SightSpeed 5.0 VoIP and remote TV (Slingbox) functionality impresses

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
| VoIP & Gadgets blog - Latest news in VoIP & gadgets, wireless, mobile phones, reviews, & opinions

SightSpeed 5.0 VoIP and remote TV (Slingbox) functionality impresses

Recently, I wrote an article titled "The Perfect VoiP Softphone and IM client", where I listed my top requirements for the perfect softphone. Indeed, my perfect softphone client was much more than your typical softphone so I offered an alternative name - "unified communications client". For instance, one really cool feature in my "wishlist" is "Streaming of my personal video and audio files to my buddies. Think Slingbox or Orb Networks."

Basically, my proposed feature would allow you to remotely access your home entertainment system and view live TV, change channels, or even view pre-recorded content. Heck, most softphones already do audio via VoIP and video for videoconferencing calls, so it's not much of a technical hurdle to add video streaming support from a TV tuner card or other video source. Place-shifting TV content is a fast growing phenomenon among not just techies and gadget freaks but the Average Joe with a TiVo box in their home. If this can be extended to software, in particular VoIP software, the potential to build "buzz", ramp up very quickly, and to compete with the likes of Skype is there. The problem today is that all VoIP clients are a dime-a-dozen; they're all the same, with the same features, i.e. SIP standard, video, IM built-in, free calling promotions, blah blah blah. See The VoIP Clone Wars Have Begun... for more proof. Something uinique such as remote TV access -- access to your remote PC's multimedia content could be a key differentiator to go up against the likes of Skype.
Home entertainment and mobile entertainment are two very fast growing industries. Just look at the video iPod, Sony PSP gaming system, and many home theater setups with 5.1 surround sound and expensive plasma displays. With customers spending fortunes on their multimedia content and hardware, customers are clamoring for easy access to their personal multimedia content - it's one reason why the iPod is so successful. Now just image if you could have a single software client that does it all - IM, VoIP, unified address book (IM & VoIP), videoconferencing, access to your multimedia collection, including MP3s, pictures. AVIs, DiVX, Quicktime, etc. Why run 5 clients with 5 separate buddy lists, each with its own advantages/disadvantages when you can simply run one application that does it all?

Well, there isn't a software client today that "does it all", but SightSpeed comes damn close. SightSpeed sent me their latest software v5.0 to try out, which features not only voice over IP and high-quality videoconferencing, but also the aforementioned Slingbox-like functionality to access a remote TV tuner card. They call this feature SightSpeedTV and although technically in beta, I was pretty impressed with the performance.

Sightspeed 5.0 on Home PC
Testing and typing this blog 12ft from a 65" TV so excuse any typos - screen is hard to read.

Below are two Camtasia video captures, (including audio) demonstrating me remotely controlling a TV to "channel surf" at amazing speeds. These files are highly compressed and the resolution was reduced, so the video quality of these screen/audio captures doesn't truly do the SightSpeed software justice. But check out the ludicrous channel surfing speed in these captures! Good stuff!  

Unlike Slingbox or even Orb Networks, SightSpeed doesn't buffer multiple seconds of the video. SightSpeed is able to get away without buffering simply by using their proprietary highly optimized H.263 codec, which ensures high compression and excellent quality. The obvious advantage is that SightSpeed is truly "realtime" video (minus some latency). So the next time you're on your laptop in a hotel lobby watching a sports game using SightSpeed you won't hear the bar crowd cheer or boo before you get to see the action as well. Yeah, happened to me once using Orb Networks, which I had set to buffer 30 seconds.

Below are two versions. One is 1MB (dial-up) and the other 3MB (broadband). I guess I could have made a 10MB version, but really didn't want to kill my bandwidth. In any case, pay close attention in the videos to my mouse clicks in the video and how fast the channel changes.. Right-click the video and choose Zoom, Full Screen to see the mouse clicks and to better see the video quality.

1MB Version - dial-up

3MB Version - Broadband

If you don't see the embedded media player above, you can download the 3MB version here.

Putting aside, the "cool" remote TV/video channel surfing aside, let's examine what else is new in SightSpeed 5.0. First, SightSpeed had made their new advanced video codec the default codec. Secondly, v5.0 introduces PSTN In and PSTN Out dialing with local DIDs offered, making SightSpeed a comparable solution to Skype. With 5.0 Pro users can record up to 2 minutes of video to create a video blog which is hosted on SightSpeed's servers. The Basic user has a 30 second limit. It's important to note that in addition to a PC version, SightSpeed is committed to the Mac and has simultaneously made v5.0 available to both operating systems.

I made several video calls, including two to SightSpeed and two calls to Andy Abramson. The video quality and frame rate was amazing - very smooth.I give it  SightSpeed claims 30fps with bandwidth monitoring, frame-rate control, and other enhancements. The audio was equally good, on par with the renowned Skype audio qualiity, but I was truly blown away by SightSpeed's video which seemed better than Skype's video quality. SightSpeed currently supports 4 simultaneous voice or video calls.

Additionally, V5.0 also has some privacy/parental controls, probably as part of the community public directory, but I didn't test these features. Not sure if they copied MySpace's recent decision to restrict adult access to profiles under the age of 18 or if they implemented some more advanced parental controls.

Some other improvements SightSpeed has made is in the area of connectivity. While I was asked not to give specific percentages they quoted me, they stated that they significantly improved the connection rates for users behind a NAT firewall and that it has the ability to relay calls from the SightSpeed servers that fail to negotiate a proper P2P connection. Thus, virtually all calls to any user behind any firewall will succeed.

Tom's shortened wishlist:
- remote TV access - check
- PSTN In and PSTN Out - check
- community for finding users - check
- high-quality videoconferncing - check
- IM support - check
- SIP support - check
- standard video codec support - proprietary, but won't knock it too much since it was damn impressive!

Update/Correction: (I originally said they used a proprietary video codec which is no longer the case.)
From SightSpeed - "Our new Advanced video codec is no longer proprietary. It is a highly optimized, standards based H.263 implementation. We have added our human perceptual encoding technologies to the codec, which makes our implementation perform much better than everybody else. SightSpeed can interoperate with other standards based (SIP) devices that support H.263 but the video quality won’t be as good as a SightSpeed endpoint to SightSpeed endpoint call."

Andy pointed out that "SightSpeed is built to carry multiple codecs, as it can discover the proper one to use via SIP at the outset of the call. This codec selectivity capability will come in handy for working with multiple partners, and potentially interoperating with other services. "

- cross-platform support - check (though Linux would be nice)
- stream MP3 - Not available
- access remote pictures - Not available
- Collaboration/screen-sharing - Not available
- Send Files to another user - Not Available

While SightSpeed doesn't have all the features in my "perfect softphone wishlist", it has most of the important ones, and the remote TV surfing is too cool to pass up. I think I will be using this client regularly and will certainly recommend it to my friends & family.

SightSpeed 5.0 will officially be released on Wednesday.

Related Articles to 'SightSpeed 5.0 VoIP and remote TV (Slingbox) functionality impresses'

Featured Events