Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learning to teach in the virtual classroom

Greeting from the ANU Menzies Library Flex Lab (which appears to have been designed by a dentist), where I am in a course on how to use Wimba products for online education. At the moment we are learning about "Wimba Classroom" which appears to be an adaptation of a classic video conferencing interface (and similar to DimDim). This provides audio, video, electronic whiteboard, text chat and similar. This appears intended for real time classes, but does include an "archive" option which records all the interactions. It is suggested to have at least 56kbps. It can also be used in a physical classroom. What is interesting about this is the assumed educational and business model behind the mode of teaching.

Apart from Wimba Classroom, there are an assortment of other Wimba products. What surprised me was that these do not appear to be integrated: Wimba seems to have bought a series of separate applications for creating course content and different forms of communication and then just re-branded them all with "Wimba". As an example Wimba Pronto is a course content creation tool, previously sold under another name and similar to USQ ICE.

Wimba Classroom seems to work as well as other video conference products. It also has the same limitations as other such products. Sufficient bandwidth is required and also low enough latency if video or audio is used. There is an appreciable delay in slide dis-play even when we are all in the same physical room, connected to the ANU's very high speed network.

In addition the application emphasises visual aspects, as an example, slides are displayed for a presentation as bit mapped images. Apart for requiring more bandwidth, this precludes reading of the slides by people with a limited (or no) vision. Even with the presenter's slides in the demonstration I had difficulty seeing. Web pages and documents in some other formats can be designed to allow use with assistive technology. But this assumes there is some text in the content for a Braille or text-to-speech system to use. The bit-map images in Wimba Classroom and similar system do not allow for this. Institutions using such facilities need to keep in mind that Australian law requires access for the disabled, where possible: this is possible and so required.

Wimba Classroom can be integrated with Moodle (also used by ANU). I was easlity able to add an entry in a Moodle course for a Wimba Classroom. The idea is the students can read notes and then at the scheduled time enter the real time online classroom. Unfortunately at this point Wimba Classroom failed. I was impressed with the real time support provided by the company supporting ANU's e-learning system. Within seconds we were in contact with the support staff by real time chat, they excluded the problem to the "NOC" (Network Operations Centre) somewhere, who diagnosed a new problem with the interface between Moodle and Wimba and got to work to fix it. This incident highlights the need for good support for these e-learning facilities, particularly those working in real time.

There appears to be much more work needed in the design of the integration of e-learning tools. This is not just a matter of ensuring that the software works and the links are fast enough. Currently there appears to be a disconnect between the text rich non-real time tools such as Moodle, and graphic rich real time tools such as Wimba Classroom. Some continuum between the two should be technically possible. This would allow for more graceful dealing with technical problems: rather than the student being simply cut off, the system would degrade into a non-real time mode. Students who could not see images, because of limited bandwidth (or because they are blind) would get alternative content. Also this would allow for more andragogical modes of teaching: students could select a form of content and interaction which suited them.

Wimba Classroom and similar products force the participant to select a mode of communication, such as text, audio or video, rather than being able to communicate using whatever media is avialable and suitable.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ScreenACT Project Pod

ScreenACT Project Pod has 24 places available for the first phase in helping Canberra based digital content developers, with entries closing 10.00am 29th March 2010. The project is designed along similar lines to the InnovationACT annual event run by the ANU. There is a nine page "Project Pod: Application Form and Guidelines" avialable, as well as Key Dates and FAQs about the project.

ScreenAct Vision

ScreenACT offers support with the general aim of helping to develop the local screen industry, thereby enhancing the ACT production industry’s capabilities and employment opportunities.

Project Pod Aim

Project Pod is a professional and project development opportunity that aims to build capability in screen project development, increase networks, and support a group of targeted projects through to a market-­‐ready stage.

The program has four main phases, which start with broad learning goals, then narrow down, focussing on key teams to help them refine their projects to the point that they are ready to take to market. As part of this, several top projects will receive extra funding.

Guiding Principles Screen

ACT supports:

  • the film, video production, TV and digital media industries.
  • projects that are intended to result in commercial or business focused outcomes.
  • applicants who have started their careers and can demonstrate professional experience.

ScreenACT will give preference to:

  • participants who show a commitment to the six-­‐month process.
  • projects intended for production and post production in the ACT and Capital Region.
  • applications that are professional in their presentation, thought and execution.


About ScreenAct Project Pod

The ScreenACT Project Pod is a six-­‐month program that is open to all professional screen practitioners (individuals and teams) in the ACT/Capital Region. It consists of four phases:

  • Phase One – Two workshops
  • Phase Two – One-­‐on-­‐one project development
  • Phase Three – Industry Feedback and future project plans
  • Phase Four – ScreenACT Grants allocated to as many as four selected projects Selection for the Project Pod is competitive.

Phase One will include up to 24 participants. Phases Two through Four will have up to ten participants.

Project Pod will be led by a number of different providers, and tailored to the needs of the individual participants based on their project’s format and genre.

  • Phase One will be delivered by Stephen Cleary, who is an international script consultant and developer, and by ScreenACT
  • Phases Two and Three to be delivered by local developers with oversight and input from Stephen Cleary and
  • Phase Four delivered by ScreenACT.

All participants for all phases to be selected by an industry panel, with ScreenACT acting as secretariat, and with the sign-­‐off of the CEO of Canberra Business Council on final participants and funding.

Phase One costs participants $600 for the two workshops. The first workshop is over four days, and the second over two. Phases Two through Four have no participation cost.

The program covers narrative and story, introduction to development practice, pitching and presentation skills, introduction to producing, networking with industry professionals and Screen Australia representatives, and one-­‐on-­‐one professional development assistance on a project basis.

Project Pod projects can come from film, television or digital media industries. ScreenACT will consider projects that include but are not limited to:

  • Feature films, television drama series, mini-­‐series, telemovies, broadcast length documentary, television documentary series, reality TV series and digital media projects.
  • ScreenACT will NOT consider the development or production of TV commercials, corporate videos, or training videos

PLEASE NOTE: As this is the pilot ScreenACT Project Pod, ScreenACT reserves the rights to make changes to the project as deemed necessary. ...

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must be residents of the ACT or Capital Region (as shown on the map on ScreenACT’s website:

Applicants must have started their careers and be able to demonstrate some degree of professional experience.

Applicants must be Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia, and be 18 years old or older.

Applicants can be individuals or up to a team of two. The team leader must attend all sessions. The second team member is expected to attend all sessions, however there is some flexibility on this issue.

