Prolearn Live


  What is webcasting?
  Different from Video Conferencing?
  What are the drivers?
  Key market technologies

Key Elements

ProLearn Live Trails
  ProLearn Summer School 2006



  Basic audio-visual equipment for webcasting
  Audio-Visual Webcasting Tips

ProLearn TV

We have run a series of exploratory trials of the deployment of webcasting technologies via our Network of Excellence. The latest of these was under the aegis of the Academy activity in Bled, Slovenia in June 2006 – the Prolearn Summer School. Webcasting advice and simple systems from KMi were used by JSI to manage this event. The KMi and JSI teams worked well together.

Overall, the JSI perspective on the experiment was positive:

“ Well, I think it was a useful experience to try webcasting in such an easy way. I think for the future, for example for lectures, I think we could start at least recording them by using these settings, if not {live} broadcasting them.”
(JSI Interview, June 2006)

Tomaz Klobucar, (JSI, Slovenia) and Ben Hawkridge (KMi, The Open University) liaised prior to the Prolearn Summer School to discuss the software, hardware and networking requirements to enable live webcasting from the Summer School venue in Bled. It was proposed that the event be hosted on the Prolearn TV web site, managed by the XO Backlot content management system and using a QuickTime steaming server located at The Open University. The live webcast stream would be generated using equipment JSI would provide at the venue in Bled and broadcast to the streaming server at The Open University for subsequent distribution to remote viewers. Available equipment at JSI was a Panasonic digital video camera and tripod and a laptop with IEEE 1394 (Firewire) input to act as the encoder. KMi would provide a portable radio microphone and receiver for use with the Panasonic camera.

The proposed encoding software would be Wirecast (Varasoft, 2006) however some testing was required to ensure that the PC laptop available was capable of running the software. Using instructions provided by Ben Hawkridge, Tomaz Klobucar was able to test the Wirecast software in combination with the video camera and laptop and demonstrate that it was capable of been used as a live encoder.

The next stage in testing involved the network at the venue in Bled, to ensure that there was enough bandwidth to broadcast the stream and that issues such as firewalls would not block the stream from reaching the streaming server at The Open University. Tomaz Klobucar was able to access the venue several days prior to the event and successfully test the network using further instructions provided by Ben Hawkridge. These instructions plus the earlier Wirecast testing instructions can be found in Appendix 2.

At this stage we were now confident that live webcasting of the Prolearn Summer School was possible and so made preparations on the Prolearn TV website to advertise the event and provide programming information for remote viewers. Using information provided by JSI an event page was created on the Prolearn TV site for each day of the summer school using the XO Backlot content management system. To each of these events was added a reference movie that would open the live feed from the Summer School in Bled. Availability of the live feed is controlled by XO Backlot so that it is only available during the actual broadcast times.

To provide an archive of the event it was agreed that the webcasts would be recorded. This was done by recording directly to the encoders hard drive the feed that was broadcast live, in addition the events were recorded to tape in the Panasonic video camera, as backup, an important consideration when recording any event. Further details on the exact process of creating and publishing live and replay events in XO Backlot is detailed in Appendix 4.

For this particular event, the handling of the replays was done by Tomaz Klobucar placing the movie files on a file server from which Ben Hawkridge downloaded and then post processed (edited and added meta data) before placing them on The Open University streaming server as streaming replays. At this stage the event pages on Prolearn TV were further edited (via XO Backlot) to sub-divided each day into individual presentations and then the replays added to these pages. The Prolearn Summer school 2006 replays can be found on the Prolearn TV site at the URL;

Figure 2 - Prolearn Live at the Bled Summer School, 2006

Figure 2 shows two angles of the live webcast from the 2006 Prolearn Summer School. The left image shows the video camera with receiving radio microphone. This is connected to a video encoder laptop being operated by Tomaz Klobucar, (JSI, Slovenia). The right image shows the view over the encoder laptop (far right) to the speaker. In this case, Erik Duval, (KUL, Belgium). The second laptop (middle) shows the web launch page for the event, the QuickTime streamed movie of the event (used to check the quality of the live stream. And coincidentally, it also shows a FlashMeeting stream of the same event (used here to compare with the QuickTime quality).

To explore the impressions of the JSI Slovenia participation in the trial, Tomaz Klobucar was interviewed about the Prolearn Live activity, on June 14, 2006. The feedback we have gathered from this event and from the previous trials is embedded into the Appendices attached. The unedited interview is available online.

Tomaz noted that there were a number of tricky problems he faced in this event, from problems with audio “… needing fresh batteries; no wireless microphone on the last day…”, to problems with lighting: “… especially people standing in front of the projector”. Being an effective camera person took some practice: “…as a cameraman I had some problems, {the tripod/zoom} was stiff and hard to move.” But,“… in the end I got the idea that the camera should not be moved too often!” By far the worst thing, was the camera itself: “… that we didn’t have a manual for the camera – so we couldn’t prevent the camera going into standby mode”.

Despite these issues, Tomaz noted that the experience was a good one: “I did not quite experiment, I just followed your instructions, which were very clear”. The best thing was that the elements used fitted together well. He was especially impressed by the encoding technology: “… wirecast {the encoding software} worked really smoothly, we just set the settings… turned on the camera … We used some other videoconference systems which required a lot of time to prepare in advance... we just turned this on… and everything went really fast”.

In retrospect it is felt that extra guidance to Tomaz on how best to handle the practical aspects of videoing seminars, taking into account issues such as lighting, and basic audio visual checks would have improved both his experience of webcasting the event, and also the final quality of the webcasts themselves. Appendix 1 includes some useful tips to address this point.

ProLearn TV Summer School Replays

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

Contact: Kevin Quick

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