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Planning for Streaming Media

Whether it's an extension of videoconferencing or an IPTV-based in-house video network, streaming media is now essential to many AV installations. How do you go about choosing a platform?

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Pick just about any form of enterprise communications—digital signage, training, collaboration—and if it doesn't already involve video, it will soon. So says a recent Gartner Group survey, whose respondents expect their video usage to more than double in external communications and digital signage.

"YouTube has created an appetite," says Ted Gessesse, VBrick System's Online Streaming Service (VBOSS) product manager.

It's a trend that highlights why streaming video skills are increasingly important for AV pros. Besides needing IT and networking skills, success also requires understanding streaming's unique characteristics and how they determine what to look for when comparing one vendor's streaming solution to another's.

For example, there are myriad ways that end users consume video. Thanks to the proliferation of broadband cellular networks and tablets such as the iPad, it's increasingly likely that many streams will be going over a wireless connection and out to a handheld device. So one thing to look for when comparing different vendors' streaming products is how they handle situations when, say, some viewers are using a desktop PC on a corporate LAN, while others are watching on an Android tablet from a café Wi-Fi hot spot, and still others are on an iPhone over cellular.

Moreover, the Apple iPhone and iPad can't handle Flash, while Windows Media doesn't work well on other handheld devices. These kinds of variables must be front-of-mind when determining the platform that best supports a client's video end points.

"You need to be able to support to the full contingent of devices because that's where your audience is," says Dave Stoner, CEO of ViewCast, which makes Niagra streaming media appliances and encoders for delivering video to broadband networks and mobile devices in multiple formats, resolutions, and bit rates. "The whole idea of this technology is to reach people where they are."

MANAGING BANDWIDTH

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When multiple users—or devices, in the case of digital signage—tune into a stream, and each one's network connection is at a different speed, the platform shouldn't throttle down the video quality to the lowest common denominator.

"We have sensors that look at the connection you're coming in on to offer you the right kind of video," says VBrick's Gessesse. "You don't have to do just 150kbps because you're limited to what iPhone users can handle."

It's helpful if the platform also can make adjustments on the fly in order to ensure the best possible viewing experience as conditions change. "So if my bandwidth drops or my device's CPU gets busy with some other application, it will drop back in the stream I'm receiving and pick one that's a lower bit rate so the user experience can be maintained at the level that the customer expects," Stoner says.



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