Video compression and delivery wizardry from Inlet Technologies put Indianapolis 500 fans right in the cockpit and all around the track as the Raleigh-based startup continues to make inroads into the wide world of sports.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway chose to help deliver a myriad of views and statistical information over the Internet. The event was not the first sports test for Inlet, however. Major League Baseball also works with Inlet for its multi-faceted web casts of games.
As TV ratings have plunged 40 percent over the last four years to its lowest levels since 1986, the race organization fought back with its fact-filled, multi-view Internet web presentation.
Neil Selvin, Inlet’s president, talked with Local Tech Wirer about the 500 and where Inlet hopes to play in the future in other sports.
Neil, congratulations on the show. Did you watch yourself? What did you like and not like as a viewer and fan?
I did have a chance to watch the coverage online. I liked the ability to see multiple camera angles and pick which car I wanted to view. Especially nice was the compete view, allowing you to watch the action between two drivers. It would have been nice to have the option to see an (high definition) stream if you are a user who has sufficient bandwidth.
What particular technical challenges did the Indy 500 present to Inlet?
Anytime you are streaming high motion content, like blazing fast race cars, it presents a much more challenging encoding problem than a static talking head. For the Indy 500, our ability to fine tune the advanced encoding settings on the Spinnaker encoder allowed us to achieve the best possible quality, given the available bitrate.
I think the video quality results for the Indy 500 were outstanding!
Is doing something live more challenging than filming in the field?
Live happens only once – so you have to get it right the first time. Every second, you have to deliver 30 frames, or the user will see dropouts, stuttering or buffering – which is an unacceptable experience. So it is harder than preparing media that has already been shot. But the payoff of watching an event live creates a compelling user experience.
How were you able to meet those challenges?
By being able to fine tune the Spinnaker settings, we are able to turn on additional advanced features to take advantage of our available CPU horsepower. Our H.264 codec can use all eight of the CPU cores that are in Spinnaker simultaneously, to bring a lot of processing power to optimize the video quality of the stream.
HD over the Web – in layman’s terms, how does Inlet manage that along with mixing in other data such as leaderboards?
First, Inlet focuses on delivering the best quality video experience. Then, you can build around that with innovative features like the live car telemetry that the Indy Racing League provides.
But without starting with high quality video, the user won’t stick around long enough to check out the other available information. In addition, with the Spinnaker encoder, you can insert metadata into the live stream, allowing you to send information to the client’s Flash player, which can be displayed based on the design of the website.
Was this a paying contract for Inlet or a trade-for-exposure?
This was not a paying contract; it was a technology demonstration. But it was a great opportunity to expose more consumers to the advantages of high-quality streaming of a live sporting event.
Is this event a big boost for Inlet in terms of promotion and demonstration of technical capability?
I think the quality and robustness of the Inlet solution definitely demonstrated our superiority over existing solutions utilizing add-in cards in PCs. In the last year, Inlet has become a leading player in streaming live sports, as we have powered major sporting leagues such as Major League Baseball, NCAA March Madness tournament, the Masters, the French Open and more.
How long did you work with Indy folks on the project?
We worked with the Indy folks and other partners for the last month getting this event setup and optimized.
Did you have to put people in Indianapolis for the event or was it managed remotely?
There was no need for an Inlet person to be on-site. The Spinnaker encoders can be remotely managed and monitored. Once the encoders were setup by the Indy Racing League personnel, they ran flawlessly during the event.
Will you be working with them on other races?
We certainly hope that Indy Racing League saw significant value from this event and will use our products to stream other races and events over the Internet.
Do you work with Nascar or Grand prix?
We have done work with Nascar, although not for their live racing coverage.
Other sports deals in place? If so, with home? More to come?
In the last year, Inlet has become the leading provider of live streaming solutions for sporting events. We power the live streaming of Major League Baseball, and have also generated the live streaming for NCAA March Madness, the Masters golf tournament, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the UEFA soccer (football) championships. And there’s lots more to come, as we are involved with both US and overseas sports organizations and broadcasters for future events.
We’re really excited about the growth in high-quality streaming for sports and news that is exploding.
Is what the Indy race demonstrated the broadcast environment of the future – more viewer control, more information on the screen at your command?
Yes, I think the Indy race demonstrated the ongoing trend toward more user control of what they are viewing. From MLB’s usage of a mosaic screen to watch multiple games at once, to Indy’s individual car cameras, sports broadcasters are providing a richer, more interactive experience. In addition, the more that live streamed events over the Internet can provide, in terms of video control and information and statistics, the more people will start choosing to watch events online either instead of, or in addition to, the television experience.