As someone who has worked in the video industry for many years, I was very excited by Amazon’s recent announcement that AWS Elemental Media Services are now available to all AWS customers as a general release.

AWS Elemental Media Services includes five products to simplify the delivery of video content. The most compelling part of the release for me is that broadcast-grade video processing is now accessible as a service by any customer, large or small. Let’s take a closer look.

Messy Workflow Problems Solved

During my time with video companies, we worked hard to stay on top of our customers’ video packaging and delivery requirements. Video files had to be transcoded from a master (mezzanine) file into a number of delivery formats and delivery bitrates. At a bare minimum, we needed to provide an HTTP live streaming (HLS) format to deliver video content to iOS devices and an HTTP dynamic streaming (HDS) format for delivery to Android and an ever-changing array of other devices.

On top of the complexity of just getting content to PLAY on devices, we also dealt with the evolving landscape of content monetization. We supported various pre-roll and mid-roll ad formats and an ever-changing array of encryption formats to enable digital rights management.

In short, there were many variables for securely delivering video content to devices. Software encoding was often the preferred method as it was cost effective and easy to set up.

Much of the software or “cloud” video file encoding / transcoding was delivered using a fork or a variant of the FFMPEG open source library. A super solid library. However, your solution still had to be managed / updated / iterated to keep up with customer requirements.

Hardware encoding suited some situations. Live events, for example, often benefited from the speed and flexibility of having hardware transcoders on site. However, you still had to distribute and protect your media assets. Elemental had a cloud-based offering running on AWS. For both hardware and software encoding, dynamic server-side ad insertion was always in high demand from customers.

AWS has simplified this kind of messy workflow with the release of AWS Elemental Media Services.

AWS Elemental Media Services: Five Key Services

Let’s look at what we get out of this new release and what it means to us.

As of today, AWS Elemental Media Service has five key services:

AWS Elemental MediaPackage: Provides a console-based way to protect and enhance user playback experiences. The first plus I see here is that AWS Elemental MediaPackage accepts input from multiple protocols including RTMP and RTP, HLS, and DASH rather than being restricted to a single ingest format. The second plus is that it stores all ingest / output assets as a single archive—you don’t need to separate out “live” or “VOD.”

A third benefit is that AWS Elemental MediaPackage supports Google Widevine, Apple FairPlay, and Microsoft PlayReady DRM using AES-128 encryption. You need to be set up with one of the AWS Digital Rights Management (DRM) partners before you can turn on DRM copy protection in the AWS Elemental MediaPackage console. The current list of DRM partners includes BuyDRM, Castlabs, Conax AS, EZDRM, Irdeto, and Verimatrix.

AWS Elemental MediaPackage also enables additional features for playback and audio. Users can configure a DVR experience for live stream viewers and deliver multi-language subtitle tracks.

The big plus for me is that AWS Elemental MediaPackage is designed as a service, not as software running on a virtual server, so it can be easily integrated with other AWS services such as AWS CloudFront and CloudWatch. This gives you one less thing to manage for your distribution.

AWS Elemental MediaConvert: Allows you to format, transcode, and compress video-on-demand for delivery to common playback devices. It supports MPEG-2, Apple ProRes AVC, and HEVC compression standards. It supports a broad range of adaptive bitrate packaging formats including Apple HLS, DASH, and Microsoft Smooth Streaming. AWS Elemental MediaConvert also supports processing and conversion of 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) video content. It includes support for advanced color sampling (10-bit 4:2:2). Again, the big benefit is that this is delivered as a service, so it can be easily integrated with other AWS services such as Amazon S3, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon CloudWatch, and IAM.

AWS Elemental MediaTailor: Provides a simple way to insert targeted mid-roll ads into video content. This is my favorite feature right now. AWS Elemental MediaTailor enables you to deliver HD streams with dynamic ad insertions. It supports ad insertion via SCTE-35, which makes mid-roll ads a reality for any type of customer.

Set up is easy to manage with a few basic parameters.

AWS Elemental MediaLive: Encodes and transcodes livestream content. I don’t see a huge difference here compared to what I might get with other livestream encoding providers. They are all good. In my view, it just comes down to who can make asset distribution and management easiest for you.

AWS Elemental MediaStore: A simple way to store transcoded and origin files that are easily integrated with other AWS services.

In my opinion, here is where AWS Elemental Media Services really shines: 

  • It removes the complexity of video ingestion, delivery, and monetization for end customers.
  • Any customer now has access to broadcast-grade video features. With AWS Elemental MediaConvert, video files can be transcoded in near real-time to all popular formats and can be encrypted for DRM in the same processing batch. AWS Elemental MediaPackage is available in multiple regions, where cloud transcoders running on AWS have more limited availability.
  • You can insert dynamic server-side ads. The service can be managed from the AWS console or API—you don’t need a third party to do it for you. You can still integrate with third-party providers such as ad servers and content delivery networks if you prefer.