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The October 8, 2002 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Video Networking - An Interview with ViXS Systems

In what we view as one of the most significant recent announcements, ViXS Systems, a Canadian start-up, has just gone public with a "video networking processor" chip designed to transmit digital video over home LANs. What's most interesting in this announcement is a very different way to handle "quality of service" than we've heard before. The "XCode" chip dynamically adjusts the bit-rates, resolutions and formats of multiple MPEG video streams, in real time, adapting each stream to changing network bandwidth. It provides 30 frames per second (fps) of video in each stream, modifying each stream as necessary to accomodate other applications using bandwidth in the same network.

ViXS is focused on wireless video networking based on IEEE 802.11a. Confusingly, the 802.11a standard, operating in the 5 GHz frequency band at a nominal 54 Mbps, is the logical successor to 802.11b operating at 11 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band. Both will be marketed with the "Wi-Fi" logo (see "Heard on the Net" above).

We interviewed ViXS' Roy Stewart, Senior Vice President, Interactive Technologies and Business Development. He said that the XCode chip is designed to carry multiple high-definition (HD) and standard-definition (SD) streams. It will run at 48 Mbps aggregate thruput and will be able to carry two HD and 5 to 6 SD video streams simultaneously. Initial production chips will be limited to 30 Mbps and will carry one HD plus two or three SD streams.

We talked with Roy about their distinct approach to "video QoS." The IEEE 802.11 standards group has been working for more than two years on a standardized approach to "quality of service" (QoS), but has failed as yet to reach agreement on the requirements or technologies. ViXS says that its "rate grooming" approach is much better for video than the proposals for the 802.11e QoS standard, since XCode, unlike .11e, is designed to maintain an unbroken video stream at 30 fps.

While their main focus is high-speed wireless, Stewart says that ViXS technology takes an agnostic approach to home networking platforms by working with any wireless or wireline networking topology. XCode should make it possible to carry broadcast-quality SD video over the current generation of wireless and powerline home networking technologies. These provide realistic net speeds of 4 to 5 Mbps, not good enough for broadcast MPEG2 which often runs faster and in any case cannot tolerate the shared use of bandwidth -- such as using a PC with a cable modem at the same time as watching TV. The ViXS technology should make that possible by temporarily reducing the TV quality (ViXS says imperceptively) and then increasing it when the bandwidth is available.

ViXS told us that it already has design wins for its new chip and is shipping chips and boards to "a very large Asian manufacturer". They say that they are under contract to jointly design products for both in-home and commercial video distribution, and have signed trial agreements for in-home applications. They note that they have "endorsements by cable MSOs" and point to the recent appointment to their board of Alek Krstajic, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Product Development for Rogers Cable Inc., the largest Canadian cable operator and an influential voice in the North American cable industry.

Many homes have already installed Wi-Fi systems. High-speed products based on 802.11a are already on the market and prices are expected to drop substantially next year as "dual band" chips reach the market. The ViXS solution provides a way for service providers to incorporate video networking today without waiting for products based on 802.11e.

We will watch ViXS closely since it promises to bring whole-home video networking to the market in the near future. It sounds almost too good to be true, and we're waiting to see it with our own eyes.

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