My son and I conducted our third and fourth live webcasts over Ustream.tv today from the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, about 30 miles outside of Washington D.C. Udvar-Hazy is an extension of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum which opened four years ago, and houses a wonderful array of aircraft and spacecraft in several enormous aircraft hangers. Our favorites in the collection were the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, the Space Shuttle Enterprise (STS-101 Orbiter,) the Corcorde, and the Mars Pathfinder Lander Prototype. This is an exceptional museum, and is certainly well worth visiting.
In our first webcast from the observation deck near the center’s entrance, we discussed the SR-71, the STS-101 Space Shuttle Enterprise, the P-40 and the F-4U aircraft.
In our second webcast from underneath the Concorde aircraft, we discussed the Concorde, a little about the Enola Gay B-29, and recapped many of the learning moments from the past week in Washington D.C. We switched roles for the second half of this webcast, and Alexander let me interview him. We also got some audio input from one of the security guards at the center.
For today’s webcasts over Ustream, we ratcheted down our video quality considerably (to 25% picture quality) and ratcheted up our audio quality (to 30 kHz.) This worked better over our 3G AT&T cell network connection than the higher video quality settings we’d used on Sunday from the Air and Space museum on the mall in Washington DC. The audio was not clipped and had a good, constant quality, but the video quality certainly leaves a lot to be desired. I think it is WONDERFUL Ustream allows this type of audio and video quality adjustment. Ideally, I think I’d like to experiment and use a higher level of video quality (at least 50% picture quality) but maintain the same level of audio quality. Whether or not bandwidth can support that is a local, context-driven question. Here are a few lessons learned from our four “remote field trip” Ustream.tv webcasts to date:
- CHARGE YOUR BATTERIES: Battery life for remote webcasts is essential. On both days of our webcasts from Washington DC this week, I failed to fully charge the laptop battery we were using. Ideally you want a full laptop battery, a spare battery, and a portable battery pack that can provide additional power to your laptop and possibly camcorder. An extra, charged camcorder battery would also come in handy.
- USE AN EXTERNAL CAMCORDER: For our webcasts this week, we used a small, handheld Sony digital camcorder. This video quality was far superior to the video quality obtainable from a built-in iSight camera. iSight cameras ARE great, but with an external DV camcorder the person serving as the webcast videographer can zoom in and out as needed on subjects, and frame video shots much more flexibly.
- USE A LONG FIREWIRE CABLE: A long firewire cable is essential when using an external DV camcorder. Although the laptop you are using for the remote webcast can be wireless / unplugged from electricity as well as a wired Internet connection, the camcorder must be plugged in.
- CONNECT WITH LOCAL VIDEO FIRST: Using a Macbook running OS 10.5.2 and Ustream.TV this week, we had repeated problems with our web browser crashing when the video source in Ustream was initially set to DV Video and DV audio. This happened in three different browsers: Safari, FireFox, and Flock. We do not know why this happened, but we did figure out a workaround. By connecting to Ustream FIRST with local video and audio settings, and THEN (after the connection was established) plugging in the external DV camcorder and switching the video and audio input sources, we were able to successfully webcast using the external DV camcorder.
- CHECK LOCAL BANDWIDTH: I like to use the Internet Frog Speed test website to check my upstream and downstream bandwidth from a particular location. I don’t know what the exact requirements for Ustream are, but generally anything less than 200 kbps is probably not going to work for a webcast or videoconference, from what I know and have experienced.
- TEST VARIOUS USTREAM QUALITY SETTINGS: The first two times we conducted a webcast over a cell phone data connection, the audio was clipped because the video quality we’d selected was too high for available bandwidth. By reducing video quality and increasing audio quality, we avoided this “audio clipping” problem. Experiment with different settings to find an optimal combination for your available bandwidth and purpose/needs.
- SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE: If possible, schedule the date(s) and time(s) of your webcast in advance, so others will know when they should be able to check in online to catch your broadcast. Remember folks around the world are in different time zones, so use a website like WorldTimeServer to provide a link to the exact time in GMT and/or a helpful link people can use to see the date/time for their local area.
- ANNOUNCE ON TWITTER: It can be helpful to announce your webcasts on Twitter to let others (who are following you on Twitter already) know about the availability of your webcast. Since people using Twitter at a particular time are generally interested in “live updates,” chances are good at least some of those folks will want to check out your live webcast and provide feedback – especially if you solicit it!
- CHECK LOCAL PORT SETTINGS IN ADVANCE: If you are using a hardwired ethernet connection or WiFi connection to the Internet, rather than a cell phone data connection, if possible check to see if Ustream is useable via that connection in advance of your scheduled conference. More hotels and other locations providing free WiFi are utilizing network configurations which prohibit streaming video, including the ports utilized by Ustream. If you can test for this functionality in advance, you may be able to save yourself headaches and disappointments later.
- BE READY WITH EXTRA QUESTIONS: The chat feature of Ustream is wonderful for soliciting questions from viewers, but depending on your Ustream channel settings users may be required to establish an account and log in to submit something. This can delay their abilities to submit text questions or comments, if they have not pre-registered with Ustream. For folks you will be inviting to the webcast, recommend that they pre-register with Ustream and login before your webcast begins.
- BRING EXTENSION CORDS: If you can conduct your entire webcast without electrical or ethernet wires, more power to you! (Literally!) Depending on time and the status of your respective batteries when you start your webcast, however, you may need to “plug in” one or more of your devices. Remember this can include three different things: Your digital camcorder and laptop to AC power, and your laptop to a wired ethernet connection (if applicable.) Bring an extension cord and power strip to insure you have enough electrical outlets if needed.
It was certainly fun to successfully conduct four separate live, remote webcasts over Ustream this week from Washington D.C. (See my March 9th post, “Partial victory web-casting from the Smithsonian” for the first two videos and initial lessons learned.) We learned a great deal, and I hope to apply this knowledge in the future to some “new media” grants I’d like to write to support students and teachers traveling to interesting destinations and utilizing a variety of new communication and publication technologies to both document their learning activities and share those experiences with other learners “back home” as well as around the world who are not able to physically join in the field trip learning with the group. My experiences in December 2007 helping facilitate successful videoconferences with Pearl Harbor survivors and veterans to Oklahoma learners planted the seed for this idea. Hopefully it will bear some fruit in the months to come! 🙂
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