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Latency: The Next Frontier

The upshot is that these newer codec implementations (most are H.264) and complementary encoding boards yield both HD and low-latency SD, with the latter being ideal for the applications mentioned above.

Take for instance, the HaiVision hai1000 MAKO-HD, which the Montreal-based company showcased at InfoComm. The MAKO-HD, according to the company, is an encoder/decoder board that uses a new H.264 codec implementation to achieve less than 120 milliseconds end-to-end latency. The end-to-end latency comment has the caveat of assuming a full quality-of-service delivery network (something those of us involved in videoconferencing are constantly aware of). Given the right network, though, the MAKO-HD has been demonstrated to support high definition resolutions up to 1080p; and, combined with HaiVision’s multi-blade chassis, users can achieve up to 5 bi-directional channels of HD within a single system.

"As H.264 establishes itself in the market, it is fulfilling its promise to serve a very broad range of applications," said Michelle Abrahams, principal analyst for multimedia & consumer markets at research firm In-Stat. "Low-latency H.264 video codecs contribute to the fulfillment of this promise by addressing applications in the video surveillance, video conferencing and wireless video networking space. The combination of [low] latency, multi-channel processing and high-definition opens up new and exiting opportunities in these markets."

Expect to see words like millisecond on a variety of marketing brochures in the near term, including the term "zero latency" which is marketing fluff for saying that a codec has very low latency. As a rule of thumb, as long as it’s below 150 milliseconds for end-to-end transmissions, the latency is low enough to allow bi-directional communication.

Another company approaching the low-latency HD and SD market is W&W Communications. Founded by James Liu as a codec-only company, W&W has branched out to include hardware/software solutions after it merged with DSP Research a few years ago. W&W has set its sites on very low latencies with claims—not yet substantiated—of latencies around 2 milliseconds end-to-end transmission, again assuming a QoS network delivery infrastructure.

While HaiVision’s H.264 HD architecture is available now, the new W&W architecture, dubbed Taos, should be available for sampling in late Q3 of this year with processing bandwidth to encode and decode 1080p60 video or any equivalent up to a 1080p60 stream (in other words, two 1080p30, four 720p30, eight D1 or 32 CIF streams at 30 frames per second).

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