Applicants must be the producer, director, and/or writer of the project. Applicants must also be the copyright holder, or have an option to the rights in any and all works on which the project is based. The charge for phase one is per person regardless of individual or team status....

Key Dates

Applications openFriday, 19th March, 2010
Applications closeMonday 29th March, 2010 – 10.00am
Phase One successful applications announcedThursday 1st April, 2010
Phase One: First Project Pod Workshop (4 days)Friday 23rd – Monday 26th April, 2010
Phase One: Second Project Pod Workshop (2 days)Saturday 1st – Sunday 2nd May, 2010
Revised treatment dueFriday 14th May, 2010 – 5.00pm
Phase Two successful applications announcedFriday, 28th May, 2010
Phase Three Workshop (1 day)Saturday, 19th June, 2010
Delivery of agreed project deliverablesFriday 1st October, 2010 – 5.00pm
Phase Four Workshop (3 days)Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th October, 2010


Assessment Criteria

In assessing applications, the ScreenACT Assessment Committee will mark applications against the following criteria:

  • Qualification under the general guidelines and guiding principles
  • Originality and strength of concept
  • Commercial viability of the project
  • The strength of the creative team
  • Commitment to the entire process
  • Likelihood of the project proceeding into production


From: Project Pod: Application Form and Guidelines, ScreenACT, 19 March 2010

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Screen Australia and film industry

Greetings from the Screen Australia road show. A government review of support for the screen production industry, including the Producer Offset, is due out today. But at the same time Screen Australia is seeking input on the future of the film industry. CEO Ruth Harley is speaking at a road show around Australia and today is Canberra's turn. The meeting is at the CSIRO Discovery Theatre, with about 60 people present.

What strikes me is that Screen Australia talks about the feature film and TV industry. However, these are now dwarfed by the computer games industry. The Apple iPod has changed the music industry and the iPad may be about to do the same to the TV industry. However, the way Screen Australia works does not seem to have changed since cameras were hand cranked. They seem to be trying to help set up an obsolete analogue last century industry for Australia, rather than a digital one for the future.

Pressure points identified by Screen Australia:
  1. Mid range features ($M10-30 ) lack domestic funding. This is an effect of the government offset, which helps both small and large features, but not mid-range.
  2. Longer documentary series are doing well, but the Screen Australia process is complex for one off documentaries.
  3. Liquidation of SPV has complex legislative issues. Providing a grant has tax issues.
  4. SAC test is currently holistic and has no detailed points score type process which leaves producers uncertain as to what might rate well. Details of previous applications are secret due to tax law. "Reality" TV is uncertain as to if it qualifies as "documentary".
  5. Low budget features may not be helped by lowering the limits on the current tax offsets as this requires a "theatrical release". Low budget films might use other distribution, such as online digital, which does not qualify as "theatrical".
At question time I asked if Screen Australia were addressing digital media. They responded they have initiatives in this area. However, I suggested they need to change their mindset and terminology. Digital distribution is seen as "alternative" by Screen Australia, and theatre distribution normal. I suggest this needed to be reversed. Young consumers see the iPhone as normal and going to a "cinema" as unusual.

Another attendee asked about support for the gaming industry and Screen Australia replied this was a matter of government policy and that representations should be made direct to the government. I got the impression that Screen Australia did not want to address the gaming industry without additional resources.

In my view, as the gaming industry is now larger than the film industry, at least half Screen Australia's resources and the government funding, should be devoted to it and digital media. Screen Australia appears to be stuck in last century technology and unable, or unwilling to change. The government should therefore abolish Screen Australia and set up a new digital entertainment body, which addresses digital media as a priority and also the legacy film industry as a secondary priority.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

From Research to the Real World

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where former student Kevin Moore from General Dynamics Mediaware is talking about Commercialising Research: Real-world Applications and Challenges of Digital Video. His company's applications include processing video from the US Predator UAV aircraft used by the US military in Afghanistan and sport video at the Beijing Olympics.

Dr. Moore is discussing how an idea from a research project becomes a commercial product. He pointed out that licensing the intellectual property from a research organisation may take years and require a share of the company or licensing fees . Mediaware obtained government and defence start-up grants, but even so the founders did not take salaries initially and the company started out in a very modest office. The company moved from selling consumer vdeo software to "prosumers". Customers were not just the usual home video market, but also lawyers and professionals. The company is modestly successful, with 90% of the revenue from outside of Australia. In 2008 the company was purchased by General Dynamics, but still operates out of Canberra.

Dr. Moore suggested not "chasing the market" but instead concentrate what real customers need. He used the example of the product InStream. The market was for regioanl TV broadcasters who needed to insert local advertisments into TV content for new HD TV. Existing prodycts ere designed for capital city stations and not affordable for small stations. The traditional was to implement this would be to decode the MPEG video, insert the ads and recode. Mediaware produced a software based system to insert the ads.

From prototype to product took 18 months. This was used by Prime for the Beijing Olympics and won an award. Despite this success, the product still does not have another customer. One problem is that potential customers do not believe that such a product is technically possible and therefore there is not a demand.One obvious use I can see for this technology is to insert information into the video stream from UAV surveillance aircraft.

Dr. Moore then showed examples of JPEG2000 for Wide Area Airborne Surveillance. Military manned and unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan are recording very large amounts of video data over wide areas. This is creating a large data management problem. Mediaware are working on systems to manage this. He commented on the difficulty of collecting requirements from users where the application is highly classified. Another issues is to adjust the quality of the video to suit the avialable military bandwidth.

Dr. Moore then invited the ANU students to apply for a job.

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Processing Predator UAV Video

Kevin Moore from Canberra company General Dynamics Mediaware will talk at the ANU in Canberra today about how they compress video, in: Commercialising Research: Real-world Applications and Challenges of Digital Video. Applications include processing video from the US Predator UAV aircraft used by the US military in Afghanistan and the Beijing Olympics. Mediaware hires ANU students to work on software.
Seminar Details
Commercialising Research: Real-world Applications and Challenges of Digital Video
Kevin Moore (General Dynamics Mediaware)

DATE: 2010-02-25
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: RSISE Seminar Room, ground floor, building 115, cnr. North and Daley Roads, ANU

MPEG video compression and transmission standards are a major enabling technology driving the digital broadcast and distribution industries. Digital television, IPTV DVDs and Blu-ray Discs all use variants of MPEG to transmit and display content. General Dynamics Mediaware is a Canberra company that has been engaged in research and implementation of MPEG technologies for over ten years, and has emerged as a leading global developer and supplier of compressed digital video processing solutions to the Broadcast and Defence industries.

