Why stop at 500 channels? Broadcast International's new CodecSys codec for video conferencing may be applicable to cable and satellite set-top boxes, too. Because it can fit a DVD-quality stream into a 512-kbps video stream and HD-quality into a 4-Mbps stream, we may have a 5,000 channel universe one day.
"They can stream high-quality video at 256K, which is remarkable," says Adi Kishore, Yankee Group analyst. "The applications for a low-bit-rate video codec are endless. It can be used for VOD, HD, video conferencing, and online video distribution."
"This codec could make the proverbial $50 set-top box a reality," says Rodney Tiede, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based BI.
The trick is a multi-codec system. The patented approach uses sub codecs within the codec, each handling a specific aspect of the video processing. "Codecs usually encode every frame of video the same way," Tiede explains, "but our system selects the proper codecs on the fly and uses the one that requires the least bandwidth while preserving quality."
Currently, the codec includes six sub codecs, but plans call for as many as 70 to be put in place. The codecs will be specialized for different aspects of the frame: one for black levels, another for gray scale.
A sub codec can be designed to handle specific events, such as rain, fog, or explosions, Tiede says. In fact, BI recently purchased a codec for rain from a pair of garage-based engineers in the UK.
"It's a very simple setup, and there is nothing magic about the switching process," says Tiede. "We believe everyone will be using multiple codecs for compression over the next couple of years because they'll see how easy it is to do."
The compression performance achieved by BI could prove attractive to services that use the Internet to distribute video-on-demand. Higher-quality streaming-video services like Movielink require the user to download the file onto a computer. That enables the viewer to have a full-screen experience without disrupting picture quality.
BI says its codec could allow Internet users to watch a movie at full-screen resolution while it's being downloaded.
Industry certifier Key Labs recently put the CodecSys code system through its paces, including encoding an uncompressed 362-MB file of Gladiator at 1024 kbps. At that rate, Key Labs says, there was no perceptible difference between the native DVD format and the CodecSys stream. Pushing compression to 512 kbps showed "minimal degradation in slight pixellation, and there was no degradation in the sound." At 256 kbps, obvious degradation was visible, but Key Labs was "still impressed with the clarity of the full-screen picture." Occasional skips in audio do occur.
"Overall, Broadcast International's CodecSys creates a compelling platform for increasing the quality and reducing the bandwidth of video streaming across the network," concludes the Key Labs
report. "This technology will particularly appeal to those organizations with streaming-video needs and bandwidth constraints between facilities."
Technology, however, is only part of the equation.
Kishore says business relationships, distribution agreements, and consumer awareness are probably more important. "BI has wisely decided to make the enterprise market their primary target," he adds.
"They know it, have clients in the space, and are already delivering satellite-based video service, such as corporate training videos, to various clients," says Kishore.
The company already has plans to touch base with manufacturers of broadcast equipment and set top boxes.