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  1. 1. C O V E R S T O RY HARDWARE OR SOFTWARE? WADING THE VIDEO STREAM Q u a l i t y o r va l u e ? S t re a m i n g s e r ve r s o f t wa re p r ov i d e s b o t h . T h e i m a g e s m i g h t n o t b e a s c ri s p a s t h o s e o f h a rd wa re e n c o d e rs , b u t t h e i r p ri c e — t y p i c a l l y f re e — m a ke s t h e m h a rd t o re s i s t . S t i l l , i f yo u n e e d t h e u l t i m at e i n q u a l i t y, c o n s i d e r a h a rd wa re e n c o d e r. » Buckaroo Banzai sweeps in to save Penny Priddy and retrieve his oscillation overthruster from the evil Lord John Whorfin just in time to save the Earth from ... 44 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 46 E-MAIL POLL Wait a second! Your users aren’t watching full- RESULTS screen movies at their desktops. They’re doing serious work. Corporate training. Videoconfer- 48 HOW WE encing. Distance learning. But they’ll do it better TESTED if they can see clear, full-motion images on their computers. Bringing video to the desktop is an 61 WHAT PRICE important cost-saving step for the enterprise. STREAMING Your job is to find the best technology to deliver VIDEO? it to your staff and partners. Enterprise customers have two primary B Y D A R R I N W O O D S I P H O T O B Y W E N D Y I D E L E 42 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  2. 2. C O V E R S T O RY REPORT CARD Streaming Video Software Apple Computer RealNetworks Microsoft Windows choices: hardware-based MPEG Weight Darwin Streaming Server 4 RealSystem iQ Media Services encoders or software-based encoders VIDEO QUALITY 40% 4.1 3.7 2.5 combined with streaming servers. CLIENT OS COMPATIBILITY 15% 3 5 3 COST 15% 5 2 4 From an ROI (return on investment) EASE OF SETUP/USE 15% 4 5 3 perspective, most enterprises will SERVER OS COMPATIBILITY 15% 5 5 1 find it easiest to recoup their invest- TOTAL SCORE 4.19 4.03 2.65 ment on the streaming servers, since B+ B+ C– those servers are often free. Further- A≥4.3, B≥3.5, C≥2.5, D≥1.5, F<1.5 A-C G R A D E S I N C L U D E + O R – I N T H E I R R A N G E S . T O TA L S C O R E S A N D W E I G H T E D more, streaming servers can conserve SCORES ARE BASED ON A SCALE OF 0-5. CUSTOMIZE THE RESULTS OF THIS REPORT CARD TO YOUR ENVIRONMENT USING bandwidth, since it’s often possible to THEI N T E R A C T I V E R E P O R T C A R D ® , A J AVA A P P L E T O N N E T W O R K C O M P U T I N G O N L I N E , AT W W W . N E T W O R K C O M P U T I N G . C O M . send decent quality images even over a dial-up connection—a trick hard- top within an organization, MPEG is tems, but neither was willing to put ware encoders can’t perform. probably not the solution. But con- its money where its mouth is. Miner- On the other hand, hardware versely, streaming servers may not be va Networks and Path 1 Network encoders provide the ultimate in the best solution for providing a Technologies didn’t have finished quality. While the MPEG encoders high-quality video signal to board- products ready to show. Amnis and have a higher entry cost and greater rooms or sales meetings. VBrick have similar products and cost per seat than do the streaming On the hardware encoding front, delivered essentially the same quality servers, they have the advantage of we asked several vendors to partici- throughout our testing. being one-box solutions that need no pate in our tests and found only two We wanted to test cross-platform additional hardware outside of the that had the guts to show their stuff: compatibility to see which vendor video source and a network connec- Amnis Systems and VBrick Systems. could deliver to something beyond a tion. To deliver video to every desk- We invited Optibase and Cisco Sys- Microsoft Windows-centric network but found that our two participants were just that: Windows-centric. E X E C U T I V E S U M M A RY Worse yet, we found that, because of driver and DLL problems, they would STREAMING VIDEO not operate on the same machine. An enterprise would therefore need to I P video has come a long way. The quality has improved dramatically, and the choose one or the other to use for its expense is relatively low—even free, if you use software-based streaming-video corporate video solution. Even with the incompatibilities, it was a tough servers. And digital video is not just for downloading clips from the Internet decision to choose one over the other. anymore. Within the past year, companies have begun exploring the use of video In the end, we chose Amnis’ offering for a variety of internal purposes to drive down other expenses, such as travel, as our winner, because of its one-box solution and multiple resolution and while giving employees access to videoconferences, training sessions and other bandwidth capabilities. high-quality visual applications. O But you can still expect a trade-off between the relatively inexpensive software n the streaming server side, we found the compatibility servers from Apple