A Libertyville, Ill., company known as Video Furnace has developed a solution for distributing video over an internet-protocol (IP) network that eliminates the need for a desktop media player.

The Video Furnace solution streams TV-quality MPEG video to users’ desktops without the need for a pre-installed player, such as QuickTime, RealPlayer, or Windows Media Player. Instead, Video Furnace delivers a small, 200-kilobyte player of its own once a video stream is requested. This player appears on the user’s desktop and then disappears when the user closes his or her viewing window.

Because the solution works with any Windows, Macintosh, or even Linux-based computer, it eliminates the media player management and compatibility headaches that school IT staff now frequently deal with, Video Furnace says. It also gives each user on the network the same uniform viewing experience, regardless of his or her client machine.

“If you try and keep our viewer, it won’t work the next time,” said company CEO Howard Weinzimmer. “That’s a key piece of what we do: In the end, there’s virtually no maintenance involved.”

The Video Furnace solution “mimics the television viewing experience,” said Clayton Bosquez, director of product management for JDL Technologies, a systems integration specialist for K-12 schools that is familiar with the company’s technology. “The fact that it’s clientless–no software needs to be installed–eliminates a huge amount of support and rollout issues, not necessarily in that order.”

Bosquez said the Video Furnace interface eliminates the need for IT professionals to use their time installing different media players on individual machines.

The small file size of the company’s there-when-you-need-it, gone-when-you-don’t media player also enables users to watch video files on older computers with little memory or hard drive space, thereby expanding the availability of IP-based video. A typical media player takes up several megabytes of memory on the client machine.

Despite its small file size, the Video Furnace player operates like any other media player: When watching archived video on demand, you can play, pause, fast-forward, or rewind the video stream, using the same set of controls you would find on a VCR or DVD player.

The viewer is also extremely sound from a security standpoint. According to the company, the video streams are encrypted at the levels used by the Department of Defense.

Such a high degree of security is possible because the Video Furnace software caches no data on the local hard drive. With no data saved on the hard drive, no illegal copies of videos can be produced. That level of security makes the Video Furnace software capable of protecting the digital rights of anything used on the network, the company says.

Frank Gallagher, assistant director for the nonprofit group Cable in the Classroom, said defending digital ownership rights is an important consideration for content providers–and one that has limited the wider distribution of copyrighted video content so far. He said any program that helps protect the copyrights of digital video broadcasts over IP networks would lead to the greater use of digital content for instructional purposes.

Video Furnace is targeting corporate and educational customers looking to multicast video over a high-speed local-area network (LAN). It bills its solution as providing “the lowest possible total cost of ownership combined with the highest level of availability.”

The company supplies the hardware and software needed to capture and encode live video to standards-based MPEG streams with quality ranging from VHS to full D1 broadcast. The system can multicast live video to several computers at once, and when this live feed is finished, the video content can be archived for future viewing on demand.

Northwestern University is using Video Furnace technology to deliver cable TV programming across its IP network to more than 4,000 students living in its campus dormitories. Rather than install coaxial cable to each building at a cost of $2 million or more, the university decided to leverage its existing Gigabit Ethernet network to deliver video as well, said Dave Carr, Northwestern’s director of telecommunications and network services.

Dartmouth College has tapped Video Furnace to provide the same services to its 10,000 students. What is unique about Dartmouth is that the system will replace the school’s existing coaxial cable network, which cost an estimated $75,000 a year to maintain, Weinzimmer said.

Video Furnace also reportedly is talking with officials in Florida’s Broward County Public Schools and other K-12 school systems about bringing its technology there, though details were not available at press time.

Though most K-12 districts would not have the infrastructure in place to deliver full-fledged video over IP to the degree that Dartmouth and Northwestern are doing, the seamless nature of Video Furnace’s distribution model makes it appealing to educational institutions, JDL’s Bosquez said.

“Technology needs to be invisible to teachers,” he said. “Educators are using the interface that they’re used to using. This implementation of video distribution accomplishes that.”


Video Furnace

Northwestern University

Dartmouth College