HP SkyRoom: Sharing is Nice
COW Library : Windows Hardware & Software : Tim Wilson : HP SkyRoom: Sharing is Nice
Videoconferencing and desktop sharing have been around for a while, of course, and many free options exist, including in the latest release of Skype. Looking a bit closer at the details in SkyRoom shows why your $149 will be very well spent -- keeping in mind that, with new HP workstations (after Aug. 1, 2009), it is included free.
Note that Ron Lindeboom provided an excellent overview of HP SkyRoom here. As the title of this one indidcates, I'm going to dive a bit deeper into the features and technologies around SkyRoom's desktop sharing.
RICH MEDIA SHARING
Desktop sharing is one thing. Pushing desktop video, animation and 3D is another. If you've used other sharing software, you've found these kinds of limitations very quickly. Some don't support playing video files from host computers at all. Even the best of them have offered significantly limited performance. And it's bad enough working remotely with 3D models on small screens, but adding in the sluggish responsiveness, trying to show interactivity remotely is almost more trouble than it's worth.
This was certainly my experience using the enterprise class Macromedia Breeze, using technology now incorporated into Adobe Acrobat Pro. On a pipe fat enough, and dedicated servers beefy enough, to accommodate up to 100 clients, even working with a couple of people at once could become excruciating.
Not so with SkyRoom. While the videoconferencing screens are "limited" by current webcam technology to 960x720 and 15 fps -- still more than enough res to see every clogged pore on your boss's bulbous beak -- the desktop media sharing, including full-motion video and zippy 3D model manipulations, is another story altogether: 2560 x 1920, up to 24 fps.
And while the image here shows SkyRoom working on two displays, it actually supports up to three, in either three across or stacked. And each of them still supporting as much 24fps HD video as your pipe can handle.
(For maximum performance, you're going to want at least 1 Mb/sec, but 400 or so will get you comfortably inside the door. You can of course tune performance by adjusting window sizes.)
HP = HORSE POWER
Certainly, the presenter's computer has to have a configuration capable of supporting the DirectX and OpenGL required to display, say, real-time 3D manipulations, or drive speed to spool out 24fps HD. SkyRoom takes it from there. It records the screen output, then compresses it on the fly to H.264 or MPEG (user selectable). The participants are only receiving that flattened video output of course, which they can see on any standard monitor.
To be precise, though, recipients aren't sucking down the entire video stream. HP's video compress/decompress process is watching carefully, and only recording and playing back CHANGES to the picture. In other words, any pixels that don't move, don't get transmitted, and don't need to be received - making for visually lossless compression.
That's one of the reasons why SkyRoom offers so much larger pictures, with so much better performance, than systems using the same bandwidth. Those are compressing all of every frame, sucking down processor cycles, bandwidth, and quality.
(DirectX is Windows-only, and as much as I've loved all of my Macs for the past 25 years -- including the one I'm writing this on -- OpenGL on Mac is a sad, sad dog relative to Windows. Even without DirectX, the Mac OpenGL experience simply isn't up to these tasks.)
Audio is also part of the fun not found on other conferencing/sharing solutions. Spoken audio is captured by a microphone of course, but desktop audio is typically not passed along. That means that any music or dialog included in the media playing on YOUR computer is not included in the stream passed along to THEIR computer.
Needless to say, this is a dealbreaker for collaboration and review of projects that include audio...unless you're willing to turn up the volume and lean your microphone into the speakers. Having done this way too many times, I can tell you that it's even more awkward than it sounds. Worse, you'll look even more ridiculous to the other conference participants than you think.
Instead, SkyRoom simply compresses and transmits MPEG audio from desktop media. HP has also created echo-cancellation algorithms that are the best I've worked with.
Having worked with corporate and military clients during development, for whom security is a paramount concern, HP built a variety of encryption schemes into SkyRoom, including the Advanced Encryption Standard with 256-character keys, and a number of server-based authentications.
SOME FINAL JUICY BITS
HP SkyRoom is a compelling combination of videoconferencing and desktop sharing, offering exceptional performance over a wide range of features at a remarkably low price. If you're a Windows-based media professional, and work with colleagues or clients in other locations, you need to take a close look at SkyRoom.