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Researchers send HDTV over next-generation Internet

Stanford and University of Washington researchers have sent high-definition TV signals to each other via the Internet2, but don't expect the technology to reach home in the near future.

A team of scientists at two universities finally figured out how to send high-quality video over the Internet.

Researchers at Stanford University in California and at the University of Washington in Seattle announced today they successfully sent high-definition TV (HDTV) signals to each other using next-generation Internet technology. HDTV is a digital version of today's TVs that can display images with much greater clarity.

Passing a data-intensive HDTV signal in real time required the use of the Internet2 network, which is a higher-speed version of the original Internet that is capable of delivering data at speeds of up to 85,000 times faster than a typical dial-up modem.

Use of the Internet2 is currently limited to the companies and universities participating in specific research projects. Still, the demonstration proved that the Internet may one day deliver broadcast-quality video to every home, say experts.

By comparison, images on today's Internet are fuzzy and small, and the audio often does not match the video. The researchers' work could lead to innovations that reach the mass market in a few years, said those involved in the project.

"The goal of the project is to use Internet2 as a real future delivery mechanism for the broadcast industry." said David Richardson, project manager for University of Washington ResearchTV HDTV Project.

Sony and the researchers at the two universities are the main backers of the group, which used a Sony high-definition camcorder and production equipment to capture and send the HDTV video. University scientists sent two 15-minute and two 20-minute HDTV video streams, respectively, at 40 megabits per second and 270 megabits per second.

"That 270-megabit stream represents something important to the broadcast industry in the sense it's what they use as the native feed that they process," said Richardson.

Despite the demonstration's success, it still is far from being a marketable product because the infrastructure is not yet available.

"The pure bandwidth aspect of it is not way out there," said Greg Wood, director of communications for Internet2. While the technology to deliver HDTV video to a desktop PC exists, "the difference is there is no reliable way to deliver this [data] across the country reliably."

So what good is it for?
Visionaries have big plans for interactive technologies available through high-bandwidth connections. Internet2 partner IBM is looking ahead to the delivery of interactive entertainment bundled with e-commerce services.

"Let's say you're watching a movie and the person in the movie happens to be wearing a really neat sweater," explained Rich Wall, IBM's program manager for advanced Internet technologies. "You could literally freeze frame the movie, go to the sweater, click on the sweater and there would be information behind the sweater that it came from Land's End and it's available in four colors."

Although such capabilities could conceivably be delivered as soon as four years, "there are a number of regulatory and business reasons that greatly complicate this," warned Hugo Jaggioni, vice president of technology for Sony's broadcast division. Regulators, he noted, are still debating how to handle the convergence of the Internet, cable, and television.

Where Internet2 goes from here
The University Corporation for Advanced Development, Indiana University and corporate partners Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, and Qwest Communications in February flipped the switch on Internet2. They developed the primary backbone, the Abilene fiber-optic network, which handles much of Internet2's traffic.

Internet2 isn't the only broadband project under development, but it is one of the best financed and supported. Like the original Internet in its infancy, the network is closed to the public and open primarily for research.

AT&T, Cabletron Systems, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, and 3Com are among the 20 or so corporate partners currently involved in the project.

About 160 universities participate in Internet2, with about 150 connected via 20 gigabit-per-second "points of presence" scattered throughout the country.

There are no plans to open Internet2 for commercial or consumer use. Some people close to the project speculate that Internet2 could eventually be opened to the public, but that wouldn't likely happen for another five years, if ever.

The original Internet once was available only to universities and research institutions.