Computer, Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks and the pricier dreams that are made of. hardware-encoding solutions from Amnis Systems and VBrick Systems. Both hard- Unlike hardware encoders, the main ware and software solutions provide good-quality video. The software solutions let issue with these servers is, indeed, video traffic run at lower bit rates than hardware encoders require, but there’s a visu- compatibility. Our three partici- pants—Apple Computer, Microsoft al cost: Image quality degrades when it’s transmitted at lower speeds. and RealNetworks—proved that their Our review of streaming video options covers the three major software servers, players could work on multiple oper- Apple’s Darwin Streaming Server 4, Microsoft’s Windows Media Services and Real- ating systems and deliver some level of quality video to each. We graded Networks’ RealSystem iQ. We also examine Amnis’ NAC-3000 and VBrick’s 3200 each on quality, compatibility, ease of and 6200 hardware-based streaming-video solutions. Apple edged out its competi- use and price. tion, while Amnis just barely beat VBrick on the hardware side. After we spent weeks in arduous testing and watching our favorite 44 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  3. 3. video to the desktop is a great bene- C O V E R S T O RY fit. This quality and simplicity come Does your organization plan to deploy real-time desktop video? with a price, though. Each player movie over and over, our numbers that is deployed to the desktop will 26% 20% showed that Apple’s Darwin Stream- cost anywhere from $30 to $150 per ing Server 4 and QuickTime Player 5 unit. If you have an enterprise of sev- 18% package deserves top honors. Apple eral thousand employees, the per- 24% 12% proved it could deliver a robust server seat costs could drive the expense to and client that performed well. Its the moon. You should also consider images beat the competition over a the additional bandwidth necessary We have deployed real-time desktop video range of bandwidths. Best of all, the to deliver this video to the desktop, Yes, within six to 11 months Yes, within 12 to 24 months software is free, regardless of which as these devices typically encode Yes, beyond 24 months operating system you’re running. either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 streams No RealNetworks’ RealSystem solu- and require an average of 1.5 Mbps Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll tion took a close second and fell well of your network. behind Apple in the price category, software being given away, finding since the costs of RealNetworks server fault with it is hard. software escalate into the thousands of STREAMING SERVERS We tested Darwin Streaming Serv- B dollars, based on the number of view- er public beta 4 on an Intel-powered ers you wish to serve. Finally, Microsoft’s Windows Media Services + APPLE DARWIN STREAMING SERVER 4, whitebox running FreeBSD, as well as a Macintosh G4 PowerMac running fared poorly in all but the highest- QUICKTIME PLAYER 5 Apple’s OS X. Since a FreeBSD ver- bandwidth quality tests. If you’re run- sion of the beta was not available, we ning Windows 2000 Server and all When most people hear the word downloaded the source code and gave your clients are Windows-based, this Apple, they immediately think of solu- it a quick compile. software is a no-brainer, but it’s truly tions that require adding Macintosh Once the server was started, it was the least common denominator in computers to their networks. With ready to go. A browser-based inter- streaming video. Apple’s Darwin Streaming Server, this face is available to create playlists (a couldn’t be fur- group of movies to be shown in suc- WHEN QUALITY IS THE NAME Although all three software-based 5 ther from the truth. Apple’s E D I T O R ’S C H O I C E streaming serv- cession) as well as manage the server and set up downstream proxy servers. streaming servers we tested can All we needed was the stats page, as transmit good-quality video at higher er is available for several operating everything else gets set up automati- bandwidths, they require at least one systems as a precompiled binary or as cally. To play prerecorded video, computer to encode and a second to source code. In our blind testing, our copy the file to the server and place deliver video. You may want a solu- judges picked the images from our it in whichever directory you have tion that is easier to administer. Hav- Darwin Streaming Server as either specified to contain streamed files. ing one piece of hardware that can the best or the second best in our five The server has no problems deliver- encode and deliver high-quality bandwidth tests. And with the server ing the same clip to several players at the same time or in staggered play- APPLE DARWIN VIDEO STREAM back tests. Apple’s directions for streaming a 100,000 live video source are very simple. 90,000 When we first read the instructions, we thought something was missing. 