The New Standard
Twice the video quality with no increase in bandwidth? You're kidding, right?
It's true! With H.264. This new video compression standard is one of the most exciting developments in the history of video performance. A joint development effort by TANDBERG, Microsoft, Nokia and Real Networks, H.264 is a more efficient encoding and decoding standard, which enables users to communicate over both ISDN and IP networks with twice the video quality and clarity - without any increase in network costs! That's right! If you want 768Kbps quality, you only need 384Kbps of bandwidth. This new resolution-independent standard also enables better results from video capture and display devices, improving applications such as remote viewing of documents, manufacturing samples or blueprints.
H.264 provides a far more efficient mechanism for compressing and decompressing motion video. This mechanism or algorithm requires significantly less bandwidth to transmit a motion image than has previously been possible. For videoconferencing, H.264 requires only 50% of the previously required bandwidth to provide the same quality of image. This also means that if current bandwidth is maintained, substantially higher video quality will be achieved. All TANDBERG endpoints shipping today support H.264. With H.264, TANDBERG delivers a Real Communication Experience.
Who stands to benefit most from H.264?
H.264 is supported for videoconferencing over ISDN (H.320) and over IP (H.323). The efficiencies provided by H.264 to provide high quality video at significantly lower bandwidths will be readily recognizable by enterprises, educational institutions and government entities. These organizations will have the choice of supplying either high quality video at lower bandwidths than they have previously been able to, or of providing significantly higher quality video at the bandwidths they are currently using.
The option for using lower bandwidths to provide the current video quality is likely to be welcomed enthusiastically by network managers concerned with the impact of the relatively high bandwidth used by video. H.264 allows the transmission bandwidth to be effectively halved while providing the same video quality as users received prior to the introduction of the standard. H.264 lowers network utilization by video by as much as 50%.
The option to improve quality at the same bandwidth enhances the video user experience, leading to increased adoption of video for mission-critical communications. Improved video quality will overcome potential users' concerns about past video quality. Effective use of video, as the most high-touch communication method, has cut project time in half for one organization and added $4.5 million to another company's bottom line.
H.264 also allows manufacturers to use image resolutions that can better make use of the capture and display devices currently available. Previous video coding algorithms were restricted to relatively low resolutions; and, although custom resolutions were possible, the mechanism was cumbersome when compared to H.264 and there were many interoperability issues. H.264 standardizes the mechanism for transmitting video using non-traditional resolutions, enhancing interoperability and allowing manufacturers to better utilize available camera resolutions and screen formats e.g. 16:9. Getting more lines per image provides much sharper video (monitor and camera dependent).
H.264 will also become a part of streaming, and will be built into all major streaming servers and players providing far higher quality video for a given bandwidth than has previously been possible.
How long has this been in development and what does it mean to the market?
Since 1998 the ITU study group has been working on a new video algorithm dubbed H.26L. The Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was also working on its own new codec within the MPEG-4 framework. The two organizations eventually got together and formed the Joint Video Team (JVT). The results are that H.26L has become H.264 and H.264 will also be known as MPEG-4 Part 10. The JVT team includes representatives from Microsoft, Nokia, TANDBERG, Real Networks, and others.
TANDBERG began shipping products to support H.264 on July 14, 2003. H.264 is resolution-independent and frees videoconferencing from the restraints of QCIF, CIF, etc. H.264 will also become a part of streaming improving the quality and ensuring a standard for this increasingly popular video transmission mechanism.
What does it mean to my legacy base?
Any endpoint that will support H.264 must also support H.263 and H.261. Backwards compatibility is guaranteed. The advent of newer, more powerful bridges and gateways should allow H.261, H.263 and H.264 endpoints to exist comfortably in the same conference.
Are there interoperability issues?
Because H.264 is a standard and one that has seen considerable involvement from all of the major manufacturers, it is thoroughly documented and is recognized by nearly everyone that planned its implementation. These factors alone should ensure a high degree of interoperability.
What about MCUs?
