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Drivin' down to the Killer App Expo
Benjamin J. Higginbotham
The Technology Evangelist team will be driving to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the Killer App Expo on Monday and streaming the car ride via UStream.tv. This will be an interesting experiment to see how well EVDO and Ustream.tv can deal with a cross-country drive. I'm thinking bandwidth won't go so well, but we'll see (that 1xRTT coverage is going to hurt us pretty bad). While we're at it I thought I would mention the technology we are using to make this all happen. This is one huge test, and the tech that goes behind it is... interesting. To stay up to date with everything we have going on, subscribe to our Technology Evangelist twitter account at http://twitter.com/te.

We start with a Logitech QuickCam Ultra Vision. This is mounted on the dashboard of the car and pointed back to the passengers. The camera is offset towards the passenger side of the vehicle since the driver should be concentrating on driving, not video streaming. From there the camera is plugged into a MacBook Pro in the back seat via a USB extension cable. We use a program called CamTwist to add the lower third banners as well as switch between the USB camera and the built in iSight. This switching allows us to have a conversation in the front or back of the vehicle without having to bring an expensive hardware video switcher. CamTwist also allows us to roll in video segments while we're stopped or simply don't want to chat.

Steve, the author of CamTwist was nice enough to write a quick Quartz effect that allows me to bring in a scrolling RSS feed and place it anywhere on the screen. If you have CamTwist 1.3 and would like to add this functionaltiy you can download the effect here. Simply place the file in your 'effects' folder beneath the CamTwist application (/Applications/CamTwist/Effects for most users). Click on 'File' then 'Refresh Effects list' in CamTwist and you should see a new effect called 'RSS Ticker'. Add the RSS feed of your Twitter account and you'll find all your scrolling info from twitter on the screen. Uber cool! When you're broadcasting live on UStream.tv select the 'CamTwist' input under your camera option. This is what will allow UStream.tv to see all the effects you have added to CamTwist. Frankly this is one of the coolest pieces of software I have seen in a long time and I would encourange everyone to help Steve out in any way possible so we can continue to see great developments come from this. I should mention that Steve wrote a quick build update for me to help with a glitch in USB cameras, so we're running a build not avialable on the web site. When Steve updates the CamTwist software (after some more testing) it will include this USB camera fix as well as the RSS ticker by default.

Audio is messy. The MacBook Pro has a built in Mic which seems to work great, but it's only going to be good for the rear passenger. The front passenger would have to use the mic built in to the Logitech cam. And what about the audio from the videos we want to roll in? To deal with all this we have a copy of Audio Hijack Pro which will re-route the audio to a virtual mixer called Soundflower. I hijack the mics I want to use, re-route them all to Soundflower. I then take the system output and re-route that to Soundflower too. This means that any mic coming in to the system as well as any noise the computer makes (such as a QuickTime video playing) will all go to Soundflower. From there I simply select Soundflower 16 as the input source in the UStream.tv broadcast window and we're golden! The problem I'm seeing so far is that the audio off the Logitech mic has a lot of noise in it whereas the audio from the MacBook Pro's mic is very, very clean. Need to figure out what's wrong with the Logitech audio before I can roll that in to the mix. My fall back plan is to have a cheap Mackie 1202 mixer next to the MacBook Pro that's broadcasting, and use our wireless lapel mics that we have for the HD video cameras. Not as sexy, but video is 80% audio and that may help us if we can't get the Logitech mic to work.

Bandwidth will be tricky. I have an ExpressCard|34 EVDO Rev A from Sprint in my MacBook Pro. This will auto-detect the fastest network. I fear that most of the ride will be 1xRTT and that won't have nearly enough upload speed for UStream.tv. Heck straight EVDO hardly has enough. I'm not sure how well that will work out, but stick with us as we try and push WAN technology to its limit!

We have a lot of hacks and beta software in the mix here, but it should be a load of fun! Make sure to follow us on Twitter and watch the UStream.tv feed whenever available. We'll also be lurking in the UStream.tv IRC chat room at chat1.ustream.tv in room #technology-evangelist.

Oh, and this is what the back looks like after we put the HD video gear in, but before our luggage. Cool.




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