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Lync Server 2013 Preview introduces new video capabilities that represent the next step in the evolution of the platform’s collaboration experience. These features include multiparty video, standards based codecs, and face detection with smart framing. These new Lync Server 2013 Preview features enhance the video experience in both Lync peer-to-peer video calls and multi-party video conferences.
In a general sense, Microsoft focused on improving the user experience of the voice platform with the launch of Lync Server 2010. Now, with the launch of Lync Server 2013 Preview, a corresponding level of investment is being made in video. This article provides an overview of the most anticipated video features in Lync Server 2013 Preview.
Author: Dustin Hannifin, Unify2 Senior Unified Communications Consultant
Publication date: October 10, 2012
Product version: Lync Server 2013 Preview
Lync Server 2013 Preview includes new features that enhance peer-to-peer calling scenarios. These features include:
*Note: The VDI plug-in preview is available as a separate download from the Microsoft Download Center. See Microsoft Lync 2013 Preview in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for more information on VDI.
Lync Server 2013 Preview now supports 720p HD video—without the requirement of a quad core processor on the client side. Lync Server 2013 Preview also supports up to 1080p video using hardware acceleration on some dual core PCs.
Lync Server 2013 Preview leverages H.264 SVC/AVC as its new default video codec. H.264 brings new capabilities to Lync Server video including improved packet loss resiliency and improved video support on multiple hardware platforms—including mobile and slate devices. The move to H.264 provides easier integration between Lync Server 2013 Preview and third-party room systems. Fellow MVP, Jeff Schertz has written a stellar article, Video Interoperability in Lync 2013, that describes how H.264 works and what it means for video interoperability in Lync Server 2013 Preview.
At this point you’re probably thinking “What about interoperability with Lync Server 2010?” Remember, the default video codec for Lync Server 2010 is RTVideo. In scenarios that include both Lync 2013 Preview and Lync 2010 clients, Lync Server 2013 Preview uses A/V MCU to send RTVideo to legacy Lync 2010 clients.
Have you ever joined a video call and after turning on your video feed realized that you should have taken a minute to consider you onscreen presence, before you joined the call? Maybe you had your video camera at the wrong angle or the room lighting was poor. Whatever the case, it’s all too easy to make a bad first impression over video.
Lync 2013 Preview allows you to preview what call participants will see before you enable your video feed see Figure 1. In other words, you can now make sure you’re camera ready before broadcasting your video into a live conference.
Figure 1. Video Preview Window
When in a video call, have you ever noticed when someone seems off center in the video frame? We’ve all experienced what happens when a person shifts slightly in their chair or changes perspective. Sometimes, even the slightest movement places you off-center in your video frame. This distraction has a negative impact on the overall experience of the video call. Lync Server 2013 Preview includes Face Detection and Smart Framing features that help to ensure you’re always centered in your video frame see Figure 2. If you move slightly to the left during a video call, Lync 2013 Preview leverages the new built-in capabilities, to detect you are no longer centered in the frame. It then adjusts the camera lens to center you based your new location.
Figure 2. Face Detection and Smart Framing
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is growing in popularity. VDI enables users to leverage virtual machines running in a datacenter. Remote Desktop enables users to connect to virtual machines from other PCs or thin-clients. All of the user’s applications run on a virtual machine located in the datacenter. The end user experience is provided by Remote Desktop. Think of a traditional Terminal Server/Remote Desktop Server, except that each user gets a dedicated virtual machine with extended capabilities. Many organizations are adopting VDI to leverage the security and operational efficiency benefits gained by managing end user desktops within their datacenters.
VDI technology poses multiple challenges for applications that require real-time audio/video. Sending real-time audio/video over a Remote Desktop connection almost always results in a degraded or poor user experience. Lync Server 2013 Preview includes support for Lync audio/video calls when clients are deployed in a VDI. This is accomplished by installing a small plug-in on the local PC or thin-client. This plug-in allows the Lync 2013 Preview client to run on the virtual machine sitting in the datacenter, while audio and video are sent directly to the local client. This ensures users can leverage the VDI desktop, and still maintain the best possible audio/video experience when making Lync 2013 Preview calls. For an in-depth look at the new VDI capabilities in Lync 2013 Preview read Tarek Radi’s NextHop article: Microsoft Lync 2013 Preview in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
Note: The VID Plug-In Preview is located in the Microsoft Download Center as a separate download from Lync Server 2013 Preview.
