ATF gives new video network product a shot

Hoping to ease its bandwidth bottleneck a bit, a Justice Department bureau tested a video streaming technology that bills itself as a low-cost and low-bandwidth alternative to videoconferencing equipment'a description agency officials said the product deserves.

After a monthlong beta test of an MPEG-4 appliance called VBXcast, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it's still using the system to send building surveillance video from security cameras to a field office on ATF's WAN.

The bureau had also experimented with VBXcast in point-to-point videoconferencing applications between headquarters and field offices, but high-quality two-way interaction 'didn't prove to be feasible,' said Peter Erikson, manager of media services at ATF's Visual Information Branch. 'It's a one-way operation.'

But Erikson said that when comparing systems along a one-way track, VBXcast, from VBrick Systems Inc. of Wallingford, Conn., displayed about the same, if not better, picture quality as other systems for a cheaper price. 'VBrick might have a bit of an edge.'

VBXcast, released about two months ago, comes in the form of single- and dual-channel MPEG-4 encoders, which the company armed with video bit rates ranging from 8 Kbps to 2 Mbps and audio bit rates from 8 Kbps to 320 Kbps.

ATF launched VBXcast video across a 384-Kbps stream, which is low for organizations that often must turn to T1 lines with more than three times that capacity to ship video and audio. The video appliance also costs $4,995, about half the price of a high-end videoconferencing system ATF has been piloting for the last two years.

Erikson said the bureau's IT division encountered some trouble installing the VBXcast on the LAN, but added that any problems seemed minor. Further ATF deployments 'will be driven by demand in field offices,' he said.


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