Sony’s effort to release “The Interview” on the Web last month ended up shining a spotlight on Crackle , the company’s streaming video service. Crackle grew out of Grouper, the video-sharing company Sony bought in 2006. Here, Grouper founder and CEO Josh Felser takes us behind the scenes from startup to sale. I returned home from Burning Man in 2002, covered in dust and the newbie’s need to show my friends and family the sparkling, desolate wonder of the Playa. I grabbed the SD card from my new Casio camera, stuck it in my Dell PC SD slot, copied all my video (and photos) on to my hard drive, opened up Yahoo Mail, selected a video and hit send. Alas, NFW was Yahoo going to allow a 10 megabyte file to pass through its servers back then. I started researching how to send large files to a private group. Mail didn’t work, FTP was unusable and pirate P2P networks wouldn’t enable connections to ”friends.” I shared my problem with Spinner co-founder, Dave Samuel, and we both quickly saw an opportunity. We pulled in two more co-founders — Mike Sitrin (ex-Spinner employee) and Aviv Eyal (met on Craigslist) — and we started building. Aviv convinced us to add all rich-media types, including music. Grouper was born. We built our own P2P infrastructure that allowed small groups of friends to share their personal media (photos, videos, music). After much debate, we decided, for legal reasons, to limit music sharing to streaming. There was legal precedent for using software to create a virtual living room or house party and thus play music free of any licensing fees
Everyone seems to be insisting on installing cameras all over their homes these days, which seems incongruous with the ongoing privacy crisis — but that’s a post for another time. Today, we’re talking about enabling those cameras to send high-definition video signals wirelessly without killing their little batteries. A new technique makes beaming video out more than 99 percent more efficient, possibly making batteries unnecessary altogether. Cameras found in smart homes or wearables need to transmit HD video, but it takes a lot of power to process that video and then transmit the encoded data over wi-fi. Small devices leave little room for batteries, and they’ll have to be recharged frequently if they’re constantly streaming. Who’s got time for that? The idea behind this new system, created by a University of Washington team led by prolific researcher Shyam Gollakota, isn’t fundamentally different from some others that are out there right now. Devices with low data rates, like a digital thermometer or motion sensor, can something called backscatter to send a low-power signal consisting of a couple bytes. Backscatter is a way of sending a signal that requires very little power, because what’s actually transmitting the power is not the device that’s transmitting the data . A signal is sent out from one source, say a router or phone, and another antenna essentially reflects that signal, but modifies it. By having it blink on and off you could indicate 1s and 0s, for instance. UW’s system attaches the camera’s output directly to the output of the antenna, so the brightness of a pixel directly correlates to the length of the signal reflected. A short pulse means a dark pixel, a longer one is lighter, and the longest length indicates white. Some clever manipulation of the video data by the team reduced the number of pulses necessary to send a full video frame, from sharing some data between pixels to using a “zigzag” scan (left to right, then right to left) scan pattern. To get color, each pixel needs to have its color channels sent in succession, but this too can be optimized.