For most people these days, the "I-word" is Internet. But, as the distribution of most video productions now includes the Internet, many post production systems are being asked to do more than edit.
If there's one thing that has differentiated the Web from all media that has come before, I think its interactivity. And, I believe that it's the "i" in interactivity (as much as in the word Internet) that has captured Media 100's imagination. In fact, I know that this is true because I'm working with Media 100 to promote the term "interactive streaming" in a White Paper that I recently wrote for them. This paper should be available to download for free at their web site by the time you read this.
Furthermore, "i" (which, of course, has been popularized by the "iMac" and now by "iVideography") is also the copyrighted name of the latest generation of Media 100 systems. In fact, they have trademarked this stand alone letter, and have made it the name of the next generation of Media 100 systems (which are also sometimes referred to as "version 7.") The new variation of their systems now include the i/leDV, i/lx, i/xs and i/xr; but, their branding letter also clearly symbolizes Media 100's commitment to remake itself as an Internet company.
Evidence of this commitment includes Media 100's recent announcement of a "virtual online film studio" with Excite@Home, the launch of a services business, StreamRiver Networks, and a previous series of acquisitions that I've reported in previous columns. Now, this single letter also underscores a set of interactive video authoring features that I believe are unique in the highly competitive market for post production systems. As far as I can tell, no one else has integrated interactive streaming as conveniently and seamlessly, and I will explain below exactly what I mean by that.
As readers of this column might expect, Media 100 integrates leading edge compression and interactive streaming features that have been derived from software engineering that Media 100 acquired through the company's acquisition of Terran Interactive, the makers of the industry leading software, Media Cleaner Pro. Cleaner's technologies are what Media 100 calls i's "streaming media engine." This new assortment of features are called "EventStream technology."
But before I go further, I think that it is also worth noting that these new leading edge systems are all Mac-based. Of course, the Windows versions of the "i" systems are in the works; but while some of the other post production equipment manufacturers are moving away from the Mac, Media 100 apparently still finds my favorite platform to be the right place to innovate.
NEW INTERACTIVE OPTIONS
As I said, the presentation of video on the Web has moved beyond the presentation of a single, linear video clip. This is accomplished by new techniques for integrating video both within Web pages as well as within streaming media Players.
Here is an overview of some of the most important interactive streaming options:
Embed video in your Web page or integrate it in the Player.
There are multiple ways that clips can be displayed. The most important fundamental decision is whether to embed the clip within a Web page, or to launch the corresponding streaming media Player (usually RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, or QuickTime). When the Player is used, it becomes its own interactive streaming "platform." When the streaming clip is embedded in the Web page, the presentation may or may not use HTML frames to integrate other content on the page in sync with the video.
There are also options to display the media platform's pause, fast forward and rewind controller. These include the decision to not show the controller, to embed hot spots in the clip for pause and play controls, or (with some extra effort) to customize the controller so that it appears to be a more integral part of your Web page's look and feel.
Increase interactivity through hot spots, embedded links within the streaming clip, Flash interfaces and HTML links.
In the old days, the most interactive part of the video experience was either the channel-flipping remote control or the imprecise fast forward and rewind buttons on the VCR. Interactive streaming builds beyond these basic capabilities.
For example, streaming content can now trigger other Web page events with video clip-based "hot spots" that cause HTML page changes, synchronized graphics and animation changes, and/or links to other Web sites or e-commerce transactions. Because the video clip can be embedded within a Web page that offers other links, or be part of a larger Player window that, for example, can offer a Flash interactive interface with roll-overs, interactive streaming offers whole new levels of user involvement.
Create new access to video content through chapterization and metadata.
With analog media, the physical video cassette or the structure of the TV program schedule defined access to video content. With interactive streaming much more user friendly points of access can be defined.
President Clinton's impeachment deposition video provides a classic example. While only a few people wished to screen the many hours of his testimony, online viewers enjoyed a new kind of access when an indexed and searchable version of the video was posted on the web by Virage. Companies like Virage have created systems of metadata which create searchable keywords that then provide the user with immediate access to relevant portions of a longer video program.
In a similar way, chapterization provides direct links to "chapters" of a video program. In a high tech training program, for example, the program editor can identify the subjects and locations within the training video in order to provide access to individual program segments. In a two hour training presentation, at a given moment, a user may want to know only one segment's worth of information. Chapterization provides immediate access to that specific clip without the need to edit the program into segments, and without requiring the user to search for it.
LINKING INTERACTIVE AUTHORING WITH EDITING
Access to the tools that enable the delivery of these new features used to be much more complicated and cumbersome. One type of post-production system was used to edit the video program, while another type of software was used to compress the program for streaming, and then one or more additional software programs were used to add the kinds of interactivity that I have just described. Rather than asking designers, developers and producers to buy and learn these multiple tools, essentially "kluging" them together, Media 100 has now extended the capabilities of their editing systems to change the concept of a post production system.
This is why I believe that Media 100 i is rightly called "the first interactive streaming production system." It delivers easier to use tools that makes all of the power of these new interactive streaming features more accessible. The editor simply double clicks on the Media 100 timeline's familiar user marks to open the new EventStream window (which can also be opened with a new "Events" button on the Edit Suite window). Then, new pull down menus provide intuitive access to this new array of commands. As long as the designated streaming format supports the feature, it is incorporated upon export of the movie.
By incorporating "EventStreamÉ" features, a streaming video program's chapters are naturally defined as part of a project's editing timeline. Of course, this makes access to this kind of feature more seamless because it does not require a separate software application. And, perhaps more importantly, these decisions about the content are made at a time and by personnel who are naturally familiar with the program's content. When chapterization was done on a separate system, it was frequently done by a separate person who might not be as familiar with the program's content. In this case, the process was also more time consuming. Now, as a result of Media 100 i's new features, the producer's workflow is streamlined and implementation of interactivity becomes a natural part of the post-production process.
The integration of EventStreamÉ features into Media 100 i also enables other useful features to be easily integrated within the post production process. For example, the creation of keyframes that optimize streaming performance or poster frames that are used to invite users to view a streaming clip are all now part of a non-linear editing system. In addition, clickable hot spots and other links within the video footage can also be defined within Media 100 i by using its EventStreamÉ features. And, finally, interactive streaming commands like "replace movie" and "open URL" (also known as "URL flips") have likewise become more accessible by becoming part of a high performance non-linear editing system.
BOTTOM LINE & MORE
There's also a lot more to "i" than these integrated interactive streaming features including a whole new and long overdue character generator upgrade which is accomplished through the integration of Boris Grafitti software from Artel. Also new and impressive are automated (as well as extensible and customizable) production tasks (including, for example, Add Bin Clip Durations, or Make Program from Bin) that utilize the Mac's AppleScript programming language. There's also a new iFX engine which includes more Artel connections with integration of Boris Red 2.0 as well as tighter Adobe After Effects integration, and more
But, bottom line for the video Web, the integration of interactive streaming commands within a powerful post production system (like Media 100 i) means a shorter path between ideas and implementation. Reducing the number of steps involved in the streaming media production process is perhaps the single biggest thing that can be done to address the challenges of complexity that have previously plagued this kind of rich media development.