MirriAd, the embedded advertising startup that made such an impression at NVIDIA’s Emerging Companies Summit, is one of five promising companies that recently were named “Ones to Watch.”

The impressive technology can put a brand on just about anything within digital video, with placements ranging from discrete to in-your-face. Forrest Gump sits on a park bench with a subtle Coca-Cola ad placed onto it. Bill Cosby makes breakfast with a box of Special K cereal added to the family breakfast table. Seamlessly and convincingly, brand names appear on pizza boxes, wall space, billboards. It’s like having the ability to “Photoshop” video.

At ECS, NVIDIA VP of Business Development Jeff Herbst caught up with Mark Popkiewicz, MirriAd CEO, to talk about the company and its technology (scroll to the bottom of the hyperlinked web page for the video link).

The idea behind the two-year-old company is simple. There needs to be an effective, scalable, trackable way to monetize video content. As digital video recorders and on-demand video proliferate, advertisers face challenges from viewers who skip over their commercials or who ignore traditional online ads. Popkiewicz, who has a background in broadcast, knows the advertisers’ pain points very well. As he says, “the 30-second spot isn’t what it used to be.”

To look to the future, Popkiewicz and team went back to an advertising concept that’s 50 years old – product placement. But physically placing products in spots is complicated and time-consuming (an advertiser might need to commit a year in advance). It’s also a gamble – what if the spot ends up on the cutting room floor, or what if it ends up being not to an advertiser’s liking?

So MirriAd made the process easy, web-based, guaranteed and – thanks to GPUs – really fast.

MirriAd’s ZoneSense technology scans video and identifies areas for product placement in real time. Using MirriAd’s online sales platform, an advertiser sees available content inventory as well as where the brand could go and what the spot’s value is. ZoneSense video processing capabilities insert the object where desired, and the content owner and the advertiser preview and approve it (using MirriAd’s online workflow).

The advantages to advertisers are enormous. By placing brands digitally into an event after the fact, advertisers can see what exactly they’re getting and make changes based on the audience. They can know what the value of that spot is, and they can track their ROI. Content owners – especially those paying a fortune to host their video content online – finally have a convincing prospect for monetizing their inventory.

Behind the scenes, a dozen or so algorithms run on MirriAd’s hosted Tesla cluster. The algorithms enable a computer to “see” what’s in any given scene and place advertising there. A planar tracker recognizes the lighting characteristics of each zone in the video. The technology takes the lighting in the video and places it onto the embedded image, integrating it seamlessly. If the embedded object should cast a shadow given the lighting conditions in the video, MirriAd algorithms ensure that it will. (As part of its demo at ECS, Popkiewicz showed a video in which the viewer saw a brand on the side of a truck from inside a passing car – in that instance, the MirriAd technology calculated exactly how the placed image should appear given the distortion of the car’s windshield.)

For MirriAd’s future “the GPU is essential,” says Popkiewicz. With GPUs, MirriAd has been able to transform a cycle that would take months or weeks into one that now takes hours – or seconds. With Fermi, they expect to get even faster.

Five years out, Popkiewicz would like to see the technology at a point where anyone can place a brand into video in real time and have a personalized experience. So if an advertiser knows you like, say, Budweiser, it can target you by placing Budweiser in particular contexts. Potentially, MirriAd’s technology could be used to help monetize user-generated content. In that case, YouTube might even make money one day.

For now, MirriAd is working with a number of heavy-hitting broadcasters and media companies around the globe, including ABC and Discovery Networks in the U.S., and Hunan TV, Endemol, ITV, Mediaset, and many others internationally. We could tell you to look for MirriAd’s work on these networks – but since the placements don’t intrude on the viewing experience, chances are you might not even realize you’re seeing advertising.

You can learn more about cutting-edge companies like MirriAd that leverage GPU computing over in NVIDIA’s GPU Venture Zone.