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June 2007
Volume 10 / Number 6
Feature Articles


The LCD Monitor:

A Thin Multimedia Collaboration Client and a New Paradigm for Collaborative Visual Communications

By Tsahi Levent-Levi, Feature Articles

The LCD market is extremely competitive and commoditization has driven prices down. In an effort to increase profitability, manufacturers are seeking ways to differentiate offerings and add value to the device. One of the most commercially viable and profitable options is the thin client paradigm, which has a PC embedded within the LCD display.


Thin Clients in the Enterprise

By definition, a thin client is a networked computer that does not have a hard disk drive. By intent, it is small and used for client/server applications where the bulk of the data processing occurs on servers. A thin client LCD display is a display that has a networked computer actually embedded within the LCD display.

Recent rapid advances in processing power, driven by the widespread adoption of Moore’s law (Note: Moore’s law is commonly formulated as the doubling of the number of transistors on integrated circuits every 18 months, effectively increasing computational power at the same rate), has made it possible to “hide” a full-fledged desktop computer within an LCD screen. In terms of processing power, today’s thin client is comparable to power of desktop PCs from two or three years ago – offering more than enough processing power for most enterprise, or networked users.

In essence, an LCD monitor can serve as the basis for a thin client, adding significant value to this commonly- used device. To make thin clients attractive to enterprises, firmware included with the thin client enables centralized management and control over the operating system and applications running on them.

Enterprises and businesses that require employee access to centralized data, or that require minimal computational power for daily work, will find the thin client to be very suitable option that offers real added value:

  • Reduces IT administration costs
  • Lowers hardware costs
  • Consumes less energy
  • Easy to secure
  • Reduces the threat of theft
  • Improves mobility

Thin Clients Can See!

With the migration toward thin client technology in the LCD monitor industry in full swing, manufacturers still need to further differentiate their offerings to gain market share in the enterprise computing market. This can be achieved by turning the LCD display itself into the enterprise communications epicenter by enabling real-time audio and video communication and essentially transforming it into a personal video conferencing system.

This is happening today from two sides of the industry: from LCD manufacturers and room video conferencing equipment vendors. In March, 2007, industry leader Samsung unveiled an LCD display that delivers these capabilities at the CeBIT 2007 exhibition in Hannover, Germany. Other manufacturers will surely follow suit. Video conferencing systems manufacturers have recently begun to provide office-based video conferencing units that serve as LCD displays for desktop PCs, and in all likelihood, will eventually include thin clients as well. Although current systems are targeted for high-end, executive markets, future systems will certainly be targeted more widely to include distributed employee bases in an effort to increase market size.

These types of thin clients, thin multimedia collaboration clients, meet the needs of enterprises migrating toward IP networks. Equipped with easy integration with video network infrastructure, these “new and improved” thin clients are an excellent option for large-scale enterprise deployments, such as banks, travel agencies, insurance companies, hospitals, contact centers and more.

From these trends, it appears that the LCD monitor and the video conferencing system markets are on a common path. The result: even stronger competition for unique LCD display technologies and products. The complexity of video conferencing will force LCD manufacturers to gain new core competencies in developing and embedding these technologies in order to survive.


The Architecture that Makes it Possible

A thin client requires an application chip to be embedded in the LCD monitor itself. Developing a thin multimedia collaboration client requires more horsepower, which requires more effort and additional chips to be an integral part of the solution. To support video conferencing, the thin multimedia collaboration client must support VoIP signaling, as well as deliver additional media processing functionality.

Media processing is an important element in any thin multimedia collaboration client because higher resolutions and frame rates and improved audio quality are imperative for a satisfactory solution. To achieve this, the basic architecture of a thin client will not suffice. A single chip solution cannot deliver the both excellent audio and video quality and high system responsiveness.

The diagram in figure 1 offers a high level overview of the system architecture required to support video collaboration and communications on a thin client. It is by no means complete, but it outlines the important system components.

The separation between the application and DSP chips is imperative. To increase video resolution and quality, more processing power is needed. If this extra processing power was taken from a general purpose CPU, the overall responsiveness of the system would suffer, as would the quality of the media itself. For this reason, it is strongly recommended to designate a DSP designed for media processing to handle these tasks. The application chip handles all application level tasks, such as the selected operating system, the user interface and the actual signaling used for communications.


It’s all about the video

Video is what differentiates a thin multimedia collaboration client from other thin clients. The thin multimedia collaboration client must deliver a superior user experience compared to simple video conferencing. Because the primary target market is large enterprises, ease of use and collaboration are essential.

The most critical video elements that should be implemented in a thin multimedia collaboration client are as follows:

  • 2- and 3-way video conferencing
  • Interoperability
  • Presence and instant messaging
  • Document sharing
  • Privacy

A 5-step Approach to Develop a Thin Multimedia Collaboration Client

  1. Carefully select the target market. Some industries require very strong collaboration capabilities while others may be more focused on privacy. Selecting the target market is the most fundamental step.
  2. Next, build the right solution specs by asking the right questions. Issues like the required or desired video quality, support for special features, and available ecosystems are just a few examples. Many other issues will most likely come up at this stage. Address each one carefully; the effort required and the choices available in the next phases depend on how they are dealt with.
  3. Choose a hardware platform. The choice of CPU and DSP affects system resources, which in turn affects the features you can enable. Check that the relevant video quality and audio quality can be achieved with the DSP selected, and make sure that the CPU fits the operating system you need and can work along with the DSP. In addition, the DSP must have a large enough ecosystem of codec vendors to provide all the solutions needed.
  4. The fourth step is integrating the V2oIP solution. This is where it gets more complex. The V2oIP solution must be capable of providing the specific features needed for the thin multimedia collaboration client, be flexible enough to fit the environment and have enough features to provide the large array of services.
  5. Last, but certainly not least, is the interoperability testing and deployment stage. Remember, thin multimedia collaboration clients don’t live alone on islands; they are collaboration tools. In order to faciliate collaboration, they must be interoperable with other equipment, on other networks and with other VoIP clients. Many issues may arise at this stage that will require system tweaking – from signaling and call control, to the bits within the media itself. This is by far the most challenging step.

The technology to produce a thin multimedia collaboration client exists today and involves complex combination of signaling and media integration. But it is well worth the effort. This compelling new paradigm meets the needs of enterprises migrating to IP networks, and delivers significant benefits to enterprises while leveraging investments in network infrastructure. Following a logical, well thought out methodology, LCD manufacturers can adopt this new paradigm to differentiate their products from take advantage of profitable business opportunities.

Tsahi Levent-Levi is the Products Manager & System Architect at RADVISION. (news - alert) For more information, download RADVISION's thin multimedia client whitepaper at


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