Over a year and a half after Citrix and Microsoft introduced our jointly developed solution for delivering Skype for Business in virtualized environments — whether on-premises or in the cloud — the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack remains the only virtualization solution for Skype Meetings and audio-video conference calls. And now our solution is even better, with significant improvements to video quality and user experience in the latest Optimization Pack 2.3 release and the August update to the Skype for Business client (Current Channel / Click-to-Run).

And guess what? We just hit a new milestone! Over 250,000 Daily Active Users of the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack for Skype for Business. We couldn’t be prouder and are excited for what’s to come.

The marquee feature of Optimization Pack 2.3 is Simulcast Video. Until now, Skype Meetings and conference calls were served by a single unicast video stream. Since the Skype for Business Audio-Video Conferencing Server is a relay server, this video stream was delivered to each participant without transcoding. This meant that the video quality for all participants was determined by the device operating at the lowest resolution, a phenomenon known as “lowest common denominator video”. (For a review of the factors affecting video quality with Skype for Business, see CTX222553). Now, with Simulcast Video, conference calls and Skype Meetings can be served by multiple concurrent video streams.

Why is this a big boost to user experience? Consider a conference call between two meeting rooms. At the front of each meeting room, a large monitor displays the video feed from the other meeting room in glorious High Definition at 30 frames per second. Now someone joins the meeting from their smartphone, or from a native Skype for Business client, but with just a small video window on the screen. With unicast technology, the video resolution would drop for all participants. Suddenly, the HD video in the two meeting rooms would change to much lower resolution. On the large monitors, the video would appear heavily pixelated. With Simulcast Video, however, the HD stream continues to be sent, and a lower resolution stream is added. Everyone enjoys the best possible quality. And still there is no need for transcoding on the A-V Conferencing Server. It simply relays the appropriate video stream to each endpoint.

Properly and reliably supporting the Microsoft A-V Conferencing Server is no small task, which explains why the Microsoft-endorsed, co-developed Citrix HDX RealTime Optimization Pack is the only solution capable of optimizing multi-party calls and Skype Meetings when the Skype for Business client is virtualized. And now with Simulcast Video, the solution just got even better, delivering higher video quality to all participants, while continuing to observe the bandwidth policies set on the Skype for Business Server.

Delivering high video quality on wireless connections is especially challenging. Wi-Fi networks are prone to packet loss due to multipath signal propagation and electromagnetic interference. Optimization Pack 2.3 now makes more extensive use of Forward Error Correction to preserve video quality even in the face of significant packet loss.

Further improvements were made to the Optimization Pack and the Skype for Business client to deliver a great user experience on conference calls as the active speaker changes. Protocol enhancements were implemented that make the transition from one speaker to another faster and smoother.

We’ve also simplified software updates for Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) and at-home computer users. In addition to the single-download, single-install bundle of Receiver for Windows and HDX RealTime Media Engine, we now offer auto-update for both Windows and Mac users. Administrators can control auto-update through policies. Unmanaged devices obtain the policy settings from StoreFront, whereas managed devices are supported through Group Policy updates.

You can learn about these and other new features of Optimization Pack 2.3 in the “What’s New” page of our product documentation. Meanwhile, we are polishing off a new version of the HDX RealTime Media Engine to run on the HDX Raspberry Pi, as demonstrated in Microsoft’s video webinar and at the Citrix Synergy 2017 conference in Orlando. This will be released through our partner, Stratodesk. Although the HDX Pi has a low-cost ARM processor for its CPU, we have achieved real-time video conferencing on this device by unlocking its on-chip Broadcom OMX H.264 encoder, which supports 320×180 and 480×270 resolutions. When higher definition video is required, a hardware-encoding webcam such as the Logitech C930e can be used.

No other vendor offers the range of device support for virtualized Skype for Business that Citrix offers: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Windows IoT, Windows Thin PC and more, plus Mac OS X, many different Linux distributions through our Citrix Ready thin client partners, Wyse ThinOS through our partnership with Dell, and soon the HDX Pi. And at Synergy, we announced our collaboration with Google and Intel to develop an HDX RealTime Media Engine for Android-capable Chromebooks.

With the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack, organizations of any size can enjoy the security, agility, management and mobility benefits of virtualizing Skype for Business, with no compromises in audio-video quality, server scalability or user experience. For additional information on the solution, visit more.citrix.com/skype and if you happen to be at VMworld, be sure to visit the Citrix booth for a demonstration.