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At home, I'd like to move my main Windows installation off of my desktop computer and replace it with a virtualized guest installation on my combined file server, web server and media center. The server is always on so I plan to connect with Remote Desktop locally from my desktop computer, or remotely from a 3G laptop, whenever I want to access this main installation with all programs etc. Windows 7 everywhere (and server needs to keep running it in order to provide Windows Media Center).

When running over LAN from my desktop computer I would really like to be able to stay in the virtualized installation for as many tasks as possible. I've tested running the guest in Windows 7 Virtual PC, connecting to it with standard Remote Desktop, and most things work really really well except that video can be quite choppy. I can see that RDP7's Windows Media Player redirection is working nicely, as WMV files play smoothly, but unfortunately most of the video content I watch is Flash based (seminars, Google TV on Youtube, etc) and doesn't get that speed-boost.

So, can I improve this in some way to get better [Flash/non-WMV] video performance? Can I optimize the setup somehow?

Or are there alternative remote display products with better Flash performance? (I read that Citrix does Flash redirection, but the product suite seems very enterprisy)

My current LAN is 100Mbit, but I can easily upgrade to 1Gbit, if needed.

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4 Answers

Video over remote desktop is notoriously bad, and the only way you will be able to get anything near decent speed is through video redirection as you have already mentioned.

Gigabit will improve things somewhat, but the whole way that RDP (and all other remote desktop systems) works really doesn't handle high refresh rates of large areas of the screen at all well. That is why video redirection was implemented, because it isn't up to the task without it.

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Yes, the size of the video area makes a big difference on the choppyness. I'm thinking that if I can just squeeze out a bit more performance out of RDP it will probably be bearable for "youtube sized" videos. I wonder if any of the RDP accelerators would help, or if they are mostly geared towards low-bandwidth scenarios? Or if MS RemoteFX makes a notable difference for videos? –  mikewse Mar 21 '11 at 12:14
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After investigating a bit, it looks like some of the virtualization products own remote access solutions are the most promising, such as VirtualBox's VRDP, KVM SPICE and Hyper-V RemoteFX. These are all RDP compatible but do additional stuff to optimize the delivery of "often changing" areas, some by compressing with a lossy codec. I've only tried out VirtualBox VRDP so far, and am unfortunately seeing a fair bit of bugs, but it looks like the basic model works as video does play smoother.

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You can also try Ericom Blaze,a software product that accelerates and compresses RDP by as much as 25 times so you'll get higher frame rates and reduced screen freezes and choppiness.

You can read more about Blaze and download a free evaluation at: http://www.ericom.com/Blaze

Note: I work for Ericom

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You do not want to be displaying the virtual desktop on the VM server then trying to view it remotely with RDP etc. better to run the virtual session headless with the display being run on the remote workstation. Your chances of getting satisfactory video performance are not good. Plan to view the video localy and run everthing else on the virtual.

The problem here is that the original video is highly compressed and optimised. Once it's been uncompressed to send to the display device, it's a much much bigger datastream which will result in either a) bandwidth problems trying to send it uncompressed or b) CPU load if trying to recompress it then send it down the line then decompress it (a second time). Remote display is not realy designed or intended for this sort of thing. But as you point out, Microsoft appear to have engineered their RDP to pass through WMV video in compressed format. It'd be optimisitic to expect anyone to do that for flash compressed video.

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I'm actually already running the guest headless and then connecting to it through Remote Desktop from the remote workstation. Or du you have another way of connecting to the guest display? –  mikewse Mar 21 '11 at 12:02
    
Oops, pressed Enter too soon. Yeah, I'm aware of the bad odds in getting performance in this scenario, just trying to find the best configuration possible. There actually are Flash redirection products such as hdx.citrix.com/hdx-flash, but they seem to force you to bring in a lot of other infrastructure. I was thinking maybe there would be some more light-weight alternatives. –  mikewse Mar 21 '11 at 12:06
    
I just read that VirtualBox does its own video optimization in its RDP server solution (virtualbox.org/manual/ch07.html#vrde-videochannel) so I'll check that out! –  mikewse Mar 21 '11 at 16:53
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