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Videoconferencing Meets Streaming -- Finally
It's taken almost 20 years, but enterprise video solutions are finally integrating with videoconferencing tools, and everybody wins.
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For years, people have talked about the value of integrating existing videoconferencing into live events being held in corporate auditoriums as a way to bring in remote subject matter experts (SMEs) for presentations and live question-and-answer sessions. But the integration of videoconferencing and streaming has lagged, stuck in the world of analog decodes and re-encodes.

So we thought it was high time to find out whether the integration of videoconferencing and streaming had progressed into the 21st century or was still stuck somewhere in the analog past.

For those who might not be familiar with the pieces and parts of a videoconferencing unit, the basic input parts are an audio input/microphone, integrated camera or video input connector, and an encoder. On the output side, a decoder separates audio and video signals, sending them to an integrated screen or to video and audio output ports.

Videoconferencing units can either connect directly to one another in a point-to-point configuration -- not unlike a FaceTime call between iPhones -- or multiple videoconferencing endpoints can all call into a multipoint control unit (MCU, also referred to as a bridge) so that all callers can see one another in a four- or nine-image tiled view. The tiled view, as we’ll explore later in this article, is sometimes just too simplistic for the sophisticated, high-quality content that corporate communications departments are creating for their internal audiences.

The integration issue lies in the fact that most videoconferencing endpoints are designed to work well in point-to-point with like-type endpoints, or in multipoint MCU calls, but are not really designed as a simple broadcasting or publishing point like those we’re familiar with in the streaming world.

Even the idea of recording videoconferences was such a foreign concept in the early days that my question to a vendor at a 1995 videoconferencing trade show about ways to do so was met with the question, “Why would anyone want to record a videoconference?”

The Integration Challenge

Fortunately, today we not only have the ability to record content, including the HD-quality telepresence videoconferencing that’s of great interest to corporations, but we also have the ability to integrate videoconferencing feeds directly into streaming platforms.

Erik Herz, director of business development at MediaPlatform, says that his company is working to integrate with Cisco’s TelePresence Content Server (TCS).

“We are piloting an integration with the Cisco TCS with a few customers and prospects now,” says Herz. “Some have been using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to backhaul video from a remote endpoint to their studio where they now output analog video and route this back into a capture card for re-encoding to our streaming servers.”

An example of MediaPlatform’s integration with Cisco TCS, using Jabber, which is now in pilot stage; above left: Polycom’s latest addition to its RealPresence line of collaboration servers uses the scalable video coding protocol to connect with systems using other protocols such as AVC. 

Herz says the pilot projects are with Fortune 500 companies, each of which produce more than 100 events per year.

“With the Cisco TCS integration,” he added, “they can stay digital, encode once, and become a source to our webcasts. We are also transcoding some lower bitrate streams to create a mobile-ready ABR stream.”

Polycom is also making progress into HD collaboration videoconferencing, via its RealPresence line of collaboration servers. In fact, its most recent MCU, the Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, is billed as a cost-saving unit that incorporates streaming technologies.

“The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s is the industry’s first multi-protocol, integrated software MCU that runs on industry-standard servers,” Polycom states in a recent press release, adding that the open standards-based concept uses the scalable video coding (SVC) protocol to connect “with video systems using other protocols, such as AVC, to the same meeting without expensive gateways, extra licenses, or hidden costs.”

Polycom is gearing the 800s toward midsize enterprises or branch offices of large organizations and promises this MCU is “uniquely interoperable with the existing 2M+ video conferencing systems in the market today.”

Qumu’s senior vice president of Products and Technology, Claude Dupuis, says that one of the biggest challenges his company addresses is full integration of streaming and videoconferencing, including both live and recorded content.

“One challenge can be finding a solution that has a complete integration to include both live streaming and automated archiving of recording for on-demand playback,” says Dupuis. “On the live-streaming side, the solution needs to include [an] automated start of the videoconferencing equipment.”

Dupuis says that the parity between live and on-demand is growing within enterprise, where even just a few years ago it skewed heavily toward a preference for on-demand viewing. But he says challenges remain in educating enterprises on the use of their existing videoconferencing gear.

“Not all organizations are aware this [integration] capability is available,” says Dupuis, “so that is where some education comes in. Other enterprises with large videoconferencing deployments are already looking for ways to leverage their infrastructure and integrate it with video-management solutions, so the need and awareness is already there.”

“Typically newer videoconferencing solutions will have a streaming component,” says Dupuis. “This is where video-management platforms, such as Qumu’s Video Control Center (VCC), will interface with the component to acquire the stream, then manage and distribute it through the enterprise’s network via an internal content-distribution network.”

Dupuis noted that Qumu’s VCC has full-featured integrations with Polycom and Cisco videoconferencing units, but for videoconferencing solutions without integrated streaming functionality, the fallback is to the videoconferencing standards H.323 and SIP, which can be used to connect to the videoconferencing bridge and acquire the stream.

Tying directly into the videoconferencing bridge via H.323/SIP allows streaming solutions to take advantage of the fact that videoconferencing has used the H.264 codec for well over a decade, and that streaming is now inherently compatible with videoconferencing.

What Do Enterprise Employees Want?

Qumu published the results of a study a few months ago, asking participants how their companies would benefit most if their enterprise portal or intranet had the ability for a “YouTube-like” video experience. Approximately 500 survey respondents prioritized a series of nine options.

What they prioritized far and away beyond other options was video training for office workers. That response, at 64%, was 20% higher than the next highest priority response, which was improved human resources and benefits communications. In other words, workers really do want training and have a strong preference to receive this training via video.

Survey respondents also responded strongly to the idea of live video streaming, with 58% saying they would like to see support for live video streaming. The social media aspect was also strong, with 28% saying they’d like to be able to collaborate with others while watching a video. We asked a number of vendors whether there are particular challenges with integrating the concepts of streaming and videoconferencing.

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