80,000 But, indeed, the process was quite 70,000 basic. That said, this is the one area 60,000 that could use a smidgen of improve- 50,000 ment. RealNetworks’ RealSystem iQ 40,000 server is actually easier to use for 30,000 this purpose. 20,000 We chose a Winnov Videum 1000 10,000 capture card ($249) to capture the live video on a Windows 2000 computer 0 Bytes per second and Sorenson Media’s Broadcaster ($249) compression software with 46 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  4. 4. Sorenson 3 Professional encoder How will the video stream be used? ($499) to encode the video at the desired bandwidth and send it to the Internal streaming server. Sorenson also has a corporate use version of the software for Macintosh External corporate use OS–based systems. If your video source is a digital camera, the Macin- Other tosh solution is better, as a direct 0 20% 40% 60% 80% FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection can Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll be made between the computer and camera. You won’t need a video cap- video to the players. Either Sorenson ture card, and your video will remain a needs to delete this line from the true digital stream. SDP file or Apple needs to ignore it. This problem should be resolved by B roadcaster lets the user specify the time you read this, as Apple has the bandwidth along with frame introduced its own compression/ rate and size, but we created our broadcasting software that will work own. Predefined choices are avail- with its server directly. able, but they seem to favor the With the SDP file copied to the H.261 encoder (an older standard streaming server, the players need than MPEG) built into Broadcaster only be told of the path and file name instead of the Sorenson 3. In our before the video begins. The Soren- blind tests, the H.261 encoder had son 3 compressor is a VBR (variable very low scores; our testers preferred bit rate) codec, unlike RealNetworks’ the Sorenson 3 encoded video. and Microsoft’s solutions, and is Once we configured Broadcaster, therefore more bandwidth-efficient in we encountered two minor problems. transmission: Only the necessary data First, the streaming server must be is transmitted. This is obvious when told of the stream to be sent to it, via looking at network usage in “Apple an SDP (Session Description Proto- Darwin Video Stream” (see page 46). col) file that is created and sent to the The Apple player’s buffering is the server by FTP. Creating the file quickest of all three: just 10 to 12 sec- requires clicking on the “announce” onds, compared with 15 to 20 button within Broadcaster and telling seconds for RealNetworks’ and it where to save the file on the encod- Microsoft’s players. ing computer, then copying the file to the streaming server. Performing mul- Darwin Streaming Server 4, free down- tiple tests with different bandwidth load available at and quality settings, as we did, com/projects/streaming/; QuickTime becomes tedious. Streaming Server 4, free download avail- Even more annoying, each SDP able at file had to be edited to delete a line products/qtss; QuickTime Player 5, free that specified timing for the stream download available at before the server would send the quicktime. Apple, (800) MY-APPLE, (408) 996-1010. If you have deployed real-time desktop video, B what is it used for in your organization? Employee training + REALNETWORKS REALSYSTEM IQ Distance learning Offering the most expensive of the Broadcasting corporate messages solutions we tested, RealNetworks did provide us with the easiest-to- Other configure and -use servers. RealSys- 0 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% tem iQ server might have edged out Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll Apple’s Darwin Server were it not for I 3.18.2002 I NETWORK COMPUTING 47
  5. 5. reams of documentation on its Web would coredump when the installer C O V E R S T O RY site on how to twiddle every nut and tried to start the server processes. bolt, what’s missing is the simple, When started manually, the server the price, which ratchets up with the step-by-step “Here’s how to get it acted as if it were working, but more streams you need to serve. For working” stuff. We later found out we couldn’t access it via the Web large needs, this can quickly add up we were making the process more browser to configure and monitor it. into the tens of thousands of dollars. difficult than it really was: For our Ditching the instructions, we were Even a small enterprise of 500 users purposes, the “as installed” version able to get everything started by would pay $3,995 for the server soft- works just fine. using the default.cfg configuration ware only; a 2,000-user company file instead of the one created by W would wind up shelling out $5,995. e encountered no prob- the install and recommended by Tweaking the RealSystem server lems while using the Real- the directions, then starting the serv- beyond the simple setup