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Auditing program streams on a limited budget

Virtually everyone agrees that keeping track of video and audio quality problems (hopefully before they happen) is critical to a successful content provider business, yet monitoring those signals, either as baseband or IP files, has always been a time-consuming and expensive proposition — and even more so now with the proliferation of even more channels and delivery platforms.

A company in Mansfield, MA, called IneoQuest Technologies, has come up with less expensive monitoring software that provides real-time visibility into the health of video delivery subsystems across multiple “probe points” within a content distribution chain. The new software, called IQRTview, offers budget-constrained service providers with a cost-effective monitoring way to perform “per program tracking.”

To complement its other sophisticated delivery monitoring products that are now used by such major cable TV providers as Comcast and Time Warner Cable, IneoQuest has created IQRTview as an entry-level package as a cost-effective option. With it, service providers — broadcast networks, cable and satellite TV services as well as telcos — now have a way to monitor and aggregate status and alerts for multiple programs simultaneously across multiple locations.

“Smaller vendors with tighter budgets still have the same video monitoring needs overall as larger operations,” said Calvin Harrison, chief operating officer for IneoQuest. “A single IP packet can affect 20 different program streams in a multichannel service. Proactively monitoring these streams can make a huge difference in terms of operating expenses and customer service, which in turn reduces churn if you do it right.”

IQRTview software, in combination with IneoQuest’s portfolio of transport plane probes, allows users to correlate aggregated quality of service (QoS) alerts, configure specific user-selectable alarm descriptions and get accurate insight into channels across multiple probes.

In addition, through a customizable interface, IQRTview helps indicate the source of a problem, allowing the accurate dispatch of resources to the point of the issue. Previously, smaller vendors often had to troubleshoot the networks themselves due to lack of alternate resources. However, coupled with the ability to fully automate the detection and isolation of video impacting events, the software provides operations staff with a proactive and efficient troubleshooting solution.

IQRTview customers can upgrade to the company’s IneoQuest iVMS product for more sophisticated management features. This includes hardware and software solutions that provide from 1GB to 10GB (FPGA-based) probes that look at up to 10GB worth of full line-rate (SD or HD) video traffic — that’s multiple channels, simultaneously — all the time, with no subsampling or capture of partial video clips. Harrison said this makes for more accurate program stream analysis.

And video monitoring can be done remotely. In fact, IneoQuest has developed an application based on the Apple HTTP live streaming protocol, to allow iPod and iPhone users to visually see the video along with the corresponding index files, bit rate errors, etc.

“The idea is to provide customers with the flexibility to configure monitoring settings, which are most useful to their operations,” said Harrison. “Everyone has different monitoring needs, so we try to accommodate as many applications we can. This extends from the set-top box to the cable headend, or from a broadcast network distribution facility all the way out to each affiliate.”

The products also offer a good way for stations to hold cable, satellite and telco providers accountable to signal carriage agreements that increasingly include predetermined bit-rate clauses as a way to ensure quality.