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Buyers' Guide to Unified Communications 2017

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A few videoconferencing-streaming hybrid solutions are even converting these still images into searchable text, which is what’s most uniquely new about this present crop of streaming-as-an-end-point solutions.

With recent advances in speech-to-text conversion, and the ability to time stamp text from the H.239 graphics capture, search now means putting spoken word and graphical text into a searchable context.

“Join allows viewers to use SmartSearch to find any spoken word, phrase or slide text,” says Sean Brown, senior vice president at Sonic Foundry. “Not only can they search, but users can also quickly navigate video with Mediasite-generated slide previews and chapter headings.”

Keep in mind this search functionality takes a bit of time, since the still images must be processed through optical character recognition (OCR) in the same way that a scanner might convert a scan of a paper document into searchable text. But the power of cloud-based services means that many of these still-image grabs can be off-loaded to be OCRed while the main videoconference is being recorded, which limits the amount of time needed to post-process the UCC content and make it available on demand at an OVP, LMS, or enterprise portal.

Socializing Your UCC Solution

We covered quite a bit of this in a recent article, “Streaming Meets Unified Communications: Convergence Is on the Way,” but a few points bear repeating.

First, social media platforms haven’t yet figured out the enterprise and UCC, but they are a natural fit for presentation-centric video delivery. With the advent of Facebook Live, we’re already seeing a number of how-to articles and tutorials around preparing for a live stream on Facebook. It’s only a matter of time before we see synchronized graphics delivery—if the social media platforms realize the value of doing so.

Second, lead-generation justification for social media can only become stronger if there’s a tight tie between UCC platforms and social media platforms. With business-focused social platforms like LinkedIn (now owned by Microsoft) beginning to offer on-demand video content, we think UCC buyers should ask these companies about their live video strategies. One question to ask is whether or not a traditional MCU-based videoconferencing system could be easily tied into a live social platform, allowing for a much wider reach during live videoconferences.

Championing Interoperability

If there’s one thing that unified communications systems attempt to do well—and generally succeed at—it is interoperability. From videoconferencing to VoIP solutions, the use of session initiation protocols (SIP) and standardized codecs for both voice and video have been at the core of enterprise UCC solutions.

At the same time that the debate in streaming has raged on about H.264 versus H.265—or AVC versus HEVC, if you prefer the letters—the same discussions have been ongoing in UCC circles.

The UCI Forum, a group that worked to maximize value of UCC via interoperability, assessed HEVC a few years ago, around the same time that it began looking at the interoperability of SIP on IPv6 networks (named, unsurprisingly, SIPv6).

In 2014, the UCI Forum merged with the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC), and the IMTC has been busy attempting to find a balance for HEVC. Unlike the streaming world, though, which is more concerned with licensing HEVC at scale, the UCC world is interested in making sure that HEVC end points can interoperate with one another.

In the early days of H.264, years before the idea of AVC for streaming had been ratified, there were significant interoperability issues between H.263 and H.264 videoconferencing end points. These issues were both codec incompatibilities as well as processing power incompatibilities.

Even as videoconferencing moved toward a common H.264 codec, some end points weren’t able to decode at the same quality as other end points. Maintaining compatibility meant choosing to go with the lowest common denominator: whichever device had the lowest-quality decoding and bandwidth capabilities became the de facto setting for other end points, even those capable of double or triple the quality.

Today, as we look at HEVC for unified communications, consortiums like the IMTC have established working groups to guarantee that we don’t have the same level of interoperability issues that plagued UCC in H.264’s early days.

The IMTC has set up the Scalable and Simulcast Video Activity Group (SSV AG) to address HEVC for UCC applications. The SSV AG has completed its H.265 HEVC Modes specification, which “defines a mechanism to enable devices with a lower display resolution, lower processing power and access to limited network bandwidth to participate in video conferences with high-end, multi-monitor telepresence systems while optimizing the bandwidth consumed by each leg of the conference.”

In other words, scalable HEVC video. We saw scalable H.264 video, and the streaming industry almost embraced it, but the functionality is baked in to HEVC, so there’s a likelihood that the UCC folks will be able to teach us a trick or two on how to handle multiple simultaneous bandwidths.

This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Streaming Media magazine.

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