is also not System iQ server, though er manually. for the faint of heart or the inexperi- we found it temperamental to install We loaded RealSystem Producer enced. While RealNetworks provides on our FreeBSD server. That install Plus 8.5 on a Windows 2000 comput- HOW WE TESTED VIDEO SOLUTIONS V ideo quality has always been a subjective matter. What digital video signal from our DVD player through a signal con- one person likes, another may not. To counter this, we verter. This allowed our video to maintain its digital form the came up with a completely blind test for our quality. We entire way through the process. For the Videum card, we con- created screen shots of the same scene from each player at dif- nected our DVD player via an S-Video connection and unbal- ferent encoding rates: 56, 128, 256, 384 and 512 Kbps. We anced stereo audio. then cropped the shots to exclude the player and presented them Our servers were set up on the same Pentium III–based dual- to our volunteer judges. With each encoder, we tried several dif- processor hardware, with the only difference being the operat- ferent combinations of quality for each bit rate and presented all ing system. Apple’s and RealNetworks’ servers were loaded on the options to 24 judges, based in homes and offices all over the a computer running FreeBSD, while Microsoft’s server was test- country. To achieve our final numbers for a given bandwidth/ ed on a Windows 2000 Server box, as that is the only platform player combination, we calculated the top scores from each ven- Media Services runs on. For clients, we loaded all three players dor, to give each one the best possible result. on computers running Windows 98, Windows 2000, Macintosh We chose a cult movie classic, The Adventures of Bucka- OS 9.2 and OS X. Bandwidth usage was monitored by Ether- roo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, on DVD, as our Peek software from WildPackets. source. This movie has enough action and static areas to put For our tests on the products from Amnis and VBrick, we the encoders through their paces. Our encoding computers used the same DVD source connected directly to each vendor’s had Intel dual-processor motherboards with 800-MHz Pen- box. We then routed the IP video through an Empirix Packet- tium IIIs, running Windows 2000 Professional. Microsoft and Sphere to simulate network degradation. The video then arrived RealNetworks recommended we use the ViewCast Corp. at a computer running Windows 2000, where it was displayed Osprey 500 video capture card, while Sorenson recommend- in the player. Because we were unable to take screen shots of ed the Winnov Videum card for its tests. Both cards per- the MPEG video, for quality tests we set up two identical moni- formed well. The Osprey is much more expensive than the tors side by side and compared the video coming from both sys- Videum but provides support for digital video and audio tems simultaneously. input in addition to the normal analog inputs. We had intend- In creating our report card, we could not do a strict apples- ed to use the Osprey card for all our tests but found that to-apples comparison. Video quality is most heavily weighted in Sorenson’s Broadcaster had problems with some, so we used both cases, but other factors deserve different amounts of atten- the Videum for those tests. tion. Thus, we considered quality 30 percent of the score in the For the Osprey card, we provided a FireWire (IEEE 1394) hardware testing but 40 percent in the software testing. 48 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  6. 6. video capture card, but RealNetworks computer. With the BNC and other C O V E R S T O RY and Microsoft recommended the card connectors hanging off the back, it’s for our testing purposes. The View- tough to angle the card into a PCI er to perform our encoding. We also Cast card has a built-in FireWire slot without needing to bend the back installed a ViewCast Corp. Osprey interface so we could easily bring the of the computer out of the way. 500-DV Pro video capture card video and audio in through this con- Producer is extremely easy to use. ($1,995) to pull in video. You don’t nection. The hardest part of working It recognized the ViewCast card need to spend nearly $2,000 for a with this card was getting it into the automatically and walked us through WHAT PRICE STREAMING VIDEO? D oes streaming video increase revenue? Does it decrease is eliminated because it operates in a Windows environment only. total cost of ownership? Most top managers are asking RealNetworks and Apple offer free players that can be down- these questions today. Streaming video technologies can loaded. Apple’s server software is free; RealNetworks’ would cost do either—sometimes nearly expense-free. $4,000. Millennium 21 decides to go with Apple’s product. Determining whether streaming video is cost-effective to an Why? Given the potential to increase revenue by $2 million to organization’s needs depends largely on the WAN