Affordable Ubiquitous Telepresence
Scalable Video Coding (SVC) lets companies like Vidyo build high-quality video conferencing for enterprises that don't want to spend $100K per room
Telepresence is an application to die for, but the cost of telepresence rooms and of the network limits usage to large corporations. But increasingly, vendors are coming out with low-cost, high-quality solutions for the SMB price bracket. One such example is from Vidyo, which has introduced a telepresence room system that supports two video streams at 60 frames/second and the price is just under $7K. To that you have to add the cost of one or two monitors. A "traditional" telepresence solution would have more monitors plus a fancy environment and the price would start at around $100K.
In the newer iteration of telepresence, one monitor will display up to eight participants at a time; adding a second screen enables data to be displayed. This is judged to be sufficient for small and medium-sized businesses.
Vidyo in particular has gained attention for its unique enabling technology. For openers, unlike most telepresence systems, there's no MCU (multipoint conferencing unit). MCUs take encoded video from each participant, decode the signals, aggregate them into a composite stream, re-encode the result, and send it to the receiving participants where it is decoded.
Transcoding signals in this way is a slow process, one that introduces a delay of around 200ms. The network will typically introduce an additional 70 ms and the endpoints another 200 ms. The total delay can therefore exceed 400 ms, which is noticeable and annoying.
Vidyo's solution employs a router that routes encoded packets at multiple frame rates and resolutions to each endpoint. Because there is no transcoding, the added latency is under 10 ms. The transcoding encode/decode cycle is not required because the technology provides multiple endpoints with video streams that have been scaled to match that endpoint’s available bandwidth, processing power, and resolution capability. This is done dynamically, throughout the call, and it has been realized using advanced software algorithms that run on Intel multi-core processors. The technology therefore enables ubiquitous, personal telepresence, i.e. desktop PCs and Macs that have a webcam can participate in conference calls. Video-enabled phones are set to follow.
As well as reducing latency to around 10 ms, Vidyo’s high-speed implementation of video routing involves layering the media so that different endpoints receive individual treatments based on available bandwidth, processing power and resolution.
The solution for desktop end points is software-based and it is employed and managed via a Web-based portal (see figure below). This is basically an environment that administrators use to manage the system. However, Vidyo says that usage is very simple and this allows regular conference participants to initiate meetings via the Web from a standard browser.
The VidyoRouter architecture eliminates transcoding, routes packets to each endpoint individually, and enables transmission over best-effort networks like the Internet. The VidyoGateway provides interoperability with Polycom, Tandberg or other MCU-based systems. Teleworkers and road warriors can also participate in conferences.