Deploying WebRTC: Straight Ahead, with Two Sharp Turns

It seems everybody will be showing up at the WebRTC III Conference and Expo this week. The event has quickly become the premier venue for all things related to WebRTC, and attracts hundreds of people to standing-room-only presentations. It is rare that a technology generates so much interest so early in its development phase.

A lot of the industry excitement is perfectly justified. Until now, video and audio communication was only possible using dedicated applications and devices. WebRTC will provide a standardized API to the functions of a real-time communication device, built into a web browser. This will decouple application development from video engine development and unleash web-based application development creativity into the real-time communications arena. Video and audio communication will now be integrated into applications in ways that were previously not possible. Although companies like Vidyo have already been creating APIs for their video engines, WebRTC is the first instance of an industry-standard API. The fact that it originates from W3C and IETF further solidifies its credentials. The elimination of the “download” step is also very important in several application deployment scenarios.

In the midst of the excitement, however, there are two things that need to be considered. First, putting an API around a video and audio engine does not mean that one has solved the problems of packet-based video and audio transport over the Internet. This includes congestion control, rate control, error resilience, error concealment, among many others. An API is, and should be, transparent with respect to all these issues, since it does not affect application design and implementation. The quality of experience that a user will get, however, depends on what’s under the hood.

Vidyo has demonstrated that scalable video coding is the way forward for high quality, real-time video over the Internet, and nearly all companies in the field have followed our lead. Our recent announcement with Google concerning the development of a scalable video extension for VP9 is further testament to the need for scalability on the video codec, regardless of its origin. An inherent benefit of the WebRTC architecture is that one will be able to use a better codec without changing any part of the application’s code.

The second consideration that WebRTC enthusiasts should take into account is that in order for WebRTC to fulfill its promise of ubiquitous use of video and audio communication in web applications, it must be possible to design servers that can support the scale of these video and audio applications. This is essential for multi-point applications. A WebRTC server application must be able to support hundreds of users to be economically sensible. Traditional transcoding servers (MCUs) that have been used in videoconferencing are very complex, expensive, introduce unacceptable delay, and have very poor scalability (number of simultaneous users). This is a well-known problem in the video conferencing industry, and one that Vidyo has successfully solved with its patented VidyoRouter architecture. The VidyoRouter performs no transcoding, and can support hundreds of users from a single 1 RU box. Introduced in 2008, together with the first-ever Scalable Video Coding (SVC) endpoint design, it brought video conferencing in line with any other network application. Today the VidyoWorks platform represents the best solution for supporting large-scale WebRTC deployments.

There is no doubt in my mind that WebRTC represents a great leap forward for video and audio communication. In fact, I am sure we will all be surprised by the range and reach of the applications that will be developed. All the elements are getting in place and the road ahead is clear for its deployment and widespread use. Application developers should realize, however, that WebRTC is an endpoint API. Architects must take into consideration all the additional elements that are required to create successful applications that can scale to large numbers of users, and provide the high quality that users expect. A scalable codec and a non-transcoding server are the two most important elements.

The excitement today about WebRTC is centered on the application development community. If we are to transfer it to the user community we must make sure that we deliver the best possible quality and experience to them. In the past, legacy videoconferencing systems failed to meet consumer expectations so users shied away from using it. Today we finally have the technical know-how to deliver superb video and audio quality everywhere. We must make sure that we use it; users will reject any application, or technology, that falls short regardless of how promising the architecture may be.

Alex drives the technical vision and direction for Vidyo and also represents the company on standardization committees and technical advisory boards. He is an award-winning researcher, bringing over 23 years of research experience in video compression and communications to his role at Vidyo. Prior to Vidyo he was an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. Alex has more than 100 publications, holds 64 patents (several of which are used in Blu-ray Disc, H.264/AVC, and ATSC digital television systems), and has served as the Editor of the MPEG-4 Systems specification, Co-Editor of the H.264 SVC Conformance specification, and Co-Editor of IETF’s RTP Payload Format for SVC.  He is a Member of the Boards of IMTC and of the UCI Forum, and co-chairs the IMTC SVC Activity Group as well as the UCI Forum’s SVC Technical Working Group.

 

A Brighter Future in Video Conferencing: UCI Forum Approves H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 AVC and Scalable Video Coding (SVC) Modes Specification

Video conferencing technology has vastly improved over the last several years creating new market opportunities and opening a significantly larger addressable market compared with 2-3 years ago. As mentioned in Frost & Sullivan’s 2013 “Best Practices Research Report,” Vidyo has developed a platform that enabled this growth, and has benefited from the innovations it has brought to the market. Among them is H.264 Scalable Video Coding (SVC).

The recent approval of H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 AVC and SVC Modes Version 1.0 specification from the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCI Forum) is an important milestone for the entire industry.  It is the first step towards offering better video communication to customers by enabling them to deploy mixed-vendor solutions with confidence. The approved specification is also great news for Vidyo, as our customers have repeatedly asked for interoperability. The approval of this specification widens the doorway to seamless interoperability at the media level, as SVC is adopted by more and more vendors.

