January, 2001 | If you can hook up a digital camcorder
to the Internet, you can stream video around the world.
It's a nice idea, but as the novelty of fishbowlcams and
bathroomcams wears off, successful Web video will demand
more compelling and informative content. And it will need
to leverage both traditional and new production values.
In the last MOVING
PICTURE [November 2000, p. 60Ed.], we talked
about how Media 100 is morphing its traditional video editing
system into a Web video editor. By adding an HTML track
and metadata to the traditional Media 100 timeline, videos
(played in a browser) will dictate changes in the Web pages
around them with supporting text, graphics, surveys, etc.
Yet one of the driving forces behind streaming video is
facilitating live video content that can link people with
timely events and each other. Distance learning, remote
presentations, public announcements, and coverage of special
events could all benefit from Media 100's ability to control
accompanying Web pages and provide reference information
on-the-fly. But how do you edit a live, linear presentation
in a non-linear editor's timeline?
Imagine a live television broadcast like a talk show or
sporting event. If it's well-produced, you rarely think
about the control room where someone with headphones and
a two-way radio is talking to camera people and making spot
decisions on which feed to take at any given moment. The
producer works side by side with a switcher, an operator
who sits at a large panel with buttons, knobs, and levers
that physically control which camera goes live to air. The
producers decide which camera is best and the switcher makes
it happen with the touch of one of his many buttonsall
invisible to the contented viewer.
With live events, decisions have to be made immediately.
Should that base hit to left field get picked up by the
center field camera or the one behind home plate? Cut to
a close-up for the intense emotion on a talk-show guest's
face. Live, there's no time for clip trimming and reordering
in the timeline.
Of course, the output of one of those large-panel switchers
can connect straight into a RealVideo, Windows Media, or
QuickTime/Sorenson real-time encoder to create a video stream.
Pinnacle Systems even has a standalone processor called
Stream Factory that encodes to both RealVideo and Windows
Media simultaneously, though software encoders for both
run on standard Windows Workstations and require a relatively
inexpensive digitizing card (like Viewcast's Osprey).
If you don't have one of those big-panel production switchers,
Pinnacle also has StreamGenie. Sold in a luggable field
computer, StreamGenie has six video inputs into its own
digitizing hardware and a software interface that emulates
switcher functionality. It leverages Pinnacle's effects
hardware to seamlessly mix the multiple camera inputs.
But neither a standard switcher nor StreamGenie leverages
the Web like Media 100i with its incorporation of HTML information
and dynamically changing Web. A live sporting event wouldn't
be the same without the plethora of statistics brought to
screen when a player steps up to bat. News clips use captions
to identify on-camera witnesses, and talk shows wouldn't
be complete without the helpful captions explaining that
a guest, say, "performs witchcraft on small dogs."
Those captions can be compressed, but the tiny bandwidths
of typical streaming video aren't very kind to computer-generated
additions. The sharp edges of text and graphics are extremely
difficult to compress, and the encoder devotes too many
of its sparse bits trying to make the sharp edges look sharp,
which leaves the rest of the picture looking weak. A better
solution is to use a browser that is innately able to display
captions, statistics, and graphic information. The trick
is to synchronize the HTML information with the video.
eStudio Live is solving that problem for live streaming
video much as Media 100i is doing in the editing timeline.
With a traditional switcher, canned captions are programmed
into a framestore or still store where they're ready to
go with the touch of a button. The eStudio Webcasting switcher
is, in appearance, much like other video production switchers.
In addition to storing stills for its traditional video
outputs, eStudio also stores HTML-page URLs that can contain
the same type of supporting information professional production
switchers would expect, except in a form that's right for
eStudio sends a video output to a RealVideo encoder workstation
(likely with an Osprey or other digitizing card) through
standard video cables. It's the second connection, a serial
data connection through an RS-422 port, that transmits the
additional HTML data for Web pages to be linked with encoded
video. The viewer sees a video in a browser window with
the eStudio-programmed Web pages, synchronized with the
Admittedly, this is not a revolutionary idea. Service
companies like presenter.com have been offering similar
presentation productions for several months, including the
potentially nasty business of hosting and serving the video
stream. And, large Web infrastructure companies like Akamai
and Digital Island have business units that will produce
live Webcasts with serious bandwidth and serious fees.
Yet as Internet bandwidth grows and corporate intranets
become more comfortable with the demands of video, visual
presentation will become commonplace as a way to communicate.
When it does, it will require tools like eStudio Live that
make video more than just a novelty.