YouTube Live Streaming Graduation Ceremonies

Last Saturday saw the campus taken over for Edge Hill’s winter Graduation ceremonies and I was there to see the Real Jenny Barrett graduate.

Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur
Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur

We’ve been streaming graduation ceremonies live online since Summer 2008 – I blogged about the use of eStream at the time – and the system has worked very well and allowed us to both stream to people watching at home and keep an archive of past ceremonies.

As I said in the previous post we were particularly pleased with the quality of video compared to other platforms such as YouTube and hosting ourselves offered more flexibility for embedding in our site.

But that was then and this is now and as you would expect, cloud services have upped their game.  YouTube now supports full HD, videos are available on a range of platforms from mobiles and tablets to TVs as well as watching on the YouTube website or embedding into our site. Combine this with the additional visibility that publishing to YouTube gives us as students share videos with friends.

So for the last couple of years we’ve been using a hybrid of live streaming with eStream and a Flash Media Server hosted in-house and uploading the archived footage to YouTube. Patiently we’ve been waiting while Google first launched streaming for some major events, then last year introduced Hangouts On Air but with a “Google+” DOG burnt into the corner of the video.

Finally in August, Google lowered the subscriber threshold for enabling live streaming to below the level that Edge Hill’s account has and we gained access to the fancy “Live events” screens:

Create a new event - YouTube

 

Technically the process is very similar to what we had previously: a PC in the control room captures the mixed video output from a Tricaster, encodes it using Flash Media Live Encoder but instead of pushing to our own Flash streaming server, the feed is sent to YouTube who handle transcoding and sending out to viewers.

Colleagues in Learning Services were manning the desks but from a viewer’s perspective it went very well. The public feed ends up with about a 30 second delay from live after it’s been through YouTube’s processing but as long as people sat in the audience aren’t trying to tune in that’s not noticeable.  The feed resolution is comparable to what we had previously but at 480p it seems subjectively better quality and on mobile devices it looks great.

December ceremonies have historically had lower live stream views than the summer ones (fewer people on campus) but we had up to 61 concurrent connections watching for an average of 17 minutes:

Graduation Statistics

You’ll see we ran a single stream all day rather than individual events. This made it easier to manage from the control room as FMLE could be set up once and run all day but it means that the individual ceremonies must be uploaded again for the archive – it’s not possible to use YouTube’s online editing tools for videos over 2 hours long.

Overall I’m very happy with how it went. We’ve purchased a new video capture device which unfortunately we couldn’t get to work in time but that will offer additional future proofing and the ability to stream at up to 1080p!

Update: it looks like now all YouTube users of good standing will be able to stream through both YouTube live and Hangouts On Air.

That 3D thing

James Cameron's AvatarLast week my brother who is the last person in the world I’d expect to hear give a film recommendation, phoned me to wish me a happy birthday and then went on to tell me that I just had to go and see Avatar, coming from him, it had to be good.

So on Saturday I took the family. The effects were astounding and you really feel that you were watching an event, the future of how all visually rich films will have to be produced to come anywhere close to this. That said, the plot was typically Hollywood but you couldn’t fail to give it 9/10 for entertainment (I never give 10).

A couple of weeks ago the first 3D TV was trialled in pubs in Manchester, using an Arsenal v Manchester United match.

So with all this 3D about I wondered if there was any 3D web development going on. Seems like there’s quite a bit. Here’s a sample of 3 flash sites using 3D (some take a little while to load):

  1. http://ecodazoo.com/
  2. http://www.whitevoid.com/portfolio.html
  3. http://www.cleoag.ru/labs/flex/parkseasons/

These are all of course Flash sites and more and more we’re seeing opposition to building sites in flash, with some people controversially venting their spleen.

There are few alternatives in javaScript or SVG. So for now I think that Flash will continue to lead the way in this experimental media.

Video killed the radio star

If you’ve seen the homepage of the Edge Hill website since the new design went live you’ll see something we’ve not done before – embedded video featured predominantly on the site. Of course we’ve had video on the site for ages – we’ve been linking to a Windows Media streaming server for a several years and more recently we’ve been converting video to Flash so it can be embedded in pages (on the Careers website for example). The user experience has been mixed – availability of broadband wasn’t universal, plugin support was often sketchy and the process of getting video from tape to web complex.

