CQ And SVSi Showcase Streaming Digital Signage Solutions at InfoComm

As mentioned in the InfoComm article earlier today, the audio-visual (AV) integration market has long been using matrix switching to send baseband (composite, component) and digital video (SDI, HD-SDI) to multiple locations. The AV industry has also has recently moved to using Category 5 cabling to send analog (VGA) and digital (DVI) graphics signals to multiple projectors, televisions and - more recently - flat panel monitors.

In the other article, we touched on two companies that come from KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) backgrounds, looking at the ways they address IP delivery of VGA, DVI and video content. Today we're going to look at two other companies that were at InfoComm, one that is massively scaling delivery across traditional Gigabit managed switches, and one that is uses H.264 to deliver content to digital signage in a variety of key verticals.

This company, based in the Greenville, South Carolina area, spun off a few months ago from one of SC's largest systems integration firms. The firm, founded by Neil Willis, takes software integration for digital signage to a new level, combining RSS for syndicated content, H.264 streaming media encoders and executable templates with a service that provides customers with an easy way to update content.

"We found that our customers wanted a way to update content that was lacking in desktop digital signage applications," said Willis. "Even when they had the developer's license for some of the better-known digital signage software, the act of creating content and uploading it to the right digital sign—or group of signs—was quite difficult."

To address the first need Willis mentioned—content creation—CQ provides a web interface to add text, RSS feeds, and position a streaming video overlay window. The benefit to doing this web interface is that customers are both creating and "uploading" at the same time.

"Our web templates do more than just simple 3-pane solutions with video, text and Powerpoints each in their own discrete window," said Willis. "For instance, we provide our educational customers the opportunity to create robust layouts, including images such as building layouts, for emergency notification. We can integrate these building layout graphics with a Cisco VoIP phone emergency call solution: using a series of logic statements to determine which room an emergency call came from, we can then display the building graphic on all the digital signage in a particular building, overlaying a dynamic image to show where the emergency call originated."

Willis also said the company has moved beyond live stream insertion, to provide on-demand content for hospitals and educational institutions, from non-DRM (digital rights management) training content to Hollywood hits.

"One area we see growing is the area of patient media systems in hospitals," said Willis, "as on-demand content for training or patient education can also be coupled with DRM-protected content such as on-demand movies that children in a pediatric ward might watch, with their parents permission, for a small fee. We've also set in place the ability for parental control, limiting the rating to only G or PG for minors, if the parent wishes to do so."

The two companies mentioned in the earlier article, Adder and Avocent, came from a KVM switch background, and SVSi comes from an equally disparate background. I first heard about SVSi, or Southern Vision Solutions, when I worked at a Department of Defense facility that had a series of aerospace test cells. We used SVSi high-speed video cameras to capture multi-thousand-frames-per-second video of tests as varied as the famous 'chicken gun' to thermal ablation testing (tests that measure the atmospheric impact of one a space re-entry vehicle's outer shell).

SVSi showed a system at InfcoComm 2008 called, somewhat unimaginately, voLANte. This video-over-LAN product used a Gigabit Ethernet port on a DVI-to-JPEG-2000 transmitter, which could be connected up to three GigE receivers. Content, up to 1080i, was pushed through at 105Mbps including audio, with very low latencies from end-to-end (informal tests one a DVI signal showed about 50 milliseconds delay from encode to decode, while analog video showed about 250 milliseconds, part of which could be attributed to the analog-to-digital convertor/scaler used to convert the analog signal to DVI).

The strength of the InfoComm 2008 showing was the price point—less than $3,600 for a transmitter and a pair of receivers. The 2009 showing, however, was about taking that one-to-few and scaling it up on a massive level.

Not only did SVSi showcase a 6-input transmitter, which can be daisy-chained together up to 10 units at a time for up to 60 transmitters on a single GigE port on an approved GigE managed switch, but the company also demonstrated the ability to do up to 10 receivers daisy-chained together, and each receiver could receive a discrete stream from a particular transmitter, or all receivers could receive the signal from a single transmitter, or any combination thereof.

This means, in practicality, a single 24-port GigE switch could hold up to 240 transmitters or receivers. The switches themselves can be linked together, providing the opportunity for several hundred transmitters or receivers in a single location. Additional fiber links can be used from a series of local switches, to tie this virtual matrix together between buildings on a campus.

"We have one customer in the last year," said Mark Templeton, an SVSi Sales Engineer I talked to at both the InfoComm 2008 and 2009 shows, "that sends their worship service between buildings, using fiber under the road. With the limited latency, they're able to set up receivers and transmitters in both locations, communicating almost in a videoconferencing-style setup between the sound and video crews in both locations."

Templeton said the company uses standard Cisco 3500 or 3700 series managed switches, optimized with IGMP, to create this DiVAS matrix switch, and can pre-set the switch for voLANte optimization.

"We had a variety of customers interested in digital signage, but they were being told they had to buy separate switches," said Templeton. "We looked at it and realized we could creation virtual LAN (VLAN) setups and use IGMP on the VLAN to create a segmented solution on their existing Cisco or equivalent managed switches. For those integrators, however, that want a true plug-and-play solution, we also sell the same switches with a voLANte branding, so they can just add the endpoint transmitters, receivers and switch to the building or campus, and then use our voLANte conductor software to configure playlists to multiple receivers."

One last feature that SVSi has implemented is a network DVR that records data packets for a set length of time, providing a full duplication of what is being sent from a single transmitter, and then converting it to an MPEG-2 transport stream if the customer wants to archive the digital signage playback for record-keeping or playback purposes.

Infocomm 2009 continues through Friday, June 19, 2009 at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center.

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