On February 20, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new architecture relating to Multi-Participant Conference Setup. The sophistication of Apple's architecture as noted in their patent pending invention, could suggest that Apple is contemplating a FaceTime Pro version of their application for the enterprise that might one day compete with the likes of Cisco's WebEx. Apple's push for iWork on iCloud would definitely make future video conferencing at the enterprise level in the future much easier for sharing documents in real-time. This is definitely a future service to watch for down the road.
Apple's Patent Background
In recent years, users of local and wide area networks (e.g., the Internet) have upgraded to increasingly higher bandwidth connections. The common user also has access to greater computer hardware processing power. At the same time, the coders and decoders (codecs) for video transmission over a network connection have seen improvements such that an individual user has the capability to stream and receive real-time video over the Internet with off-the-shelf components. All this has allowed individual users to begin chatting, sharing, and videoconferencing with point-to-point technologies on their computers.
However, bandwidth remains a constrained resource that must be shared over many users. Likewise, processing power is typically shared by the operating system and several applications in a typical user's computer hardware. These factors have been barriers to the use of personal computers in establishing a conference with more than two participants. Such a conference will be referenced below as a multi-participant conference.
Several approaches are possible for multi-participant conferencing. One such approach is the full-mesh topology, which is the extension of two-participant point-to-point methods to multi-participant conferencing. Under the full-mesh topology, each participant sends all of its audio and/or video (A/V) data to all other participants in the multi-participant conference. However, the full mesh topology requires a high amount of processing power and broad bandwidth at and between each participant of the multi-participant conference. Even with just a few participants, the full-mesh topology quickly becomes untenable because each participant and each network connection is responsible for sending and receiving a burdensome amount of data. Moreover, the weakest connection or hardware point determines the maximum capability of a conference for all participants in the full-mesh topology.
The star topology is another possible approach for multi-participant conferencing. In prior art this approach uses a central server to receive data from all participants in the conference and send all that data back out to each participant. The required server needs high bandwidth and processing power. The server requirements scale with the number of conferences to be hosted, making this approach unusable for wide scale deployment.
Thus, there is a need in the art for a better architecture for multi-participant conferencing. Ideally, such an architecture would allow the participants to use off-the-shelf computers and typically available bandwidth and not require the deployment of dedicated servers.
Apple's invention generally relates to an architecture for establishing a multi-participant conference. This architecture has one participant's computer in the conference act as a central content distributor for the conference. The central distributor receives data (e.g., video and/or audio streams) from the computer of each other participant, and distributes the received data to the computers of all participants.
In some embodiments, the central distributor receives A/V data from the computers of the other participants. From such received data, the central distributor of some embodiments generates composite data (e.g., composite image data and/or composite audio data) that the central distributor distributes back to the participants.
The central distributor in some embodiments can implement a heterogeneous audio/video conference. In such a conference, different participants can participate in the conference differently. For instance, different participants might use different audio or video codecs. Moreover, in some embodiments, one participant might participate in only the audio aspect of the conference, while another participant might participate in both audio and video aspects of the conference.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted above illustrates an example of a conference architecture which allows multiple participants to engage in a conference. In this example, four participants A, B, C, and D are engaged in a conference through their own computers.
Apple's patent FIG. 6 shown below illustrates a detailed process flow of acceptance by a participant.
Subject Matter Found in Apple's Patent Filing
For those in IT that are interested in Video Conferencing, Apple's patent filing provides you with a number of focused sub-chapters as follows:
Focus Point Architecture; Setting up a Conference; Setting up a Multi-Participant Conference; Invitation and Acceptance; Overview of Switching from a Two-Participant Conference to a Multi-Participant Conference; Participant Computer after Acceptance; In-Call Adjustments due to Actual Available Bandwidth and Loss/Delay; In-Call Loss Detection; Examples of What to do about Loss, Four Cases; An Example of the Three Bandwidth Adjustments for a Conference; SIP Messaging and Encryption; Operation: Example of Focus-Point Video Conference; Focus-Point Module's Video Codec Section; Non-Focus Point Module's Video Codec Section; Focus-Point Module's Audio Codec Section; Non Focus Point Module's Audio Codec Section; and finally, Heterogeneous Multi-Participant Video Conference.
To review the subject in more detail, review Apple's patent pending invention.
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