can be less reliable. The situation with WMV is currently undergoing rapid change as a result of the release of Silverlight (a competitor to Flash developed by Microsoft). The Silverlight player will be much more widely supported by non-Windows PCs (e.g. Macs). A variation of WMV called VC-1 is natively supported by Silverlight and this will make format selection less straightforward than it has been up until now. A number of larger media providers are planning to or already have adopted Silverlight either as well as Flash or instead of it.

QuickTime
This format is popular on Macs because support is built in and also with more sophisticated Windows users is less widely supported. QuickTime is a reasonable choice where the audience is composed of video professionals (e.g. for a production oriented DAM or Media Asset Management system).

RealMedia
Real were an early entrant to the streaming market but are currently losing market share, partly due to the high costs of licensing the server technology required to deliver streaming media in the various RealMedia formats.

H.264/MPEG4
H.264 is one of the newer formats and is likely to become popular because the footage is higher quality than Flash Video, however, the file sizes also tend to be larger and consequently slower for users to download. That said, many media owners have invested heavily into MPEG4 and are keen to avoid the process of converting (or ‘transcoding’) to a lower quality preview format such as FLV. There are a variety of derivative formats that are specialised for certain applications, e.g. 3GPP which is MPEG4 optimised for playback on mobile devices. To further complicate matters, the Flash Player now supports direct playback of H.264 video as well as FLV.

Conclusion
The streaming video landscape is currently changing at rapid pace. When deciding what DAM to select for time based media, it is vital to work with a vendor that understands the environment, can explain the choices to you without excessive jargon and has the flexibility to switch between the different competing technologies.

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