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The Moving Picture
Prime Time. Live!

Jeff Sauer

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. 60–Ed.], 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 buttons–all 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 the Web.

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 video.

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.

Jeff Sauer (jeff@dtvgroup.com), columnist for The Moving Picture, is the Director of the DTVGroup, a research and test lab that regularly reviews tools and technology. He is an industry consultant, an independent producer, and a Contributing Editor to New Media Magazine, Video Systems Magazine, Presentations Magazine, and AV Avenue.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.


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