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Video Review: VBrick VBoss Broadcast

New service allows companies to experiment with streaming video. 9/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Video Review: VBrick VBoss Broadcast

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

New service allows companies to experiment with streaming video.




VBoss Broadcast

Live video streaming has been around for more than a decade, and in that time, it has secured a reputation for technical complexity in both networking and video. Indeed, the past challenges of streaming have undoubtedly kept many organizations away from seriously pursuing video over IP. But the times they are a-changing. Today, sites such as YouTube have essentially made streaming video just another data type for today's computers, and people now use it regularly. Fortunately, live streaming at the corporate level isn't what it used to be either — and VBrick has a way to prove it.

VBrick has been selling video-over-IP appliances for more than a decade, if not boasting about how easy it can be. Now, with a new service built around its video-brick hardware, the company is putting its proverbial money where its marketing mouth is by eliminating both capital expenditures and the technical barriers to live video streaming. VBoss Broadcast targets corporate and educational markets for whom traditional streaming start-up expenses and level-of-service contracts are too big a hurdle.

VBoss includes hardware (one of VBrick's regular Windows Media appliances), but surprisingly, you don't pay for it. VBoss is a service that allows corporations and organizations to test the waters with streaming for just $1,000 for 500 hours.

New VBoss customers receive a preconfigured “brick,” or video-over-IP appliance (interestingly, it comes in a green chassis rather than the company's typical black, but it's the same device). VBrick requires only a refundable $1,200 deposit, returned in full whenever use of the service ends — whether that's in one month, one year, or one decade. The actual cost of VBoss is measured in viewing hours at the rate of $1,000 per 500 viewed hours. You pay $1,000 up front, and then another $1,000 once you've used up the first 500 hours, and so on.

The important distinction in viewing hours is that they are measured not by how many hours of video are streamed out from the brick, but rather the numbers of hours that video is viewed by a browser over the Internet. In other words, you can stream forever if no one's watching, but if 500 browsers are viewing a single stream, they will use up the 500 viewing hours in one hour.

Of course, if more people are watching, it's a good indication that the video streaming is a success, and continuing with the VBoss service is likely. VBrick will, of course, be happy to sharpen the pencil or to sell the hardware outright if streaming volumes reach a much higher level. But the real value of VBoss is as an accessible and affordable way to determine how leveraging video over IP might be good for business, education, or communication — and thus, if it's worth the greater expense.


Video Review: VBrick VBoss Broadcast

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

New service allows companies to experiment with streaming video.




AS EASY AS…

How about this for easy? There's a Quick Start Guide that comes with the VBoss Broadcast, sitting right on top when you first open the box. It lists four single-line instructions:

  • Plug in brick.
  • Browse to broadcast.vbrick.com.
  • Log in with provided credentials for your account.
  • Use link at the top of the page: “Click here to view your live video stream.”

That's it. I was up and running literally within 5 minutes of opening the box. I suppose VBrick left out that you need to plug electricity, a video camera, and a network cable into the brick as part of step one (plus audio cables if you want sound), but hopefully AV professionals would catch that.

Of course, handling all the network setup and addressing isn't child's play, but in this case, it's all done automatically by the brick itself. Connecting the brick to a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)-enabled network allows it to phone home automatically and connect to VBrick's own streaming server. (Non-DHCP network admins can enter an IP address manually or have VBrick preconfigure a brick with a dedicated IP address.) The brick registers itself and, in combination with those provided credentials (a user name and password), affords access to a preconfigured, individual VBoss customer administrative website. Within seconds you can log into your new VBoss account, get your link, and view the live stream. Pass the link to others via email or VBoss announcement, and others can view the live stream as well using a dedicated URL.

The video stream from the brick is actually sent as a signal stream (through firewalls if necessary) to VBrick's streaming server and distributed over the Internet from there. It can be viewed in either the Windows Media Player directly or embedded in a browser, and VBrick offers a few basic options for customizing the look of the page: a couple of color choices, a couple of photographic thematic looks, and text showing organization and video title. The interface is very straightforward, although VBrick even enters the basic company data as part of the service.

VBrick has overtly limited the options in order to maintain simplicity, but beyond those basics, VBrick allows for password protection of individual streams and custom configurations to the video stream. The default bit rate is set at 300kbps, and it's that bit rate upon which the 500 hours is based. So if you set the brick to a higher bit rate, you'll use up your hours quicker. Adjusting the resolution and frame does not affect the viewed hours, but it will affect image quality. The default is 320×240 at 15fps and the quality is very good — at least against the reputation of web video.

The biggest caveat is latency, which I measured at between 29 seconds and 115 seconds working with different viewers. Naturally, that great range has to do with network conditions more than VBrick, although serious latency exists.

VBoss Broadcast appliances include a built-in hard drive, and they can, therefore, also support streaming recorded videos as well as streaming live events. An unassuming, downloadable desktop utility affords recording and playback controls, as well as the ability to schedule up to four different recorded videos to be streamed at specific times. More importantly, the hard drive allows you to prerecord presentations or upload other recorded messages to the brick for broad distribution, such as throughout a multicity corporation or across a campus.

A look at the recent online Olympic coverage, any one of the major news organizations, or even the vast diversity of what's on YouTube shows that streaming video has found a place in our culture. And there's serious potential for streaming in the AV world as well — whether that means viewing educational lectures from afar, delivering corporate messages or training, long-distance digital signage, or simply sending video beyond the reach of traditional cabling. For $1,000, VBoss Broadcast offers a chance to bypass the customary capital costs and high-volume-oriented business models of video streaming and explore those opportunities.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

  • Company: VBrick
    www.vbrick.com
  • Product: VBoss Broadcast
  • Pros: Easy-to-use streaming appliance connects to external video server and can be up and streaming within minutes, minimal capital outlay to start streaming video.
  • Cons: Highly variable latency.
  • Applications: Corporate and educational streaming video.
  • Price: $1,000 per 500 hours

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Streaming format: Windows Media Video and Audio
  • Output resolutions: 640×480, 640×240, 320×480, 320×240, 240×180, 160×120
  • Supported video bit rates: 80kbps-1Mbps
  • Video frame rates: 1fps, 7.5fps, 10fps, 15fps, 30fps
  • Audio bit rates: 16kbps, 32kbps, 48kbps
  • Audio sampling rates: 5KHz-48KHz
  • Video inputs: Composite and S-Video
  • Audio inputs: 1/4in. stereo
  • Included cables: RCA-to-1/4in. audio cables, composite video cable, crossover Ethernet cable


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