Incorporate video into your network

Considering the large number of video-related products I've reviewed in the past few months, I should be fed up with video solutions. But every time I start to feel bored, a cool new product arrives for me to review. This month, two products held my attention: EMULive Imaging's suite of tools you can use to create, edit, and broadcast video; and AIMS Lab's VideoHighway Xtreme 98 (VHX 98), a combination FM radio receiver, television tuner, and video capture card.

EMULive's video suite has market appeal, because it doesn't require users to install proprietary players on client systems. And this software suite is robust with features that let you create and distribute video streams across your network.

The "98" in VHX 98 might scare you, because products developed for Windows 98 can offer limited functionality on Windows NT. However, the software and drivers work well, and VHX 98 offers great functionality, including the flexibility to capture television video streams for broadcast across your network.

EMULive Video Suite
EMULive's suite of video products includes 13 applications for creating, converting, and editing video content and distributing content to users. Each EMULive application includes tip menus that contain helpful hints and tricks. I found these insights a valuable complement to the applications' online documentation.

EMULive's tools use a proprietary codec to broadcast audio, video, and audio-visual streams to end users. Users viewing a unicast stream don't need a Microsoft MediaPlayer or RealNetworks RealPlayer to watch an EMULive stream, nor do they need to use the EMULive Active Theatre media player. EMULive streams include a small Java applet, so users can view unicast EMULive video transmissions with any Java-compatible browser.

EMULive Server. EMULive Server can simultaneously broadcast 20 video and 20 audio streams and as many as 1000 unicast streams (i.e., single-user streams that give individual users pause, fast-forward, and rewind control).

To transmit a live stream to very large audiences, EMULive Server supports multicasting. In multicasting, a server sends a data stream on one IP address; thus, all systems on a network can access the stream without hampering network bandwidth. A multicast stream plays continuously from beginning to end, unless an administrator intervenes, and users can't pause, fast-forward, or rewind a multicast stream. To ensure multicast stream quality, EMULive Server lets you limit the number of router hops a multicast stream must make. Unlike viewers watching a unicast stream, users must use EMULive's client software, EMULive Active Theatre, to view an EMULive multicast stream.

EMULive Video Suite
EMULive Imaging * 514-954-1919 or 877-368-5483
Price: EMULive Server, $399, Audio Producer, $299, Video Producer, $299, MultiMedia Producer, $299, MultiVideo Producer, $699
System Requirements: Pentium processor, Windows NT, 32MB of RAM, 10MB of hard disk space, Modem

EMULive Server's interface is straightforward. You have three choices for sizing the screen interface: full screen, which displays all the controls and a monitoring window; one-third screen, which displays some information about incoming streams; and small window, which displays only the number of connections and the bandwidth utilization. Screen 1, page 150, shows the full-screen interface. To monitor individual video streams, you can select an incoming stream (a stream comes into the server, and the server then makes the stream available to viewers) and view its contents through a video window in the upper-left corner of the EMULive Server interface. Below this window is a window that contains a summary of connection time, client type, and bandwidth information. Two windows, separated by a row of control option buttons, split the remainder of the interface. The top window displays information you select by choosing an option button, and the bottom window displays client connections.

The EMULive Server control options include messages, protocols, live feeds, stored feeds, host table, engine, stream sync, socket stats, security, memory, and preferences. These control options let you quickly peruse and edit live or stored broadcasts, multicasts, and client connections, and you can limit the number of connections to the server and the bandwidth you make available to clients. Right-clicking a live broadcast or client connection lets you access more information about the connection and terminate that connection. Clicking stored feeds opens a new interface in the stored feed manager. This interface lists all the containers and playlists that are available for distribution. Playlists and containers hold commands and EMULive JFx streams. You can use containers and playlists to group streams and commands; for example, you can present a station ID followed by a welcome message followed by an advertisement.

You can install EMULive Server as an NT service on a workstation or server. EMULive Server supports multilevel verified security, including the ability to block incoming IP addresses on the server. Further security is available through optional Data Encryption Standard (DES), Triple-DES, Blowfish, Enigma, and Enigma 1000 encryption components. You can use one encompassing wildcard to let members of a particular domain view EMULive streams.

Additional EMULive Server features include directory support using dynamic addressing or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) addressing; support for nonpush browsers in a single-frame mode; and a memory control that displays the physical memory, paging file, and virtual memory of an EMULive Server system you designate.

You can administer multiple EMULive Server systems through the EMULive Directory Engine. This tool not only provides an interface through which you can manage multiple servers but also generates HTML pages with available EMULive Servers and their content for Web browser access.

Content creation tools. Audio Producer, Video Producer, MultiMedia Producer, and MultiVideo Producer are 4 of the 13 tools EMULive offers for audio and video creation. Although the tools' functionalities overlap, these are four of the most robust network video broadcasting tools I have worked with.

Audio Producer offers four compression algorithms that give you different bandwidth consumption and accompanying audio quality. The tool supports 8000Hz and 22KHz sampling rates. Audio Producer uses NT's sound controls, and the tool quickly found the sound card in each system I tested it on.