In this presentation, we will introduce Mediaware's unique compressed-domain frame-accurate MPEG repurposing technologies, whose commercial applications include

- Real-time splicing systems deployed by Prime TV across the Australia's East Coast, facilitating the HD TV broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games;

- Stream capturing, analysing, annotation, editing software integrated in General Dynamics Multi-Int Analysis and Archive System, and in General Atomics Predator ground station.

We will describe MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, the standard used in HD TV, Blu-ray DVD and by services such as YouTube and iTunes, and present some of the technical challenges of compressed-domain editing given its computational complexity.
Dr Kevin Moore is the Chief Technology Officer of General Dynamics Mediaware and is responsible for identifying and developing Mediaware's product and technology strategic vision.

Joining Mediaware in 1998 shortly after it was founded, Kevin was part of the engineering team responsible for the development of Mediaware's core capabilities in native MPEG and H.264/AVC editing, compressed domain scene change detection, video playback, stream capture, and helped build the first two generations of desktop editing products.

Prior to joining Mediaware, Kevin spent 7 years as a Research Scientist at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, working on a range of image processing and scientific data visualization projects. Kevin has BSc and PhD degrees in Computer Science from the Australian NationalUniversity, and a broad background in video and image processing, high performance computing and software engineering.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Golden Ratio Built into Human Vision

According to Professor Adrian Bejan at Duke University, the Golden Ratio is built into human vision. This is detailed in his paper "The Golden Ratio Predicted: Vision, Cognition And Locomotion As A Single Design In Nature" (International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol4, Issue 2, 2009). I am not sure I am convinced by this argument, but did notice that wide screen computer displays have a width to height ratio of 1.6, which is the same as the golden ratio to one decimal place. Wide screen TVs are wider at approximately 1.8 (16:9).Link


Monday, January 04, 2010

Led Strip Lighting Around Flat Screen TVs

Led Strip LightingThe Philips Ambilight LCD HDTV range have lights around the edges and on the back which claimed to reduce eye strain and make the colours look better. There are numerous online discussions of using Led Strip Lighting for a similar effect, including suggestions by Ikea with their DIODER lights. Most of these do not automatically adjust the light level and colour as Phillips claim to do. But the effect might also be useful for desktop LCD computer screens, with the lighting strips providing subtle and efficient lighting for a desk. The lighting strips are now commonly available.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Internet enhanced meetings for post-Copenhagen climate change negotiations

This is to propose the use of Internet enhanced meetings for the post-Copenhagen climate change negotiations. The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP-15) ended inconclusively without a binding agreement. There will be a need for ongoing extensive negotiations. Also there were problems with the format of the conference in Copenhagen, with it difficult for so many delegates to be heard. An alternative is for smaller face to face meetings, with Internet access to people not at the venue to take part.

The recent Realising Our Broadband Future forum sponsored by the Australian Government provides a model for such events. I suggest the Australian Government could take a leadership role in hosting climate change talks. Australian universities and their counterparts around the world could assist with technology and venues for this.

A global electronic infrastructure now exists for information communication and online discussion. I suggest it is time that this infrastructure be put to work for global governance.

The Australian National University provided the venue for the first "Public Sphere" event, which Realising Our Broadband Futures grew out of. The Prime Minister recently announced a National Security College to train senior public servants. Given the security implications of climate change, global negotiations on the topic would seem a reasonable to explore.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflective paint for 3D video conference effect

At the hardware store recently I noticed spray cans of White Knight "Reflect-All light reflective paint" and thought it might be suitable for spraying on a walls to make a high efficiency screen for projector. I tried it out in a typical tutorial room at the ANU. To avoid damaging the walls I sprayed the paint onto a piece of transparent plastic and dark blue cardboard and attached these to the wall and projected onto them. I compared this with flat very light blue wall paint, a whiteboard and a projection screen.

The reflective paint worked as expected. However, working as a retro-reflector, the image only reflected a narrow cone of about ten degrees either side of the projector. This makes it impractical to use for a projection screen in a typical classroom.

The paint may still be of use in some difficult applications, such as in very bright lighting conditions, with a very dim projector, or one in a very large auditorium. The paint did not have the problems I was expecting with stray reflections and so there could be a very bright light source beside the screen without washing out the image.

The paint may have other uses. Because the light is reflected back strongly in the direction of the source, a camera at that point will show the subject in silhouette. This can be used to electronically extract the subject from the background. The subject can then be transmitted to a remote location and inserted into a scene. This effect is commonly created against a black background, reflective grey cloth or a specially coloured surface (chroma key). But the reflective paint would have the advantage of being able to be applied to any coloured surface. The wall of a meeting room or classroom could be painted without interfering with normal use of the room.

For educational or video videoconferencing use, a presenter could be videoed live in the room next to a projected presentation. The wall behind the presenter would act as a screen for the projected image seen by those in the room. The wall would also act as a reflector for the video image. The camera recording the presenter would be able to see them, but not the projected image. As a result just the image of the person could be recorded, or transmitted. Their presentation could be digitally inserted into the same video image, or transmitted separately in a separate video stream. This would provide a much higher quality image (and use less bandwidth) than attempting to record the presentation slides with a camera.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reflective paint for invisible projection screens

Spray can of White Knight Reflect-All light reflective paintAt the hardware store recently I noticed spray cans of White Knight "Reflect-All light reflective paint". This is available in a silver metallic colour, but more interestingly also as a clear varnish. This might be suitable for spraying on a walls to make a high efficiency screen for projector, particularly new low power LED projectors. When not in use the screen would be all but invisible and could be painted on a dark colour wall.

The paint has "microbeads" which act as retro-reflectors, showing up brightly in the dark when a light is shone on them. This is similar to the material used in road markings. The difference is that it is available at the retail level and in a clear form, rather than the bright white used for road markings. Also the beads are much finer than those in road markings. The paint when applied looks like a frosted translucent finish with a rough mat texture. If applied in a thin coat to a very dark shiny surface it is noticeable as a milky film. In a thicker coat it looks like ground glass. But on a lighter matt surface, such as typical flat creme wall paint, it is all but invisible.

Having bought a can and tried it out the paint looks promising. It reflects so much more light than conventional paint that it would make a very good projection surface. This would be particularity useful for new LED projectors, which are not as bright as halogen ones. It would allow projectors to be used in much brighter environments and on dark and uneven surfaces.

