Two new entities are about to debut in the broadband
Internet sector with the potential to shake things up among the dominant portals and
content providers, assuming that they can live up to their claims.
Touting the most ambitious agenda of the two, Pixelon Inc.
said it has lowered the bit rate for achieving delivery of full-screen,
30-frame-per-second video over the Internet to 300 kilobits per second to 500 kbps, and it
will soon cut it further.
While the company has been sharing its technical expertise
in select applications -- such as music videos at VH1's Web site -- it is planning to
make a play as a provider of content, reserving its compression and related technologies
for itself in order to gain an edge over more established competitors.
On another track, Hollywood-based start-up Rampt is
preparing to launch a multimedia search engine that will find and organize all content on
the Web that fits its definition of "broadband." Rampt, which is going into
beta-release with its site Nov. 15, has contracted with Road Runner to be a presence in
the latter's audio/video "Extreme" section, Rampt CEO Moody Glasgow said.
"What we've created is a means of detecting
media-rich files and organizing them into categories that make it easier for end-users to
find what they're interested in," Glasgow said. "At the Road Runner site,
we will be a door to the Web domain outside of Road Runner that gives their customers easy
access to content that's suited to their access capabilities."
Rampt, which applied for two patents on its technology,
sorts through the vast base of Web sites for the less than 1 percent of content that meets
its definition of broadband.
In the case of video, this means anything designed to
stream at about 200 kbps or better, delivering 15 fps to 20 fps at a resolution of 320 by
240 pixels, or one-quarter screen, Glasgow said.
"It wouldn't make sense to set the bar any
higher, because even where cable or DSL [digital subscriber line] customers have
higher-speed access, the backbone and other network elements are not consistently capable
of delivering higher-quality video," he noted.
Glasgow said an example of how the search engine sorts
material to simplify access would be an instance where a user chooses the singer Madonna
as the subject.
"Maybe we'll say we've found eight video
clips, eight audios, four interviews, two live concerts and a movie trailer," he
said. "Once you decide you want live concerts, we'll give you descriptions of
the concerts and a direct link to them."
The privately held company is also developing personalized
profile capabilities that allow users to describe themselves and their tastes so that
Rampt can deliver information about sites that might be of interest as new content goes
online, Glasgow said.
The year-old company has lined up about six sponsors
identified with various search categories in exchange for their backing, he added.
Advertising and other means of garnering revenues will follow, he said.
Pixelon, based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., is preparing
an introductory splash a little ahead of Rampt, Oct. 29, with a kickoff concert featuring
The Who, Tony Bennett, the Dixie Chicks and several other prominent artists, president
Steve Curtis said.
"We wanted to do something that demonstrated our
strength within the entertainment community, so we're doing this concert as an
Internet event and reselling it for later distribution through TV and cable," Curtis
Pixelon, with $20 million from an initial round of
financing, has taken a comprehensive approach to providing broadband content, starting
with development of its own encoding and compression techniques, Curtis said. "We
have some very talented people working on this technology who were involved in creating
the DVD chip," he added.
Where other suppliers of compression technology have set
750 kbps as a target for hitting MPEG-1-quality video next year, Pixelon said it can
already do full-screen, 30-fps video at 300 kbps to 500 kbps, and it will dramatically
reduce that rate by year's end.
Pixelon's player is one of the options -- along with
RealNetworks Inc.'s "G2," Apple Computer Inc.'s "QuickTime"
and Microsoft Corp.'s "NetShow" -- available for downloading videos from
Users who pick the MPEG-1-encoded Pixelon version are
linked to Pixelon's site. They get the full-screen version of the videos in streaming
mode if they have broadband access. If they're in dial-up mode, they can download
them to cache for full-screen playback.
In a sign of broadband-content demand, even though most
users coming to VH1's video-clip section are on dial-up links, most traffic is going
to Pixelon. This means users would rather sit through 45-minute downloads for full-screen,
CD-quality audio than view real-time clips at lower quality.
Pixelon has also developed its own encryption technology to
allow suppliers of content to protect their material from duplication.
And the company has a three-year agreement with Sprint
Communications Co. to colocate distribution nodes with Internet switch sites. Pixelon
liked Sprint's OC-48 (2.5-gigabit-per-second), multicasting and high-speed routing
capabilities, founder and chief technology officer Michael Fenne said.
"When searching for an ISP [Internet-service
provider], we looked for one that not only understood the technical and bandwidth
requirements we needed, but, more important, one that understood and embraced our vision
of replacing network television," Fenne added.
Pixelon is also preparing to establish satellite-networking
support for delivering broadband content to the ring networks it is putting in place in
major metropolitan regions, officials said. The company has implemented local-ring
networks in eight markets with the goal of handling up to 500,000 simultaneous hits by
Nov. 1, Curtis said.
Pixelon is working with about 35 producers to develop a
wide range of material for its broadband site, with special attention to the interactive
and personalized nature of viewing on PC screens versus television, Curtis said.
The company also has a reservoir of 320 TV specials that it
has reconstituted for Web access, an electronic-commerce component and other elements that
will round out its content venue at launch time.