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Streaming media
Company:
Hewlett-Packard
Status: Large-scale tests planned in about two years

More and more people are tapping into the Internet through devices other than desktop computers: cell phones, personal digital assistants, televisions, and wireless laptops. This diversity makes life difficult for content providers transmitting multimedia files: what’s good for a big-screen PC with a high-speed hookup doesn’t work so well for a PDA with its small screen and slow connection.

At Hewlett-Packard Labs, electrical engineers are developing ways to ensure end-to-end media delivery, regardless of the type of network or device being used. The idea is to move digital files more rapidly by adapting their transmission format to the devices that will receive them, and to position more content at the “edges” of the network-that is, close to the end user rather than the sender. The HP researchers’ latest brainstorm is a series of nodes-filled with specialized routing hardware and software-that can be added to existing networks to augment the delivery of streaming media. The nodes have several functions: they move media files off individual Web servers and put them closer to users; they determine the best routes for sending files; and they detect what nearby users are watching, discern patterns in their viewing and listening preferences, and then “pre-fetch” data that they are likely to want. Finally, the nodes detect the kinds of devices on the receiving ends of their transmissions and adapt the media stream accordingly. That way, a high-definition TV, say, will get a high-resolution video file, while a cell phone receives a compressed file.

Prototype nodes have already been deployed between HP’s various labs around the world, and on a test network connecting HP and Japanese wireless giant NTT DoCoMo. While it may take years before such systems make their way into the Internet at large, bits of the technology are starting to turn up in Web servers and software, says researcher and development manager Susie Wee.

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