But there are some limitations. As with any highly reflective screen, any blemishes are highlighted. The paint would need to be applied professionally, preferably by a trained operator with a professional spray gun, not the retail spray cans. The wall would have to be kept clean, as any grease would show up. Also any abrasive cleaner used may mar the surface. The microbeads reflect light back in a narrow cone, so there is not a wide viewing angle for the screen and the projector has to be near the viewer. The paint could not be used in a room with a brightly lit window, or spotlight opposite, as the reflective surface will show up (but then if used for protection there should not be a window or light opposite anyway).

The material could allow projection in rooms which are usually unsuitable. As an example, the projection surface could have lights or windows on each side. The ambient light would not be reflected towards the viewer, but the image from the projector would be.

Applied to a black or very dark wall this material might provide a way to produce a low cost hologram-like effect for video conferences. There are some systems using half silvered mirrors or film to give the appearance of the person in the room, however these are cumbersome and inflexible. Instead the lighting in the room could be carefully arranged so that it does not reflect from the wall into the camera lens. As a result the wall would be a very dark black, allowing anyone or anything in front to stand out clearly from the background for a very clear video image of the person. An image could be projected onto the same background which would show in sharp relief. With this arrangement two people could be in separate remote locations, with their images projected next to each of them, so they both appear to be standing next to each other at both locations.

It might also be interesting to apply the paint to glass or clear plastic sheeting. This would create a sheet of translucent frosted material which would act as a very good projection surface. A meeting room could have a frosted glass wall onto a corridor, which could be used as the projection screen. With the lighting carefully arranged, the image would be clearly visible in the room, but not in the corridor on the other side.

Before using the material on a large scale in a confined space the safety of the microbeads and the paint they are embedded in would need to be considered. The spray gives off a strong paint smell and some of the microbeads may become airborne in the process.

ps: The pain might also create a new form of subtle graffiti: The reflective paint is not visible during the day, but would show up clearly in car headlights at night.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tasmanian government to hand out free TiVos

The Tasmanian government is going to pay for TiVo digital set top boxes, so citizens can try out video on demand. In my view this is a waste of public money. There isn't anything new the Tasmanian government will can about broadband from such a trial, which was not already found from systems, such as Transact.
"Premier David Bartlett today joined Hybrid TV CEO Robbee Minicola to launch Hybrid SmartStreet to a national audience. The project is the first of many involving the State Government, which will demonstrate the value of the National Broadband Network to Tasmanian families and businesses. ...

Hybrid SmartStreet is primarily a research project. Participants will be given a TiVo media device which in addition to providing access to high definition TV, will allow access to existing broadband services via Hybrid TV’s CASPA portal. ...

Under the terms of the MoU the Tasmanian Government has committed to covering the access fee for Tastel customers (within the TasCOLT footprint) to participate in the trial, plus the cost of installation and support services. Up to $100,000 has been allocated from within the Department of Economic Development’s existing budget. ..."

From: Premier launches Hybrid SmartStreet, Media Release, Tasmanian Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts, 25 November 2009

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Living Tomorrow

Living Tomorrow"Living Tomorrow" by media artist Linda Wallace will be exhibited in the CSIT building N101 seminar room, 19th and Friday 20th November 2009, The Australian National University. In late 2004 she was awarded a doctorate from the Australian National University (completed on scholarship from the Advanced Computational Systems Co-operative Research Centre).
LivingTomorrow is a database-driven video archive installation work produced as artist-in-residence at Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst, Amsterdam. It was launched on March 11 2005.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Learning to stream fine music from Canberra

Greetings from the School of Music at the Australian National University in Canberra. The ANU just had its fist concert "streamed" live to the Internet from Llewellyn Hall "CLARINET.BALLISTIX Concert". This featured Alan Vivian (clarinet), David Pereira (cello, Alan Hicks and Katherine Day ( piano) with works by Verdi, Gershwin, Kats-Chernin and Bukovsky. The technology is being incorporated into the teaching of musicians, both to help teaching (with master classes by video) and as a subject the students learn about (how to set up an online event).

In addition to the live performance, the ANU web site has program notes, background, interviews, rehearsal out-takes, places for adding questions and reviews.

The ANU is essentially adapting the format of a live TV broadcast for the streaming concert. Experienced ABC Radio Classic FM presenter Colin Fox of acted as MC at the side of the stage. He briefed the live audience before the streaming started. They then introduced the Vice chancellor and other speakers. Then there was a briefing about the music and the performers.

There were two cameras apparent in the hall: one in the middle of the front of the stage and one on a crane at the side, over the audience. The ANU has obviously put a considerable effort into arrangements for the streaming. This is intended to promote new courses at the university, which go beyond just being able to play a musical instrument, but be able to cope with the complexity of providing online content and being a being in the online entertainment business.

The ANU is also installing a video conference suite for distance education in music (a challenging application which business orientated equipment can't handle). The new Bachelor of Professional Music Practice will place a heavy emphasis on the use of such technology.

At the School of Computer Science I help teach fine arts students in web technology. An interesting aspect of this is how technology, business and art combine to produce online content which is of cultural and business value. Currently I am working up a proposal for a new e-learning unit on how to interact online, to expand and teach the techniques used in the ANU course COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies. This was intended for scientists and business people, but now I see it may also be of use to the performing arts. I will be talking about some aspects of this in a series of talks in the next few months: "Social Networking for Business: The Year It All Changes - 2010",

To the audience there is little indication of the online aspects of the concert. There are no screens showing what is online. Some incorporation of the online into the live event would be of value. The ANU could adopt aspects of Senator Lundy's Public Sphere event format, with web, blogs, wikis and instant messaging, before, during and after the event. It might be interesting for some of the materials the online audience saw in advance of the work and for some of the blog comments to be shown on screen between works.

One of the works performed incorporated recorded sounds of fax modems. It might be interesting to incorporate some vision into some works possibly be interactive.

The crane camera was intrusive in the performance,at times appearing to be performing its own modern ballet, swooping in over the performers and at time apparently at times caressing them. For later performances it may be worth equipping the hall with permanent cameras. Most of the motions of the camera crane could be duplicated by multiple cameras. These could be mounted in tinted hemispherical covers, as used for security cameras, so as not to distract the performers or audience when they pan.

A permanent camera system could also be used for degree award ceremonies, so that relatives and friends could watch the ceremony. This would be particularly useful for the many overseas students, so their relatives and friends could watch.

