Training, marketing, human resources and sales all benefit from visual communications. Up to now, the difficulties in producing videos on tape formats, distributing it and then hoping that staff and users will watch the presentations have detracted from the fully successful use and deployment of video communications enterprisewide. The introduction of desktop video on modestly inexpensive personal computers and workstations has thrust the production community and the corporation communications departments into new territory.
However, we must now recognize that the production of video content is just one portion of a systemwide solution. Creating tools for the delivery of material in an effective medium is high on the agenda for companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Pinnacle Systems, Real Networks and dozens of others. Now that the hurdle of achieving acceptable compressed television-quality video to other than dedicated video-centric equipment is passed, these entities are able to address the application and the management features necessary for total and successful deployment.
For widespread delivery of rich-media content - including video - systems need to be scalable with efficient bandwidth efficiencies. Today, systems are available or can be built from components that permit an entry-level or initial deployment, and then grow all the way to enterprise-wide, large-scale services including archive. Solutions need to cover the gamut, from simple streaming of files located on a small local server to wide-scale broadcast, interactive multimedia, and video-on-demand (VOD) incorporating two-way communications and video-teleconferencing. Today's modern network systems no longer need to deal with FTP delivery of media that stores the files on a local hard drive, which then "plays" the files back through dedicated hardware-based accelerators that become proprietary to the file types and structures of competing content or hardware service providers. Solutions exist that automatically recognize and configure the playout for delivery - whether streamed or transferred - all the way from the source to the end user.
Functionally, we recognize three basic structures for the presentation and delivery of video-rich media: broadcast, VOD and videoconferencing. Each structure places different demands on distribution bandwidth, media server delivery schemes, and end-to-end hardware (cameras, microphones, monitors, etc.). In addition, each structure presents different needs for applications and management.
Getting quality content between sites and facilities used to be an expensive and complicated set of challenges. Historically, those costs associated with constructing video circuits between locations for occasional use presented so many difficulties that they were seldom used and generally only by a few top enterprises. Unfortunately, and in many cases, they just were not very effective. Satellite technology supported a change in that approach for those that could afford the systems, but "sneaker net" (of video on VHS) still proved more beneficial and reliable; of course even that perspective has now changed dramatically and only in just the past few years.
Improvements in connectivity and easier distribution of compressed video over digital to various media servers and storage devices have created a paradigm shift in deploying video for presentation and communications. Mixing video with other forms of media has spawned a new terminology called "multimedia networking," combining text, graphics, images, audio and video and merging these elements into a total system with a common delivery (or transport) framework. Networking capabilities, PC hardware and redirecting standards for commonality have all helped to support the new dawn of distributing and presenting rich media to end users, both big and small.
What is important to realize is how packet-switching and LAN technologies have become so cost-efficient that their infrastructure can now be shared among different applications. When considering that traditionally, bandwidth usage inside the LAN varies continuously, adding another layer for multimedia (including television video) doesn't necessarily compromise the overall LAN functionality and effectively adds features previously restricted to dedicated rooms with satellite or other forms of delivery.
One of these LAN/WAN-based concepts, Internet Protocol Television (IPTV, as some refer), is being embraced by a variety of users. IPTV focuses on communications for large organizations and for smaller organizations with sources from third-party entities. Major companies, government and academic institutions are either already deploying IPTV or certainly considering it for the future.
IP-based video is being used for broadcast, VOD and teleconferencing. Fundamentally, IPTV ensures that program content can reach the user anytime and anywhere it is needed - and that is what is driving its deployment and adoption.
Operationally, on a user-required basis, IPTV programming may be live material broadcast to many over a multicast network or selected from material stored on an archive, typically accessed through a Web browser and streamed or file-transferred to the workstation on a unicast basis. A VOD system can supply material (via Real or Windows Media encoding) generated as a low bit-rate proxy from a higher-resolution recording; or in systems with higher-quality MPEG-2 video stored on a central library that delivers the content to a decoder in a PC or a dedicated hybrid-fiber/coaxial-based facility such as in a theater, boardroom or control room.
Streaming content for live purposes makes semi-interactive videoconferencing possible, using the Internet as the back-channel for interaction with moderators or hosts.
In many cases, whether high-quality/high bit-rate or lower-quality real-time delivery, video transport can be IP-based and can be delivered via the company's private WAN/LAN or the Internet. Implementing IPTV systems is simpler and less disruptive, especially if the overall network is prepared properly. Today, new systems that are fully addressed through software generally do not require upgrading the user's PC to achieve even modest functionality (assuming the PC already has multimedia or A/V capabilities built-in already).
IPTV and its associated counterparts are finding their way into systems for news, program review and delivery, as well as editorial processes for broadcast television and corporate communications. It is not uncommon to find the I/O and the software hooks already in place within the broadcast server systems being deployed today. The bridge has been crossed, and the new horizons for video content delivery are coming within reach.
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Karl Paulsen is the CTO for Diversified, the global leader in media-related technologies, innovations and systems integration. Karl provides subject matter expertise and innovative visionary futures related to advanced networking and IP-technologies, workflow design and assessment, media asset management, and storage technologies. Karl is a SMPTE Life Fellow, a SBE Life Member & Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer, and the author of hundreds of articles focused on industry advances in cloud, storage, workflow, and media technologies. For over 25-years he has continually featured topics in TV Tech magazine—penning the magazine’s Storage and Media Technologies and its Cloudspotter’s Journal columns.