Blackbird No Longer Forbidden

Blackbird has developed new frame-accurate codecs and rendering technologies that are faster than real time. And it’s all done in the cloud.

This company that is riding the crest of some remarkable technology has changed its calling card, maybe not to many peoples’ surprise.

“What was known as Forbidden Technologies is henceforth to be called Blackbird,” Ian McDonough, CEO of Blackbird began our (for me) early morning interview direct from Wimbledon, in the south of London. “Not only is ‘Blackbird’ the name of our editing platform, it also evokes the image of a cloud, since the proper collective term for a flock of blackbirds is a ‘cloud’.”

If you’ve read my last article about these adventurous folk, “Forbidden Puts Frame Accurate Editing in the Cloud” (August 3, 2018), you will already know that the tiger they have by the tail is the ability to offer a codec and supporting software infrastructure that enables spot-on frame accurate editing in cloud-based projects.

For those of us editors who have lived in the MPEG world of long GOP (Group of Pictures) compression in which individual frames may or may not actually exist, this can be a revelatory experience.

As McDonough explained to me, that is why in order to sign up 14 post-production companies into their new Blackbird Productions Partnership Program (“BP3”) over the last five months, it took a bit of educational explaining.

“Their customers are mostly in the London market so far, dealing with large scale documentary and reality shows,” he said, “because our codec and the browser-based tools behind it are all about efficiency and cost savings.”

This approach is all SaaS (Software as a Service), and BP3 has already made inroads into U. S. markets by licensing this approach to post houses.

But they have a second arm aimed at live sports and live news.

“We are in 20 local news markets that are part of the Meredith Corporation, he said, “and we are making rapid inroads into sports.”

Besides being involved with Madison Square Garden sports production, BP3 is also providing services to the Buffalo Bills where it is being used to produce content for both broadcast and social media.

Then just on June 19th, Blackbird announced it had signed "a significant six-figure, multi-year deal with A+E Networks".

You may never catch the guy pedaling down Machu Pichu in front of you on your spin bike, but you'll be chasing him in frame accurate video!

You may never catch the guy pedaling down Machu Pichu in front of you on your spin bike, but you'll be chasing him in frame accurate video!

Its technology will be used to "deliver major productivity enhancements across A+E Networks’ business" including creating content highlights to social media channels. 

But the goal of this article is not just to establish BP3’s marketing bona fides (heck, I’m not even mentioning that all the video home Peloton stationary spin bikers race after is produced using Blackbird), I really wanted to find out how they make the magic of frame accurate editing in the cloud a reality.

Fortunately, Stephen Streater, founder of the company and its R & D director since he invented the software, was excellent at explaining it.

“We know that MPEG is used to get video onto your TV, and for that it is pretty good,” Streater began, “but it was never designed to do the things like navigation (i.e. jog/shuttle), smooth bi-directional playback and frame accurate positioning that we need. And the standard used in a browser, HTML-5 also has its limitations when applied to these tasks.”

So to develop Blackbird, he turned to a multi-paradigm-programming language called Javascript. (Author’s note-not be confused with the Java programming language or the Java software platform).

“Javascript traditionally was just for little things like drop-down menus,” Streater said, “but in 2017 they came out with a new version called WebAssembly, a technology standardized by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that could also do audio and video.”

WebAssembly (abbreviated Wasm) works on all browsers. It is a binary instruction format for a stack-based virtual machine.

WebAssembly (abbreviated Wasm) works on all browsers. It is a binary instruction format for a stack-based virtual machine.

WebAssembly was originally geared for video gaming, which is why most modern browsers support it on desktop and mobile platforms.

But Streater designed his own codec for video that allowed him to play back 1080P imagery at very high frame rate in Javascript.

“That means up to 4 billion people already have browsers that can use our Blackbird codec to play back 1080P video with frame accuracy in Javascript,” Streater wound up. “That means they don’t need additional configuration, no installation, once they have a license they simply go to a Web page and run and edit their video.”

Once you have loaded the Blackbird editing application, it creates proxies of your video faster than real time so you don’t need to work on the hi rez version and you only store the material that will actually be used in the final version.

All rendering is done in the cloud, so you don’t have to pause the editing process to wait for it. Since the software is platform agnostic, you can monitor it from any platform be it desktop or mobile.

As a product that lives in the cloud, you know that collaboration is central to Blackbird’s workflow.

Some people are taking remote editing as an option.

Blackbird is raising cloud-based editing to the level of indispensable.

Let us know what you think…

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