It was an honour to sit next to the composer of one of the pieces performed (I am the one sitting next to him with the netbook). In amongst all the technology it is worth pointing out that these were works and performances of the highest standard, at least to my non-expert ears.

This first concert was an experiment which seemed to be successful. If used routinely, the cost and complexity of the initial exercise would need to be reduced. This could be done partly by building the cameras into the room and partly by using the same computer infrastructure the ANU uses for teaching. The ANU's new Wattle system is capable of being used for providing the information about the performances and the Digital Lecture Delivery system handling the audio visual files.

A concert or ceremony could then be recorded and simulcast live, much in the same way as when I routinely record a lecture: I walk up to the lectern, enter my university user-id and password. The system automatically identifies the scheduled event from the ANU calendar and starts recording. At the end of the lecture, I press "stop" and the event is podcast.

This system would need some upgrades to handle a concert performance or awards ceremony. The quality of sound would need to be improved for music. There would need to be provision for use of multiple cameras. There would need to be provision for events to be streamed live as well as recorded. But the system could be designed so that, by default, it would use the same interface as other teaching spaces.

The key to the long term use of the technology is to incorporate it into the normal research and teaching work of the university. In addition to the ANU's Wattle teaching system, there are several initiatives for indexing, publishing and archiving publications and research data. These same systems can be sued for music and visual arts. Dr David Prosser, Director of SPARC Europe, discussed this when he visited ANU last week and later talked at the NLA.

ps: The video of me at the keyboard during the performance are fake: I found that the WiFi signal did not penetrate through the concrete floor of the concert hall from the library below. I had to wait until after the performance to blog. Normally I would be expected to turn my computer off during a concert, but in this case I was asked to leave it on, as it added a hi-tech ambiance, with the camera panned the audience.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Senator Lundy describes her Public Sphere initiative

A ten minute video "Senator Lundy describes her Public Sphere initiative" is now available. This was made for my students at ANU studying Information Technology in Electronic Commerce COMP3410. For an assignment the students have to work out what metadata is appropriate to support such public discussions and to archive video used in policy making.

Public Sphere uses a mix of blogs, wikis, instant messaging, video and other tools, in different formats on different systems. This is fine for a pilot, but if this approach is to be used routinely for public policy making, then a system which allows easier set-up, use and archiving all of the material (perhaps for hundreds of years) is needed.

Government 2.0 Taskforce - Road Show starts consulting the public on 17 August in Canberra, followed by other locations around Australia, ending in Darwin on 2nd September 2009. The Taskforce has 15 experts chaired by Nicolas Gluin and was announced at Public Sphere 2 (Video & transcript available).

The open source XENA tool ("XML Electronic Normalising of Archives") which National Archives of Australia use can then be modified to convert discussions and video from public policy events into a long term storage formats.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Java, Flash, Audio and Video

It was a surprise to find that my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro did not come with Java, Adobe Flash, or audio/video formats installed. In some ways it is pleasant to surf the web without Java or Flash, as a lot of annoying interactive ads and applets disappear. But I need Java, as that is what uses to create generate XHML documents from word processing files (very useful to clean up the formatting Microsoft Word documents). And Flash is needed to play some useful videos on the web. Also I would like to play audio and video in popular formats.

Installing flash was relatively easy, I just had to click a box to say it was okay to install this non-open source application on my open source computer. To tame Flash I also installed the "Flashblock" add-on, which stops Flash files playing in the web browser, apart from those sites where I have okay-ed it.

Java proved more difficult. I tried installing a Java run time kit, but this didn't seem to talk to Open Office. So then I un-installed that and instead installed the full OpenOffice suite, which comes with Java. That worked.

Installing audio and video playback codecs was very easy. In the provided player application I was told a format was not available and offered a download, which then started the application installation process. A few seconds later the codecs were installed and the audio playing.

The hardest part of this process for someone used to working with Microsoft Windows is to relax and let the package management system sort out if your system has all the needed components. Normally with Microsoft Windows you have to worry if the package you are about to install is going to overwrite some new libraries with old versions and break something. With Linux, that is taken care of for you (as much as it can be).

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SMPTE Conference & Exhibition, Sydney 2009

SMPTE Conference & Exhibition, Sydney 2009 looks good. The exhibition at Darling Harbour is free and worth a visit (open until Friday), even if you don't attend the conference. The online registration process worked well, but unfortunately has now closed.

Best stand of the show was Global TV's purpose built double expanding side semi trailer HD Outside Broadcast unit. This has 62 m2 of internal space, which is almost as large as my apartment. The ergonomics of the layout are interesting with two rows of operators facing out into the smaller telescoping parts of the trailer on either side. This provides for a higher walkway in the middle.

However, the smaller TRP HD OB Vans built for Thoroughbred Racing Productions by Sony’s Professional Solutions Division appears to be less cluttered than Global TV's design.

There was an excellent display of video and broadcasting equipment, but what struck me was how old fashioned much of the equipment looked. Essentially TV and video production is now done with computer networks which have cameras, microphones, screens and loudspeakers as perheperals. But the industry is still treating this much as they did in the days of analogue.

One problem with SMPTE was the lack of systems for integrating with social networking. Recently I took part in a conferecne at Parliment House Canberra, which was streamed online. While the Parliment's video people did a good job of providing audio and video, their systems could not handle blogging or IM streams.

On one stand I noticed a tiny EEE PC. This is much like a tiny mammal hiding between the legs of the dinosaurs, shortly before the dinosaurs became extinct. In the same way most of the equipment on display at SMPTE 2009 is close to extinction due to devices like the EEE PC.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Robot Cameras for Parliament

The Department of Parliamentary Services has issued a Request for Tender for "Provision of a Camera Robotics Solution" (DPS09014, 14-Jul-2009) for 47 remote control cameras, with seven control units. These are used to record parliament, committees and some conferences. There are detailed documents provided, describing the requirement, technical architecture and standards. The parliament also recently issued a RFT for a Video Archiving System.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

National ICT Careers Week Video Competition

National ICT Careers Week runs from 27 July to 1 August 2009. The ACS Foundation has a short video competition:

Win an iPod - Make a YouTube video - Be creative - Compete with students around Australia

Show how you envisage information technology helping you have a career that makes a difference.

Just make and submit a two-minute video based on one of the 7 themes of this year's National ICT Careers Week.