Most modern MCUs should be capable of supporting the H.264 algorithm and should do so by means of new software alone. The opportunities provided by H.264 demand that all infrastructure components need to support this new standard -- that should include MCUs as well as Gateways. The TANDBERG MCU and Gateway will support H.264 in Q4 2003.
What is a rational strategy for moving to H.264?
The power of H.264 to provide higher quality video does require significantly higher processing power from the host videoconferencing device. While there is a lot of enthusiasm about the potential of H.264, it is possible that some videoconferencing systems currently on the market will not be capable of supporting this new standard, or may provide limited support. It is recommended that anyone wishing to benefit from H.264 -- whether through the acquisition of new videoconferencing systems or upgrading their existing installed base -- should seek a written guarantee from their supplier explicitly stating the H.264 capabilities of the videoconferencing systems in question. It is further recommended that details be explicitly documented concerning any limitations that an H.264 implementation may place upon these systems, whether endpoints, MCUs or Gateways.
Q & A: Wireless Video Conferencing
Power Meetings Update met with Video Division Vice President of Teleco, Inc., Jacqueline A. Rogers, to discuss Teleco's new product the VRS:
PMU: Tell us about the Video Response System (VRS).
JR: The VRS is a portable camera with two-way audio capabilities that serves as a unique and highly flexible video conferencing peripheral. This lightweight, fully portable technology instantly brings together two or more people from different locations to view and discuss anything from a broken piece of manufacturing equipment to a surgery in progress. Almost any situation that requires the input or observation of multiple individuals can be considered an application for the VRS. In short, it goes where you need to go!
PMU: What applications are there for these products in general? When would someone use one of these?
JR: Introducing the VRS product into your video conferencing environment is very beneficial when you need to add in someone into the conversation who is outside of conference room walls. You may be a product technician corresponding with a customer's quality control manager, for example, who can be on-site at a plant trying to troubleshooting machinery. Solving real-world business problems on-location is what the VRS is all about. This saves time since it brings the knowledge of a technician on-site, without him/her literally being on-site.
PMU: What's unique about the VRS?
JR: The VRS' wireless capabilities, and the fact that the camera can be placed literally anywhere, is its most unique feature. Having the flexibility to bring your video conversations anywhere imaginable, as long as it's within one mile of your network, is a tremendous advantage. You can mount a camera on a helmet, wheeled tripod, production line, etc, the list goes on and on.
PMU: Is there a certain vertical that procures more of this product than others, or is the demand even across verticals?
JR: Without question, the manufacturing industry provides the most demand for the VRS product. The benefits gained in the areas of troubleshooting machinery, quality control and overall optimization of a factory's production line are incomparable. General Motor, for instance, manages its quality inspection processes this way. Quality control managers need to be in several places at once and utilizing the VRS product is the only way this can happen. Heineken recently stated that they lose $3000 every minute when a production line goes down. When a problem does occur, a technician is contacted directly from the problem site and a remedy is generated immediately. Not limited to manufacturing plants, however, the Cleveland Zoo uses the VRS product to communicate with classrooms across Ohio to introduce new animals and to provide educational updates to the students. An example of a unique application comes from The Redvista Ranch, of Cave Creek Arizona, who breed show horses and the VRS product is used as a way to get their prize ponies in front of potential buyers, many of whom are in remote territories such as the Middle East.
PMU: Tell us about this new product coming out into the marketplace. What can you tell us about this product and when will it be shipping?
JR: The new product is called Perfect Watch, and it is available right now. It is a video-based digital system for manufacturing which can capture pre-event footage of errors occurring on a factory's production line. Before Perfect Watch, quality control managers where left to speculate about what happened to initiate their production line errors and bottle-necks. Perfect Watch employs sensors that record real-time images of the production line flow, catching problems on video that cause errors. This allows quality control managers to immediately understand problems and correct situations. Perfect Watch presents a pro-active way to stop current problems and prevent potential errors from occurring in the future.
To learn more about the Teleco VRS and what it can do for your organization, please contact IVCi at email@example.com or call us at 800-224-7083.
For additional information regarding video conferencing, or to speak to a representative, please contact IVCi at 800-224-7083, or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.
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