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Skype TX: Could Skype's New Offering Create a News Revolution?

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With the Super Bowl behind them and wall-to-wall presidential election coverage still to come, broadcast professionals gathered in Las Vegas, as they do every April, for a meet-and-greet-and-try-out-new-gear event: National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show.

This year, as in the past two years, attendees were faced with a broad range of miniaturized production gear, some of which is smaller, lighter, and faster than ever before, thanks in no small part to the surge of online live linear streaming and product demands that go along with it.

From the set-top box (in its cable provider and over-the-top varieties) to the growth of online channels to the long-awaited tipping point of TV Everywhere, the NAB show presented evolutionary gear and modified workflows.

Some parts of the production process found a foothold for what could be a dramatic revolution. One such example is the release of new products such as the TalkShow VS-100 from NewTek, based on Skype TX. If the company name sounds familiar, it’s the same one that brought the world the Video Toaster, the TriCaster, and the more recent 3Play instant replay system.

While other gear in the NewTek arsenal, including the recently released TriCaster Mini, builds on the premise of better switching and playback, TalkShow is a different breed of cat (or cattle, since NewTek hails from San Antonio).

TalkShow is based on Skype TX, which itself is based very loosely on the Skype personal videoconferencing or instant messaging chat tool acquired by Microsoft in 2011. After being acquired by eBay and then freed from the company several years earlier, Skype continued to innovate—so much so that Microsoft’s acquisition placed the collaborative two-way video communication tool squarely into its key business process service offerings.

Earlier in 2011, Skype itself had acquired Qik, which had a focus on mobile devices and allowed Skype to leverage Qik technologies to offer Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and other mobile operating system applications.

After buying Skype, Microsoft also acquired a small British firm called Cat and Mouse. This company focused on multifeed and call quality optimizations, and its rudimentary Skype-like interface, CatCall, served as the basis for Skype TX.

What we saw of Skype TX at the 2014 NAB show was, frankly, not ready for prime time, and even the release to manufacturing (RTM) had significant shortcomings. Many of those have improved over the course of a year, and the resulting products that Microsoft’s three initial Skype TX hardware partners released at or just prior to the 2015 NAB show display the benefits of the continued investment in Skype TX.

Security is still an ongoing issue, as there’s not necessarily anything that keeps someone with Skype from calling into a known Skype TX-based hardware box, but perhaps the first few months of “security through obscurity” will give way to actual security once the first on-air incident occurs.

Yet for all of Skype TX’s growing pains, the advent of products such as the NewTek TalkShow VS-100 heralds a new way to combine easy-to-use hardware with enhanced content quality. Pretty soon, I predict, even the experts will be hard-pressed to know whether an expert appearing on-screen with the in-studio anchor is beaming in by satellite or merely sitting down at their desktop or laptop and participating in a Skype call. That blurring of the lines will invariably reshape broadcasting as we know it, both over the air and online.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "Skype TX: Spurring a News Revolution?"

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