Here are the 7 themes - choose one or more:

  1. What does information technology mean to me?
  2. How can information technology solve the world's problems?
  3. How does information technology build connections with people?
  4. How does information technology spark creativity?
  5. How does information technology improve our daily lives?
  6. How can information technology give you the lifestyle you want?
  7. How can information technology give you a global career?

There's an iPod Touch prize for the most popular idea in each theme.

Enter the competition

To enter, make your video and upload onto ACS Foundation's YouTube Channel:

Videos will be judged by the number of times it has been viewed. So encourage all your friends and family to view it.

Entries close on 1 October 2009 and winners will be announced on 15th October 2009 on the ACS Foundation website, by phone, and email.

Take a look at the videos already uploaded.

The Australian Computer Society Foundation - a non-profit organisation helping young people with scholarships to study information technology at university - is running this competition.

Want more information

Contact John Ridge by calling (02) 8296 4445, or email John at

Information technology gives great jobs earning great money with a great lifestyle

Information technology careers are one of the most rapidly growing career pathways available. Information technology jobs give you:

  • a chance to combine any or all of your interests into one job
  • a career that will put you in demand across a dynamic industry where re- training is easy
  • a good chance for fast promotion
  • good choices in job flexibility: work at home, in the office, part-time, casual, full time...
  • and, of course, excellent salaries!

Great opportunities coming up

People with Information technology skills and qualifications will be needed in our businesses, in our governments, in our communities, and in our daily lives.

Information technology will continue to be in demand in the banking, healthcare, telecommunications, education, entertainment, transport, manufacturing, tourism, primary industry, security, environmental management, and many other areas vital to our economy and communities.

That means that now is the time to be studying information technology at and after school.

National ICT Career Week

National ICT Career Week is running in the week of 27th July - 1st August 2009. It's an Australia-wide show to encourage young people to think about studying and working in computing and communications.

For more information:

About The ACS Foundation

The ACS Foundation was established in August 2001 to encourage both private and public sponsorship of students studying IT higher education and research. Since its establishment, the ACS Foundation has raised more than $20 million and awarded more than 1,400 scholarships.

ACS Foundation
(02) 9299 3666
Level 3,160 Clarence St, Sydney, NSW

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Video Archiving System for the Australian Parliament

The Department of Parliamentary Services has issued a Request for Tender for "Provision of Equipment and Services for Media Asset Management and Archiving Solution". This is a digital system for the capture, delivery, and archiving of audio and video from the House of Representative, Senate, hearings and the like. There is also 55,000 hours of broadcast quality video to be digitised and catalogued. There is a detailed tender document available online, with Metadata Exchange, Data Storage Backup and Recovery Principles, Style Manual, User Permissions, ICT Architecture and Standards. Also there will be a briefing at Parliament House, 21 May 2009.
DPS is seeking:

1. hardware, software and services to construct a digital system for the capture, segmentation, delivery, archiving and management of audiovisual and audio-only content; and
2. additional services to digitise the estimated 55,000 hours of recorded broadcast quality video of Parliamentary proceedings and special events (back-capture project). ...

From: Provision of Equipment and Services for Media Asset Management and Archiving Solution, DPS09001, Department of Parliamentary Services, 5-May-2009

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Waterless Video Urinal

The award for the most eye-catching product at the DesignBUILD 2009 exhibition would have to be Urimat's Waterless Video Urinal. This is a waterless urinal, much like others used to save water in public buildings but with a flat area at the top facing the user. This flat area can be used to fit a 7 inch, wide format video screen for advertising or information messages. This is one of the more imaginative forms of digital signage I have seen.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

DimDim Web Conference for E-learning

DimDim is a web conferencing product popular for education. This is because it offers a free service for conferences with up to 20 participants. It also claims to require no software download and be open source. However, it uses Adobe Flash for the audio and video, so that needs to already be installed on the computer used. I found DimDim very easy to sign up for and start a conference with. It has the usual whiteboard, desktop and presentation sharing features of such products. One interesting feature is web co-browsing, where the presenter selects a web page and it is displayed on the participants screens, scrolling synchronised with the presenter's screen.

Co-browsing works very well with HTML Slidy presentations, such as my "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT" (slides). This could be very useful for bandwidth efficient presentations, as the Slidy slides use a lot less storage than the typical Powerpoint or OpenOffice.Org presentation. With the video frame rate turned down (or off) and the audio reduced to telephone quality, the web conference would use very little bandwidth. USQ's ICE open source e-learning content creation system produces Slidy as part of a course package, which would then work well with DimDim.

One catch is that, for security reasons, DimDim does not work with web sites which require you to enter a user-id and password. I found that this stopped access to Moodle courses, even those which allow access without a user id (I will ask DimDim to fix this). Another limitation is that the web browsing is not recorded along with the audio, video and other content.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TiVo Internet Service Provider for Australia

According to media reports, the Seven Media Group will offer its own broadband Internet service with the TiVo digital set-top boxes it distributes in Australia. The service is expected to start in April and cost $79 to $99 a month, including the TiVo set-top box on a two-year contract. This is a clever idea as it gives Seven a revenue stream from the TiVo (instead of a one off sale) and also an instant defacto Australian pay TV network. Broadband delivery can be slow: the movie I downloaded to my TiVo over the Internet took hours. But Seven could deliver some content over the Internet connection and some over its own digital channels. Seven would also have the capability to provide Google style clickable advertisements, customised for each viewer, which would make for a very profitable service.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Pocket and Palm Projectors

Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10 projectorMint Wireless Limited loaned me one of their Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10 projectors to try. This is a unit about the size and shape of a mobile phone and projects an image of up to 1.27m. It will play videos and audio as well as show still images at 640 x 480 Pixel VGA resolution. It has a built in battery and charges from a USB cable as well as mains adaptor. You can also play composite video and stereo audio.

However, the unit has several limitations. The unit does not appear to be able to display the live image from a computer screen: there is no VGA connector and the USB link only works to transfer files for later display. The screen is not very bright and so needs to be used in a dim room. The sound quality from the tiny internal speakers is poor. The price is under $AU700.

Dell M109S On-the-Go ProjectorDELL offer the much larger (but still small), Dell M109S On-the-Go Projector for $US499. This has 858 x 600 SVGA resolution and VGA input. It appears to lack the speakers, battery and internal storage features making it dependent on external devices, whereas the Aiptek Pocket Cinema can be used on its own.