bandwidth $3 million, and all other costs being equal, Millennium 21 decided required, since much of the software is free. If an organization to save the extra $4,000 it would cost to use RealSystem. doesn’t require multiple instances, or that the application will run Suburban Style is a 10,000-person, $75 million cloth- over a LAN, streaming video has a number of possibilities. Other- ing catalog company with call centers in Ireland. It also provides its wise, the added bandwidth will contribute a substantial cost—as call-in customers with fashion advice. To ensure that its consultants much as 65 percent, as seen in the sample breakdown below. are familiar with the latest products, the company has been pro- Take, for instance, the following two fictitious companies—one ducing CDs with video clips on how to sell the products. Each shift is looking to drive sales revenue and the other is looking to reduce of operators receives 25 CDs every two weeks, at a total cost of costs. Neither company has a budget for adding streaming video, $25,000 per year. The company believes streaming video would so creativity is key. be a better solution, as long as it leverages Suburban Style’s envi- Millennium 21 is a 500-person, $20 million real-estate ronment of 18 Windows 2000 servers, consumes less than 15 organization in Chicago. It shows properties on its Web site to percent of LAN bandwidth, enables on-demand viewing for 10 to registered clients, who pay a fee to download video clips. The files 15 operators simultaneously and requires no added investment. are large and downloads are slow, but the company’s main con- Suburban Style evaluates RealNetworks’ and Microsoft’s solu- cern is accuracy. Properties sell quickly, and there is no way to tions, choosing not to introduce Apple into its environment. Both update the information once it has been downloaded. Millennium solutions can accommodate 10 to 15 simultaneous users, but the 21 estimates that a more effective application would increase sales up-front investment of $2,000 per server for the RealNetworks by 15 percent within six months. solution ($36,000 in all) makes it more STREAMING-VIDEO COSTS Streaming video addresses the problem, costly than the CDs. Suburban Style choos- but the chosen solution has to have a uni- es Microsoft for the cost savings. versally available player, work in a Unix 65% Bandwidth Shally Bansal Stanley manages Greenwich environment, be supported by hosting provider Digex, perform well over the Inter- Technology Partners’ Network Economics net, leverage existing bandwidth and sup- practice, where she analyzes financial and 15% 15% port up to 75 simultaneous users. Servers Support contractual impacts to changes in voice, RealNetworks’ RealSystem iQ and 0% data and wireless infrastructures. Send 5% Server Player Apple’s QuickTime 5.0 are under consider- your comments on this article to her at software ation. Microsoft’s Windows Media Services I 3.18.2002 I NETWORK COMPUTING 61
  7. 7. them using the RealOne Player. RealSystem iQ: RealSystem Server Basic, C O V E R S T O RY Although we tried several times to free for 25 concurrent viewers; RealSystem eliminate it, we were unsuccessful Server Plus, $1,995 for 60 concurrent setting up our encoding by selecting and instead told our judges to ignore viewers; RealSystem Server Intranet, start- the type of audio and video to be it. The video stream is also at a fairly ing at $3,995 for 200 to 500 concurrent generated. Producer will encode pre- constant bit rate (see “RealNetworks viewers; RealSystem Server Professional, existing or live video for playback by RealServer iQ Video Stream,” starts at $5,995 for 100 to 2,000 concur- the server. Unlike the Sorenson below). This makes it easier for rent viewers; RealSystem Producer Plus Broadcaster, RealSystem Producer enterprises transmitting over band- 8.5, $199.95; RealOne Player, free. asks the IP address of the RealSys- width-restricted networks but may RealNetworks, (800) 444-8011, (206) tem iQ Server and sets up the con- not offer the efficiency of a VBR 674-2700. nection and files without user inter- encoder like Sorenson. C vention. No need to edit and copy F any files to the server—what a relief. or the enterprise customer with a MICROSOFT Our judges deemed Producer’s heterogeneous network, Real- WINDOWS MEDIA low-bit-rate video the best. This Networks has a version of its SERVICES shows RealNetworks’ strength of cre- RealOne Player for just about every ating and streaming video for the Windows and Unix platform, though Microsoft Media Services’ images there’s still no support for Macintosh scored dead last in four of our five In which formats do you provide content for OS X. RealNetworks is working on a quality tests. Unless you’re an all- external customer use? version for the new Apple operating Microsoft shop, you can do better. Microsoft Windows system but won’t have it ready until Then again, it is free if you’re Media Player later this year. The downside to