That’s all changing though. The BBC iPlayer has brought online video to the masses. No longer is video a novelty, it’s expected as part of the whole website package and our job is to meet those requirements. So we’ve invested in new systems to create and manage video throughout the process from capture to encoding and streaming. The media development team have acquired a Tricaster box, currently located in the control room in the Faculty of Health, which allows them to do live mixing and a whole load of other things. IT Services (or should that be Steve Daniels) have installed an eStream system to encode and store video.

The first time you might have seen these used in anger is for the Graduation ceremonies last month. There we (Media Development and Web Services) successfully mixed the ceremony and streamed live video across the campus and onto the internet. We peaked at around 70 simultaneous connections and many more in total over the three ceremonies.

The eStream box allowed us to broadcast live video in Windows Media and Flash Video formats to ensure maximum compatibility with different systems. Since then the archive video has been available for viewing, again in both WMV and FLV formats.

As part of the new website design we wanted to allow video to be more widely available throughout the site. Corporate Marketing have been generating video specifically for the website and we needed a way of embedding this. There are a couple of aspects of the eStream system that I wasn’t particularly happy with and these were addressed specifically for the website.

Firstly we maintain our own database of videos that are used on the corporate site. Here we can store extra, website-specific information, tag videos correctly, and abstract the complexities of the eStream system – we don’t care whether video is hosted on the eStream box or elsewhere.

Secondly we use a different Flash video player. The one provided by the estream box isn’t very flexible and frankly looks a bit ugly. We’re instead using the open source FLV-Player which gives us more flexibility in how it looks and what features to offer.

The video functionality for the website isn’t just on the backend – we’re adding features on the website too. Each video has its own page which is linked to across the site, and we encourage others to link to through social bookmarking systems. For an example check out one of the TV Advert pages. On this page you’ll also see that we provide code to allow you to embed the video in your own page. Here’s what the same video looks like embedded right here:

We’re particularly happy with how this looks, especially compared to some other video sites. Here’s the same video embedded from YouTube:

It’s worth noting however that YouTube have started providing higher quality versions of some videos to view within their own site, but (currently?) only low quality versions are available for embedding.

This is just the beginning of video on our websites. Over the coming months we’ll be creating much more content – everything from students talking about courses through to the next round of inaugural lectures – and making them available even more deeply within the site.

If you think all this video really does mean the death of the radio star, fear not – we’re looking at podcasts too.

BBC launches iPlayer

Have I Got News For YouThe BBC announced a couple of months ago that they were launching a new streaming version of their iPlayer catchup service. On Wednesday it was unleashed to the hordes of eager Mac and Linux users who’ve been locked out of the desktop client. It’s a neat system and one of the best Flash video clients I’ve seen.

While reading about the iPlayer launch I came across some more very interesting things from the BBC, but that will have to wait for another time…

BBC get with the times

BBC LogoThe Beeb announced yesterday a couple of new services they’ll be offering before the end of the year. Firstly, and the one which has got the most publicity is that the BBC websites will be available free via The Cloud wifi hotspots. The Cloud have had quite a bit of publicity recently – first a partnership with O2 to provide access to iPhone users and then one with McDonald’s to provide free wifi access in their restaurants.

There have been the usual mumblings about anti-competitive behaviour and the dominant position that the BBC’s online services have in the market but I’m not so interested in that – I’m more interested in the proliferation of wifi access. With the iPhone due to launch in the UK next month, the majority of students coming to university with a laptop and a wider awareness of wireless networks, there is potential do do a bit more in this area.

If iPhone users are going to be actively looking for wifi connections, why not give them one? Why not open up our wireless network to offer easy access to content for visitors to the campus? When we host conferences we could publish the programme via wifi. During open days we could give access to campus maps and guides. The rest of the time staff and students could get access to GO and other services without the need to log in to the hotspot.

The other announcement was more interesting to me:

The broadcaster has signed a deal with Adobe to provide Flash video for the whole of the BBC’s video services, including a streaming version of its iPlayer.

Finally after 10 years of RealAudio/Video and many years of Windows Media Audio/Video have they decided to adopt the one system that has proven itself to be stable across multiple platforms while offering high quality at relatively low bandwidths. Many people’s opinion of Flash video is tainted by the poor quality (in every sense) YouTube experience but it’s actually a very good format and if you’re not being stingy with bandwidth, quality is very good. An update to to Flash Version 9 including H.264 support will boost this even further.

Some have said that the BBC has been slow to adopt new technologies and adapt to all this new fangled Web 2.0 lark but these announcements show that maybe Auntie has just woken up from her afternoon nap…

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