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Windows CE adds richer multimedia sans cost to Ittiam's IP Videophone

Posted: 14 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Windows CE? Ittiam Systems? product cost? time-to-market?

Ittiam Systems Ltd is an India-based engineering development house specializing in DSP algorithms and systems. The company is a Windows Embedded Partner (WEP), specializing in developing Windows Embedded-powered hardware and software solutions. It focuses on creating reference designs and software applications for devices such as digital camcorders, video conferencing equipment, video security, portable media players/recorders, in-flight entertainment systems, IP video phones and WLAN access points and station cards.

The situation
In late 2005, Ittiam Systems surveyed its market and noted increasing demand for support of converging applications such as media players and recorders, web browsing, video-on-demand (VOD) and IPTV. As a result, the company looked at the possibility of migrating its IP Videophone solution from a Linux environment to a richer operating platform. "Although our Linux-based IP Videophone is highly regarded, there was a demand to support a richer user multimedia experience," notes Sheela Prabhakar, distinguished member technical staff and technologist for the media streaming business at Ittiam Systems Ltd.

The existing IP Videophone solution was based on a Linux variant and employed Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) stacks for call signaling, which is not a development focus for the company. Ittiam Systems worked around this by recommending third-party SIP stacks to customers and helping to integrate them into the IP Videophone. "While this approach worked well, it meant our IP customers had to pay for both the OS support as well as the SIP stack from different third-party suppliers," recalls Prabhakar. "If customers required additional application support, such as web browsing or IPTV, they would have to purchase additional licenses, again from third parties. The net effect would increase the overall product costs significantly."

What Ittiam Systems wanted was a real-time OS with comprehensive, embedded multimedia capabilities without additional licensing costs. This would eliminate dependency on multiple third-party software licenses and reduce the overall product cost. "If this meant faster development time and lower costs, it would be an attractive option for our IP customers," says Prabhakar.

The solution
To migrate the Ittiam IP Videophone solution to a richer OS from the original Linux variant, Ittiam had to re-evaluate the existing development work in the current system. "We had an existing reference design and the Board Support Package (BSP) with full-fledged drivers for all the hardware devices and peripherals required for the application," adds Prabhakar. "So we needed to completely rework all of it to support a different operating system. We had a high degree of development expertise on the original Linux OS internals and Linux-based BSP but beyond this development environment, our experience was limited."

Ittiam considered retaining its Linux solution and improving the third-party SIP stack and application integration. "We evaluated several middleware solutions for web browsing, video-on-demand and IPTV as an alternative to porting all the development to a new environment," Prabhakar says.

Eventually, Ittiam Systems decided to port the IP Videophone application to Windows CE version 5.0, as the platform offered much better media application support and embedding within the OS. From a development standpoint, the company would save a lot of time trying to integrate third party components, says Prabhakar. "The decision was not difficult. With Windows CE 5.0, there were no additional application licenses to buy, and we had rich, multimedia support right out of the box."

However, Ittiam Systems had limited experience with Windows CE. "Because of our lack of expertise with the environment, we had to work hard on our development," notes Prabhakar.

Starting April 2006, Ittiam Systems deployed eight engineers with the goal of achieving the same IP Videophone performance on Windows CE as on Linux. To exploit new technologies and improved SIP stack capability, Ittiam Systems moved the development from Windows CE 5.0 to Windows Embedded CE 6.0 in September 2006.

Though there were complex issues with developing device drivers, the designers were able to port many of the Linux-based drivers with the help of the local Microsoft support team. In addition, Microsoft was able to assist with other technologies such as DirectDraw and framework features supported by Windows Embedded CE 6.0 for the multimedia applications, and with developing a complete user interface from scratch.

Ittiam completed a demonstrable version of the Windows Embedded CE 6.0 IP Videophone in November 2006, and the beta edition was released in February 2007. The entire project was scheduled for completion by August 2007.

The benefits
Although the migration process seemed initially daunting to Ittiam Systems, the company was impressed with the support they received from Microsoft, and with the comprehensiveness of the Windows Embedded CE 6.0 development environment. Combined with embedded components, application support and easy interoperability, Ittiam Systems has benefited from a shorter development period and an overall reduction in product costs. "What is significant is that both our customers and, subsequently, the end users, will benefit from the improved user experience and wide application and media support. This should make the IP Videophone a very attractive option," remarks Prabhakar.

With embedded support for multimedia, Ittiam Systems found the Windows CE development environment productive and customizable. "With [Windows Embedded] CE 6.0, it is now easy to integrate media related applications seamlessly into the product," says Prabhakar. "Additionally, our IP Videophone is also interoperable with other Windows-specific applications, such as Windows Messenger version 5.0. From a call signaling perspective, this is highly advantageous in developing future messaging application support."

The testing and integration of third-party SIP stacks for its Linux-based hardware reference designs has always been a difficult process for Ittiam Systems. However, with the embedded SIP stack offered by the Windows CE environment (including advanced features such as NAT traversal capability), development resources can be deployed elsewhere. "It has allowed us greater room for optimization," adds Prabhakar.

Beyond media application support, Ittiam Systems discovered extensive support within CE 6.0 for other "standard" Windows applications. "An IP Videophone application built on [Windows Embedded] CE 6.0 can support Web browsing via Windows Internet Explorer 6" notes Prabhakar. "End users will also benefit from the interoperability with several standard PC-based VoIP/video communication software options, making it very attractive for the end user."

Without the need to procure and integrate third party components such as SIP stacks, and with embedded support for applications such as Web browsers, Ittiam Systems has realized real savings in development time and production costs. "We have achieved savings of up to 30 percent in development time, and between 10 to 25 percent cost savings, thanks to fewer component licensessavings which we can pass on to our customers," says Prabhakar.

Though they lacked experience with Windows CE, Ittiam Systems found the development tools powerful and user friendly. The technical support through MSDN Library and newsgroups proved invaluable to the development team. "The BSP framework for Windows [Embedded] CE 6.0 was very developer friendly," adds Prabhakar. "Combined with MSDN Library support and reference driver source code for several industry standard devices, we were well-equipped to complete the job."

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