Editor’s note: RTP Beat is a regular weekly feature in LTW.With high-definition programming filling the airwaves and the prices for the movie-screen-shaped, sophisticated TV sets coming down, the promise of digital entertainment is being fulfilled.

And a Cary startup that you probably have not heard much about just may be a player in making HD the successor to analog.

This week, Inlet Technologies rolled out its first new products — software for encoding and compression the huge data files necessary for the rich HD images plus hardware to help handle the process.

“In a nutshell, we make HD’s gigantic file sizes and rates manageable while maintaining high-quality, so broadcasters and post-production teams can do more with HD,” says Amber Link, the communications director for Inlet.

Neal Page, an expert in digital media, founded the firm in May of last year. He and his development team have created a platform to work with Windows Media High-Definition Video.

“This kind of advanced encoding technology is critical to advancing the deployment of HD content, because currently HD is too large to use without great expense or long production timelines,” Link explains.

Timeline approaches

Page saw a pain point in HD acceptance — the creation and distribution of the content. The FCC requires TV stations to provide digital content by 2007, so the clock is running.

“High-Definition is rapidly gaining acceptance, but has yet to reach critical mass,” Link explains. “To speed the adoption curve, the creation and distribution of high-definition content must increase. Upgrading broadcast and post-production infrastructures is disruptive and expensive, hindering and ultimately, delaying, the production of high-definition content.

“Sharp picture quality with visible detail defines the high-definition experience. Therefore, any reduction in files size must not sacrifice quality. Current compression technology can offer us smaller file sizes or high quality, but not both. Content creators need professional encoding solutions for high-definition that reduce file sizes while maintaining the highest-quality output.”

Neal is not new to digital technology. He launched Osprey Technologies in 1994, a firm focused on content distribution — now called streaming video.

“Osprey accelerated the deployment of video over the Internet by using intelligent compression technology,” Link says. The company was acquired by Viewcast in 1995.

Now, Page’s focus is HD, and his firm has developed proprietary tools for compression. (They are seeking a patent for the software.)

Inlet sent a team to Amsterdam to unveil its application and hardware at a trade show. The software is called Ocean (Optimized Compression, Encoding and Analytics). The hardware — which is a card — is called Fathom.

“Fathom combines a professional encoding software application with hardware acceleration to deliver the first real-time encoding of WMV HD content,” Link explains. “Fathom produces high-quality, high definition content at significantly reduced file sizes, making high-definition content creation and distribution accessible, efficient and affordable for the post-production market.”

Nuts and bolts

LTW asked Link to explain how the process works.

“The Ocean platform represents Inlet’s key differentiator. Uncompressed HD is ingested then is pre-processed. This is kind of an initial ‘once-over’ the software gives the content,” she explains. “The pre-processing information is used to get the content into the optimal format for encoding. Once the source has been processed, it is then measured. We are able to access this high-level of information because Microsoft has given us access to their WMV HD codec. We use the information we get to make intelligent decisions regarding compression. We can continue to compress/analyze until the desire quality/file size is achieved.

“Our hardware and software is capable of encoding WMV HD content in real-time,” she adds. “This means that if an HD commercial is 30 seconds long, it will only take 30 seconds to encode it. This is a first in the industry. Currently it might take 3 hours to encode a 30 second commercial…the content is just too data-intensive for current encoding solutions to handle in a timely manner. Inlet solutions make it possible to achieve high quality, reduced sized HD in real-time. This ability not only allows people to achieve a higher throughput of work, it also makes new applications of HD possible. For instance, the ability to do a live remote broadcast in HD. Today, it’s almost impossible for all but the largest of networks to achieve this without significant investment in upgrading their infrastructure.”

Inlet is targeting several markets, including broadcast and telecommunications. The compression could enable distribution of files over the Internet. But the broadcast market itself is a big one.

“There are approximately 10,000 post-production worldwide, 41 percent of which claim that they will work in HD within the next year,” Link says. “Fathom is probably a solution for the highest-volume houses, but we will be bringing products to market and creating strategic partnerships that make this technology available to all market segments. There are about 1400 broadcasters, all of which are required to carry digital signals by 2007. So the market is significant.”

Inlet is privately held and does have individual investors as well as strategic partners, Link says. The company recently closed on some funding, but she didn’t disclose details. An engineer from WRAL TV sits on the firm’s advisory board — and that’s not surprising at all.

Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcasting which owns WRAL, has been a driving force for HDTV for a decade. WRAL was the first commercial station to go “live” in HD.

Inlet is one of the firms selected to present at CED’s InfoTech show in October.

Inlet: www.inlethd.com