How Falling Prices Have Created Video Ubiquity

With Super Bowl XLIV just hours away, it’s a little late to run out and take advantage of the insane sales on big-screen TVs. But that doesn’t matter as much as it would have a few years ago, as prices have been heading steadily lower not just for displays, but all elements in the video value chain.

Improvement to the video price/performance ratio means $99.99 can now buy an HD video camera roughly the size of three fingers, a pen that shoots video or a digital photo frame with video playback. Such a “squanderable abundance” of video capability is leading to video ubiquity, which will in turn mean the consumption of more bandwidth than ever before transforming networking, and require more processing and storage than ever, transforming IT, including cloud computing.

Video Ubiquity

That’s because lower-cost CMOS and CCD image sensors don’t just mean lower-cost video cameras; they mean ubiquitous video embedded everywhere. By analogy, consider computers, which used to be multimillion-dollar monuments encased in glass house data centers. Moore’s Law didn’t mean (just) cheaper data centers, but that compute power is now found in everything from thermometers to toasters to toys. Today’s car buyers often focus less on style and performance than on information technologies such as navigation systems, accident alerting, and on-board entertainment systems.

In other words, when things are cheap enough, it makes good business sense to leverage that so-called squanderable abundance in order to differentiate products or enhance customer relationships. Greeting cards today cost $4.95 whether they are just paper and glitter or can record and play back a voice message. They’ll still be $4.95 tomorrow, but be capable of recording and playing back a video greeting. At some point it will make sense for manufacturers to build a two-way live customer service videoconferencing capability into each dryer or copier or refrigerator, even if it’s only used once a year — or never used at all. Moreover, why wait for the customer to place that video call when cameras mounted inside the dryer can easily report that the drum belt is fraying?

Transformational Impact

The impact of more video devices in more places is the consumption of more bandwidth than ever before, which will transform networking. And more processing and storage will be required than ever before, which will transform IT, including cloud computing.

Today’s HDTV streams need somewhere between 4 and 7 megabits per second. 4K or, in a few years, Ultra-HDTV video streams will need tens of megabits per second, just for one channel. Increase that further for 60 frames per second, finer gradations of color, 3-D, and multiple screens, and network capacity will need to increase ten- or twenty-fold, or more.

Consumer networks are already mostly carrying rapidly growing amounts of user-generated video content, IPTV and peer-to-peer traffic, and Cisco forecasts that video will account for 90 percent of network traffic by 2013. Sure, there’s text and images and spreadsheets and slideshows traversing networks too, but it takes a lot of 140-character tweets to equal one full-length motion picture. Enterprises are increasingly adopting mobile, desktop, and immersive telepresence solutions. Meeting all this demand will require increased investment in wireless and wired networks.

IT will also be transformed. After all, how effective will databases that were designed for alphanumeric data be when a majority of future IT expenditures will be for acquiring, managing and maintaining enormous repositories of unstructured video for security/surveillance, merchandising optimization, field service, collaboration, depositions, entertainment, or applications we haven’t imagined yet?

The cloud will change, as it increasingly moves from just using multicore CPUs to also using GPUs, due to cost-effectiveness as well as the affinity that GPUs have for parallel compute-intensive tasks such as scene analysis, ray-tracing and compositing. Also, cloud-based video functions such as bridging, transcoding, transrating, and rate adaptation will become more important as they allow multiple users and devices using different technologies to interconnect.

So while the game may be over in a few hours, we are just now kicking off a new era in video.

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