The next generation of Internet communications

As network bandwidth continues to increase--now reaching 100 megabits per second (Mbps) Ethernet and gigabit (Gb) Ethernet--a growing number of businesses are implementing video solutions to stay ahead of the technology curve. Few businesses have tested the myriad of realtime, full-motion distributed video applications, but their numbers will increase. Communications companies are laying the infrastructure now, wrapping the globe with fiber-optic cable and dotting the heavens with satellites. Systems administrators and chief information officers need to examine what video technology offers their firms and how they can integrate video software into their corporate communications.

The Windows NT Magazine Lab expects to see a bevy of video solutions for the NT platform within the next decade. These solutions will provide a variety of capabilities. To keep you abreast of this technology, the Lab Guys will begin testing video solutions for NT this month with Galacticomm's WebCast ProServer 2.0 and Vista Imaging's ViCAM. Lights, camera, action...and we're rolling.

WebCast ProServer 2.0


Companies exploring innovative ways to distribute information to their customers, employees, or executives will want to consider Galacticomm's WebCast ProServer 2.0 software. WebCast ProServer lets companies create video and audio presentations and disseminate the presentations to anyone with Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 or Netscape Navigator 3.0 or later.

WebCast ProServer comes with a free Video Broadcaster add-on that you distribute to everyone who will broadcast video or audio through your WebCast ProServer server. One server can have numerous simultaneous broadcasting connections; the number of connections your server can support depends on your network's bandwidth and the number of broadcast licenses you purchase. Your broadcasters can create video-on-demand (VOD) presentations that stream video and audio data across a network to users' browsers, or they can create live presentations and incorporate a chat session into the display for interactive communications between viewers and the broadcaster. Screen 1, page 82, shows a live video broadcast with the chat feature enabled. WebCast ProServer provides primarily one-way communications (viewers' only method for providing feedback is the chat feature), so the product is ideal for distance learning, tutorials, or entertainment.

The Windows NT Magazine Lab runs WebCast ProServer on a 166MHz Pentium system with 96MB of RAM. You can watch us work (or not work) all day, every day. Point your browser to http://www.winntmag.com, click NT Lab on the navigation bar, and open LabCam. The LabCam display is a stripped-down version of the out-of-the-box WebCast ProServer software without the chat module or audio functionality.

Galacticomm recommends running WebCast ProServer and the Video Broadcaster on separate machines. However, the LabCam's WebCast ProServer and Video Broadcaster run on one machine without a problem. You might run into trouble if you run the Video Broadcaster on a system with other software that uses port 80, the HTTP port. (Software that uses port 80 includes most Web server software and many remote access programs.)

Considering the software's complexity, it is simple to install. I installed WebCast ProServer on an HP Kayak in about 2 minutes. After you finish the installation, the software prompts you to configure it for your network. You specify whether you will use WebCast ProServer for profit. You tell the software whether to send a customizable, automated email response to new broadcast viewers. You choose whether it notifies you when a new user views a broadcast. Finally, you select between modem and serial connections and between TCP/IP Internet or intranet support.

When you configure WebCast ProServer, you need to be sure the software correctly identifies your system and your network. WebCast ProServer needs the system or host name of the machine on which the software resides, the system's IP address, the Domain Name System (DNS) server's IP address, and the domain associated with WebCast ProServer. In my test installation, the software correctly filled in these fields.

If your broadcasters will run the Video Broadcaster on 16-bit operating systems (OSs), you can use the Worldgroup Manager Packaging Utility, which comes with WebCast ProServer, to customize the Video Broadcaster to include features such as billing, accounting, and security. The Worldgroup Manager Packaging Utility lets you customize the Video Broadcaster icon. It asks you to select whether to make the broadcaster a distributable .exe file or create a set of disks for distribution. It prompts you to choose among TCP/IP, dial-up modem, direct serial cable, or Novell SPX connections and decide whether users must log on as new, use existing logon IDs and passwords, or use specific logon IDs and passwords that you define. After you build a Video Broadcaster package in the Worldgroup Manager Packaging Utility, click Select Apps. The utility lists a series of applications that you can make available to your broadcasters. The applications include Account Display Edit, C/S Main Menu, C/S New User Logon, File Libraries, Forum Manager, Menu Editor, Message Center, Polls and Questionnaires, Remote Sysop Menu, Video Broadcaster, Video Receiver, and Video Sysop Module.

If your broadcasters run NT, they need to install the 32-bit version of the Video Broadcaster from the WebCast ProServer distribution CD-ROM; the Worldgroup Manager Packaging Utility is useless for configuring the Video Broadcaster to broadcast from NT systems. Galacticomm plans to incorporate the 32-bit Video Broadcaster into the Worldgroup Manager Packaging Utility in a future release of WebCast ProServer.

When you first open the Video Broadcaster, you see whatever your camera points toward if you have a functional camera connected to your system. I tested the Video Broadcaster with three brands of PC-specific video cameras (which use parallel port connections and specialized video card connections), and the software worked flawlessly with every camera.

WebCast ProServer 2.0
Contact: Galacticomm * 954-583-5990
Web: http://www.gcomm.com
Price: $2995 (includes 26 broadcast licenses)
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or later or Windows 9x, 486 processor (Pentium recommended), 16MB of RAM, 100MB of hard disk space
Video Broadcaster component: Windows NT 3.51 or later, Windows 3.x, or Windows 9x, 486 processor (Pentium recommended), 8MB of RAM
20MB of hard disk space

Configuring the Video Broadcaster to connect to WebCast ProServer is straightforward. On the drop-down Configure menu, select Connections, then specify the WebCast ProServer machine you want to connect to. The configuration screen requests the server name, your user ID and password, a broadcast ID (the default broadcast IDs are Sales, Support, Development, and Administration), the type of connectivity you will use (e.g., TCP/IP, dial-up modem), and the server's IP address. After you enter the Video Broadcaster configuration information, the software associates one of five lightbulb icons at the bottom of the window with the WebCast ProServer connection you configured. If you pass the cursor over a lightbulb, a dialog box that identifies the server associated with the icon pops up. Right-click the icon of the server you want to connect your Video Broadcaster to, and select Connect.

