Amazon has launched an online video file encoding service based on its web services platform. It will compete with other more fully featured services that are also hosted on Amazon Web Services. The convenience of services hosted in the internet cloud offers many benefits to media publishers, reflecting a commoditisation of services that once required millions of pounds of capital investment.

The Amazon Elastic Transcoder provides a highly scalable service for transcoding video between different digital media formats.

Based on the Amazon Web Services platform, it manages all aspects of the conversion and optionally provides presets and custom settings for encoding video for different smartphones, tablets, web browsers and other devices.

It currently supports common compressed media formats for input and output to AAC audio and H.264 video These can be wrapped in a multi-bitrate MP4 container and then packaged into either HLS or Smooth formats, with DASH support promised.

It avoids the need for customers to provision their own hardware, manage transcoding software and test audio and video settings for each destination device. The necessary services can be used as required, allowing multiple transcodes to be completed in parallel, scaling to meet peak demand, on a pay-as-you go pricing model.

Customers are charged based on the number of minutes of material encoded and whether it is standard or high-definition. Up to 20 minutes of material a month can be encoded free of charge to evaluate the service.

The pricing structure starts at $0.015 a minute for standard definition and $0.030 a minute for high-definition output. There are no set-up fees, volume commitments or long-term contracts.

Although a few cents a minute sounds cheap, it can add up to many dollars an hour to convert into multiple formats. However, that is likely to be an efficient and cost effective solution in many cases, particularly since the output ends up stored in the internet cloud, from where you may wish to deliver it.

“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,” explained Charlie Bell, who is responsible for utility computing services at Amazon. “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. We built Amazon Elastic Transcoder to give our customers an easy, cost effective way to solve these problems.”

Amazon Web Services was launched in 2006 and provides a highly scalable infrastructure platform on which customers can rent capacity as required. AWS offers a number of different services, including processing, storage and database applications, available to customers from data centers in the United States, Brazil, Europe, Japan, Singapore and Australia.

The Amazon Elastic Transcoder runs on their Elastic Compute Cloud, EC2, and is built to work with Amazon Simple Storage Service, S3. It can be run from a management console. Application programming interfaces are available to integrate into other applications and services.

Aimed at developers rather than business users, a reasonable level of experience is still required to set things up. Early reports suggest there are some limitations that will need to be addressed but no doubt the platform will evolve.

As well as its own online video services, Amazon powers a number of other platforms, such as Netflix.

The Amazon service will compete directly with providers such as and Zencoder that also use Amazon Web Services. They may offer more comprehensive services and better support but the whole area of digital video transcoding and distribution is clearly becoming commoditized.

Microsoft recently released its Window Azure Media Services platform for encoding and delivering video to multiple destination devices, including Apple iOS and Android products.

The availability of such cloud-based platforms as a service reduces the need for companies to make their own capital investments in infrastructure, allowing them to scale services according to the demands of the business.

While there may be concerns about outsourcing business critical operations, the reliability and flexibility they can offer often demonstrates business benefits over establishing and managing an in-house operation.