Experiments with Digital Video for Community Networks

The Canadian Province of British Columbia (BC) covers a very large...
The proposal was to make use of BCCNA's existing "Provincial Server" and set aside a
portion of that device for the operat...
Don Irvine of Comox Valleylinks and BCCNA will address this aspect during the

The Tatlayoko Think Tank is using ...
still images, and live and recorded audio sources. It even enables you to produce titles,
fades and wipes. Your video prod...
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  1. 1. Experiments with Digital Video for Community Networks The Canadian Province of British Columbia (BC) covers a very large area, 947,800 sq. km. Public access to the Internet is available in well over 200 BC communities. The British Columbia Community Networks Association (BCCNA), a not for profit society founded in 1993, acts as a support agency for the groups managing these public access sites. For the past three years, BCCNA has held an annual conference. Serving a group of communities spread over such a wide area is a daunting task. In 1999 the BCCNA executive decided that they would experiment with using digital streaming video technology to address the problem. History and Development Accordingly, the 1999 conference was held in three communities (Vancouver, Vernon and Prince George) With the assistance of our corporate and institutional sponsors, "Real Video" channels were utilized to link these three communities together. Thus all three communities could interact. When it was their turn to present, the audiences at the other two locations could see and hear the presentations. The main conference was held in Vancouver with Vernon and Prince George acting as satellites. In addition, two individuals gave presentations via videoconferencing, one from St John's Newfoundland, on the other side of the country, and one from Ottawa, the national capital. The overall result was very positive, although the technology did prove to have limitations. Live interaction between the sites was very difficult owing to a perceptible lag for the round trip between sites. The small Webcams used at two of the sites gave less than satisfactory coverage. Another noticeable drawback to the experience was the lack of personal interaction with the larger group for the attendees at the satellite sites. Shortly after the 1999 conference, Apple Inc. released their "QuickTime" streaming software. BCCNA determined to experiment with this software. One of the main reasons being that, unlike "Real Video", there were no per channel costs, the server and client software were both available for free download over the Net. Some initial investigations with turning standard video sequences into QuickTime streams were successfully carried out. The next step was the successful negotiation of a development contract under the "Community Learning Networks" program of the Canadian Ministry of Human Resources Development, Office of Learning Technology.
  2. 2. The proposal was to make use of BCCNA's existing "Provincial Server" and set aside a portion of that device for the operation of a "QuickTime steaming server". This facility could be used in two ways: 1. As the server to make available live remote broadcasts. 2. As an archival repository for productions by various community groups. To gain experience with live broadcasting, a portable unit, consisting of an Apple "PowerBook" laptop computer and a Sony 8mm digital video camcorder was acquired. Both units employ the relatively new "Firewire" technology that enable them to be linked together for real time transfer of digital signals. The end result can be referred to as "have TV station, will travel" - at least for Internet video stream broadcasting! The first operational use of this facility was the conducting of a seminar in Montreal, where the audience was watching themselves with the video and audio signals being reflected back to them over the Internet from the server in Victoria. A few days later, at the European launch of the GlobalCN 2000 series of events in Brussels, the same equipment was used to record most of the sessions for later archiving. Selected content from this event is currently available at: http://www.tc.ca/global2000/ At the urging of a member of the BCCNA executive, a special recording was made featuring a number of the Brussels attendees sending greetings to their Canadian colleagues in both English and their mother tongues. The resulting recording of greetings in some seven languages was subsequently presented to the audience at the 2000 BCCNA conference in Whistler, British Columbia. It was extremely well received and was a high point of the conference, illustrating as it did the broadly based international interest in all aspects of community networking. This footage is available as part of the above archive. At this same event in Whistler BC in late April 2000, the portable unit was used to stream the conference sessions live to the Internet as well as to record them for archival purposes. The broadcast was successful and selected archival sessions are available at: http://www.bccna.bc.ca/conf2000/streaming.html Two of BCCNA's member organizations in BC have also been developing the capacity to work with video streaming. Comox Valleylinks Community Network has continued to work with "Real Video" and has developed several productions in that format. These can be seen as follows: http://media.vnode.com:8080/ramgen/cvciss/Whit_and_Rob.rm http://valleylinks.net/wcdi/ http://valleylinks.net/agroforest/index.shtml#gary http://valleylinks.net/wcdi/postcards/doni.html
  3. 3. Don Irvine of Comox Valleylinks and BCCNA will address this aspect during the session. The Tatlayoko Think Tank is using QuickTime technology and embarking on a very ambitious project to record events and present them to the world from their small, very rural and remote community. Samples of their work can be found at: http://pentium.tc.ca/movies/ttt/ Techniques and Software Live Streaming requires real time streaming software to be installed on the machine originating the broadcast. These programs handle the video and audio compression required. At present, the only really good, inexpensive alternative is "Sorenson Broadcaster". This is commercial software so it is one of the only mandatory expenses, other than hardware, that is required for a community wishing to use this technology. The program receives the signal coming from the camcorder and converts it to a video and audio stream which is sent to the remote server. The link at the initiating site can be as simple as a dial up modem connection. The server, which would typically be installed on a machine with a high bandwidth connection to the Internet, handles all the requests for connections to view the live stream. Sorenson Broadcaster is a fairly sophisticated program giving the user access to video and audio level displays etc. It even reports the number of connections that are currently viewing the stream on the server in real time. It is not yet recommended to try and record the live stream on the server for later archiving. A much better option is to record the signal in the camcorder while it is being sent to the on site computer. To produce a streamed archive clip from a recorded tape, it must pass through several steps. The best bet seems to be Apple's "iMovie" software for processing the recorded image, and assigning start and end points for the clip. The resulting QuickTime sequence is best for high bandwidth applications. When storing an archive for viewing, you should take into account that your viewers will have varying types of connection to the Net. A program called "Media Cleaner" can be used to prepare different versions to allow for the varying speeds of connections from users. The amount of information (and resultant window size) that can be accessed by a 28.8 dialup is much less than that available to a full 10 megabit connection. The same job can be done with iMovie, but Media Cleaner is faster and more automated. Apple's "iMovie" software, which is available for free download over the net, is very versatile. In addition to the ability to record video clips it has provisions for importing
  4. 4. still images, and live and recorded audio sources. It even enables you to produce titles, fades and wipes. Your video production studio can travel with you. Apple's QuickTime technology is becoming quite popular. Numerous examples of its use can be found at http://www.apple.com/, ranging from movie trailers to music videos to BBC television news broadcasts. On this same site can be found iMovie and the server and client software. The server software is available for Mac OS and Linux and the client software runs on most popular computer systems. Gareth R. Shearman Telecommunities Canada British Columbia Community Networks Association shearman@victoria.tc.ca