By now, most AV contractors are aware of the trend toward using IP networks to move AV control data. And the advantages are fairly clear: unlimited distances, potential control from any device or browser anywhere, no need for dedicated wiring, etc. Moving audio and video media over IP can yield the same benefits and maybe a few more, yet video over IP has a reputation for bandwidth challenges and other technical issues. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Overcoming those obstacles is just what VBrick Systems has been doing for the last eight years. Its video appliances, like the recent VB6200 Network Video Applicance ($6,995) that I tested, turn standard video and audio sources into IP data and back again. (In the case of the VB6200, that IP data is in the form MPEG-4 — it's configured with an MPEG-4 decoder and encoder.) The user has to do little more than plug the device in. What has changed in the past eight years is that today's networks are more robust, bandwidth is far less a limiting factor, and VBrick's product line has grown to match a variety of configuration needs.
On the surface, the VB6200 is very similar to most VBrick products. In a nutshell, it's an MPEG-4 encoder and MPEG-4 hardware decoder in a black box. The VB6200 has a small LCD readout on the front and connectors on the back for S-Video, composite video (BNC), stereo audio, and an Ethernet port, plus a couple of COM ports for setup and legacy external control. Of course, you can control it over IP as well.
The VB6200 is an MPEG-4 encoder and decoder. VBrick also offers MPEG-2 and MPEG-1 versions to suit different needs in terms of bandwidth and video quality. There are even double-encoder configurations that include, for example, MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 realtime encoders. However, in VBrick's world, that's probably more about the technology than you really need to know.IT SLICES, IT DICES
Naturally, the term “appliance” is no accident. Like a dishwasher or toaster, a VBrick has a fairly precise job and does it with minimal user interaction. In this case, that task is turning analog audio and video from a videocamera or other source into IP data and sending it over a network for viewing elsewhere, whether that's at the other side of an office building, across a school campus, or across the country.
Rather than getting bogged down with the technology, VBrick likes to talk about its appliances' output as television over IP or Ethernet television. Unlike the small frame sizes and shuttering typical of most “streaming” video, VBrick works with television-quality video. VBricks are regularly used for distance learning, or for sending high-quality video of a live lecture or training session to a remote location. They're used for always-on two-way video communications. They're also used for one-way visual monitoring, as with traffic congestion, military training exercises, or simply monitoring staging/rental programming from a remote control room.
The higher-bandwidth bit rates of MPEG-2 and even MPEG-1 typically require a properly switched LAN or WAN infrastructure. However, the introduction of low bit rate MPEG-4 VBricks like the VB6200 enable realtime video with reasonably good quality over the Internet, as well as over a LAN, provided the sender and receiver both have at least a broadband connection.