Vidyo has always been an advocate for SVC and, in fact, helped lay the initial groundwork for the original H.264 SVC specification. Vidyo engineers worked closely within standard development groups such as the ITU-T, MPEG, and the IETF, and even co-wrote parts of the SVC specifications. H.264 SVC technology folds seamlessly into today’s videoconferencing architectures and addresses several issues surrounding visual communications on unreliable networks.

H.264 SVC is an international standard. The large number of options and configuration choices, however, hinders interoperation between products from different vendors. The goal of the UCI Forum H.264 AVC & SVC Modes specification is to provide detailed guidance as to what operating modes and capabilities are required of both decoders and encoders, in order to enable interoperability. The specification that was just completed is the first step: it concerns the video bitstream format only and was developed as a joint effort of the membership of the H.264/SVC Task Group of UCI Forum. As a result, the H.264/SVC specification is not the product of a single vendor, but rather represents the consensus of several different H.264 SVC implementors.

As more companies realize H.264 SVC’s value in addressing market needs, you are sure to see the SVC adoption rise. In fact many companies have begun to adopt SVC in one form or another just this past year. Vidyo has been steadfast in its commitment to facilitating interoperability of the H.264 SVC standard for over six years.  Our VidyoRouter architecture, which features H.264 SVC and Adaptive Video Layering, is being embraced by more and more customers from a variety of markets due to the many unique benefits it offers: exceptional quality, highly scalable, affordable video conferencing, accessible via any network using any device, just for starters. We now have thousands of customers using Vidyo’s technology and our 3rd generation video communications products, who enjoy the benefits of this groundbreaking architecture every single day.

We are dedicated to continuing this pursuit into the future and to making this vital technology available to all. So keep an eye on H.264 SVC as more work is underway to enable interoperability at the transport and signaling levels.

For more information about the new H.264/SVC specification, click here.
For more information about SVC and Video Communications, click here.
For more information about UCI Forum, click here.

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Alex drives the technical vision and direction for Vidyo and also represents the company on standardization committees and technical advisory boards. He is an award-winning researcher, bringing over 23 years of research experience in video compression and communications to his role at Vidyo. Prior to Vidyo he was an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. Alex has more than 100 publications, holds 64 patents (several of which are used in Blu-ray Disc, H.264/AVC, and ATSC digital television systems), and has served as the Editor of the MPEG-4 Systems specification, Co-Editor of the H.264 SVC Conformance specification, and Co-Editor of IETF’s RTP Payload Format for SVC.  He is a Member of the Boards of IMTC and of the UCI Forum, and co-chairs the IMTC SVC Activity Group as well as the UCI Forum’s SVC Technical Working Group.

 

 

Raising our Telepresence Standards

Telepresence has been a word that has been very much in the news recently.

First, together with HD, it has been a big part of the push for next-generation videoconferencing systems throughout the industry. Second, it has – for a long time -  been the centerpiece of Cisco’s high-end video communication offerings leading up to the acquisition of Tandberg. Cisco’s TIP protocol (Telepresence Interoperability Protocol) has been transferred to the IMTC in order to comply with requirements set by regulators (Here’s the EU decision).

If you thought that these are all good indications that telepresence is here to stay, there is more.  The IMTC has formed a Telepresence Activity Group that studies telepresence systems and generates requirements. These requirements have also been submitted to the IETF for consideration.  IETF is the body that makes Internet network-related standards, including RTP, and SIP. These requirements will either result in work to be performed in existing IETF working groups, or they may even result in a completely new working group.

The IMTC has formed a Telepresence Activity Group that studies telepresence systems and generates requirements.

Finally, and this is really big news, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) has just created a new working group on Telepresence Systems (officially, Question 5 of Study Group 16). The group was formed in July as a result of a proposal by the United States. ITU is the same body that develops video coding standards such as H.264 and signalling standards such as H.323.  The new group will, among other things, standardize the means for full interworking between telepresence systems.

All this activity is a sure indication that we will be seeing much more telepresence-related technology in the very near future.  Vidyo is very much involved in all this, and is very excited to see the high-end of the videoconferencing space grow so fast.  By offering the only architecture that enables seamless co-operation of users from practically any device, we are very excited to have interoperability standards that allow all systems to talk to each other.

Make sure you see our VidyoMobile ™ demonstration!

And don’t forget: in telepresence, it should not be business, it should be personal. :)

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Dr. Alex Eleftheriadis, is Chief Scientist and co-founder of Vidyo. Alex drives the technical vision and direction for Vidyo and also represents the company on standardization committees and technical advisory boards. He is an award-winning researcher, bringing over 19 years of research experience in video compression and communications to his role at Vidyo. Prior to Vidyo he was an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. Alex has more than 100 publications, holds 15 patents, has served as the Editor of the MPEG-4 Systems specification and Co-Editor of the H.264 SVC Conformance specification, and is currently Co-Editor of IETF’s RTP Payload Format for SVC.