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Unified Communications
SIP Specific: Speaking SIP
UC Mag
Jonathan Rosenberg
co-author of SIP and SIMPLE

Making VoIP High-Def

June 12, 2009 was a big day - and the end of analog broadcast television. More important, June 12 was another milestone on the long march from standard definition to high definition television. This transition was not just about picture quality. High definition is really about the transition from big, bulky sets to incredibly thin screens, from small pictures to enormous ones, from a few channels to hundreds, from complicated cables to simple HDMI. All of these together have created a high-definition experience.


Rich multimedia is about the person-to-person conveyance of content for the purposes of communication and collaboration, covering audio, video and data. The most important one is wideband voice. What is wideband voice? The human ear can perceive sound in the frequency range of 20Hz-20 KHz. Most human speech occurs within the first 4 KHz, and this range is called narrowband voice. Many nuances of speech occur in that higher frequency range however, and when those are added, we get wideband voice. The difference is big, and is particularly noticeable in conversations with young children, or conversations with people who have foreign accents.


Rich multimedia also includes video. Video usage on the Internet has seen an enormous jump in recent years. This video is non-interactive. However, it is training the user population on the value of video, and in particular, the value of high quality, high definition video. This, in turn, is fueling a desire for high quality, high definition video as part of interactive communications. There's a world of difference between a small, postage-stamp sized video window on a PC, and a full-screen telepresence experience. That difference is about large, high quality video.


Rich multimedia also includes data. By data, I mean the sharing of information, often in a visual form, that participants can jointly interact with. The most common use case for this today is sharing of a Powerpoint presentation. Another example today would be a joint whiteboard session, or joint editing of a spreadsheet in real time. However, that is just the beginning. In many cases, a conversation in the workplace centers around a topic that is intertwined with an enterprise application that facilitates it. As an example, consider an engineering manager talking to one of his developers about the status of a software project. This conversation is likely to involve discussions on defects and their status, or the project plan and where things are. Bug tracking software and project management applications exist to help manage these things. In the future, these applications - many of which will be Web-based - will become seamlessly integrated into the conversation. As the project manager asks about the status of a defect, that defect screen can show up on the engineer's screen on his phone, and he can click on the status to update it. In essence, Web applications themselves can become integrated into the conversation.


Put together, wideband voice, high quality video and integrated data applications are the three pillars of rich multimedia. In my next article, I'll focus on the other key component of the high-def VoIP experience: visual control. With both visual control and rich multimedia, VoIP can take its next step towards the day when everyone goes high-def.


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