Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Streaming video over the net - Quicktime, Ustream.tv and Watershed

We've been making extensive use of Google Video Chat for corporate communications (and with my aged mother, but that's a future post), but it's strictly point-to-point.

We need to share a video stream (audio not needed) from site meetings to remote users. This is remarkably hard to do.

You might not think this is a challenge. You might recall a 1990s fad of using a desktop webcam to share daily tedium -- or webcams that broadcast traffic. Or you might think of a large industry that specializes in "recreational" webcam use (an industry that just about killed the quality desktop webcam).

Alas, it would be most unwise, not to mention unsavory, to use those recreational services for corporate video broadcast. Besides, we actually want image clarity.

I haven't been able to find many options other than the high end professional services.

The one thing I've come across is the combination of Apple's recently resurrected QuickTime Broadcaster for OS X (compresses video input) and Apple's somewhat quiescent QuickTime streaming server.

Apple's free QuickTime Broadcaster for OS X (FAQ) will support firewire video capture, such as from a Canon Camcorder as well as iSight input. It can only output to a single destination however, such as a (Windows/Mac) QuickTime Player or (more importantly) OS X Streaming Server. (Yes, the name is misleading. Also the documentation is obsolete, iSight no longer exists but it now works with any 10.5 video source).

In theory it works with both Intel and PPC machines, but my G5 iMac couldn't compress the high quality video output of my Logitech Vision Pro webcam fast enough.

To do real broadcasting you're supposed to stream the output to a QuickTime streaming server (part of OS X Server, $400) or a multicast network. (This discussion is useful).

It turns out that DreamHost, a well regarded web hosting service, provides the open source version of QuickTime streaming server -- the Darwin QuickTime Streaming Server. Live streaming (broadcast a meeting) is not officially supported, but it works. The configuration looks like this ...

  • Local OS X laptop provides live feed (OS X Broadcaster) to Darwin Streaming Server
  • Darwin Streaming Server provides on demand stream
  • Users access stream from a specially configured web page that embeds QuickTime call.

I've played with this configuration briefly, but there's very little material on the web about it. That makes me wonder if there's any way to make it really work (Apple is very quiet, for example). However I found IAMedia really had used DreamHost's streaming video. They've prepared a nice tutorial of how to make it all work, including how to embed the stream in a webpage.

Problem is, they've run into quality of service issues with DreamHost. So they've recently switched to ustream.tv -- a ad-funded startup specializing in personal broadcasting.

Alas, ustream.tv isn't very corporate, though it's not as off-base as the "recreational" services of old.

Happily, ustream.tv sells a private label service called "Watershed".

... Watershed is Ustream's self-serve platform for live, interactive video. Flexible for everyone, Watershed offers plug-and-play as well as robust API integration solutions. Organizations both small and large can customize Watershed to meet their specific needs and build global communities around shared live experiences....

Watershed charges $1 an hour/user for pay-as-you-go pricing.

That's about right for my corporation ...

Update: Watershed isn't super trivial to setup, but by the standards of video streaming it's very simple. I created the two web pages (broadcast and viewer) on one of my servers and stuck the embedded code in. Worked pretty well. Cost for our use would be about $50 to $100 monthly, so it looks like something I can justify.

So I was wondering, where the heck was Watershed all the time I've been looking for an affordable corporate video broadcast solution?! Turns out they launched 2 weeks ago. They're probably not even advertising yet.

Update 3/6/09: A few cautionary notes on Watershed

  • I don't see an automated way to discontinue an account. I do like to see that.
  • They don't provide any information on which credit card you're billing billed against
  • The "Support" link doesn't have any link to contact support (there is a separate contact link)
  • When I tried it this morning it was broken.
Update 3/24/09: After my initial testing I was never able to get it to work. Tech support was responsive, but it didn't clear up the trouble I was having. I decided to step back and wait until there are more players in this market. Then I discovered there was no way to remove my account information...

5 comments:

CinePost Sales said...

John,

This streaming service is something that companies need to figure out. At my company, we just want to be able to embed higher quality video in our website so clients can demo our film restoration quality without me having to ship them a DVD demo. I found this site at http://streamhoster.com/streaming_services.html while looking for a solution.

I need at least 600kbps sustained download speed and most servers can't do that. Can Dreamwave offer robust downloads?

Maybe Streamhoster has what you need. I enjoyed your post and hope you find what you're looking for.

Keith said...

I'm struggling with this as well. So far it seems livestream.com offers the best solution, but their desktop app (which allows greater than 320x240) is only available on PC.

I'm trying to hack together a solution using Camtwist>QT Broadcaster talking to justin.tv or similiar, but it's not a simple process.

KCygan said...

Maybe this will help guys??

http://www.justin.tv/p/quicktime

Anonymous said...

Have you changed your opinion about Watershed? I've seen you can upgrade and downgrade your acount in your profile option.

Abused by Watershed said...

I have had problems with using ustream watershed because they billed me for extra months after I cancelled my billing cycle. Then they claimed I never cancelled it. I guess I am so stupid that I didnt realize that I really DIDNT cancel it even though I am a webmaster and create hundreds of sites myself. STAY AWAY FROM WATERSHED. Their billing practices are sneaky and you will be sorry when you use them