In our article Overview of software encoders we examined the possibility of using a conventional PC and the software package Live encoder software to create a video stream publishing system. If you look from the point of view of possible costs and ergonomics of the product, then, in addition to universality, there are no other real advantages for this approach.
However, there are a number of significant drawbacks that do not allow you to definitely choose PC-based software encoders:
Of course, in practice, everything is not so scary, as modern workstations and software have recently significantly increased their level of fault tolerance. But you can’t completely ignore these problems.
And now let's see what you can find if you focus on ready-made solutions with hardware support for encoding processes. An analysis of the proposals shows that a ready-made single-channel encoder can be bought for about the same money, without losing anything in terms of functionality, the presence of video and audio interfaces and other parameters.
Of course, any encoder will always be a system in which a small low-power Linux PC is built in, which controls the encoding processes, but does not take part in rendering itself. Its operating system is limited in functionality by so much that it is enough to perform only the required tasks and nothing more. And the process of signal conversion, its coding and processing is performed by built-in coprocessors, which only receive control commands.
Such a system is very reliable by minimizing the actions taken, its power consumption is very low due to the lack of the need to support the work of a large number of components. In addition, the size of the device is also reduced due to the rejection of unnecessary and redundant components.
In other words, at the price of a software encoder, you can get a similar hardware, but more compact, reliable and easy to maintain device.
All proposals of such solutions can be divided into 3 main groups:
Within the scope of one article, it is completely difficult to describe all the real capabilities of various devices, so the review will be based on a brief analysis of the main features, support for certain technologies and the scope of application of budget encoders. Devices with high cost have slightly different functionality, and comparing them with an inexpensive segment is incorrect due to various circumstances, in addition to price. IP cameras are also the subject of a separate review.
This segment of the market is represented by an incredibly huge amount of products, ranging from products of well-known brands such as Matrox or AJA to cheap Chinese manufacturers whose real work is in great doubt. We should also mention the Russian manufacturer, StramLabs, their solutions at relatively low cost have good functionality.
Now let's look at the configuration of a typical budget PC encoder using the example of Matrox Monarch.
The product is a single-board computer equipped with a processor with a built-in video and audio data encoding core, a set of memory circuits, a Flash memory module, as well as an HDMI and audio converter. The processor TMS320DM8148 (ARM Cortex A8 Core) used is clocked at 1 GHz, has 512 KB L2 cache, and also supports hardware encoding for h.264, MPEG2, MPEG4, SP / ASP, JPEG / MJPEG. The board has 4 SKhynix h5tq2g63dfr memory modules with a capacity of 2 GB DDR3, as well as a 16 GB NAND Flash module 29F4G16ABADA. As an operating system, there is a Linux OS. Since the presence of a graphical interface and the implementation of full-fledged work are not required, and the most resource-intensive process (coding process) is supported at the hardware level, a PC is an excellent solution that allows you to get a result comparable to a Core i5 / i7 level PC with minimal energy consumption.
In general, the device is simple, requiring minimal maintenance and consuming a small amount of energy. There is only one problem: to establish the cause of the malfunction and repair it outside the service center or specialized workshop is practically unrealistic.
The company specializes in developing its own solutions for the Broadcast industry. These are graphic design systems, multi-screen processors, and broadcast automation systems. Encoding devices are represented by a series of WaveServer devices, which differ in the type of input interface and supported resolution.
Four Channel WaveServer 3554 IP Video Server.
The product is intended for the simultaneous encoding of four video signals of standard (SD) resolution from analog cameras to IP streams in the ONVIF v2.2 standard. Each channel supports a maximum frequency of 25 frames per second. The device is powered by DC 12-48 V or PoE technology.
The presence of an additional processor allows the WaveServer 3554 encoder to embed various video analytics directly into the device. This device supports: motion detection, license plate recognition and face detection.
Configuration is carried out through the built-in web-interface, or through ONVIF compatible software. Encoding is performed using the built-in Stretch 7120 compressor and supports the MJPEG and H.264 formats. Using the built-in RS-485 interface, the device will allow you to control PTZ and PTZ cameras in Pelco-D, Pelco-P standards. Supported TP / RTCP, RTSP streaming protocols.