the already using Windows 2000 Server. RealNetworks RealPlayer RealNetworks players is the time And if you’re using anything else, needed to buffer data before playing you can’t have it anyway, since Win- Apple QuickTime begins. RealOne Player takes between dows Media Services isn’t available as Other 15 and 20 seconds to buffer and a standalone product. begin playing. For streaming a live video source, 0 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll RealNetworks is also the only play- Media Services is the most difficult to er that has scrolling ad space for chan- configure, even though Microsoft pro- Internet to 56-Kbps modem users. nels to news and other entertainment vides step-by-step instructions for set- RealNetworks came in second, organizations. We could minimize the ting up such a stream. Live sources behind Apple-Sorenson, for the window to get rid of this, but then we require users to create either a unicast midrange bit rates and third at our couldn’t get to the volume and win- (one sender, one receiver) or a multi- highest test bit rate. dow-size controls. We also found it cast (one sender, many simultaneous We had problems with banding— annoying that immediately after receivers) station. A setup wizard is solid colors appearing where color downloading the player from Real- available to step you through the gradation is supposed to be—in our Networks’ Web site, we were notified process, which creates the connection screen captures when we viewed that the player was out of date. between the server and the encoder. While an experienced person could REALNETWORKS REALSYSTEM IQ VIDEO STREAM whip through this easily, we wish we could do it from one place instead of 70,000 having to set up the encoder and serv- er separately. 60,000 Which is the most important aspect of a 50,000 video stream? 40,000 73% 30,000 20,000 27% 10,000 Quality 0 Bytes per second Low bandwidth Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll 62 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  8. 8. Windows Media Encoder provides buffering times in its next release, Do you provide streaming players as part of another setup wizard to configure the code-named Corona. Instead of your supported desktop environment? encoding. We used the same ViewCast transmitting at normal rates during video capture card as for the tests with the buffer process, the server will 70% RealNetworks’ solution. Media instead burst the information to the Encoder allows simple setup of the client initially. This won’t work if compression for the audio and video. there isn’t enough unused bandwidth 30% Preconfigured settings are available to burst the buffer. for those that want a quick process to Yes stream video. By comparison, stream- Windows Media Services, included with No ing a pre-existing video clip is no the Windows 2000 Server; Windows Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll problem; just copy the clip to the serv- 2000 Server, $1,199 with 10 client access er, and it’s ready to be played. licenses; Windows Media Player, free. We first tested the Amnis NAC- While the Windows Media stream Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, (425) 3000 last spring, when we evaluated has a constant bit rate for the most 882-8080; fax (425) 936-7329. products that deliver broadcast- part, we found that occasionally the quality video over networks (see “Is data stream undulated at lower bit It Live or Is It Digital Video?,” at rates. The data rate would start out HARDWARE ENCODERS A with slight shifts that would build on This time, instead of testing the themselves until no packets got out AMNIS SYSTEMS decoder, we tested the desktop play- in one second and had to be com- NAC-3000 LIVE er, LivePlayer, with the encoder. bined with the next second’s packets. STREAMING VIDEO LivePlayer can be installed under The rate would then slowly begin SERVER/ENCODER Windows 95 or higher, but if you settling back out but would begin AND LIVEPLAYER 1.2 want MPEG software decoding, the again a few minutes later. We tried STREAMING MEDIA client must be running at least several times to replicate this to see DESKTOP PLAYER Microsoft Windows 98. We ran our if it was in some way tied to the tests under Windows 2000. video source, but we found no corre- If our tests were the Kentucky Derby, LivePlayer installed without any lation. While this didn’t affect the Amnis’ solution would win by a nose. fuss once we figured out that Live- video quality in our tests, it could be Choosing the NAC-3000 Live Player and VBrick’s StreamPlayerII disastrous on networks that employ Streaming Video Server/Encoder and couldn’t be installed on the same traffic shaping or other QoS (Quality LivePlayer 1.2 computer. We couldn’t identify the of Service) measures. We also had a problem of “jail bars” 5 Streaming Media Desktop E D I T O R ’S C H O I C E Player as our source of the conflict, but we believe there was a DLL conflict. Both play- appearing from time to time at some