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Video, data communications get real

The Internet moved a step closer today toward real-time communications like video and data conferencing with technology unveiled by two start-up companies at the Internet and Electronic Commerce Conference in New York.

NEW YORK--The Internet moved a step closer toward real-time communications like video and data conferencing with technology unveiled by two start-up companies at the Internet and Electronic Commerce Conference here today.

VXtreme is turning its attention to the problem of compressing video and audio streams of data so that they can be transmitted across the Internet at the low bandwidth connections that most people use through modems. Real-time video streaming is an emerging technology that can be used for videoconferencing, video-on-demand services, and training applications that incorporate video clips.

While video streaming allows real-time communication using images, other companies are concentrating on data conferencing, a technology that goes a step further than teleconferencing or email to let users share computer information in real time. PictureTalk rolled out its version of this kind of software, which uses the Internet to allow an unlimited number of users at different locations to share the same data at the same time.

Of the two companies, VXtreme is facing the stiffer competition for its new compression-decompression software. The company demonstrated its technology today, delivering 15 to 20 frames of 160-by-120-pixel images per second over a 28.8-kbps connection.

VXtreme's solution is software only, both for receiving the video-audio streams and for encoding them before transmission, a feature that VXtreme officials say makes its software easier to use than that of their competitors.

The software also boasts a unique feature for synchronizing audio and video feeds with Java applets, ActiveX controls, and other programs running in a Web browser. With this feature, a browser can play a video clip in one frame while a Java applet is displaying a slide presentation with animated graphics in another.

The company hasn't yet named the software or specified what it is going to do with the technology, but officials said specific product plans for Unix, Macintosh, Windows NT, and Windows 95 will be announced in the second quarter.

VXtreme will enter an already-crowded arena. Xing and VDOnet already offer plug-in clients for the Netscape Navigator browser that allow real-time playback of streamed audio and video, and Netscape itself is planning to incorporate a video-audio streaming client into the next version of Navigator, code-named Atlas.

PictureTalk doesn't face this same problem with its new real-time data conferencing software, which is aimed at larger corporations that want to provide Net-based workgroups for multi-user conferences, document sharing, and presentations. An unlimited number of participants can manipulate and notate the images so that their changes show up on everyone else's screen.

PictureTalk's Communicator client software runs on Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Mac, and Unix and is available for free from the company's Web site. The Conference server software costs $100 per user with a minimum of 100 users and runs on Sparc Solaris and Windows NT.