Video Producer is my favorite EMULive video tool. The product quickly identified my system's sound card and video source, whether the video source was a parallel port or video capture card. In addition to using Video Producer to capture and broadcast data from a video camera, you can configure this tool to capture and broadcast a computer's display (you can capture the full screen or 80 X 60-, 160 X 120-, 240 X 180-, or 320 X 240-resolution windows). If you want more flexibility, you can use the mouse like a pointer, and Video Producer will capture the cursor movements for viewers.

Video Producer lets you add bitmap overlays, picture-in-picture, text, timestamps and date stamps, and frame stamps to captured content. You can choose video effects such as inverting, gray scale, horizontal and vertical flip, and image window rotation. Additional image enhancements, which Screen 2 shows, are sharpness, brightness, contrast, softness, gamma, edge, and blur. You can locate image capture frequency and autopilot controls in the Video Producer Remote Control window, which Screen 2 also shows.

The main Video Producer interface displays system and configuration information and six video windows: five postage-stamp-sized windows stacked on top of one another along the left side of the interface and a large window in the middle. You can zoom in by left-clicking anywhere in the middle video screen; you right-click the middle video screen to zoom out. The five smaller windows show the same image as the main screen and help you determine the fluidity of motion associated with the frames per second. These smaller windows also highlight changes when you record images infrequently.

MultiMedia Producer records video and audio streams simultaneously. A sound bar at the bottom of the MultiMedia window tracks the reception of the audio recording, and a video window displays video streams in realtime. You can record video streams in a range of resolutions, from a full-screen 640 X 480 display to a postage-stamp 44 X 36 display.

MultiVideo Producer is the suite's security tool. Its interface is almost identical to the Video Producer's interface; however, when you first start MultiVideo Producer, it displays all video capture devices in the system and lets you configure as many as 10 devices on one system. MultiVideo Producer's Remote Control window offers tweaks that let you tile multiple video sources for simultaneous viewing in the large screen. Thus, you can use this application in a security configuration to view activity from cameras in, for example, 10 offices on one screen.

EMULive's suite of video products also includes JFx Stream Editor, which converts .avi, .wav, and QuickTime files to JFx files; WebWizard, which swiftly generates Web pages; and Active Theatre and EMUWave Receiver, which you use to view EMULive broadcasts and engage in chats.

The EMULive video suite is impressive and powerful. But don't take my word for it; go to the EMULive Web site and download any of these tools for a free 30-minute demonstration. I think you'll be as impressed as I was.

VideoHighway Xtreme 98
VHX 98 is a television receiver, FM receiver, and video capture card that supports S-video and standard video. If your system doesn't have a sound card, you can plug speakers into the VHX 98 card and hear sound through the card's television receiver or FM receiver modes. VHX 98 can't capture audio or give you full sound-card support, but you can connect the card to your system's existing sound card through the line-in jack to gain this functionality.

I tried to install VHX 98 on three systems to find one that met the card's system requirements. The first system didn't have a DirectDraw graphics card, which VHX 98 needs to function properly. For the second attempt, I tried to install VHX 98 on a prototype system with a 500MHz Pentium III processor and NT and Service Pack 4 (SP4) installed. For some reason, the Pentium III processor system didn't recognize VHX 98. The third system I installed the card on was a Digital PC 3000 workstation with one 300MHz Pentium II processor, an integrated Matrox graphics chip, and no sound capability. Although I had no difficulty installing the card or software on this system, something seemed amiss.

After I installed the card, I had to download VHX 98's NT software and drivers from the AIMS Lab Web site for the card to function on NT. Then, I had to plug an antenna or cable television source into the coaxial jack on the back of the VHX 98 card. I placed a pair of $10 rabbit ears on top of my system and opened the television receiver application. I set the software to scan the airwaves for all available frequencies. When VHX 98 identifies a frequency, it lists the frequency in a window on the left side of the main interface. You can add a frequency to a list of preset frequencies by highlighting the frequency and clicking the arrow icon. VHX 98 lets you organize your preset list and fine-tune these frequencies.

The highest resolution VHX 98 offers is 640 * 480, and the viewing window is fully scalable. You can set the display to show 9 or 16 television windows simultaneously. The picture wasn't the best I've ever seen, but my rabbit ears aren't the best antennae I've ever used. I was able to use the sound capabilities of VHX 98 to hear the television broadcast and the FM receiver, through a set of Benwin flat-panel speakers and accompanying subwoofer. Fortunately, these speakers provided independent volume control—I had no other way to adjust the volume of the speakers. VHX 98 offered no NT audio tools, because my system didn't have a sound card. The VHX 98 software's volume control had no effect on the speakers' volume.

Besides this quirk, the card worked flawlessly. The hardware captured video as capably as any video capture card I've worked with. You can connect the card to an S-video source or standard video source at the same time, but you can view only one at a time.

Although the card offers sufficient functionality, VHX 98's video capture capabilities aren't the best I've seen. The software limits the range of adjustment for video stream color, contrast, and brightness. VHX 98 doesn't provide many features for adding neat effects.

VHX 98 costs about the same as a standard video capture card, so budget approval won't be a problem. And you shouldn't have difficulty finding a use for an integrated television receiver.

VideoHighway Xtreme 98
AIMS Lab * 510-661-2525
Price: $139
System Requirements: 90MHz Pentium processor, Windows NT, 16MB of RAM, 16-bit color or better VGA display, PCI expansion slot, VGA card that supports DirectDraw