Amazon Focuses On Cloud Video With Elastic Transcoder Services, Price-Busting + Available Everywhere

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Another move today from Amazon that speaks to its growing presence in content delivery and enterprise services, done at competition-beating prices: today the company launched Elastic Transcoder, a new service that lets people upload digital video and put it into formats — h264, AAC and mp4 for now — that are usable on devices like smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs. Amazon hopes to lure in users with the promise of 20 minutes of free transcoding each month, but after that it offers pricing tiers based on SD or HD format and length of video, starting at $0.015 for SD or $0.030 for HD per minute, a big discount on existing services like Zencoder.

Interestingly, unlike some of Amazon’s services that see very gradual regional rollouts, this one is launching from day-one with availability for the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Price is not the only area that Amazon is disrupting with the new service: it’s also about significantly easier online video creation, coming at a time when online video consumption is rapidly increasing.

In the past, customers would have had to buy their own video transcoding software (or use existing, but more expensive, cloud services like Zendcoder.). Then users need to create settings for specific devices, which can be filled with errors and time consuming. These services can also be a drain on your computer systems. Amazon’s Elastic Transcoder works with presets to elimate some of that work, plus an architecture that minimizes the strain on your systems to convert multiple files simultaneously — something that will appeal to those working with larger files.

“Our customers told us that it was difficult and expensive to transcode video due to the explosion in the number of devices they need to support,” said Charlie Bell, Vice President of Utility Computing Services, in a statement. “They had to be both experts in the intricacies of video support on different devices and manage the software required to run the transcoding jobs. None of this work had anything to do with their goal: getting a high quality video that would look great on the devices they wanted. We built Amazon Elastic Transcoder to give our customers an easy, cost effective way to solve these problems.”

The Elastic Transcoder service plays on two sides of Amazon’s business interests. The first is its increasing presence in cloud-based storage and also services wrapped around that.

These services are often aimed at both larger enterprises and developers and startups. In the last week alone, Amazon has introduced a way to incorporate Amazon in-app purchases to games that are published for PCs on Amazon’s games portal; and it has acquired API-based voice recognition service Ivona to compete and one-better Apple’s Siri and Nuance, which powers the iOS voice-recognition service. (Perhaps just by coincidence, one of the case-studies on an early user of the Elatic Transcoder service is the Language Learning Center, which has used it to transcribe “hundreds of hours of video” for its library.)

Meanwhile, for storage Amazon is well-known as a host for a number of apps and sites — a situation that had far-reaching consequences when Amazon last year saw outages that affected several much-used apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Netflix.

The second area this touches on is Amazon’s growing business in content delivery, specifically video content. Most consumers will know this primarily through services like Amazon Prime Instant Video (or Lovefilm in the UK), which gives users access to premium video content streamed and on demand to compete against the likes of Netflix.

But through its AWS division, Amazon is also a major host and enabler of other companies’ video streaming services (including even Netflix). Video transcoding services like the ones being launched today are relevant both for professional producers but perhaps especially for more independent outfits that are looking for cost-effective solutions for small-scale projects. Amazon offers this service on an a la carte basis, making it particularly easy to use for the latter group, and startups in general. (We first spotted news of the launch on Hacker News, Y-Combinator’s startup-focused news service, although eventually Amazon announced the news, too.)

Amazon says that Elastic Transcoder is a one-stop shop. “There’s no need to administer software, scale hardware, tune performance, or otherwise manage transcoding infrastructure. You simply create a transcoding ‘job’ specifying the location of your source video and how you want it transcoded,” it writes on the site. “Amazon Elastic Transcoder also provides transcoding presets for popular output formats, which means that you don’t need to guess about which settings work best on particular devices. All these features are available via service APIs and the AWS Management Console.”

The move, by default, also enhances and promotes the usefulness of Amazon’s other cloud services. The transcoding jobs is run using the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, also know as Amazon EC2. Amazon also notes that the service is linked up with content stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (aka Amazon S3). It uses its in-house Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) to alert users of the status of their transcoding jobs.