Video Conferencing & Collaborative SW...slick stuff!

Ernest Retzel 1535 49118 ernest at lenti.med.umn.edu
Sat Feb 27 12:34:35 EST 1993

I thought I would break with the tradition of Just Biology software and
mention two packages of commercial software we just installed on our Suns.
I am doing this partly because I have become sufficiently jaded in recent
years that new packages don't generally excite me, because they are 
frequently just an evolution of something that is already out there.  An
exception to this is Gopher, that now-ubiquitous tool that Rob and Dan
and Don did/do such a wonderful job of demonstrating new ways to use.
I am cross-posting this to bn.software and bn.general because it is not
just a software discussion, but a conceptual change; if there is a discussion,
though, it should probably be in the former.

Both of these packages have the look of "Yeah, but..."--there are any number
of reasons to say No to them.  And you keep wondering if this might be 
something that looks better by appearances than it could be.  And in some
respects you might be right; but the sheer possibilities that they open,
and creative use of resources and extant networks, is too good to pass up.

These are presently Sun-based programs, though there are plans to port 
one to other platforms.  The other is a Sun product, and hence it
will probably be a cold day in That Other Place before they port it to 
Windows or Macs.  But I am sure that both of them will have equivalents 
elsewhere one of these days.

Briefly, what they do is 1. provide you with workstation based video- 
conferencing [PictureWindow] and 2. provide a groupware environment for 
you to share anything you can display on a screen,  a capture environment 
and a "whiteboard" environment to write on it [ShowMe].  This is serious 
cool, folks.  I can throw out a couple of examples--collaborations suddenly 
become easier and a whole lot cheaper when you can just open a window onto 
someone else's machine and see them and talk to them and show them what the 
new things you just added to whatever ...without a fax machine and a phone 
in your hand.  Distance learning takes on a real meaning.  Want to see a 
conference being held somewhere else? --a video feed to the box can do it, 
and you see it for free, no downlike setups and charges and arrangements.
So far, we have done 4-way conferences, and the Suns aren't even breathing
hard.  The main reason that we haven't done more is that the purchase was
a proof of concept, and that is all the licenses we have.

These are not perfect environments; I can toss out critiques, too, but they
just opened a whole lot of possibilities for us, and I wanted to share them.
These programs are also dirt cheap for workstation sw, and for the
Sun, not only allow you to use them, but the SBus card gives you a whole
other set of software for grabbing images at really low cost [the price of
the board for the Sun is much less than we paid for a comparable board for a
Mac a couple of years back].  For academics, esp, if you are interested in
the video side, get the board directly from Sun [it's cheaper], and if you
have any old kind of video camera around, it will work just fine.

I am including announcements from the companies because it is more efficient
than trying to edit things.  Both programs are trivial to install, and
have floating licenses.  Note that there is a receive-only version
of PictureWindow that is Free.  In an environment like ours, with lots of
workstations spread out over multiple buildings, and collaborators in other
states, this stuff will change the way we do Business, and save a lot of
leather into the bargain...

I have no relationships to either Sun Microsystems or to BBN Systems and 
Technologies except as a customer who feels like he got more than his money's 

Ernie Retzel
Univ. of Minnesota
ernest at lenti.med.umn.edu


Thank you for your interest in BBN's PictureWindow(TM) Software.  We
have prepared this electronic mail message to help us address the
numerous requests for information which have arrived since the
beginning of our network demonstration.  Please contact us if you have
questions not answered by this text or if you would like to purchase a
copy of our software; 1-800-422-2359 or picwin-sales at bbn.com.


BBN Systems and Technologies Releases PictureWindow (TM) Video
Conferencing Software

BBN Systems and Technologies announces the release of PictureWindow, a
software package that allows workstation users to hold video
conferences over existing Internet Protocol (IP) networks.
PictureWindow uses Sun's VideoPix frame-capture board and a video
camera to bring video conferencing directly to your existing color or
gray-scale SPARCstation.  The workstation's CPU performs all
compression-related tasks.

The low-cost of PictureWindow software lets you put video where you
need it.  The retail price for PictureWindow software is $495 per
workstation.  A PictureWindow package, which includes software, a
frame grabber and a black and white camera, is available for $1,495.
For the first release, a receive-only version of the software is
available at NO COST.  Educational discounts are also available.

PictureWindow is perfect for network-oriented organizations because it
uses IP networks to their full potential.  With PictureWindow
software, multiple sites can hold video conferences without costly
central bridges or connection services.  The system's IP multicast
option allows an unlimited number of receive-only stations to
participate in a video conference; perfect for training courses and
company-wide presentations.

PictureWindow software compresses and decompresses audio and video,
transmits it using standard IP protocols, and displays it in multiple
windows under the X Window System.  PictureWindow can be used in
either point-to-point mode or multicast mode.

PictureWindow displays 320x240 pixels for each participant in a video
conference.  The refresh rate depends upon the system and the network
load, but is typically 3-6 frames per second.  A SPARCstation 1+ or
IPC will support video conferences with up to six video windows.
PictureWindow easily coexists with other applications, allowing users
to confer over documents with tools, such as BBN/Slate(TM), Sun's
ShowMe(TM), and DataBeam's FarSite(TM), while participating in a video

PictureWindow sends compressed video in UDP/IP datagrams and functions
in local area and wide area networks.  The actual network bandwidth
used by any one conferee depends on the amount of motion in the video
picture and the image quality desired by the viewers.  In two-way
conferences, conferees can adjust the quality and compression
parameters of the images they are viewing.  PictureWindow functions
best with network paths of at least 256 kilobits/second.  However,
network paths as slow as 56 kilobits/second can be used by decreasing
the video image's frame rate and quality.

You can see PictureWindow on your color or gray-scale SPARCstation by
connecting to our server in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  A receive-only
copy of PictureWindow is available through FTP:

% ftp picwin.bbn.com
	< login "picwin">
   ftp> binary
   ftp> get PWRX-README
   ftp> get pwrx-tarfile.Z
   ftp> quit

The PWRX-README file contains all the information you need to run the
For more information call 1-800-422-2359 or send electronic mail to 
picwin-sales at bbn.com.  

BBN/Slate and PictureWindow are trademarks of Bolt Beranek and Newman,
Inc.  FarSite is a trademark of DataBeam Corporation.  ShowMe is a
trademark of Sun Microsystems, Inc.


BBN Systems and Technologies, Incorporated

USA Price list for PictureWindow(TM) Products, January 25, 1993

Part Number	Description					 Price

PW/TR-0101	PictureWindow software for Sun Microsystem's 	  $495
		SPARCstation(TM), single user license.  Supports 
		audio 	& video, transmit and receive operation.

PW/HW-0101	PictureWindow system includes single user 	$1,495
		license for PictureWindow software, plus one 
		VideoPix(R) frame grabber, plus one black and 
		white video camera.

FG/VP-0101	VideoPix video frame graber for use in Sun 	  $775
		Microsystem's SPARCstations.

CM/BW-0101	Fixed focus black and white CCD video camera.	  $345

PW/DOC-0101	Single copy of PictureWindow user documentation.   $35


Part Number	Description					 Price

PW/TR-0102	PictureWindow software for Sun Microsystem's 	  $195
		SPARCstation, single user license.  Supports 
		audio & video, transmit and receive operation.

PW/HW-0102	PictureWindow system includes single user  	$1,295
		license for PictureWindow software, plus one 
		VideoPix frame graber, plus one black and white 
		video camera.

Prices Subject to Change Without Notice.  Prices do not include
applicable sales or other taxes.  If you are eligible for exemption
from taxes, please provide your tax identification number with order.



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