Cloud Transcoding: What It Is and Why It’s Important [2021 Update]

By Max Wilbert

13 Min Read

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Max Wilbert

Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

Table of Contents

    Online video streaming quality plays a huge role in the viewer experience. In fact, video quality is so important that OTT broadcasters run the risk of revenue losses of up to 25% when their streaming quality is compromised. 

    Transcoding and encoding are two important processes that help broadcasters maintain high-quality streams. Cloud transcoding, in particular, is a newer technology that streamlines this process for broadcasters.

    In this post, we will compare encoding and transcoding before we look specifically at cloud transcoding. We will discuss what cloud video transcoding is and why it is relevant in the live streaming arena.

    We will wrap things up by discussing how to set up video transcoding and required encoding settings on Dacast.

    Table of Contents:

    • The Confusing Array of Modern File Formats
    • Encoding vs. Transcoding: The Basics
    • What is Cloud Transcoding?
    • 3 Reasons to Use Cloud Transcoding
    • How to Set Up Cloud Transcoding
    • How to Transcode Video on Dacast
    • Encoding on Dacast: Required Settings
    • Conclusion

    The Confusing Array of Modern File Formats

    Before we dive into all things encoding and transcoding, it is important to recognize how vital these processes are.

    Modern video cameras record files in a confusing array of formats. These include H.264, DV and HDC, AVCHD (a variant of H.264), MPEG-2, ProRes, and various RAW formats (BlackMagic, Red Raw, ProRes Raw, etc.). Those are just the tip of the iceberg. 

    More options may sound better, but here’s the problem: hardly any of these formats will play for viewers on internet browsers because they’re not designed for streaming. 

    The solution? You’ve got to convert the files into streamable formats, and that’s where encoding and transcoding come into play.

    Encoding vs. Transcoding: The Basics

    encoding vs transcoding
    Encoding is used for changing the format of the file, and transcoding is for creating multiple sizes of the same file.

    Encoding vs transcoding is two very similar processes. They both have to do with transforming video files to make them streamable. The terms are often wrongly used interchangeably, but they are not one and the same.

    Video encoding is defined as: 

    “In video editing and production, video encoding is the process of preparing the video for output, [whereby] the digital video is encoded to meet proper formats and specifications for recording and playback through the use of video encoder software.”

    Simply put, video encoding converts the non-streamable files from the camera (that we mentioned above) into a digital format that can be streamed over the internet.

    Transcoding, on the other hand, refers to creating copies of video files in different sizes. These compressed files are called “renditions.” The idea behind creating multiple renditions is that different internet speeds can handle different-sized files. 

    A large video needs faster internet speeds than a smaller one. If your internet is slow and you try to stream a large video file, the quality will not be great. Skipping, buffering, and lagging will make it difficult to watch. Streaming a smaller video file will avoid these quality issues.

    What is Cloud Transcoding?

    For the purposes of streaming video online, we define cloud transcoding as:

    Cloud transcoding is the process of creating several “renditions” of the same video in the cloud. Each rendition is transcoded to different sizes, allowing you to offer your video in different qualities. These renditions are used for multi-bitrate streaming in an adaptive bitrate player.

    Although transcoding generally refers to creating renditions of a video file at different sizes, “cloud transcoding” is more of an umbrella term that describes when both encoding and transcoding processes happen in the “Cloud” rather than with the help of a piece of equipment.

    Cloud transcoding allows broadcasters to offer video content in different qualities and with multi-bitrates. The cloud transcoding / adaptive bitrate player duo will automatically select the appropriate rendition for each of your viewers based on the strength of their internet.

    The advantage of using an HTML5 online video player with built-in cloud transcoding is that you don’t have to rely on an external device or software to carry out encoding or transcoding. It streamlines the entire process.

    3 Reasons to Use Cloud Video Transcoding

    Given the complications of video formats today, cloud transcoding has become very important. Here are three ways that cloud transcoding can improve your online broadcasting experience.

    1. Ensure All-Device Compatibility

    HTML5 Video Player
    Cloud video transcoding ensures compatibility across all devices, for live streaming with an HTML5 player.

    As we mentioned above, many existing formats just aren’t compatible with streaming video content. Today, the gold standard for online video is H.264-encoded files in an MP4 container with AAC audio. H.264 remains the dominant codec, and 96.96% of browsers support it. Nothing else comes close.

    Cloud transcoding can take almost any common file format and automatically transcode it into H.264, with AAC audio, in an MP4 container. It does so automatically, with no technical knowledge required on your part. 

    After cloud video transcoding, these uploaded files can then playback on any device, including smart TVs, smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets, game consoles, etc. In short, all-device compatibility ensures that playback is perfect on each type of screen.

    2. Enable Adaptive Playback

    Generally speaking, you choose the highest quality possible when you record a video. This results in a large digital file. However, this presents a problem for users with slow internet connections. Their internet speeds may not be fast enough to playback that video file in real-time.

    The solution is adaptive video playback. Adaptive playback means that your online video platform keeps multiple copies of each video file. 

    Users with fast internet connections will receive a high-quality copy of the video. Likewise, those with slow internet connections will get a lower-quality copy. Overall, adaptive playback results in “very little buffering, fast start time, and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections.” It’s ideal for situations when network conditions fluctuate, such as when someone watches a video in a moving vehicle.

