Acquiring, managing, archiving and distributing video has become a must to government entities in this age of mission critical endeavors and mandated transparency.
by Robin Berger
As such, providers of encoding and decoding products and services attending December's GV Expo aimed to show how user-friendly, immediate, multiplatform and secure video can be, notwithstanding the source of the video or the scope of its distribution.
The providers agreed that bandwidth is not a formidable issue anymore for most applications, if the origination site has access to a robust network (versus, for example, a Broadband Global Area Network, or BGAN terminal).
On the other hand, advances in compression standards, the availability of high-speed broadband plus ramped up processing, memory and storage have spoiled consumers. They're used to high-resolution video with minimum latency.
Viewers want this high-quality video served up live and combined with other formats, providers insisted. And they want compatibility with mobile devices, which right now (first) aren't particularly powerful and (second) operate on various manufacturer-dictated standards.
Ideally, providers strive to support concurrent outputs optimized to various platforms from a single system in one step. Here's what Streambox, Digital Rapids, VBrick and ViewCast came up with this year.
StreamBox enables aggregators of incoming video to get multiple streams from Point A to Point B, as well as manage and archive them on a video server. Unlike Digital Rapids, VBrick and ViewCast, StreamBox does not cater to Web distribution, said Ben Larson, Project Manager of one of the company's new products, StreamBox Live.
Point A could be citizen reporter's mobile phone, a sat truck or pool feed, or prerecorded video. Point B could be an encoder link to a Web distribution network, a TV screen, satellite uplink or other hub. Video is delivered as an SDI feed (baseband video) over an Internet Protocol network. Streams can be routed and viewed live while a backup archive is created (so clients don't have to upload it again).
"Our transport codec is proprietary," said Larson. "It works with all possible third parties—there's nothing proprietary about SDI."
Introduced at IBC 2009, the company's new StreamBox Live Service is an IP-based solution geared to "turn viewers into contributors." Subscribers can freely distribute the provider's encoding software to citizen reporters using mobile phones or personal computers with Windows or Mac operating systems. The software lets remote broadcasters upload compressed SD video streams to broadcast studios at speeds up to 512 kbps through Streambox Live Data Centers, and provides a rights management feature, enabling them to control access to their video using Streambox metadata.
At GV Expo, Streambox introduced the ACTL3HD/SD Portable Video Transport solution, using a MAC laptop and MXO2, an input/output device provided by the Canadian software and hardware designer Matrox. According to Streambox, this solution enables the delivery of high-quality live and stored broadcast video over low data-rate connections such as broadband, BGAN, and other IP and satellite networks.
New formats like H.264 and VC-1 have been on the minds of distributors, as have adaptive streaming wrappers (which profess to dynamically adjust the bit-rate to device capability and network traffic congestion) and other third-party enhancements. On the leading/bleeding edge of new adaptive streaming technologies are Adobe's Dynamic Streaming (via a Flash 10 player or better) and Microsoft Smooth Streaming (via Silverlight).
Digital Rapids' portable live encoding and streaming appliance, TouchStream (which rolled out this June) supports VC-1 and H.264 compression formats for Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash web app frameworks, said Mike Nann, director of Marketing and Communications.
VBrick's VB7000 series hardware, rolled out from May through August this year, leverages H.264 and integrates IBM Sametime client-server application and middleware platform, according to John Bowman, Director of Federal Sales.
ViewCast has incorporated Adobe's H.264 Flash Live into its Niagara 2120 model. And according to Vice President of Engineering Mark Hershey, H.264 Flash Live "will be rolled out on the rest of our products." He said ViewCast is also continuing to work with Microsoft on Smooth Screening.
"Smooth Streaming is one of several fairly recent advancements grouped under the heading of adaptive streaming technology, and its fundamental claim to fame is that it can deliver different streams from the same source," wrote Hershey in a 2009 white paper. "This means you don't have the 6-10 second or more delay between source and viewer typical of standard streaming technologies. And you don't get jerky video, as long as the network supports at least the lowest offered rate. In addition, the user enjoys faster start-up and seek times because the player can be directed to the lowest bitrate before moving up to a higher bit-rate version."
He noted that Smooth Streaming would also enable older technologies to better render streams encoded in more highly compressed formats like VC-1 and H.264. At the time Larson wrote the paper, Smooth Streaming had been deployed as a Video-on-Demand (VOD) technology; live versions had been field-trialed.
Hershey predicted that other optimization applications would soon be tailored to iPhones.
OTHER NEW OPTIONS
Manufacturers re still looking ahead. At IBC 2009, Digital Rapids introduced TouchStream's customizable, password-protected function locking feature. The product can also be configured to begin streaming with the most recent encoding parameters upon power-up, without user interaction. Digital Rapids also gave IBC attendees a sneak preview of future TouchStream functionality: a Web browser-based remote control interface that looks virtually identical to the unit's local interface.
In addition to the VB7000 series, VBrick released its Enterprise Media Servers (VEMs) this September. The software enables "intelligent networking of video assets across a large enterprise," said Bowman. He also provided tips on integrating streaming video, VTC and collaboration at GV Expo in a presentation called "We Three Kings."
And Hershey noted that ViewCast was offering "a very robust SDK" (software development kit).
"It's a very small and simple unit—you can throw it under a desk, hook up a camera, and plug it into the Internet and it will work," he said. "The set-up, configuring and provisioning of the network can be done remotely and can be pre-configured. So all you have to do when you're ready to broadcast is plug the thing in and push a start button on the front."