I installed the Video Broadcaster on a Dell Precision 410 workstation with dual 400MHz Pentium II processors and 256MB of RAM. I found WebCast ProServer's refresh rate to be surprisingly fast with all three video cameras I tested. The Video Broadcaster uses the software that comes with the camera for lighting and color control. To conserve CPU bandwidth, disable the video preview on the broadcasting machine after you frame your viewing area.

To tell the Video Broadcaster whether to play customized sounds when new users log on, when the last user leaves, or when a user types a message to you in a chat session, select Preferences on the Configure menu. If you want to broadcast audio with your video, select Configure, Broadcast Sound. Your broadcast's users will see two small icons at the right of the video window. These icons, which represent Play and Stop, control the broadcast's audio. As you might expect, the WebCast ProServer audio is lousy but understandable. The fact that WebCast ProServer offers audio transmissions is cool. However, I couldn't listen to WebCast ProServer audio transmissions via Netscape Navigator; WebCast ProServer's audio and Navigator's Java class structure conflicted, which caused the video to freeze and the Java icons to disappear.

WebCast ProServer software can do so many great things that I was disappointed to find that it doesn't permit easy customization of the browser display or creation of personalized broadcast IDs. Fortunately, Galacticomm's technical support staff is helpful. Representatives have an inhouse document that helps you customize your implementation, and Galacticomm's online documentation adequately assists administrators in giving new broadcasters access to the WebCast ProServer software (although administrators must give broadcasters this access through a text-based Telnet interface). If Galacticomm developers could just build a couple of wizards to perform customization tasks, I'd be ecstatic. Despite this complaint, I'm pretty darned pleased with WebCast ProServer.

ViCAM


Vista Imaging's ViCAM color digital video camera is impressive. The camera is small--only about the size of an alphanumeric pager. The host system doesn't need a video card to support the camera. Instead, the camera plugs simultaneously in to the parallel port (for communications) and keyboard port (for power). Each connector has a pass-through for the port's standard peripheral. You can type and print while you use the camera, but the video pauses while print jobs execute.

If you have used a video camera on your system, you know that video equipment hogs CPU bandwidth. ViCAM is no exception. The amount of CPU power ViCAM consumes depends on the display size and frame rate you set. ViCAM captures as many as 40 black-and-white frames per second and as many as 30 color frames per second. To achieve these capture rates and to run videoconferencing applications, Vista Imaging recommends a 200MHz Pentium Pro or better processor with an Enhanced Parallel Port (EPP--usually a setting found in the BIOS). Vista Imaging claims that the camera operates on 386 systems, but I didn't test it on anything slower than a 100MHz Pentium processor.

You can focus ViCAM to produce a reasonably crisp image. Rotate the outer ring of the lens as you would focus a standard camera. For images with fine detail, you can order optional 8mm and 12mm lenses. Vista Imaging offers a 3.6mm wide-angle surveillance lens.

The ViCAM software displays video streams with resolutions including 1280 * 960, 640 * 489, 352 * 288, 320 * 240, 176 * 144, and 160 * 120. Select Controls on the main toolbar in the ViCAM software to adjust the size of the display. The ViCAM software includes icons for previewing video, capturing a particular frame (a snapshot), activating the Camera Control Panel, activating the Color Control Panel, and shutting off power to the camera. A small green indicator light on ViCAM flashes when it is recording. I have used cameras that do not indicate whether they are recording, so I liked this feature.

ViCAM's software controls are one of the camera's best features. The Color Control Panel lets you adjust the color depth from 16 million colors (True Color) to 256 colors, set the red-green-blue (RGB) values to suit your environment, or toggle between black-and-white and color displays. The camera supports Multimedia Extensions (MMX) color processing. The ViCAM software offers several effects tools, including embossing and tracing, for manipulating still images.

ViCAM's scan frequencies range from 60Hz to 4Hz, and its shutter speeds range from 1/4 second to 1/30,000 second. This range of shutter speeds lets ViCAM capture images in extremely low light. You can adjust the brightness settings manually through software switches; however, I found ViCAM's automatic shutter speed adjustment to be wonderfully adept at adjusting to lighting conditions.

The ViCAM software runs on NT, Windows 98, Win95, and Windows 3.1. However, when I tried to use Digital Semiconductor's FX!32 interpretive software to install the ViCAM software on a 533MHz MaxVision Symbion AXP164SX Alpha NT workstation, the installation failed. (For more information about FX!32, see the sidebar "FX!32," April 1998.) ViCAM has TWAIN and AVI drivers that are compatible with a wide assortment of standards-compliant software, including MGI PhotoSuite and MGI VideoWave image-editing programs and Microsoft NetMeeting videoconferencing software. Vista Imaging bundles all three products on the installation disk.

After working with ViCAM for several months, the Lab adopted one--it runs the LabCam. A host of bandwidth solutions are just around the corner, so videoconferencing might soon become a primary form of communication. If it does, desktop video cameras such as ViCAM might look less like toys and more like indispensable tools.

ViCam
Contact: Vista Imaging * 650-802-9685
Web: http://www.vistaimaging.com
Price: $199
System Requirements: 386 processor (200MHz Pentium Pro with an Enhanced Parallel Port and 24-bit graphics card for 16 million True Color images recommended)