ers use and modify some portions of of the bandwidths we tested. These are Editor’s Choice award winner was dif- the Microsoft Windows Media Player. black and white vertical bars about 5 ficult, as both vendors here have great Setting up the NAC-3000 was pixels in width that appeared over the products. What pushed us over the straightforward, but, as was the case upper half of the video for just one or edge is the one-box solution Amnis in our last review, we still don’t care two frames, then vanished. The jail offers for encoding both MPEG-1 and for the telnet-based interface. Amnis bars occurred at random times. We MPEG-2 streams and options avail- is working on a fully graphical inter- could neither reproduce them at will able for streaming. face for configuring the units and nor could we explain why they occurred. Microsoft never returned a REPORT CARD Hardware Encoding Solutions call when we sought an explanation. Amnis Systems NAC-3000 Live Streaming VBrick Systems O n the player side, Microsoft Weight Video Server/Encoder VBrick 3200 and VBrick 6200 supports all its own OSes as VIDEO QUALITY 30% 5 4 well as those from Apple. BIT-RATE VARIATION 20% 5 3 PLAYER FUNCTIONALITY 20% 4 5 Support of Unix players is nonexist- COST 15% 4 5 ent except for an older version for EASE OF SETUP/USE 15% 3 4 Sun Microsystems Solaris. TOTAL SCORE 4.35 4.15 Buffering time in Windows Media A– B+ Player is about the same as that in A≥4.3, B≥3.5, C≥2.5, D≥1.5, F<1.5 A-C G R A D E S I N C L U D E + O R – I N T H E I R R A N G E S . T O TA L S C O R E S A N D W E I G H T E D RealSystem iQ: 15 to 20 seconds. SCORES ARE BASED ON A SCALE OF 0-5. CUSTOMIZE THE RESULTS OF THIS REPORT CARD TO YOUR ENVIRONMENT USING Microsoft aims to drastically reduce THEI N T E R A C T I V E R E P O R T C A R D ® , A J AVA A P P L E T O N N E T W O R K C O M P U T I N G O N L I N E , AT W W W . N E T W O R K C O M P U T I N G . C O M . I 3.18.2002 I NETWORK COMPUTING 63
  9. 9. actually save the video you are very noticeable, but under the strain C O V E R S T O RY watching to your hard drive, and of our tests, it was quite apparent. with MPEG quality, it’s good, clean should have it ready for consumers video. This feature is useful for LivePlayer 1.2 Streaming Media Desktop around summertime. archiving live video. A player near Player, from $30 to $150 depending on On the client side, LivePlayer will the source can be set to record the version; NAC-3000 Live Streaming Video autodetect video streams created by live video while it is being broadcast Server/Encoder, $6,995 to $13,995 any of Amnis’ products and list those to everyone else within an organiza- depending on configuration; NAC-4000 streams in the window. After select- tion. This archived video can then be Live Streaming Video Decoder/Receiver, ing the stream we wanted to view stored on a server for later viewing $2,995. Amnis Systems (formerly Optivi- and waiting a few seconds for initial by anyone using the player. sion), (800) 239-0600, (650) 855-0200; buffering, we were watching our LivePlayer has two serious draw- fax (650) 855-0222. video in MPEG-1 SIF (Standard backs. First, the player does not auto- or Interchange Format—typically 352 matically resize to the resolution B by 240) on the screen. We liked that being played. While the player win- the NAC-3000 has more resolution options than either of the VBrick dow can be resized, doing so manual- ly often creates nonsquare pixels or + VBRICK SYSTEMS VBRICK 3200, VBRICK solutions tested. The NAC-3000 also an image that is larger or smaller 6200 AND VBRICK holds true to the encoding bit rate than what was encoded. STREAMPLAYERII and can be varied through a wider Second, the player has a terrible range than the VBrick units. problem with tearing. This phenome- With only two vendors to test, we non is well known by video folks who might assume that one product would L ike the players used for our regularly move video between inter- be the loser. This is not true in streaming server tests, LivePlayer laced and noninterlaced systems. VBrick’s case. We liked several things has the normal buttons for play, Tearing appears as horizontal lines about the units tested, but Amnis’ pause and stop, but it has one extra that don’t align themselves with those solution squeaked past VBrick’s. for record. This is something that above or below. While the VBrick VBrick supplied us with its 3200 the streaming server manufacturers StreamPlayerII did show a bit of MPEG-1 encoder and 6200 MPEG-2 haven’t included in their products tearing, it was nowhere near what we encoder. The two products remind us yet, and none will say if they will. By observed in LivePlayer. Under nor- of stepchildren: They appear to have clicking the record button, you can mal circumstances, the tearing isn’t come from two groups within the company, and neither knew of the S T R E A M I N G V I D E O S O L U T I O N F E AT U R E S other’s existence. The VBrick 3200 is configured Apple Computer Microsoft