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Multimedia Multicast Applications


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Multimedia Multicast Applications



Real-Time Protocol



Session Announcement Protocol



Session Description Protocol



MBone Multimedia Conferencing Applications




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Developing IP Multicast Networks, Volume I

From: Developing IP Multicast Networks, Volume I
Author: Beau Williamson
Publisher: Cisco Press (53)
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4. Multimedia Multicast Applications

For many people, the first thing the term IP multicast brings to mind is video conferencing. Therefore, it is very likely that your first exposure to a multicast application will be one of the many exciting multimedia applications used for video and audio conferencing. Because these multimedia conferencing applications are so popular, taking a closer look at some of them makes sense.

This chapter starts by exploring some of the underlying protocols used by multimedia conferencing applications. The first two—Real-Time Protocol (RTP) and its companion protocol, Real-Time Control Protocol (RTCP)—are used to encapsulate the multimedia conference audio and video data streams and to monitor the delivery of the data to the end-stations in the conference. Next, this chapter examines the Session Announcement Protocol (SAP) and the Session Description Protocol (SDP). Conference-directory applications use these protocols to announce and to learn about the existence of the multimedia conference session in the network. Finally, this chapter looks at the popular MBone multimedia conferencing applications that provide video and audio conferencing as well as some limited data sharing.

Real-Time Protocol

RTP is a network layer protocol, documented in RFC 1889, that permits applications to transmit various types of real-time payloads such as audio, video, or other data that has real-time characteristics. RTP typically rides on top of User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and can be used over either unicast or multicast data streams. The protocol also provides payload type identification, sequence numbering, and timestamping, as well as a mechanism to monitor the delivery of the data.

RTP itself does not provide any guaranteed delivery mechanisms and normally relies on the lower-layer protocol to perform this function. Because it frequently rides on top of IP and UDP (as is the case for most multicast multimedia applications), however, RTP depends on the application to deal with the problems of lost datagrams and out-of-order delivery. These conditions can be detected by the use of the Sequence Number field in the RTP header.

RTP consists of two components:

  • The RTP component, which carries the real-time data.

  • The RTP Control Protocol (RTCP) component, which provides information about the participants of a session and monitors the delivery of data by using some simple quality-of-service measurements, such as packet loss and jitter.

The next section provides an audio conference example to describe the properties of RTP further.

Using RTP and RTCP to Audio Conference: An Example

Multimedia multicast applications typically allocate a multicast group address and twoports: one for the RTP data stream (in this case audio) and the other for the RTCP control stream. In most cases, the control port is numerically one higher than the data port.

The incoming audio signal is sampled in small, fixed time slots (for example, 40 ms) by the audio application. The audio from these time slots then is encoded using one of several audio-encoding schemes (pulse code modulation [PCM], adaptive differential pulse code modulation [ADPCM], linear predicative coding [LPC], and so on), and the encoded data is placed inside of an RTP packet. The header of the RTP packet contains a sequence number and a timestamp as well as an indication of the encoding scheme used.


The Robust Audio Tool (RAT) is an audio conferencing application that uses multiple encoding methods to provide some redundancy to the audio data stream. The RTP packet contains an audio sample encoded using a primary encoding scheme followed by one or more audio samples encoded using some secondary encoding scheme. The audio samples that follow the primary sample are delayed slightly so that they can be used as an alternative if the primary data in a previous RTP packet is lost or corrupted.

When the audio application receives an RTP packet, the sequence number and timestamp in the RTP header are used to recover the sender's timing information and determine how many packets have been lost. The encoded audio data sample in the RTP packet then is placed in a play-out buffer with previously received audio samples. The audio samples are placed in the play-out buffer in contiguous order based on their sequence number and timestamp so that when they are decoded and played out to the speaker, the original audio is recovered.

The play-out buffer also serves as a de-jitter buffer. Congestion on the network can lead to variable interpacket arrival times that result in choppy audio playback. By using a larger play-out buffer and then delaying the play out of the data until the buffer is nearly full, variations in jitter can be smoothed out and choppy audio playback avoided. The downside of using a large play-out buffer is that it introduces delay in the audio stream. The delay is not a problem for one-way audio broadcasts, but it can become a problem if the application is an interactive audio conferencing tool.

Because it is useful to know who is participating in the conference and how well they are receiving the transmission, the audio application periodically multicasts a receiver report (RR) in an RTCP packet on the control port. These receiver reports contain the user's name and information on the number of packets lost and the interarrival jitter for each source in the conference. Senders can use this information to determine how well their transmissions are being received by each receiver and, in some cases, change to some other encoding method to try to improve the reception. RTCP is described in more detail in the next section.

Senders also periodically multicast sender reports (SRs) in RTCP packets to the same control port. These sender reports contain the same information as receiver reports but also include a 20-byte sender information section that contains timestamps, bytes sent, and packets sent on the data port. Members of the group can use this information to compute round-trip time (RTT) information and other statistics on the traffic flow.

RTP Control Protocol

All RTP-based applications use RTCP periodically to transmit session control information to all participants of the conference to accomplish the following functions:

  1. Provide feedback on the quality of data reception and, in many cases, modify encoding schemes to improve overall reception quality. Third-party applications can also use this information to diagnose delivery problems and to determine areas of the network that are suffering poor reception quality.

  2. Uniquely identify each transport layer source in the conference by the use of a canonical name (CNAME). This CNAME may be used to associate several data streams from a given participant as part of a single multimedia session. This is important if you are trying to synchronize audio and video data streams.

  3. Transmit RTCP packets so the total number of participants can be determined. This is required of all participants in order to accomplish functions 1 and 2. The information is necessary so that the rate at which RTCP control data is transmitted can be adjusted to some small percentage of the total session bandwidth.

  4. Distribute information (username, location, and so on) that identifies the participants in the session in a user-friendly manner. This information normally is displayed in the user interface of the application.

If you are using RTP over IP multicast, functions 1, 2, and 3 are mandatory to allow the application to scale to a large number of participants. The fact that many of the popular multimedia multicast applications use the RTP model has the following very important implication on multicast network design:

  • Every end-station in an RTP-based multimedia multicast session is a source of multicast traffic!

Even if the end-station is tuned in only to the video broadcast of the company meeting and actually is not sending any audio or video data, it still is multicasting periodic RTCP packets and, therefore, is a multicast source and receiver. Because the end-station is sending multicast traffic also (albeit at a low rate), this traffic is likely to cause a multicast state to be instantiated in some or all routers in the network, depending on the multicast routing protocol in use. The additional state generated by these so-called receivingend-stations should be (and more often is not) considered when doing multicast network design, because some multicast protocols do not scale well with large numbers of senders.


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