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Calit2 Steps Up HD-over-IP Telepresence Partnership with University of Washington

San Diego, CA and Seattle, WA, September 25, 2006 -- Calit2 director Larry Smarr participated this week in the Ideas 2 Innovation (i2i) Research Summit at the University of Washington (UW), but he did so remotely, via a dedicated 10 Gigabit per second, optical-fiber link between San Diego and Seattle. It was the latest joint effort by researchers at UC San Diego and UW to push the envelope of high-definition 'telepresence' videoconferencing using Internet Protocol (HD over IP).

Larry Smarr
Larry Smarr in San Diego as seen in Seattle at the receiving edn of an HD-over-IP transmission over a dedicated 10 Gbps optical-fiber link.
"Calit2, UCSD and UW are natural partners because we are convinced that scientific discovery will increasingly require that we learn to 'ride the light,'" said Jacobs School computer science and engineering professor Smarr, referring to the dedicated optical path connecting the two universities. "Both campuses are investing in new visualization and video streaming capabilities that will eventually allow researchers thousands of miles away to feel like they are present-or telepresent-in the same room. Two-way uncompressed HD streaming video is a major step in that direction."

The Sept. 18 summit at UW brought together CEOs, venture capitalists and lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest, and they were treated to a series of technology demonstrations, including the UW-developed iHD1500 technology for streaming uncompressed HD video over optical fiber. Typically, HD is compressed from its raw bandwidth of 1.5 Gbps to 15-20 Mbps to stream it over satellite, cable or the Internet.  Here the full HD video stream is uncompressed, removing the time-variable compression and decompression that are otherwise necessary.

The i2i summit took place in a high-tech mock-trial facility in the UW School of Law's William H. Gates Hall. Smarr was introduced by UW professor Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science. Lazowska is a champion for advanced distance-learning technologies and has collaborated with UCSD researchers since spending his 2001-02 sabbatical year on the La Jolla campus. "UCSD and Calit2 are the University of Washington's key partners in the area of computer science and networking," said Lazowska.

Lazowska introduced Smarr with a Q&A that barely betrayed the fact that Smarr was speaking from Calit2's CalViz High-Definition Telepresence Studio in San Diego - 1,200 miles away. The HD signal traveled over a dedicated 10 Gbps optical path running over CAVEwave, which extends between UCSD and the Pacific Northwest GigaPoP (PNWGP) in Seattle. 

CAVEwave continues on to the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Calit2's principal partner in the OptIPuter project. EVL funds operation of the CAVEwave portion of the National LambdaRail (NLR), and CAVEwave interconnects with other NLR links as well as statewide research-oriented networks including the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California's CalREN.

CalViz is a studio space on the first floor of Atkinson Hall, the home of the UCSD division of Calit2. It was designed expressly to capture and deliver real-time HD presentations by Calit2 researchers to conferences outside of San Diego. CalViz was inaugurated last spring with two live, hour-long speeches by Smarr to scientific conferences in Australia.

Previous CalViz transmissions featuring streaming HD over IP have used VideoLan Client (VLC), an open-source software solution. However, the dedicated 10 Gbps link between Calit2 and UW permitted transmission of the full-resolution HD video stream using UW's iHD1500 hardware-and-software solution, developed by a team of engineers at UW led by ResearchChannel director of TV engineering Michael Wellings. The iHD1500 is part of UW's iHDTV software suite that includes uncompressed n-way conferencing, as well as iHD270 and various tools.

"The iHD1500 application allows low-latency HD communication among multiple endpoints over high-speed research and education networks. The experience is similar to being in the same room with one's colleagues - with the clarity of high-definition video and the immediacy of vocal communication. The detail delivered with the system works well with the requirements of research and education," said Wellings.

Calit2 and UW have a strong record of collaboration, especially in HD over IP and cyberinfrastructure for ocean research. In January 2005, Larry Smarr addressed the Japan Gigabit Network 2 Symposium in Osaka, Japan, from ResearchChannel's studio at UW, using UW's n-way software. A server in Seattle transmitted the HD video at 1.5 Gbps to the PNWGP. From there, the signal traversed a 10 Gbps trans-Pacific link to Tokyo, which was forwarded to Osaka via JGN2.

"This was before we moved into our new building and therefore before we had access to the bandwidth and software needed to do HD over IP in our own right," recalled Smarr.

The success of the Seattle-to-Tokyo presentation convinced both Calit2 and UW to cooperate more closely on HD streaming over optical fiber.

Barely months after moving into Atkinson Hall, Calit2 at UCSD hosted iGrid 2005 last September, and UW mounted one of the most-talked about of the 50 international high-bandwidth demonstrations. The real-time expedition to the underwater volcanoes of the northeast Pacific Ocean involved sending high-definition images from the Jason II remotely operated vehicle on the seafloor, to the deck of the RV Thompson on the surface. The stunning images were part of a live program beamed by Ku-band satellite from the ship to ResearchChannel's control room at UW. From there, the signal was transmitted to Calit2 over optical fiber for real-time viewing by the audience in San Diego. The host of the "VISIONS '05" program was John Delaney, principal investigator of the Laboratory for the Ocean Observatory Knowledge Integration Grid (LOOKING), a partnership between UCSD and UW, on which Calit2's Larry Smarr is co-principal investigator.

Calit2 participation in the i2i summit was the first since integrating an OptIPortal tiled display system into the CalViz studio. Speakers can now show HD slides on a large plasma screen while simultaneously using roughly 50 million pixels available on the OptIPortal.

Behind the scenes, Calit2 staff worked for three days on configuring the CalViz system using the iHD1500 software and getting the OptIPortal online. Two members of Calit2's visualization group-Qian Liu and Hector Bracho-took the lead on getting the system working. Ian Kaufman and Bryan Glogowski deployed the OptIPortal, with Joe Keefe overseeing the process. Brian Dunne handled networking on the Calit2 end, and UW engineering manager Jamie Alls flew to San Diego to collaborate with the team at UCSD. Other key engineers from UW were network engineer David Sinn and broadcast engineers David Robertson and Jabran Soubeih.

With all the hard work, recalls Smarr, there were heart-stopping technical glitches. "About five minutes before show time, the audio feed to Seattle died and had to be restarted," recalls the Calit2 director. "But with seconds to spare, they got the audio back and from there it was clear sailing. The well-oiled UW-and-Calit2 at UCSD team got us through it all with flying colors!"

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