Windows RealNetworks SOFTWARE Darwin Streaming Server 4 Media Services RealSystem iQ from the VBAdmin Administrator Server OS Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Microsoft Windows Microsoft Windows, Linux, Sun application, which runs on a Win- Windows, Linux, Sun Solaris; source Solaris, Compaq Tru64, FreeBSD, dows operating system. VBrick pro- code available Hewlett-Packard HP-UX, IBM AIX vides many more configuration Client OS Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, options than Amnis does. The (previous version available third-party Unix support for Sun Solaris) options are categorized under tabs MPEG-4 support Y N Y that stretch into the next cubicle—20 Configurable via browser Y Y Y tabs in the scroll pane near the bot- Price Free Free with Microsoft Windows Ranges from free for 25 concurrent tom of the window. Even with all the 2000 Server (not available as users to $5,995 and higher for options, VBAdmin is simple to use. standalone application) 100 to 2,000 users Amnis Systems Which streaming player do you provide for NAC-3000 Live Streaming VBrick Systems VBrick Systems your users? HARDWARE Video Server/Encoder VBrick 3200 VBrick 6200 Combined MPEG-1/MPEG-2 support Y N N Microsoft Windows Composite video input Y Y Y Media Player RealNetworks S-Video input N Y Y RealPlayer Web interface for configuration N N Y Video output N Y Y Apple QuickTime Balanced/unbalanced audio support Y (through balanced ports) N Y (separate connections) Other Player compatibility Microsoft Windows Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows Microsoft Windows Price $6,995 to $13,995 $4,995 $9,995 0 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% Y = YES N = NO Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll 64 NETWORK COMPUTING I 3.18.2002 I
  10. 10. Do you let employees load players not obvious color banding that was not provided by your organization on their present in the NAC-3000. During desktop computers? our MPEG-2 tests, the results reversed. The VBrick 6200’s video 65% looked mushy and not as clear as the Amnis unit’s output. Our major com- plaint is that the encoding bit rate 35% cannot be changed below preset amounts. This can be seen in our test Yes results. The VBrick 6200 consistent- No Source: NETWORK COMPUTING E-Mail Poll ly used more bandwidth for the same resolution than did the NAC-3000. We were annoyed to find out that There is a manual setting, but the resolution changes required the 3200 6200 wouldn’t let us set this below to reset itself. This process takes what it was using. about two minutes, and nothing can VBrick also makes a software prod- be changed in the configuration until uct for customers who want to stream the box has restarted. to Windows Media Players. VBrick The 6200 looks completely differ- VBXcoder will receive an MPEG ent from the 3200 on the outside, stream from either the 3200 or the most notably because of its LCD sta- 6200 and convert it into Windows tus display. These lights display the Media Format (.wmv) for streaming to unit’s IP address and broadcast the desktop. This solution can be used address. The differences continue in to stream both internally, directly the configuration, as the 6200 is from the MPEG source, and external- accessed with a Web browser that ly, at lower bit rates from the VBX- has options grouped under five tabs coder. Using the free Windows Media for easier editing. Resolutions can be Player can reduce some of the costs changed on the fly, without the unit associated with the hardware-based needing a restart. That’s a big encoding solution. improvement over the 3200. We only wish the 6200 could include the VBrick 3200, $4,995; VBrick 6200, 3200’s MPEG-1 capabilities in the $9,995; VBrick VBXcoder, $2,999; VBrick same box. StreamPlayerII, $30 per PC or on a site- license basis. VBrick Systems, (866) 827- T o play back video from both, we 4251, (203) 265-0044. used VBrick’s StreamPlayerII or NC software installed on a Windows 2000 computer. VBrick has a Macin- Darrin Woods is a technology editor of tosh version that will play MPEG-1 NETWORK COMPUTING and previously streams under OS 9. Because of a worked as a WAN engineer for a telecom problem within Apple’s MPEG carrier. Send your comments on this arti- decoder, the audio and video drift cle to him at apart after a few minutes. Apple expects to resolve the problem with its next release of QuickTime, ver- WEB LINKS sion 6, which touts new MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 decoders. StreamPlay- » “Shrinking the Video: How erII also will record the streams to Codecs Work” (NETWORK COMPUTING, the local hard drive if desired, from a Feb. 18, 2002) Windows or Macintosh computer. 1304/1304ws1.html We liked the VBrick 3200’s » “Picture Perfect Video” (NET- MPEG-1 video quality better than WORK COMPUTING, July 9, 2001) that of the Amnis NAC-3000. Although the image appeared sharp- er and crisper, however, there was I 3.18.2002 I NETWORK COMPUTING 65