WaveServer VCL-SDI MINI Single Channel IP Video Server
The device is a single-channel system for encoding an SD / HD / 3G-SDI signal with embedded or analog audio with video signal support up to 1080p @ 60 with support for H.264 or MJPEG compression and signal transmission via RTP / RTSP protocol. Input signal parameters are determined automatically, and streaming starts when there is a signal on the input interface. Management is also carried out via the web interface or using ONVIF compatible applications. But, unlike the previous model, there is no support for controlling PTZ cameras, as well as a motion detector and recognition of image elements. This is a pure encoder with PoE support or external power supply.
WaveServer DVI-IP Pro Single Channel IP Video Server
The encoder is an analog of the WaveServer VCL-SDI MINI model in terms of functional parameters, it supports the DVI-D digital input (By-Pass) video signal, as well as the analog audio signal. Thanks to the support of various formats, you can connect video cameras with different resolutions to the device, as well as various devices such as a medical oscilloscope or a PC video output.
The domestic encoders (Streamlabs) presented above are a very good and low-cost solution both to add the signal of classic video cameras to the IP data transfer medium, and to receive and encode data received from specific medical and computer equipment. A good solution at a cost of 55 thousand rubles per device. But the devices have neither the ability to remotely control, nor record the video signal to external media, nor the backup system.
This brand represents two product lines that can be divided into devices for streaming on the Internet and devices for transmitting video and audio data over IP networks.
The Matrox Video division promotes the Monarch series, while Matrox Graphics offers the Maevex user as hardware solutions.
The manufacturer unambiguously shares these directions, however, for example, Matrox Monarch HD and Matrox Maevex are basically the same device with different firmware. At the same time, the Matrox Video encoders, oddly enough, are less reliable, more sensitive to the incoming signal, less fault tolerant and have a number of other drawbacks.
Matrox Monarch Series.
This series consists of 3 products that differ both in functional capabilities and in the degree of stability, technical characteristics and types of input signals supported simultaneously.
Compared to StreamLabs products, the fundamental difference between these encoders is the presence of an API. Management is implemented through the HTTP protocol. It is enough to follow the link to perform the old streaming / recording or other basic functions. At first glance, these are not very necessary features, as there is a simple and intuitive web interface. But on the other hand, using this control method, the device is easily integrated into various automation systems, while there is no need to use specific protocols or technologies. There is officially supported integration with Crestron 2 and 3 series controllers. Implemented support for resolutions up to 1080p60, as well as analog or digital embedded sound.
It is worth noting separately support for simultaneous streaming and signal recording while supporting a rather high bitrate in the saved file (up to 30 Mb / s with h.264 compression). At the same time, it is not necessary to write and generate a Live stream with the same parameters, the bitrate may differ, and the processes themselves can be started independently of each other either by the http command, or via the web interface, or by pressing the corresponding buttons on the front panel of the devices. The signal is recorded to an SD card, USB-Flash drives (including external hard drives), as well as to network folders or NAS storage.
Matrox Monarch HD.
This is the very first Matrox IP encoder. His first models were very unstable, constantly freezing, and the generated stream contained errors that did not always allow decoding devices to correctly receive the stream.
Over time, the device was significantly modified, its stability increased.
As for the supported standards, Matrox Monarch HD supports h.264 / AAC compression with bitrate changes up to 20 Mbit / s for streaming and up to 30 Mbit / s for recording. For streaming, RTMP / RTSP protocols are supported, the stream can be transferred to Wowza media servers, Adobe Media Server, video hosting services such as YouTube, Vimeo and others. Recording can be done both on the internal USB / SD storage, and in a network folder in MP4 or MOV container.
The practice of using the device showed that with a stable input signal, it is able to work 24/7. But if there are errors in the input signal or an unstable network connection, malfunctions can lead to critical consequences, up to the need to reset the settings to factory settings.
The cost is about $ 1,200. In other words, we get a good encoder, the characteristics are no worse than a PC-based solution. At the same time, there is the possibility of remote control, as well as the ability to integrate the device into a complex automated system.
