Sorenson Media, a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ for Video Encoding, Sets Course for Web-Based Service

A major upgrade to a well-established software product doesn’t usually move the needle much at Xconomy, where we prefer to focus on the really disruptive innovations and strategic innovations taking place throughout the tech sector.

But this is a time of intensifying frothiness in the world of online video technology. So the improvements that Carlsbad, CA-based Sorenson Media is announcing today in its video encoding technology may be more significant in what it says about the course the company is taking into an approaching storm of competing video technology standards.

“This is a strategic battle that we’re in the middle of,” Sorenson COO Eric Quanstrom told me in a recent interview.

Actually, Quanstrom sees a variety of strategic battles. He looks at Intel’s Sandy Bridge initiative and NVIDIA’s graphics processor technology innovations as a hardware battle that pits the supremacy of Intel’s general-purpose central processor against the capabilities of NVIDIA’s graphics processor chipsets.

Eric Quanstrom

Other battles are forming around competing video codec standards, especially H.264 and WebM. Apple, which supports the H.264 video standard (with its licensing requirements), refuses to support Adobe Flash. Google, which started its WebM video compression project as an open-source alternative, said earlier this month that it plans to discontinue its Chrome browser’s built-in support of the H.264 codec in favor of “completely open” codec technologies—like WebM.

Can’t we all just get along?

“We’re watching the landscape change and accelerate literally before our very eyes,” Quanstrom said. “But at the end of the day, all a customer cares about is how [well] the video plays,” The problem—aside from the babble of competing technologies and standards—is that different customers have different requirements. “We see the needs of a lot of different verticals, and what Warner Bros. wants is really different from what Harvard wants or what the Social Security Administration wants,” he says.

Sorenson says that professionals with titles like “producer,” “video editor,” “videographer,” and “technical director,” use its video encoding application to create digital video content for all three aforementioned customers, as well as Hulu, HBO, Fox, and Qualcomm. But the proliferation of different video formats means a video created to play on an iPhone won’t necessarily play just as well on an iPad, says David Dudas, Sorenson’s vice president of product management.

To help manage the multiplying complexity, Sorenson says its Sorenson Squeeze 7 encoding application “takes the pain and drudgery out of the encoding process” by speeding up the GPU (graphics processing unit) processing and by automating all aspects of adaptive bit rate encoding. The company also expanded its support of new video formats, adding MPEG Transport Streams, WebM, and Ogg to its capabilities. “We’re generally viewed as the Swiss Army knife of video because of the variety of input and output formats we support,” Dudas says.

One key feature the company is touting is its new adaptive bitrate encoding capability, which dynamically adjusts in real time to the bit rate of the device that a consumer is using to watch streaming video content. In other words, the technology enables the video stream to automatically adjust to a delivery network’s fluctuating bandwidth capacity. (To do this, Sorenson says its technology encodes multiple renditions of videos at varying data rates to files and uploads them to the network that delivers the content. Dudas says it is a streamlining technique that frees video producers from a previously labor-intensive, detailed, and time-consuming process.)

It’s also worth noting, as Quanstrom puts it, that “all the encoding goodness that is incorporated in Squeeze 7 is also in Squeeze Server,” a Web-based video encoding service that Sorenson launched in November. Quanstrom says the company increasingly sees operating software-as-a-service, which is both customizable and scalable, as a logical solution to the growing—and seemingly intractable—complexity of competing video formats and related technologies.

By coincidence, I saw yesterday that San Francisco-based announced the launch of, a Web-based service that creates a short URL for any video. The two-year-old startup says the short URL can be shared by text messaging, Twitter, or Facebook, and enables users to access and play the video across 14 different browsers.

In reading’s announcement, I realized it makes a lot of sense to move all the complexity into the cloud, and then simplify the problem with something  everybody can use. I also noticed that licensed Sorenson’s Spark video codec in November, adding Sorenson’s software to the catalog of codec’s that is using to encode and decode video files.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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