Driving Adoption of IP-Based Video Telephony
Today’s video telephony market, comprised primarily of video-conferencing and video-phone end-equipment, is poised for steady growth. Rapid, worldwide adoption of broadband Internet access, advanced integration of system-on-chip (SoC) functionality architectures, and performance boosts in digital media processors have enabled a variety of new applications, including IP-based consumer video phones. New video compression/decompression algorithms (codecs), such as the ITU’s H.264 video compression standard, along with increasingly efficient network bandwidth utilization, have enhanced the capabilities of IP-based video phones and spearheaded IP-based video telephony’s impressive market penetration.
IP-based video phones offer end users one of today’s most robust, yet affordable, mediums for effective, two-way audio-video communication. In earlier-generation products, high hardware system component costs and expensive dedicated ISDN line charges prevented widespread adoption of video phones and restricted IP-based video devices to a relatively limited number of business purposes. With advances in video and broadband technology, however, IP-based video phones have become more cost effective, allowing them to break into the consumer market. While audio and video quality and overall cost are still the primary concerns for most users, there are a number of key factors that consumers should consider prior to investing in a system for business or at-home use.
EASE OF USE
Above all else, IP-based video devices need to be straightforward to set up and use. IP devices are not currently a mainstream technology — the average consumer doesn’t know what an IP address is, much less how to set up an IP network. Consumers need to be able to plug in the device and begin using it immediately. To ensure a positive out-of-the-box experience, an IP device should automatically configure itself and bridge to the existing network. If a company has to field a service call on an installation, it loses profit with that customer.
Although there are certainly mechanisms that allow experts to configure IP devices manually, the best way to serve today’s typical IP user is to avoid delving into the concepts of IP technology. Instead, it is often more effective to translate the technical interface into a setting with which users are already familiar. For example, instead of providing a screen that asks a user for the IP address supplied by the carrier, a more user-friendly approach asks for a “serial number,” which mimics the phone numbers users are already comfortable using. This is just one of the ways to avoid confusing an everyday user with unnecessary technical terms and concepts that are simply not needed to use and enjoy the benefits of IP-based video telephony.
Without sufficient bandwidth, video quality collapses entirely. Video quality begins to degenerate and audio falls out of sync with video — both of which can be very distracting during a conversation. To avoid wasting available bandwidth, the connection in place must be reliable and the software must offer a superior error recovery mechanism to avoid wasting the available bandwidth.
As a result of unrelenting demand for high-quality IP conferencing, new standards and protocols are in development to overcome network unreliability and impairments, especially for wireless networks. The new H.264 video compression standard, for example, offers better video quality with error resilience features than the existing H.263 standard at half the bit rate.
FULL SOFTWARE PROGRAMMABILITY
From an engineering standpoint, video and audio codecs can be implemented in hardware or software. The advantage of hardware implementations, usually called ASICs, is that they are very fast and low-cost in high volumes. The primary disadvantage of ASICs is that they are fixed-function devices. If you want the ASIC to support a new codec, a new ASIC design is required, which is a difficult, time consuming and expensive process.
Today’s programmable digital media processors execute software codecs fast enough to provide full duplex, real-time streaming video. The primary advantage of software implementations is that a new codec can be supported by a software upgrade. This allows the use of common hardware across product families, enabling a single product to support a wide variety of codecs while still keeping manufacturing costs down.
Programmable devices are different than configurable devices or partially programmable devices. Configurable or partially programmable devices often implement key codec functions in the hardware. They are excellent at accelerating codecs which are based on these functions, however, they cannot support codecs based on other functions, and as most new codecs are based on entirely new approaches, they more than likely will not be able to support new codecs.
Full software programmability is also essential for adding new features seamlessly, as well as connecting with other IP-based devices. Consider an IP-based consumer video phone that connects to a TV. What happens when the user buys a high-definition television? Unless the video phone is flexible enough to support both standard-definition (SD) and HD, the video phone becomes obsolete. Note that the device doesn’t have to support HD today, but it is important that it can in the future, as HDTV sales take off. Full software programmability gives the video phone the flexibility to implement more advanced codecs in the future.
Page 1 of 2 [Go to Page 2]