Like the Apitek, the Dell uses a LED light source in place of a conventional light bulb, making it more efficient and longer lasting. The Dell uses more power and therefore hopefully is brighter. The Dell unit looks better for use with a PC for presentations, whereas the Apitek may be useful where you just want to play a video or an audio slide show.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Specifying an Audio-visual System for a Court

The NZ Ministry of Justice has issued a Request for Proposal for " Provision of Audio and Audio-visual Systems for Stage 1 of the Auckland District Court Redevelopment Project". The tender documents provide an excellent detailed specification of the requirements for digital audio and video systems for a court and similar functions, such as a parliament.
General Information

(“the Ministry”) requires provision of equipment, ongoing support and maintenance of Audio and Audio-visual Systems for Stage 1 of the Auckland District Court Redevelopment Project (“the Deliverables”). The Ministry seeks proposals from persons with the capability and expertise to provide the required Deliverables.

Respondents may submit proposals for the following components of the tender package:

- Audio only
- Audio-visual only
- Audio and Audio-visual...

Additional Documentation to Download
5.3.2EACourtroomVCRequirementsStandardV1.2.pdf Courtroom VC Requirements Standard V1.2PDF2.09mb
AgreementforAKLDDCRFPaudioandAVequipment-29.9.08.pdf Agreement for AKLDDCRFP audio and AV equipmentPDF123.29kb
courtroomsoundsystemrequirementsstandard3v1G(.pdf courtroom sound system requirements standard 3v1GPDF912.8kb
MoJCablingStandardv1.2.pdf MoJ Cabling Standard v1.2PDF50.23kb
RFPADCAudioandAV v0.2.doc RFPADC Audio and AV v0.2WORD259kb
Technical Specification - Akld DC RFP final.pdf Technical SpecificationPDF193.01kb

Relates to the following TenderWatch Categories
752 Telecommunications services
754 Telecommunications related services
473 Radio broadcast and television receivers; apparatus for sound and video recording and reproducing; microphones loudspeakers, amplifiers
472 Television and radio transmitters and apparatus for line telephony or telegraphy; parts and accessories thereof
516 Installation work
515 Special construction & trade related work

From: Provision of Audio and Audio-visual Systems for Stage 1 of the Auckland District Court Redevelopment Project, Request for Proposal, NZ Ministry of Justice, 2008

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

TiVo in Australia: Better TVs

HDMI to DVI-D AdaptorHDTV For Dummies BookAfter being criticised for dismissing the importance of HDTV on the TiVo, it occurred to me I might be able to see the benefits of it, even without replacing my screen. My 24" Dell 2405FPW monitor has a DVI-D digital interface and came with a cable for it. But I never had anything to plug into the DVI-D socket, and used analogue composite video for the set top box and analogue VGA for the computer. The TiVo has a HDMI socket and there are low cost DVI-D to HDMI cables and adaptors available.

So I went back to where I bought the TiVo and asked for a DVI-D to HDMI cable or adaptor. I was offered a "monster cable" for more than $100, with the dubious claim this would give a high quality image. Instead I went around the corner to Jaycar Electronics and got a $15 adaptor (they also have a 3m cable for $38).

The image with HDMI was almost indistinguishable from the analogue composite cable at normal viewing distances. One change it did make was to correct the aspect ratio. Like most wide screen LCD computer screens, the Dell 2405FPW less wide than a wide screen TV. As a result when using analogue TV input everyone looks skinny. Using digital input corrects this, with a black band placed on the top and bottom of the image.

Given the flexibility of the TiVo, perhaps they could provide a stretch and zoom function to correct for the screen shape. Wide screen material is normally designed for cropping the edges on a narrow 3x4 screen, so it should be okay to zoom the image in a bit to fill up the monitor. This would get rid of the black bars at the top and bottom.

One problem was that with the TiVo set to its maximum video resolution 1080i (1920 × 1080 pixels) the picture flickered slightly. This may be because this is an interlaced format (the "i" in 1080i). When I stepped down to 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) progressive mode the image stabilised.

Looking at the image close up, it was possible to see individual raindrops falling past the camera to the ground in helicopter shots of the Beijing 2008 Olympics road cycle races (720p is better for fast moving images such as sport than 1080i). The resolution is almost too high, as I could also see the compression artefacts around the SBS logo and other graphics, which slightly spoilt the very crisp Olympics images (the logos on Channel Seven were much clearer).

In a way the high resolution screen can be distracting as it makes the quality of different material more noticeable. You start thinking "why is the picture blurry" rather than watching the show.

ps: DVI was one of those standards which tried to do everything: it had analogue and digital signals, with five variations of the plug. HDMI drops the analogue compatibility and so has a smaller plug with fewer wires (there are three types of plug, but only one in common use).

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Monday, August 04, 2008

YouTube video annotations

The Omnisio video annotation technology has been acquired by Google and added to YouTube as a Beta. This allows captions, slides and extra navigation to be added to existing video, without having to edit the actual video. This is to video what Flickr's tags are to still images: it provides a way to add text which can be searched to the video. Most video is not web friendly, being just big video blobs: all you can do is play them.

This is very new to You Tube and there are a few rough edges, for example the "How do I create or edit video annotations?" has the HTML markup visible in the page (someone must have copied and pasted from an Omnisio help page in a hurry:
To get started, log into your YouTube account and go to the Video Annotations page as described">here ...
Here is what it should look like:
To get started, log into your YouTube account and go to the Video Annotations page as described here.
  1. Start playing your video, if it's not already playing using the "Preview" button.

  2. At the moment you want to add an annotation, click on the appropriate "+" icon in the top left-hand corner. You can add annotations that are Speech Bubbles, Notes or Spotlights with text.

  3. Enter your text. You can edit your annotation on the video itself:

    1. Edit text as you type;
    2. Drag and drop annotations anywhere you want;
    3. To resize an annotation, roll your mouse over the edge of it until you see little dots. Click and drag the dots to resize. A speech bubble has an additional resizing dot on the pointer.

  4. You can see all your annotations listed on the left side. Here you have advanced editing options:

    1. You can add a URL link to your annotation. It could be a link to either a specific YouTube Video, a user Channel or a YouTube Search result page.
    2. You can change the both the starting and finishing time manually. An annotation's default start time is when you click to add it ("+" icon). The default end time is 5 seconds later. To change this, just enter the start and finish times you want in [H:MM:SS.s] format. For instance, [0:01:05.2] means 1 minute, 5.2 seconds into the video.
    3. You can delete annotations from the list on the left. Click [x] in the upper right-hand corner of the annotation you want to delete.
Please note: Video annotations are available now as a "beta" feature. We're working hard to get this out of beta and, once we do, annotations will officially support languages other than English, embeds and full-screen playback.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Compresses Well

At last week's Open 2020 Summit we had a video address from the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. I noticed that the MPEG file for this was much smaller than the videos of the conference presentations (13MB versus 130MB for a four and half minute video).

