• United States

Video multicasting without client mgmt.

May 26, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

Start-up Video Furnace is looking to change the way TV-quality video is streamed over an IP Multicast-enabled LAN or WAN by delivering the video to a PC without the need for a preinstalled player client.

Start-up Video Furnace is looking to change the way TV-quality video is streamed over an IP Multicast-enabled LAN or WAN by delivering the video to a PC without the need for a preinstalled player client.

Part of the problem with streaming media is ensuring that viewers have the proper version of the player client installed on their machines for the format being streamed. Outdated versions of a player have a problem viewing content that is encoded in newer formats.

Video Furnace’s answer to that problem is to deliver a small (200K-byte) software player with the stream. A viewer would visit a Web page and click “view stream,” and a small Java applet would determine the operating system (Windows, Linux or Macintosh) on the target machine. Video Furnace first downloads the player from a central server and then plays the stream, usually a live multicast video, although video on demand also is supported.

“The player goes away at the end of the session,” says Howard Weinzimmer, CEO of Video Furnace. “There’s no issues with multiple versions or browsers.”

Northwestern University in Chicago is using the Video Furnace technology to deliver 20 channels of television to its 4,350 undergraduate students living in dormitories. Instead of installing coaxial cable to each dorm at a cost of $2 million or more, the university decided to leverage its existing data drops and Gigabit Ethernet backbone to deliver video, says Dave Carr, director of telecommunications and network services.

Carr says a rack of 20 Video Furnace servers sit in the school’s network operations center, each encoding a single channel of television into MPEG-2 for delivery over the school’s Multicast-enabled backbone. Students hit a default page for the television service, click “Watch TV” and the player is downloaded in about three to five seconds, after which a default channel (CNN) comes on screen.

Students can change channels using an on-screen guide that provides information on all available channels. The guide data, which has small, video-preview windows, is delivered over the standard multicast protocols using a proprietary technology that Video Furnace developed.

Each channel is delivered at 2M bit/sec, but because one stream out of a IP Multicast server can serve every user, all 20 channels consume only about 5% of the total available bandwidth in the school network, Carr says. He adds that the peak load to date is 2,700 simultaneous viewers. Students can watch more than one channel at a time, limited only by the processing capacity of their machine and the available space on the screen for multiple windows.

When deciding to deploy the television network over IP, Northwestern looked at a variety of Video Furnace competitors, including V-Brick and Cisco’s IP-TV technology.

“What it came down to is quality of signal and ease of management, both on the server and client sides,” Carr says. “The biggest barrier to success was client management. We had a difficult time doing Windows Media, QuickTime or Real because there are so many versions of each.”

If a new player update is available, the IT staff can test it and add it to the server farm. “The next person that watches TV gets the new client,” he says.

Video Furnace’s server hardware and software is available for about $13,000. On the client side, a concurrent viewer license is available for between $8 and $15 annually.