Often used to stream live interviews on newscasts, Skype is no stranger to TV. Nonetheless, Microsoft envisions a bigger role for the technology, and the company is sharing those ambitions at the National Association of Broadcasters' 2014 NAB Show in Las Vegas.
With the conference as a backdrop, Microsoft announced Skype TX, software that enables TV studios to better integrate the voice and video streaming platform into their productions. The technology is based, in large part, on the company's recent acquisition of its broadcast partner Cat and Mouse.
Based in England, Cat and Mouse specializes in Skype-based, video over IP broadcasting software. Its CatCall works with TV studio systems to bring audio and video to air with call quality optimizations, full-screen support, and a number of multifeed management and switching capabilities.
"We've built on the existing Cat and Mouse technology to deliver a high quality hardware and software Skype integration direct into a studio environment," said Angie Hill, general manager of Skype Consumer Marketing, in an April 7 Skype Big Blog post. The new, professional-grade product "delivers high quality audio and video output to seamlessly connect broadcast and media productions with people around the world," she added.
Skype TX delivers full-frame Skype video and audio via the TV broadcast SDI standard (serial digital interface) and supports HD-SDI video input and output for high-definition programming, said Hill. Additionally, it automatically converts aspect ratio and provides balanced audio input and output. As a professional-grade product, it dispenses with pop-ups and notifications that are present in the consumer builds of Skype and could otherwise mar a polished TV broadcast.
Other broadcaster-focused features include an interface that is "optimized for broadcast workflow with API integration and call management," said Hill. Further, Skype TX enables "a single operator to manage multi-channel calls and create compelling, new formats with HD-SDI Skype video feeds direct to your switcher," she added. If issues arise, customers get specialized support from a "Microsoft-trained broadcast technical team."
A major draw is technology's global reach. Microsoft asserts that integrating Skype, a cross-platform messaging solution that is popular around the world, can help broadcasters connect with far-flung contributors, interview subjects and personalities.
Skype TX has "the un-paralleled ability to access and enrich programming content by connecting and transmitting contributors, the world over, right into the heart of the show," boasted Hill. Now, incorporating real-time elements into TV programming can be "unconstrained by geography," courtesy of a platform that has been engineered to take "the most challenging Internet conditions" into account.
As always, cost factors into the equation. Skype TX provides "content without costs" by taking transmission costs out of the picture, said Hill.
Skype TX will be rolling out later this year, according to Microsoft. The company will share more details on the new Skype for Media Website as its launch date approaches.