Software-Based Videoconferencing Goes High Definition

Just over a year ago, reported on a name change for media-processing firm GIPS—from Global IP Sound to Global IP Solutions—following the company’s acquisition of two firms whose technologies helped it move in its chosen direction: multimedia.

Those acquisitions bore fruit and the company’s new direction was validated recently when GIPS announced general availability of ConferenceEngine Multimedia, a server-based software package that allows service providers and large enterprises to offer “high definition” (HD) videoconferencing to large numbers of users.

While there’s a lot of imprecise terminology in circulation with respect to video resolution these days, HD has an official definition, according to Jan Linden, GIPS vice president of engineering: “HD is 720 [scan] lines, while what Skype calls ‘high quality’ is 480 lines. That’s quite a difference in resolution—it’s like the difference between [regular] TV and HDTV,” he said.

Steve Rust, GIPS vice president of business development hastened to add: “That’s really the minimum definition of HD.” Linden agreed: “Then you have full HD which is what people are talking about when they really mean HD, which is 1080 lines.”

That’s a lot of data but, Rust asserted, the new GIPS technology will support full HD at 30 frames per second over a standard broadband connection. (Traditional cinema, by contrast, runs at a slower 24 FPS rate.) This is achieved, in part, through the use of the proprietary LSVX codec (one of the techno-goodies that came to GIPS in last year’s acquisitions), which achieves very favorable processor efficiency.

“It’s a low-CPU-intensity answer,” said Rust. “And we’ve leveraged that technology—along with the rest of what we do—to introduce these HD-capable solutions.” Toward the end of last year, the company released its client product –VoiceEngine Multimedia—which, according to Rust can do conferencing on a peer-to-peer basis with three or four participants.

“To get something more scalable,” Rust said, “we knew we’d eventually have to put something out on a server basis. So that’s what we’ve done with ConferenceEngine Multimedia”—the piece of the solution announced earlier this month.

“It’s aimed at service providers, who, for the most part, are going to put on their own GUI and brand it the way they want,” Rust said. “It could conceivably be used for a very large enterprise, and some of the application developers that are targeting the carrier environment are also good customers for us.”

Pumping HD video out to large numbers of simultaneous users—which is what ConferenceEngine is designed to do—takes a lot of CPU power, according to Linden. “For best quality, running the server/encoding side, you really need a quad-core processor,” he said. However on the client/decoding side—again, due in part to the efficiency of the LSVX codec—older computers with single-core processors will work fine: a clear economic benefit for potential end-users.

Linden pointed out another benefit: excellent lip synchronization. “We came from an audio background and then moved into multimedia, so we can handle issues like lip synchronization really well. That’s where you see the interaction of voice and video. Being experts in both areas, we’ve been able to put together a really good scheme for that.”

Finally, Linden explained, GIPS’s multimedia technology is able to rapidly and robustly adapt to changing network conditions—a must for a high-bit-rate application like video. Adjustments include slowing the frame rate, swapping in a different codec, or changing the resolution. “With our own proprietary codec, we actually have controls on both sides and we can very rapidly figure out what’s going on,” he said. “We do the same for the standard protocols, but of course you can do the best when you have full control over both sides.”

GIPS doesn’t yet have any customers that have rolled out the new HD video technology. “There’s been a lot of interest, but when these things are at the threshold of introduction, it’s hard to predict exactly when they’ll roll them out,” Rust pointed out. “Right. We have a number of customers that have the software in the labs and are working toward release,” Linden added. “It’ll be some time this year, but we don’t know exactly when.”

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