Digital Rapids TouchStream
Feb 15, 2011 10:52 AM, by Jan Ozer
A live event encoding appliance with simple operation.
The ideal streaming appliance would combine extraordinary ease-of-use for nontechnical users in the field, a highly configurable interface for streaming professionals back at the office, and high-quality, multiple-format output. By this measure, the Digital Rapids TouchStream appliance is pretty much ideal and should definitely be considered by companies, schools, churches, and entertainment venues seeking a mobile streaming appliance.
The unit itself is a touchscreen-operated Windows XP computer with various analog and digital acquisition configurations that I’ll discuss in a moment. The hardware is slightly larger than a breadbox (about 16”x9”x6” tall), and weighs about 8lbs., so is fairly portable, and the 800x480 touchscreen tilts up and out for easy viewing.
With video preview and audio volume meters, the touchscreen lets you easily adjust saturation, brightness, and contrast in the field, as well as enable and disable noise reduction if you’re working in low light. This is an advantage over systems that don’t offer video preview except via separate monitor. You can connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to the unit for easy configuration in the office, and then hand it over to the presentation staff to drive solely with the touchscreen.
The unit comes in three basic hardware configurations: analog, SDI, and HD-SDI, with connectors well-documented on the Digital Rapids website. Pricing starts at $3,995, and it varies by hardware configuration and the codecs supported. Supported codecs can include H.264 for Flash, Silverlight, QuickTime, and iOS devices; VP6; VC-1; and MPEG-2 with the appropriate audio. The TouchStream can also produce different formats simultaneously, such as a VP6 stream for Flash broadcast and H.264 for iOS devices.
Adaptive streaming support is extensive; the unit can produce segmented streams for Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming, VC-1 and H.264 streams for Silverlight Smooth Streaming, and H.264 streams for Flash dynamic streaming. This is a nice bit of future proofing because if your clients aren’t adaptively streaming now, they should definitely be thinking about it in the very short term.
For the record, I tested the analog model—with VC-1, H.264, and iOS device formatting and segmenting—which would have retailed for $6,140. The CPU in the unit was a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad with 1GB of RAM and an embedded Intel graphics controller. Analog capture and preprocessing is provided by an embedded Digital Rapids DRC-500 capture card that you can buy separately for $895 or more, depending upon formats supported. Basically, Digital Rapids built the TouchStream around its own proven board designs, adding the portable case, convenient touchscreen, and the additional software that pulls it all together.
To test the unit, I used multiple-source videos, including a simulated live event from a ballet performed in a high school gym by my wife’s ballet company. I say “simulated” because the high school couldn’t get me Internet connectivity in time to actually stream the event live. Instead, I shot three ballet performances over the weekend and streamed several in full length from tape to test the TouchStream’s robustness. I tested live streaming of Flash (H.264) and Windows Media using a demo account provided by Detroit-based content delivery network company PowerStream.
Driving in the Field
If the TouchStream is preconfigured back at the office, field operation is exceptionally simple. When you boot the appliance, the TouchStream software loads automatically, and you can arm the system so that all the user has to do is plug in the Ethernet cable and audio/video connectors, and press Start when they’re ready to begin streaming (Figure 1). You’ll want to check your work by logging into the landing page for the live stream, but if there’s video in the embedded preview monitor, and no error messages, you should be streaming.
Once you’re up and running, you can click the Video Settings button to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and tint, as well as deploy both spatial and temporal noise reduction—all while you’re encoding (Figure 2). You can also display a graphic overlay that you can fade in and out. You can’t crop while encoding, however, you have to do that before you start. Of course, you can also adjust audio levels while encoding.
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