    Adaptive playback depends on cloud transcoding to automatically create multiple “renditions,” or quality levels, for each video file. Again, you can automate this process with cloud transcoding to save time and effort.

    3. Cloud Video Transcoding Better Allocates Resources

    cloud video transcoding
    Cloud video transcoding saves time, money, and manpower.

    It’s possible to transcode all of your videos on computers in your offices or facilities. However, this method can incur unwanted costs. Another major benefit of cloud transcoding is avoiding the expenses associated with transcoding in-house.

    According to Streaming Media, cloud transcoding reduces costs due to “purchasing and renewing hardware/software. It also eliminates the operating expenditures associated with running such a platform—not just ongoing support, but electricity, floor space, and human technician support.”

    There’s another factor at play that amplifies these savings: that’s the issue of peak load. With an in-house transcoding system, you should expect to meet maximum processing requirements at peak times. For example, you may try to transcode 4K, HDR, HFR digital video files. Anyone who has done this before knows it challenges even the most powerful hardware.

    Now, what happens when you have to transcode six videos at the same time? Or a dozen? Two dozen? What happens when you have to do all of this on a tight deadline?

    The point is, in serious environments, you may need to scale your transcoding capacity rapidly to meet peak demands. This is challenging when each expansion requires sourcing and buying new equipment, setting up streaming software, connecting it to the network, etc.

    Cloud transcoding, in contrast, uses massive data centers and is scalable to any possible peak load. This allows you to keep costs reasonable, even if your peak processing requirements are quite high.

    How to Set Up Cloud Transcoding

    With that context in mind, let’s cover how to set up cloud transcoding. 

    First, it is possible to set up third-party contracts with outside encoding software vendors. However, there’s also a much easier approach. You can simply use an online video platform with cloud transcoding support, such as Dacast. These professional streaming platforms make it easy to upload your videos, transcode them, and deliver them all with the same platform.

    To make cloud transcoding easy, Dacast offers a special feature called “ingest recipes.” This tool allows you to create presets for common transcoding settings. Even better, you can configure these settings to match the camera(s) that you use most often. Then, you can apply these transcoding settings to any video upload with a single click. 

    As a result, broadcasters can quickly and easily create multiple renditions of the same video with a single click.

    How to Transcode Video on Dacast

    Dacast makes transcoding very easy. It’s as simple as configuring a few settings and initiating the process. 

    Here’s how it works:

    1. Upload files to Dacast
    2. Determine which videos must be transcoded in the “Video on Demand” section of your Dacast portal
    3. Choose a video and go to the “Multi-bitrate” settings tab
    4. Indicate the bitrates for the renditions that you’d like to create

    Please note that Dacast’s cloud transcoding tools do not encode live video feeds. This requires the support of an external RTMP encoder, but do not fret. There are free tools for this, like OBS Studio.

    Dacast also includes a variety of other features that are useful for businesses. These features include monetization tools, analytics, API access for customization, SDKs for development work, and more. 

    Encoding on Dacast: Required Settings

    Dacast requires specific encoder setting configurations to ensure that the platform works properly and produces the highest quality of content.

    Here are a few settings that we require broadcasters to use when streaming with our video platform.

    Required Live Encoder Settings

    The following settings are required for live streaming with Dacast, regardless of your selected resolution and video bitrate:

    VIDEO CODECH.264 (x264 may work)
    FRAME RATE25 or 30
    KEYFRAME INTERVAL2 secs (or 2x frame rate)
    RATE CONTROLConstant (CBR)
    AUDIO BITRATE128 kbps
    AUDIO CHANNELS2 (Stereo)
    AUDIO SAMPLE RATE48 kHz (48,000 Hz)

    Resolution & Bitrate Settings

    Here are the different video resolution and bitrate setting combinations for streaming in different qualities. You can choose from ultra-low definition, low definition, standard definition, high definition, and full high definition.

    NameUltra-Low DefinitionLow DefinitionStandard DefinitionHigh DefinitionFull High Definition
    Video Bitrate (kbps)350350 – 800800 – 12001200 – 19001900 – 4500
    Resolution Width (px)42664085412801920
    Resolution Height (px)2403604807201080
    H.264 ProfileMainMainHighHighHigh

    For more information on Dacast’s preferred and required encoder settings, please check out our dedicated Knowledgebase article.


    live cloud transcoding
    Are you ready to use live cloud transcoding to improve your streaming quality?

    Cloud transcoding paired with adaptive bitrate streaming is the recipe for success for broadcasters who prioritize their viewers’ experience.

    In this article, we’ve covered everything you need to know about cloud live video transcoding. As we mentioned, cloud transcoding is an important topic for broadcasters to understand and implement. In particular, transcoding can help boost your viewership and keep viewers happy by reducing buffering and improving the quality of the experience.

    If you’re in the market for a video platform, feel free to contact our support team directly to discuss your specific needs. We’re here to help and can walk you through any technical questions you may have. 

    If you need additional assistance, our live streaming and professional video hosting services are available to help you get up and running. 

    We also invite you to test out our professional features with a 30-day free trial of Dacast. All you have to do to get started is sign up today. No credit card is required.

    Thanks for reading, and let us know your questions and feedback in the comment section below. We love to hear from our readers, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    For more regular tips on live streaming, as well as exclusive offers, you can join our LinkedIn group.

    author avatar

    Max Wilbert

    Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

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