There is a lot of buzz today in the online video community about Amazon’s recent entry into the cloud video transcoding space. Of course, this is nothing entirely new for Amazon Web Services; popular cloud encoding services have run on Amazon EC2 infrastructure for years now. With Elastic Transcode, Amazon takes a step up the cloud stack, offering a Software-as-a-Service that competes directly with GridVid.me, Zencoder, and other popular cloud video encoding services.
Competition is great for customers and the industry in general, and we welcome Amazon to the market. We are also glad to see that Amazon followed our lead and introduced their product with pricing almost as low as ours. The message to customers is clear: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on encoding.
With this blog post, I want to take a finer look at Amazon’s Elastic Transcode service and how a few key features compare to other cloud video encoding services, like GridVid.me.
Amazon has come in with some very attractive pricing. As with most Amazon services, you must select an availability region. The default is US-East N. Virginia and for standard definition (SD) video, they bill at $0.015 per video minute (thats one and a half cents). For high definition (HD) they bill at $0.030 per video minute (three cents). Anything less than 720 resolution is considered SD and anything equal to or above 720 is considered HD. Of course, if you choose a different availability region, you may pay a different price. US-West California bills at $0.017 for SD and $0.034 for HD. Amazon is also offering 20 free minutes of SD encoding every month (or 10 minutes of HD).
While Amazon Elastic Transcode has attractive pricing, there are some downsides. FIrst, Gridvid.me is likely still less expensive. With 1,000 free monthly and as just $0.02 to $0.01 per minute regardless of resolution, there are few scenarios where GridVid.me doesn’t win.
Keep in mind that Amazon also requires you to select an availability zone, while competing services like Zencoder and GridVid.me allow you to skip this step.
Amazon Elastic Transcode supports encoding into H.264 video and AAC audio with an MP4 container. With other cloud video encoding services, like GridVid.me, you have many more options. These options include Xvid, VPX, FLV, MPEG-2, MP3, Vorbis, WMA, and more.
Amazon Elastic Transcode is also missing HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) at the time of launch. HLS is a required capability for anyone delivering video to iOS devices. Most other cloud video encoding services, like GridVid.me, support HLS and it is a highly used part of their service.
Naturally, Amazon Elastic Transcode supports Amazon S3 storage. For most customers, S3 is the best and preferred option. However, some customers require pre and post encoding storage in other locations. While Amazon Elastic Transcode is limited to S3 storage, most other cloud encoding services like GridVid.me also support HTTP and FTP.
Thumbnails, Overlays, and other Add-On’s
Amazon Elastic Transcode supports thumbnails, just like other services. What they don’t yet support at the time of launch are things like overlays (also known as watermarks), clips, or captions. An overlay allows the content owner to do things like place their logo in a corner of the video, for the duration of the viewing. Or, add a watermark to identify the content as theirs. Clips are like thumbnails but instead of still images, they are short video segments from the larger file. GridVid.me and Zencoder both support overlays and clips, while Amazon does not.
Another feature that is becoming more and more popular is Captioning, something GridVid.me does not yet support but Zencoder does. This is an increasingly important part of video, especially as governments are encouraging more content to come with captions as a benefit to the disabled or non-english speaker. If this is a feature you need, Zencoder is your best bet at this time.
These are just a few of the differences between Amazon Elastic Transcode and other options in the cloud video encoding industry. There are many things that Amazon has done well with this product, and it is a great option for many customers. However, if codecs, file location, and add-on’s are important to you, there are other options worth your evaluation. In addition to GridVid.me and Zencoder, other options include Encoding.com, Panda, and Heywatch.