The Helius IP Encoder converts audio and video from sources such as DVD players, VCRs, or cameras into MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 format and then encapsulates them in IP packets that can be routed across standard local area networks. In addition, the Helius IP Encoder runs SAP (Service Advertising Protocol) for viewer client applications such as the Helius StreamRider.
Running SAP makes it possible for network users to view a list or directory of all available video streams that can be selected by the click of a button. Mosbarger likens SAP to "the table of contents in a book" or the Main Menu of a CD-ROM application. "SAP gives you a screen with a lists of video streams. They say to you, ‘Here I am. I'm available if you want to see me.' " He says that until the Helius IP encoder was released, SAP was something you could only get from high-priced encoders.
Since bandwidth is a critical component of any network, the Helius IP Encoder is configurable to speeds as low 64Kbps (as MPEG-1 streams). It also supports both Program and Transport streams, which is essential in order to support a variety of client viewers.
Helius is positioning its IP Encoder as a "mid-tier hardware/software solution for businesses, schools, and corporations that use or have plans to incorporate IP multicasting services on their local area networks," says Mosbarger.
He admits, however, that schools in the U.S. are not currently as hot a market for his company as are schools in Japan, for instance. "Streaming video is used a lot in schools in Japan," he says. "Ten thousand schools there are IP-enabled." Eventually, U.S. schools will be a good market for the IP Encoder, as well as other Helius IP multicasting products, he says. Many U.S. schools are wired with lots of bandwidth. They just need to catch on to the advantages of IP multicasting. He thinks the tools his company provides will make the adoption of IP multicasting easier for schools and will help drive the market. Meanwhile, until the schools catch up, Helius will aim its marketing efforts at owners of closed-circuit TV systems who can easily switch to IP multicasting, run their video over existing d
ata networks, and save a lot of money. The Helius IP Encoder will also appeal to "people who have big video libraries" and to owners of under-utilized data networks, according to Mosbarger.
Piece of a Bigger Pie
The Helius IP Encoder is the latest product from a company that seems to be on a roll, having released several other IP multicasting products this year and made at least one astute acquisition. The IP Encoder is the latest addition to what Helius intends to be a complete suite of multicasting products. Taken together, Helius products and services are intended to provide "a complete platform for the delivery of enterprise-wide business TV systems," according to Mosbarger.
Formerly known primarily as a provider of "satellite-powered IP networks," Lindon, Utah-based Helius Inc. is still heavily involved in the satellite business. Along with satellite-related hardware such as DVB Satellite Routers, Helius also sells software such as ENDcapsulator, an on-the-fly encapsulation tool that encodes DVB streams into IP multicast streams for distribution over any TCP/IP LAN. But this year Helius has clearly been trying step beyond the satellite market.
"We've been trying to extend our reach from the satellite receiver to the desktop," says Mosbarger. One of the keys to achieving this was the recent (January 2002) acquisition of StreamRider, Inc., formerly known as 2netFX.
"The acquisition of StreamRider, and its technologies are key components in our business strategy to expand Helius' role in multimedia services," said Myron Mosbarger back in January 2002 when the acquisition was announced. At that time he also said the deal would strengthen Helius' position in the "broadband multimedia and business TV markets" and "add new content streaming products and broaden our offering."
2netFX was known primarily for its expertise in the IP multicasting of high-definition (HD) video. But Helius apparently wanted the company for its StreamRider Client Viewer, which has become the focal point of the Helius IP multicasting product suite.
The StreamRider client software is an application that allows users to tune in live to a multicast or unicast video stream and view it on a player application at their desktop. Stored files can be viewed at any time. Advanced features include such things as an Intuitive Program Guide, Recording Capability, and Program Archiving.
The StreamRider player also includes features such as multicast capture and program archiving of MPEG and HDTV content. Client components are hosted as either Microsoft ActiveX controls, Netscape Plug-Ins and/or JavaBean controls and can be integrated in Web-based applications or other types of applications such as Visual C++, Visual Basic, Macromedia Director, and the like. Stream Rider components are integrated to make programming minimal.
When it purchased 2netFX, Helius said it would package the StreamRider client viewer with their Satellite Router and their multicast file distribution product, MediaWrite, and it would sell it separately as well. Helius also said it would further develop StreamRider to run as a plug-in to the most popular client media applications such as Microsoft MediaPlayer and Real Networks RealPlayer.
But 2netFX's core HDTV technology has clearly taken a back seat at Helius. Speaking of the HD market, Mosbarger admits, "There's not much going on in that area these days." Nevertheless, Helius continues to sell 2netFX's highly-regarded Thundercast stream server for the multicast of HDTV over IP. However, the product has been renamed and is now known as the Helius HD Streamer (a less colorful but more to-the-point moniker).
HD Streamer supports the delivery of live or pre-recorded 480p, 720p, or 1080i HDTV content over ordinary IP networks. This content can be streamed from stored, pre-encoded content or from a variety of live sources such as an HDTV deck, camera, or receiver. Mosbarger says the streaming high-definition television that HD Streamer provides is "ideal for research facilities and universities, hospitals, and any organization in need of flawless, detailed video broadcast."