Earlier this year, Citrix Online acquired a German software manufacturer by the name of VidSoft. It was something of a stealth acquisition… No press release, no coverage, no mention on either company’s website. If you want to have fun playing web sleuth, try to find information related to the transaction!
Today we learn why Citrix was being so cagey… They didn’t want their competitors to know that they were working on adding streaming video to their web conferencing solutions. Today Citrix Online publicly announced the new upcoming functionality for GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and GoToTraining. Branded under the name HDFaces, the streaming video capabilities will be a standard part of all three web collaboration products. No new licensing or add-on payments will be required, and it will be supported on Windows and Mac platforms.
The video functionality is planned for limited Beta (by invitation only) starting in early November, with commercial availability targeted for the first quarter of 2011. Obviously at this early date I have not had a chance to play with the software, but I had a chat with Elizabeth Cholawsky, the VP of Products and Client Services for Citrix Online, and Eric Bensley, the Associate Product Marketing Manager. They showed me some mockups of how the video will coexist with the screen sharing currently used in the GoTo products (I’m sure they hate that abbreviation, but it’s an easy way to refer to all three products getting the upgrade).
Citrix plans to allow up to six simultaneous live video windows to be displayed next to the screen share portion of the screen. Meeting participants can configure the layout, so they can show the video windows stacked vertically, placed side-by-side horizontally, or grouped into a 2x3 cluster for instance. It looks like a user can close a single video window, and reopen it later. Video controls will be added to the Command Panel that currently holds things like Audio Controls and the Questions/Chat box. As the video windows are added and moved, the screen share portion of the screen dynamically adjusts to fill the rest of the space.
Citrix says that their differentiator will be the quality and detail broadcast in their video windows. Each video stream can have a resolution of up to 640x480 pixels, with a total combined video area of up to 1920x960.
Another interesting feature is continuous bandwidth optimization for each user. The Citrix software will check bandwidth requirements for streaming audio, streaming video, and screen share display – along with network responsiveness. It dynamically assigns more bandwidth to the components of the data stream that need it. If this works as planned, it could result in perceived quality improvements, since a screen image that isn’t changing doesn’t need bandwidth allocated to it. If sound pauses for a second, the video can take precedence, and so on. Citrix told me they measure every 100ms, with video coding reacting in about 80ms to a changed characteristic of the network.
Video coding will use VidSoft’s proprietary implementation of the H.264 video standard. No software applications will be needed beyond what is loaded as part of the normal connection process that already takes place when joining a GoTo session. So for example, users won’t need to load or update external players such as Adobe Flash Player or Microsoft Windows Media Player.
I’ll check back in when I have the opportunity to test the video performance and see the final layout and controls.