Fortunately, they don't have to navigate the waters by themselves and can call on such veteran pixel-pushers as Kevin Bee. Bee is president and co-founder of Uptime Video, created in 1999 specifically to serve the adult market.
Stepping into the Stream
The first step is to "rip" the DVD onto a computer's hard drive. "Most of what we do is proprietary, without the use of any off-the-shelf software," Bee tells XBIZ, "but for the average webmaster, there are tons of ripping programs, some free and some not."
Windows programs Flask MPEG and MPEG Mediator are free; free applications for Macintosh include Mac the Ripper and Handbrake. Other ripping programs, for both operating systems as well as Linux, vary in price and sophistication. They cost anywhere from $10-$100 and offer an increasing assortment of options as one moves up the price ladder.
"Most webmasters will break the movie into clips, either as scenes or chapters like the original DVD, or small 10- to 30-second clips" for promotional content, Bee says. This "clipping" work can be handled by single-purpose applications — Bee says that a popular one for "chopping up video" is VirtualDub, freeware for Windows — but well-heeled webmasters, like most encoding firms, will use one high-end package for both clipping and editing tasks.
Next comes editing, meaning final editing such as inserting watermarks, deleting scenes, etc., at the producer's direction. "Again, there's lots of software out there," Bee says. "The most popular Windows program is probably Adobe Premiere, definitely not free, followed by Sony Vegas."
Adobe Premiere also is available for Macintosh but takes a backseat to Apple's Final Cut Pro. A Google search will unearth many freeware (no-cost) or shareware (low-cost) applications for every computing environment, some of which are surprisingly powerful for the price.
Squeezing Those Pixels
Now the do-it-yourself webmaster is at a crucial step: encoding. Uptime Video stays on the cutting edge of hardware, using custom-made applications and processes jobs in ways that are unlikely to be duplicated by even the most talented website proprietors working alone. But everyone has to start somewhere, and even using today's off-the-shelf computers with freeware programs can yield decent, sometimes very good, results.
Webmasters must first decide how many formats to produce for streaming. For Uptime Video's clients, Bee says, "We make sure we understand how and where they plan to use their content. For most webmasters, .wmv is the most popular format, followed by .mpg. While .mpg is an older, muddier codec, it is playable through almost all popular media players. Flash video is gaining major momentum for this reason, because regardless of the computer, most browsers have the Flash player installed."
Still, a variety of other formats and codecs are being used daily: RealVideo, QuickTime, various flavors of .mpg, .avi and so on. Beginners may find it easier to use "dedicated" encoders that specialize in creating one format well — for example, Windows Media Encoder for .wmv, QuickTime Pro for QuickTime, Flash Video Encoder for Flash video — while more experienced hands (reaching into deeper pockets) can use software bundles such as Sorensen Squeeze or VideoCharge. "With these, users can encode to multiple formats through one piece of software and one interface," Bee explains.
Once webmasters have encoded their movies — after trying various "bit rates" and compression schemes that affect, respectively, smoothness of play and clarity of images — it is time to check with the companies hosting their sites. Hosting firms do not offer media servers and sufficient "bandwidth" (the amount of data traffic allowed on a website's Internet off-ramp) with their bargain basement, $9.95-a-month plans. Streaming media of any kind, music or video, involves a complex, power-hungry set of processes.
Webmasters need to remember the end users, too. One Hollywood recording studio spent hundreds of hours perfecting a website with Flash motion graphics, audio/video clips and live chat capabilities, all in the mistaken belief that most people have high-speed Internet connections. The site may have succeeded in South Korea, where about 75 percent of Internet users have broadband, but the studio owners made their site nearly inaccessible to the 70 percent of American web surfers still using dial-up connections.
Future is Now
Major content distributors of all kinds still provide low-bandwidth streams to serve all the 56k modems out there. But if the future is now for those studios lagging behind Vivid, the future for Vivid and other adult content kings is approaching like an onrushing train.
"We are already seeing a major shift to Flash video because of the flexibility and inherent benefits, and mainstream happens to be ahead of adult in this transition," Bee said. "The average specs for a home computer are only going to increase further, which will make more advanced codecs more feasible." The video veteran also sees major and widespread implementation of high-definition video as well, beginning with the h.264 codec now being used for the newest Apple video iPods.
"We'll see more implementations of the h.264 codec in other formats like Windows," Bee predicts, "including new derivatives and even multithreaded codecs that surpass h.264." Naturally, the proliferation of hi-def video, coupled with the release of new Blu-ray and HD-DVD players, will fuel the continued development of HD encoding, as well as fulfill the need for better compression quality.
Average bandwidth capacity will continue increasing as the Internet continues maturing, Bee says, "so we could potentially see live DVD-quality streams." While some adult distributors already are trying this, Bee calls their efforts "dramatically unsuccessful because of the current technology limitations."
On the tech horizon, video clips are now being delivered to cell phones, too. But a recent survey by NDP Research indicates the marketing challenge that content creators and distributors face with cellphone delivery (and every other new destination): Only 28 percent of cell phones currently in use can handle video streams, and an infinitesimal 1 percent of users currently pay for the service.
Of course, this is just another in a long list of challenges that the envelope-pushing, technology-driving, paradigm-shifting adult entertainment industry has successfully met. And if past successes are any indication, high-quality content deliveries should grow from a stream to a tidal wave in no time.