NASA Clears IPTV for Takeoff in Calif.

Internet Protocol TV has officially become a space-age technology. Next month NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., plans to flip on an IPTV system to broadcast news and weather channels over its internal 1-Gigabit-per-second Ethernet network, along with its own channels that carry live video of flight tests.

The IPTV system will replace an analog radio-frequency cable switch that the center currently uses to distribute CNN, C-SPAN, The Weather Channel and NASA-generated video channels to televisions.

Dryden is using Optibase's MGW 1100, a multicast streaming-video system that provides MPEG-4 H.264 video and audio. The center's approximately 1,000 employees initially will use the free VideoLAN MPEG-4 player software on their PCs to access 16 channels with near-term plans to offer 24 channels.

The center also plans to deploy IPTV set-top boxes from Amino Communications in areas where engineers want to view the channels on TVs.

Will Spencer, an information-technology specialist at Dryden, said the IPTV system will be one-fourth the cost to upgrade compared with analog cable. The equipment to add a new channel in the existing system would cost about $30,000, he said, whereas the Optibase IPTV system provides the capability to transmit four channels for that much.

“It was getting more and more expensive to maintain and upgrade the RF system,” Spencer said, though he didn't have an estimate on the price tag for the whole IPTV project.

Spencer said the center decided to use MPEG-4 H.264 video because that provided better quality than MPEG-2, the current cable industry standard. Plus, MPEG-4 is a more efficient compression algorithm.

“We're not short on bandwidth, but we don't want to waste it, either,” he said.

NASA's IPTV channels, which are all delivered in standard definition, will be transcoded down to 1.2 Megabits per second per channel.

Spencer said that no one at Dryden could tell the difference in quality between 1.2 Mbps and 2 Mbps streams.

After the initial rollout, he added, the Optibase system may be upgraded to support high-definition video.

Located inside Edwards Air Force Base, Dryden is NASA's center for aeronautical flight research and atmospheric flight operations, and also serves as a backup landing site for the space shuttle.