In addition to the already mentioned video enhancements in Lync Server 2013 Preview, there are additional new conferencing scenario features. Note: all previously mentioned features apply to both peer-to-peer and conferencing scenarios.
Prior to Lync Server 2013 Preview, Lync Server provided active speaker switching for video conferences. Active speaker displayed the video feed of the current or last active person speaking. Lync Server 2013 Preview introduces a new Gallery View feature allowing for up to five active video streams (plus your own) to be displayed at one time. In Figure 3 there are five streams which include David, Jim, Diane, Ken Kwok, and Ken Circeo.
Figure 3. Gallery View
By default, the new Gallery View leverages the traditional active speaker technology. This means that during the conference you see video of the last five active speakers (Figure 3). Thumbnails of all other participants are displayed when available. When a new person speaks, his video is promoted to the gallery and the person who hasn’t spoken for the longest period of time is demoted to the thumbnail picture gallery.
For example, let’s assume Ken and Alan are in a video conference with 20 other attendees. Alan’s video is being displayed, however of all the displayed video streams, Alan has gone the longest without speaking. Ken on the other hand hasn’t spoken during the conference thus only his thumbnail picture is displayed. Someone asks Ken a question and he begins to speak. As Ken becomes the “active speaker” Alan’s video stream is removed from the gallery and Ken’s video stream is added. This process continues throughout the conference unless Video Pinning or Spotlight features are used.
Video Pinning and Video Spotlight allow further customization of the video conferencing experience. Video Pinning allows individual meeting participants to pin select video feeds to make them visible at all times, even if they are not the most active speakers in the conference.
Video Spotlight allows meeting presenters to change the video layout from Gallery View to a single video feed of a single participant selected by a presenter. Everyone in the meeting then sees only the feed of that participant.
Another highly anticipated feature, introduced in Lync Server 2013 Preview, is the new Lync Web App experience. Lync Server 2013 Preview allows users to leverage the Lync Web App for a full Lync meeting experience including video conferencing. This provides a great way for users outside of your organization, who may not be using Lync Server 2013 Preview, to have the full collaboration experience when joining meetings hosted by your organization.
Video, like other media types, should have adequate options to manage usage and ensure an optimal user experience. It’s important to understand and properly manage HD and multi-party video from a network perspective. Lync Server 2013 Preview includes new conferencing policy parameters that allow for management of multi-party and HD video. These parameters are set using the New-CsConferencingPolicy or Set-CsConferencingPolicy Windows PowerShell cmdlets. These new parameters and descriptions are shown in Table 1.
Conferencing Policy Option
By defining this parameter as part of a conferencing policy, an administrator can control which users can organize Gallery View capable video conferences—which support receiving multiple video streams. For example, an administrator may want to allow a select group of meeting organizers to schedule video meetings that support Gallery View. This could be accomplished by setting the conferencing policies parameter to True, to enable organizers to setup Gallery View capable video conferences. The administrator could set this parameter to False for users who are not allowed to setup Gallery View capable video conferences.
The EnableMultiViewJoin parameter applies to meeting participants. If a user’s conferencing policy parameter is set to False, the user can participate in Gallery View conferences but will receive a single video stream. The same user experience as Lync Server 2010.
The VideoBitRateKB parameter sets the maximum allowable bit rate (in kilobits per second) that Lync Server 2013 Preview can use from the video stream sent by a user. Valid values for this parameter are 0 – 50000. It should be noted that this parameter applies separately to main video and panoramic video.
The TotalReceiveVideoBitRateKB sets a total maximum bit rate (in kilobits per second) that can be received by a Lync 2013 Preview client. This parameter limits the bit rate on the combined video streams received by the client.
The MaxVideoConferencingResolution parameter controls the maximum video resolution on legacy clients and does not apply to Lync 2013 Preview clients. The setting remains to ensure administrators can continue to control bandwidth usage of user running clients prior to Lync 2013 Preview.
Table 1. CsConferencingPolicy Windows PowerShell parameters
Note: The Call Admission Control (CAC) features introduced in Lync Server 2010 are still available in Lync Server 2013 Preview. If bandwidth policies are set, they will be applied to the new video scenarios including conferences that utilize Gallery View.
Lync Server 2013 Preview includes new video features that enhance the user collaboration experience. These features include High Definition video conferences that provide support for multiple video streams. Lync Server 2013 Preview also includes new management capabilities that enable administrators to control the network bandwidth consumption of these new video features. As with any audio/video solution, advanced network planning and testing should be performed prior to wide scale implementation.