Cebit: Startup finds secret of modifying video in real time

A six-employee German startup has figured out how to let users modify high-resolution video as it is being streamed.

Impossible Software of Germany has cracked the problem that lead to the company's name.

Working with IBM, the six-employee startup based in Hamburg has figured out how to let users modify high-resolution video as it is being streamed to computers over the Internet.

The technology, called JetStream Video, holds a wide range of potential for advertisers that want to deliver marketing messages via Internet-delivered television broadcasts or through other means such as Flash banner ads.

It was only recently that servers became powerful enough to accommodate Impossible's vision, said Claus Zimmermann, the company's CTO.

"We thought it's really not possible to do because you have to compress the video on the fly in real time for like hundreds of users," Zimmermann said. "This was just such an impossible task."

High-quality Web video is composed of around 25 individual pictures that have to be compressed and converted to a video stream in real time. It's very processor intensive, and Zimmermann initially thought he would need one cell processor to deliver every stream, which is economically unfeasible. Cell processor technology was developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba for high-performance computing, such as gaming systems.

Zimmermann began experimenting with Sony's PlayStation 3, which uses a Cell processor. Using a computer running Linux, Zimmermann was able to get up to 15 simultaneous video streams running, a small experiment that would be representative of the type of demand on the Internet.

Eventually, Impossible began working with IBM, which manufactures blade servers with 14 Cell processors. IBM's research division and Impossible were able to get up to 50 streams running per cell processor, which opened the technology up to more commercial possibilities.

At the Cebit trade show this week, Impossible is showing a demo video advertisement for Audi's new A4 convertible. As the video plays, its viewer has the option of changing the car's color, type of rims and other parameters as the video is playing.

The background of the ad is real video shot in Cape Town, while the car was re-created in CGI by Albert Bauer Companies of Germany. Every one of the 25 different pictures for every second of the video has been modified to reflect every single possible preference combination a user could pick.

The pictures are stored in template form on Impossible's servers. When a different color for the Audi is selected, for example, the software changes the color, compresses the data and instantly streams it using the H.264 video compression codec, the latest standard for high-quality Web video.

Impossible also has another video which features a kitchen, where users can change the color of cabinets, stools and other aspects.

So far, Audi plans on using the A4 advertisement on the Internet. Zimmermann said Impossible came to Cebit to get a wider audience for its technology and hopes to lodge deals with service providers such as Deutsche Telecom, which has been deploying IP (Internet Protocol) television in Germany.

Impossible's technology could be used to deliver customized ads that reflect user preferences or other observed behavior. It would allow service providers to charge more for advertising since users could be more precisely targeted, opening up more lucrative revenue streams.

Impossible scheduled a press conference on Monday morning at Cebit, but attendance was sparse, possible undermined by ones by larger companies.

Nonetheless, Zimmermann remained upbeat about the week ahead, as the company made a top 10 list created by Cebit's organizers of interesting technology. Impossible was listed alongside heavyweights such as Vodafone and SAP.

"I don't know how we ended up on that list," Zimmermann said.

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