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Part of the Ustream control panel showing Finchley broadcasting.

Finchley TV goes on air

The Dream and Ustream

How it works

Has your club ever had an evening that you wanted to share with others - maybe members of the club who could not come or anyone else who might be interested? At Finchley, we have been wondering about this and our interest quickened when Arthur Bates wrote to Film & Video Maker magazine on the same subject. His dream was:
  • That he could use his PC to watch a software demonstration at an IAC club many miles away
  • Be able to ask questions and get answers in real time

First, we looked at using Skype but this only allows one-to-one video communication not multiple viewing. Unfortunately, commercial video conference facilities are expensive but now there is an alternative called Ustream. This enables you to broadcast sound and video live on the web free. You create your own video channel on the Ustream site and then you can send pictures to it from your webcam so they can be watched in real time.

Even better, they offer free software called Ustream Producer which offers transmission of:

  • live sound and video
  • still images
  • recorded video files in MPEG4 format
  • sound files

Moreover, you can cut/dissolve between them.

The Finchley TV title card.

This sounded to be just what we wanted so we set out to see how it worked in practice. At our club premises, we are fortunate to have access to Wi-fi and a decent laptop and so we had all we needed.

On Friday 19th November we tried FinchleyTV via Ustream for the first time, narrow-casting to a pre-selected band of viewers to watch and assess.

Technically the set up routine was as follows:

  • we connected the laptop to the internet using Wi-Fi
  • we connected a HDV camera via firewire to the laptop which recognized it as a DV device (you have to set the camera to downsize the output to DV). You can of course use a DV camcorder and it may be possible to use a USB connection instead depending on the camera.
  • The Ustream producer software was set running and it immediately recognised the camera feed and showed the camera image in the transmit box
  • We logged onto the Ustream service and activated the broadcast setting
  • We opened up www.ustream.tv/channel/finchley as 'off air'. We set the feed running and then it got exciting as it took only 7-10 seconds for the transmitted picture to feed all the way to Ustream's server, be encoded and return all the way back. We could see both the outgoing and incoming pictures on the same laptop. Although this was a bit much for the poor little laptop and although the incoming picture was very jerky we discovered this was not a problem for our viewers.
  • There was one other thing to do before the actual transmission, produce a 'test card' - in other words an image with 'FinchleyTV test transmission' which could be used when you wanted to cut the picture.

The First Transmission

Next Steps

On the night, rather than rely on the on-board mike we put a rifle mike on a stand and pointed it at our guests. This worked fine as we had two speakers who moved about as they talked - I monitored the sound on headphones from the camera and from the laptop to check captured and incoming quality.

At the appointed time, we logged on, put up our test-card, and cut the sound - remember your viewers can hear every word including you swearing at the kit for not working properly.

Our guest speakers started their talk about being a drama producers and directors for the BBC - and very interesting it was. We turned on the sound and dissolved to the picture and seconds later we saw that we were indeed broadcasting to the internet and even better shown that we had 4 viewers - everyone we had asked.

A close-up of the actual broadcast picture.

On returning home I was very gratified to receive emails saying how much the broadcast had been enjoyed. Over in the USA Ned Cordery was getting just as good a result as Dave in Bath.

However we did have a problem when our guests wanted to show some video - I pointed the camera at the projected image on our big screen but I could tell and our viewers confirmed that sound or vision were not very good.

The following morning Arthur in Morayshire got in touch - ironically, he was getting a poorer picture than Ned in the USA - probably because his internet speed was lower - that was the defining factor not distance.

I hope there are others who would like to join in this experiment. Although most evenings are not suitable (do you really want to watch our annual competition?) we do have some interesting guest speakers each year so I am looking for volunteers to view the next FinchleyTV broadcast. If you are interested, please contact me at Finchley.Film.Makers@googlemail.com

Some of the Ustream control icons.

Meanwhile we are wondering how this could be developed. There are various issues to consider

  1. Many speakers want to show a DVD and to improve the quality these have to be broadcast direct. Unfortunately, DVD players do not have firewire out. Therefore, to show DVD video in pristine quality we would have to convert it to an MPEG4 file, which Ustream will accept. Of course, any video in DV or HDV can be shown from the camera via firewire so DVDs dubbed to DV could be shown. Fortunately I have now found a solution by using a mini DV deck (not a camera) which will accept analogue DVD and output it via a firewire.
  2. To cover a live event properly you should have two or more cameras. I have semi- solved this using the DV deck mentioned above but it is not ideal. Potentially more suitable is some software called Ustream Producer Pro that accepts the use of multiple cameras as well as captions. Unfortunately, it costs $199.
  3. After our test our viewers reported that we were delivering YouTube levels of quality and we have yet to try Ustream at the various available quality settings to judge whether we have any bandwidth problems in delivering higher quality.
  4. Our club has a laptop (connected to a projector) with a firewire input and the Wi-Fi, essential to do this -I wonder how many clubs have these facilities.
  5. We have to beware copyright issues and ensure someone does not decide to stream the latest Harry Potter movie DVD.

Full screen grab of Ustream transmission program.

Interaction and experiment

From a club point of view, this idea has tremendous possibilities - our county members, other clubs or individuals would be able to share our evenings live on Friday. Alternatively, any programme (a pre-recorded evening or anything else) could be streamed on any suitable evening for interested groups or people anywhere in the world; no more sending out DVDs. With the prospect of a wider audience, more speakers might be interested. Software companies could set up demonstrations for multiple viewing. The IAC might be interested in setting up talks and demonstrations as a service to clubs.

If both clubs had these facilities then interclub competitions between any clubs would be possible - irrespective of where they were and anyone could watch.

However, Ustream is a one-way service and we think the scope of this service could be enhanced considerably by interactivity. We need some way that the viewers could ask questions which can be relayed in real time to the presenting club. Using a (mobile) phone would work (sort-of) but would be cumbersome and intrusive. Possible computer based solutions such as instant messenger services, Twitter or email look possible on paper but have yet to be tested.

We plan to broadcast more evenings in 2011 and are looking for interested clubs/individuals who can watch any of these broadcasts and provide feedback. We are also looking for technically adept club members who can join me/Finchley in developing the idea and getting the standard of broadcasting to high levels. I hope you are as excited as I am about this. Please get in touch with me to stake your interest.

Another group of Ustream control icons.- Peter Kidman (Finchley.Film.Makers@googlemail.com)

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Page updated on 17 January 2011
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