Another significant advantage is the passive cooling system, which is not the case with HDX and LCS.
Matrox Monarch HDX.
If you believe what the manufacturer writes about the device, then this is a 2-channel device that allows you to simultaneously process signals from HDMI and SDI inputs. In practice, this is not so. The device works with only one of the signals. And the support of 2 channels in reality represents the generation of 2 independent streams from an HDMI or SDI source. There is no switching between real-time signals, streaming must first be stopped, the source changed, and then restarted.
For all other characteristics, the encoder repeats the capabilities of Matrox Monarch HD. But it is worth noting that the developers made a really new device that has significantly higher stability, is more resistant to errors in the input signal, more resistant to network failures and is able to continue working without rebooting if problems occur, which is verified by repeated tests. The absence of a signal at the input or a change in the characteristics does not cause a hang.
Another interesting feature is the ability to control multiple devices through a single web interface. The user adds addresses of up to 4 additional encoders, after which he can simultaneously send commands for recording / streaming.
The order of value is $ 1,400, which is a very reasonable price for a stable fail-safe device that allows you to generate 2 streams, albeit from one source.
Matrox Monarch LCS.
This device is really 2-channel, unlike the HDX model. The user can work with them as independent encoders, recording / streaming.
But it is worth noting separately that this is not just a device for recording / streaming, but a video mixer that can not only switch between sources in real time, but also simultaneously display them on the screen. The figure below shows the available operating modes.
From a technical point of view, this product seems to be the most interesting in the Monarch line. This is a multi-channel mode of operation (unlike HDX, really two-channel), and support for the functionality of the video mixer, as well as all the advantages that are available in previous models while maintaining relatively compact sizes. True, the cost of the solution is not at all budgetary and amounts to about $ 3,000.
Matrox Maevex серия
Another division of Matrox, Matrox Graphics, is dedicated to creating solutions for video walls and multi-screen processors. Of the entire product line for this review, the 5100 (HD) series encoders and the 6100 (4K / UHD) series encoders are of interest.
Matrox Maevex 5100.
The solution consists of an encoder that allows you to transmit a signal up to 1080p60 video with sound over a standard IP network, and an optional decoder. Maevex Encoder captures video and audio from a computer or other media source and distributes signals to any external Maevex devices or decoders.
H.264 / Mpeg4 Part 10 (AVC) compression is supported for video with a maximum bit rate of 25 Mbps, AAC-LC compression for audio with a maximum bitrate of 256 kbps. The flow parameter setting tools allow you to adjust CBR / VBR, adjust the size of the GOP (Group of Pictures) structure. Streaming is done using the protocols RTP / RTSP / RTCP inside UDP.
Unfortunately, 5100 series devices do not support web-based management; for setup, you need to install Windows-compatible software, Matrox PowerStream, which allows remote monitoring and topology management of the entire Maevex network. The installed application supports many functions, such as device discovery, streaming settings, control, selection of a codec-decoder pair. The function of transmitting RS-232 commands as part of the same stream is also interesting, which will allow not only to deliver video and audio signals to the playback device, but also to control, for example, industrial LCD displays. The price of the encoder is approximately $ 1200, the decoder is approximately $ 600.
Matrox Maevex 6100.
This is a four-channel encoder with resolution support up to 4K / UHD. The bit rate per channel reaches a maximum value of 120 Mbps with support for H.264 / MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC) encoding for video, and 576 kbps MPEG-4 AAC-LC / HEv1 / HEv2 for audio. Separately, it is worth noting the possibility of image processing with support for PiP, PbP, and scaling effects. There is support for recording a signal with saving to mp4 format on network resources. Both standard RTP / RTSP / RTCP and HTTP / HTTPS over TCP UPnP, MPEG2.TS over UDP, RTMP are now available as streaming protocols.
The device has two network interfaces, one of which only supports streaming, while the other, in addition to streaming, supports management. This is a very correct and convenient solution, as it allows you to separate the control network and the network for transmitting video data. Of course, the Maevex 6100 encoder is compatible with the 5100 series decoder, unless of course the resolution of the input stream does not exceed 1920 * 1080 pixels.
