Startup goes to client to ensure video quality

Consumers and corporations with at least a 1M bps (bit-per-second) Internet connection can now enjoy high-quality streaming video anywhere in the world without interference from Internet failures or congestion, according to a content hosting company that introduced its services on Wednesday.

The company, EdgeStream Inc., in Laguna Hills, California, uses a combination of fault-tolerant server technology and a small, downloadable client plug-in to ensure a video stream continues amid any failure or congestion beyond the "last mile" to the end user's system, said EdgeStream President and Chief Executive Officer Vinod Sodhi.

Unlike companies such as Akamai Technologies Inc., which replicate content to many facilities around the world in order to bring it physically closer to end users, EdgeStream has just three hosting sites and helps the client work around bottlenecks. The result is higher quality and lower cost, according to Sodhi.

With current systems, "all the pieces of intelligence are in the server, and we believe that's wrong," he said. "There's a big difference between what the server delivers and what the client receives. With our technology, the client is in charge."

EdgeStream has hosting sites in Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia and leases network capacity from Internet service providers to link those facilities. If any part of that infrastructure fails, another part will take over or a route will be found around a failed network link, Sodhi said. Users connect to that network via the open Internet.

Users who want to watch streaming video hosted on EdgeStream's service need to download a free plug-in, which Sodhi said is less than 200K bytes in size. That proprietary software, which includes EdgeStream's Continuous Route Optimization Software and Real Time Performance Monitoring Software, can calculate the best route across the Internet to EdgeStream's network. It can detect a failure or congestion in any link and find a clearer path within seconds, Sodhi said. For example, if a user in Hong Kong were connected to EdgeStream's network via one trans-Pacific cable and that cable were broken, the client software would shift the connection to another trans-Pacific link.

Most PCs with at least a 500MHz processor can run the route-optimization software and play a high-quality streaming video at the same time, according to Sodhi. The software works on Microsoft Corp. Windows 98 and later operating systems.

If a consumer broadband service or a corporation's Internet connection delivers 1M bps or more to the end user's desktop, the user can enjoy a video with near DVD quality, according to the company. Even if the connection falls short of that speed, compression technologies used by content providers could help to deliver high-quality video, Sodhi said.

The system can deliver video to be played on Windows Media Player and Real Networks Corp. RealOne Player. All media formats supported by those players are supported on EdgeStream's system. EdgeStream plans to add support for the Apple Computer Inc. QuickTime player in the next few months, the company said.

The low cost of EdgeStream's system opens the door to smaller content providers and corporations that want to host streaming video worldwide, Sodhi said. The company's introductory package costs content providers US$990 and provides storage of up to 10 hours' worth of content for one month, with clients collectively able to enjoy that content for a total of 120 hours of streaming service, he said. For high-volume content providers, EdgeStream can provide a 90-minute, TV-quality movie to one client for as little as $1.25, according to the company.

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