Friday, March 27, 2009

Inexpensive Video Streaming

Streaming video is becoming more common all the time. Point-to-point video, such as Skype, is already huge. But what do you do when the subject to be video streamed is on a distance stage or in a dark room? Web cams were made for people sitting in front of a computer. To my surprise, modern video cameras do not stream video nor do many of the "YouTube" video cameras. I did find a solution but it was not an obvious route: the Sony DCR-HC38.

The newer video cameras can transfer files to PCs and allow for editing of content located on the camera, but very few can stream. Even "YouTube" cameras, such as the Flip, don't stream. While YouTube does not offer live streaming, it does allow live recording. The Flip cannot not handle even this mode. Perhaps Cisco will add this capability now that they have purchased Flip.

I looked at top-end web cams and they simply don't have the optical zoom and steady-shot features I wanted. If all you want to do is to sit in front of your PC and Skype someone, a web cam is fine. However, if you want to stream a performance on a stage, a speaker at a distant podium, or a sporting event, webcams don't cut it. Sony has a new "Webbie" camera, but it doesn't have streaming.

The good news is that some older video cameras can handle web streaming -- and those cameras are now inexpensive as vendors discontinue older models. The unit I found is the Sony Handycam DCR-HC38 ($180). You'll need to contact Sony support for new USB drivers not found on the install CDs. The USB works with XP. If you want to run this on a Mac, you'll need to use the i-link (i.e. firewire connection). I have not tried out the firewire connection with my Mac, but I have used the USB on my XP laptop using Skype and one of my streaming services, Mogulus.

Mogulus is a great service for broadcasting public content. The most significant downside is that they don't have mechanisms for restricting access to a broadcast. Their paid-for offering does have privacy settings but it's far too expensive for non-commercial use. Kyte, another streaming service, does offer private broadcasts, but it's limited in terms of functionality as compared to Mogulus and it has a 60 minutes limit. That's a lot in YouTube terms, but not enough for many meetings/events. I'm now exploring It does not have time limits and it allows for free private broadcasts -- with commercials. I have not used it as yet, so it may have downsides I don't yet know about.

If you think you might want to do video streaming, buy one of these discontinued cameras before new and probably much more expensive cameras hit the market. Yes, the new cameras will have better video quality -- but the extra quality will not translate to the image seen via the Internet.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Look mom, no wires! (Wireless Vue cameras)

Avaak has a new web cam system -- Vue -- that does not require a computer, Ethernet wires or even a power cord. Additionally, while it transmits over the Internet using wireless signals, that signal can ride over links between camera units. These units use mesh networking to link one camera to another. At the end of the chain is a base station that links to your network. Mesh networking is a great way to extend a network's range well beyond the source of the school's Internet connection.

These units can be great for a school that needs to get a video camera to a difficult to support area. Because the units require no wires, it should be easy to put these cameras into weatherproof enclosures and us them outdoors. These could be used to monitor the parking lot, play ground, and other places that video cameras have difficulty being installed.

Another aspect I like is that this is a mobile system. As long as you have some access to the Internet for the base station, you could "string" the video cameras all around a special event, such as a sporting event or a performance in on the stage.

These cameras use lithium batteries for power. I have no idea how long these unit operate. Fortunately, given the fact that the units broadcast over the Internet, it should be easy to see when a unit has run out of power.

I should point out that broadcasting over the Internet does not mean the video streams are public or even that the video goes over the public Internet. Your school may just want to use it for internal coverage and have the signals stay on the school's LAN.

In any case, this system does appear to solve a number of video needs that are not otherwise easily addressed.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Flexible display gettting closer to school

Flexible screens appear to be one step closer to being in the schools. The video above shows a demo of a small version of a flexible screen. Of course, one of the things I noticed was that the display can written on, as well.

I think one of the main benefits for a display being flexible is not so much that it can be rolled up, but because it is probably going to be able to resist the physical punishment of being carried in a heavy book bag or crammed beneath a desk top.

Ebooks have always had promise of being replacements for paper textbooks, but this new invention would also allow students to do homework and take tests on the hardware. The possibilities are truly exciting.