The cost of this product is not clear, this information is not publicly available. But an order of 1000-1500 US dollars per coding channel is expected, otherwise it will be difficult to call it “budget”.
Кодер AJA HELO.
This product is a direct competitor to Matrox Monarch HDX. At first glance, this is the same encoder, but wrapped in a different package. But if you compare the specifications, they are slightly different. Something is a pure marketing move, and something very well expands the functionality and is of interest to the consumer.
So, first of all, the support for maximum resolution is striking. It is 2048x1080p. The parameter is higher than that of a competitor, but there is a slight limitation: it is only supported for SDI input and is hardware-reduced to 1080p using the Center Cut effect. The compression type is the same, H.264 / MPEG-4, the same and supported profiles (Baseline, Main, High), but the bitrate is already 20 Mb / s for both streaming and recording. Whereas even Matrox Monarch HD supports up to 30 Mbps. For sound, AAC-LC up to 256 kbps is standardly supported. With streaming protocols on the HELO side, an advantage, since in addition to RTSP / RTMP, RTP / UDP (Unicast, Multi Unicast) support is added, and this is very lacking in Matrox products.
Writing to a file is also supported, this is writing to an SD / USB flash drive, and writing to a network resource. But for USB, there is support for the USB 3.0 standard. The advantage is more of a marketing than really necessary, since you can write with a bitrate of 20 Mbps to a low-speed storage medium.
Management is carried out through the web interface, and there is also a Mini USB slot for settings and firmware updates. There is also a toolkit for the REST API developer. But it’s worth separately highlighting such a convenient function as the built-in task scheduler and support for ICS calendars. This is very convenient, since it allows you to not only work with the schedule, but also to layout it through external systems, as well as synchronize the operation of the device with the functioning of an external automation system without the need to develop external solutions and modules. This is a significant advantage compared to competitors from Matrox.
The average cost of a product on the market is $ 1,500.
This article analyzed the most famous low-cost encoders from trusted and reliable manufacturers that are guaranteed to perform the declared functionality, and you can get adequate technical support and advice from resellers or the developer directly.
And now, as a generalization, we will combine the devices described in this review article, which appear to be the most important in this price segment, into a comparative table.<./p>
|StreamLabs||Matrox Video||Matrox Graphics||AJA|
|WaveServer 3554||WaveServer VCL-SDI MINI||WaveServer DVI-IP Pro||Monarch HD/td>||Monarch NDX||Monarch LCS||Maevex 5100||Maevex 6100||HELO|
|Количество и тип входного сигнала||4 SD аналоговых сигнала||1 3G-SDI вход||1 DVI/HDMI вход||1 HDMI вход||1 3G-SDI вход, 1 HDMI вход||1 3G-SDI вход, 1 HDMI вход||1 HDMI/DVI вход, 1 VGA вход (1080р)||4 HDMI входа (4K/UHD)||1 3G-SDI вход, 1 HDMI вход|
|Протоколы стриминга||RTP/RTSP||RTP/RTSP||RTP/RTSP||RTMP/RTSP||RTMP/RTSP||RTMP/RTSP||RTP/RTSP||RTP/RTSP, RTMP, HTTP||RTP/RTSP, RTMP, UDP|
|Видео компрессия||h.264/MPEG4, MJPEG||h.264/MPEG4, MJPEG||h.264/MPEG4, MJPEG||h.264/MPEG4||h.264/MPEG4||h.264/MPEG4||h.264/MPEG4||h.264/MPEG4||h.264/MPEG4|
|Управление||Веб-интерфейс, ONVIF-клиент||Веб-интерфейс, ONVIF-клиент||Веб-интерфейс, ONVIF-клиент||Веб-интерфейс||Веб-интерфейс||Веб-интерфейс||Matrox PowerStream||Matrox PowerStream||Веб-интерфейс, Mini USB|
|Электропитание||PoE, внешний блок питания||PoE, внешний блок питания||PoE, внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания||Внешний блок питания|
|Стоимость, доллары США||900||900||900||1 200||1 400||3 000||1 200||10 000||1 500|