Posted by: Khepera | Monday, 26 March 2007

The $7 TV Network: Neokast brings multicasting to the masses


This is news to many, a revolution to even more. If you thought YouTube was a breakthrough, hold onto your underwear. Keep in mind these bumps, hiccups, waves are examples, symptoms, not the ISness. Any attempt to judge or interact with the ocean based solely on surface phenomena would doom the effort to failure. You ride the wave by preparing according to the signs before the wave actually appears. The net is about to get meshed even further, and those not watching the pot boil will never harness the steam.

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An excerpt…for the full intro article to the upcoming PBS broadcast

The architects of TCP/IP, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, knew exactly how they’d bring television to the Internet. They would use multicasting, a particular IP service that allows many hosts to share a multicast address and, through that address, receive the same content whether that’s rocket telemetry or Wheel of Fortune. Multicasting was seen as the most efficient way for one computer to talk simultaneously to a million others and that capability has been built into every router pretty much since the beginning, though generally not enabled by the network administrator. A decade ago Cisco Systems bought Judy Estrin’s Precept Software and its IPTV video product specifically to throw television on the web and hopefully encourage admins to turn on multicast support. No such luck. That is until next week’s Video on the Net show in San Jose when a start-up from Evanston, Illinois will introduce Neokast, which is effectively multicasting for the masses. Soon every computer will be able to broadcast to the world.

Multicasting hasn’t broadly succeeded before now primarily because it places a large burden on the routers, which are responsible for caching and retransmitting video. Multicasting is generally turned off in routers to save bandwidth and keep the network running as fast as possible. Cisco wanted to turn multicasting on for IPTV specifically so the routers would slow down and have to be replaced. With Cisco it always comes down to routers and how to get people to buy new ones. That’s evident in Cisco’s purchase this week of WebEx, where we can expect Cisco to strongly push video services on those two million WebEx customers, straining the system and forcing hardware upgrades. It’s not about Microsoft; it’s about the routers.

Precept Software found that video worked well on a LAN but poorly on a WAN, where lack of multicast support required creating VPN tunnels that were just too much overhead for last-century PCs and networks. Much the same applied to the Mbone, or Multicast Backbone experiment from the late 1990s. Academics will argue that Mbone was a success, but if that were truly the case, why aren’t we watching TV over Mbone today?

Neither our PCs nor the Internet were ready for multicasting in 1997, but today they are, the trick being to somehow enable an efficient multicast-type experience without turning on multicast support in the routers, where multicasting remains switched off.

Enter Neokast, the brainchild of a PhD candidate from Northwestern University, Stefan Birrer. Neokast uses peer-to-peer technology to effectively emulate a multicast experience.

Neokast presently operates as a .NET application, meaning it is limited for the moment to Windows computers. The player can operate as a stand-alone application or a browser plug-in. And as far as the user is concerned, connecting to a video stream is a matter of going to a web site and clicking on a link. The viewing experience is very much like cable or broadcast TV because with Neokast you aren’t initiating a video stream, you are joining a broadcast in progress. There are clever ways to use Neokast for video-on-demand, but right now the company is emphasizing its broadcast-like features.

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