The classic up-sell line from McDonald's: "Would you like fries with that?" is something that we should all keep in mind in our sales and marketing efforts. In the world of visual communications an often overlooked add-on sale is an archiving and streaming solution.
For purposes of this article we are defining archiving and streaming as the process of combining video streaming and videoconferencing technologies to allow one-way delivery of video and audio content (over a network), live to multiple participants or recorded for video-on-demand (VOD) access at a later time. Participants are then able to view the meeting/presentation from their PC using standard streaming media players.
The core technology behind streaming and archiving technology for videoconferencing applications can be divided into three primary device types: core network devices, network edge devices and streaming terminals.
Core Network Devices
Core network streaming and archiving solutions, sometimes referred to as "all-in-one" box solutions, provide H.323 decoding, file conversion, digital storage and unicast/multicast streaming functions.
As a centrally located network device, this solution is connected in a point-to-point or multi-point session similar to connecting with any endpoint. Acting as an H.323 endpoint, the device decodes the H.26x/G.7xx video and audio from the H.323 envelope and encodes the information into a common streaming format (Windows MediaPlayer, RealPlayer or Apple QuickTime). The device then sends the content via unicast or multicast to any user with the proper streaming player installed on their computer. Most devices in this category are also able to store the data, providing on-demand access to the content at a later time.
As a point of clarification, unicast streaming is when a separate copy of the data is sent from the source to each client that requests it maintaining a separate connection between each client and the server. Multicasting sends a single copy of the data to those clients who request it. In multicasting multiple copies of data are not sent across the network, nor is data sent to clients who do not want it. Multicasting allows the deployment of multimedia applications on the network while minimizing their demand for bandwidth.
Network Edge Devices
This solution combines two standard devices-a videoconferencing terminal and a live streaming encoder that are interconnected such that the local audio and video outputs of the videoconferencing terminal is fed directly to the input of a live streaming encoder. The encoder can be of the standard variety, or can be of a specialty type such as high-bandwidth MPEG-1 or MPEG-2. Unicast or multicast network transmission can also be employed with this device. Content can also be recorded and stored on the streaming server for on-demand access. As an "edge" device, this solution is typically located in close proximity to the videoconferencing terminal and is a dedicated device.
This solution includes videoconferencing terminals with built-in multicast streaming capability. Some videoconferencing terminals have the ability to multicast stream a videoconference that the unit is participating in. Typically archiving is not included in this type of solution.
Why would a new or existing visual communications customer be interested in streaming and archiving? The trends indicate that first, broadband internet connectivity within corporate and educational entities is in place and PC users are comfortable using one-way video at their desktops or laptops. Secondly, as employees, suppliers and customers become more geographically dispersed, the round-the-clock demands are creating increased pressure for time-shifted activities. And finally, government regulations, like Sarbanes Oxley, are mandating employee training and timely information delivery.
The applications for streaming and archiving are a very close match to videoconferencing and provide customers the ability to reach larger, more dispersed audiences with the added benefit of video-on-demand.