We all stream for ustream.tv

As part of my volunteer activity for the Society for Technical CommunicationCanada West Coast chapter, I offered to evaluate some streaming video technology we may use to kick off our program meeting in September. Tonight I worked through some of the details with the meeting organizer, and in the time we spent chatting about our needs, I set up an account with ustream.tv, broadcast a live video feed from my webcam, and recorded a little snippet that featured some special guests.

Start the year off with a bang

Since the spring of 2008, we branded ourselves as a virtual chapter, and shifted our focus from face-to-face meetings to online communities like a forum and wiki attached to our web site. Forums and wikis aren’t new. Most of us have encountered them in our workplaces. Some of us are even expected to administer such beasts. The STC CWC forum and wiki are excellent vehicles to give our members additional experience with the technology. Even more, volunteers who administer the forums gain a technical advantage over general contributors.

One area we had yet to try live video streaming. Our chapter extends all the way up the BC coast and out to Vancouver Island. As we were planning to kick off a new season in September with a face-to-face program meeting, we wanted to find ways for our remote members to participate. In addition to local presentations from our chapter president and some of other volunteers, a bonus attraction will be a live webcast streamed from Adobe in San Diego.

While multimedia production and online communications are my forte, I specialize in coordinating specific knowledge from experts in their fields. When I need to know the ins and outs of anything to do with video, I fire off an email to Bruce Sharpe, asking him questions like:

  1. Would he be willing to record a video of our meeting, like he did with the XDocs/XMetaL presentation in January, and
  2. If he knew of any cheap or free ways to stream live video from our meeting room. You can’t get more virtual than live video.

Bruce recommended ustream.tv, so I tried it out. We had to be sure the system was easy enough for everyone to use.

Now presenting

ustream.tv streams high quality video from a host computer through a browser-based plugin. For my experiment I used Mozilla Firefox. At the time, the ustream.tv website featured a live Chris Pirillo stream, so we know it also works on a Mac. I was really quite impressed with the video quality through my Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks. The audio feed was from my laptop’s built-in stereo microphones. If the quality was this good through my webcam, the video should totally rock through Bruce’s high-end gadgetry.

Within seconds I had embedded the video player into a page on my website, and showed my friend my smiling face once I clicked Start Broadcast. Over the phone I could hear the website video stream was a few seconds delayed. Not bad for a high quality stream sent from my laptop to ustream.tv’s servers, then back out to my website. When my friend switched to the ustream.tv page for my broadcast, the delay was only milliseconds. Now we’re cooking with gas.

When my special guests arrived unexpectedly, I knew I had to capture a sample for my blog. Thankfully, next to Start Broadcast is the Record Broadcast button.

Broadcasting Live with Ustream.TV

ustream.tv also provides a chat feature, that opens in a separate window for users to type messages in real-time. One way I see this used in a live presentation would be to assign someone the task of monitoring the chat window, who would flag the presenter with questions at appropriate times. As a presenter I can choose to let unregistered viewers participate in the chat feature as well. They can already chat with other individuals, so it’s not to much to have them join the group as a whole.

The mortally paranoid can set up a password for users to watch their show. I never thought to do that, but I suppose it would be a good idea for closed events. To add a password, select the advanced tab and type something like “olympicgold”. From this point on, users would need to type that phrase in order to view the show when I broadcast live. Users will also need this password to view my channel on the ustream.tv website.

Pretty darn close to perfect

The only caveat is that if a user visits different pages where the show appears, it creates another instance for that user in the stream list. Because I had the ustream.tv presenter window, a firefox window for my blog, and another window for the ustream.tv page, three “tonychung” users appeared in the viewers list. My friend didn’t register for an account, so she appeared as two separate ustream-{random number} accounts. Also, I couldn’t log in using my openid, so I was forced to create a new account.

A feature that could be construed as a bug is that the chat window only shows the messages from the time the user opens it. This means they miss any chat history from the time before they arrived. I can see how this answers the cries for privacy from most Internet users. Funny. Why do we all get involved with social media, then lock out all the fun stuff? That doesn’t make sense. Edit: I notice that since I embedded the chat window on my page, all the messages are visible on the server. I probably didn’t set something up right in the first place.

I found out another cool feature as I briefly tried out the service while writing this entry: I can keep my channel working live, and broadcast whatever I want from this page. When my camera is offline, I can set the video feed to show an image, a slide show, or rotate previously recorded video clips.

This is a totally smart system.

We now return me to my regularly scheduled work regimen.