If you look at the PM's video you will notice that the background is very static, as his body. The result is that the video compressional algorithms need only animate his head. The conference videos have the presenters waking around in front of a flickering screen and so are much larger files.

This is something I also noticed years ago when looking at JPEG compression of images: photos taken by professional photographers seemed to compress better.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Satellite TV on Australian Domestic Flights

On my trip back from Launceston on Virgin Blue I noticed that the aircraft had been equipped with their Live2Air Pay TV service. The results were disappointing, but should improve.

This has about a 5 inch standard format (4:3 aspect ratio) screen LCD and a credit card reader in the seat back in front of each passenger and provides 24 channels from Foxtel/Austar Pay TV. This costs $5 for flights up to 2 hours and $10 for those over 2 hours. During taxing a preview of the service is provided and then their user is prompted to swipe their credit card. There is a hump on the top fuselage of the aircraft over the wing, which presumably is the satellite antenna.

On the web site describing the service, Virgin Blue warn that the service might be interrupted during turbulence and banking of the aircraft. However, there were numerous interruptions while the aircraft while was still on the ground before takeoff. It may well be the service actually works better once the aircraft is airborne, in which case the preview on the ground may unnecessarily discourage users. Virgin Blue might be better off providing a prerecorded preview on the ground, before switching to the live service in mid air.

The quality of the image on the seat back screens was adequate and similar to that from pocket LCD TVs. The sound was good. It appears that the airline has replaced the previous recorded audio and video service with the satellite system. This would have the advantage that no maintenance of tapes or disks would be needed. However, the service is limited by the very narrow range of content available Foxtel. Those who are used to many channels of music and other audio entertainment on an aircraft will be disappointed. Also those who don't want to watch what is essentially American TV will be disappointed.

One problem is the misleading name of the system: Live2Air. The term "live to air" indicates that the content is not prerecorded. In fact most of the channels provided by "Live2Air" are prerecorded and not "live to air".

Overall this is an impressive technological accomplishment with limited usefulness, but which should improve with time. The black bezel around the LCD screen is large, indicating a larger screen could be installed in the future. Presumably a better selection of TV and audio content could be provided as the available bandwidth increases or compression of the signal is improved.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Visual Effects in The Lord of the Rings

Paul Kirwan, a special effects worker of the Lord of the Rings (LR) movies gave a fascinating talk on visual effects at the National Museum of Australia on Saturday. Paul showed three scenes from LR and then showed how they were constructed by blending live action with actors, miniatures and digital models.

In this lecture, Paul will be detailing work he completed for The Fellowship of the Ring while at Weta Digital in New Zealand. He follows the visual effects process from start to finish, from the initial pre-visualisation of a sequence to the final polished images, with detailed breakdowns of several individual shots from these sequences. This lecture provides a fascinating insight into visual effects and the creative power they give to film directors today.

An alumni of the Centre, Paul Kirwan has spent the past ten years working at the highest levels of the visual effects industry, helping make such films as Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has worked with such directors as Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Australian legends George Miller and Peter Weir. After stints at Animal Logic, Weta Digital and Industrial Light + Magic, he has recently helped complete Michael Bay’s Transformers as Compositing Supervisor at Digital Domain in Venice, California.

Originally from Canberra, Paul completed his Bachelors degree in Computer Science at the ANU before obtaining a Master of Arts in Electronic Arts from CNMA (then known as the Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology). He has recently returned to Canberra to lecture in Digital Video at the Centre for New Media Arts at ANU, and to study for his Doctorate.

From: Visual Effects in The Lord of the Rings, Paul Kirwan, Compositor, ANU, 28 July 2008
Nick Peterson, Head of the Faculty of Arts at ANU introduced Paul, mentioning he had been part of the tam winning three academy awards. Paul later mentioned how his more than ten years in the industry amounted to about thee and half minutes of material appearing in feature films (and much of the this was from the recent Transformers movie). Paul did a degree in Computer Science at ANU, as well as a masters in new media arts. Some of the ANU new media students take my lectures on web design at ANU.

Paul showed three sequences from LR:
  1. Entrance to the Mines of Moria,
  2. Crossing the Bridge of Khazad-dûm in the Mines of Moria,
  3. Cave troll in Mines of Moria.
A typical short section of film will take 9 months with 35 effects shots. The sequience will first be "pre-visualized" roughly using PC based tools. This is done for planning and costing purposes. Even at this stage there may be 40 iterations before the results are shown to studios to get financial backing and then to the creative people.

The Bridge of Khazad-dûm in the Mines of Moria was created as a miniature (even so it was the size of a cinema). Using a miniature, rather than a computer simulation provides better control over the lighting. A computer motion controlled camera was then used to provide several passes through the set. The computer control of the camera motion allows a precisely repeatable path to be followed.

Some actors for the bridge were filmed against a blue screen (more precisely called "cromakey"). There was no actual set around the actors, just a uniform blue painted backdrop, designed to be easily replaced on the computer with the miniature set. The blue screen was not perfect, with bits of the studio appearing in the shot and having to be erased later. Some actors were on partial sets which have to be blended into the minatures and computer generated images.

LR made extensive use of computer generated characters. In one sequence
Aragorn is thrown by the cave troll. A computer generated character is used for Aragorn at the beginning of the sequence and an actor at the end. The cave troll is entirely computer generated, with skeleton and muscles simulated to give more realistic movements.

I asked
Paul about the techniques used for films and computer games. He commented that as computer get faster, more of the same techniques can be used for both.

One aspect that I was curious about was how primitive camera used for films seem to be relative to the digital special effects used. Camera only record a 2D image, whereas many of the digital special effects use 3D models. It would seem that much of the effort is taken up in blending the two together. If a 3D camera was available, that would make things much simpler. A 3D camera could be made from several 2D ones, or one 2D camera with a depth scanner (such as an infrared laser scanner).

See also:

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

TiVo New Era or End of TV in Australia?

On 29 May 2007 TiVo announced a deal with Australia's Seven Media Group to support the TiVo interactive Set Top Box (STB) in Australia:
TiVo to be key platform in Australia's development of digital television and interactive communications ...

Under the mutually-exclusive agreement, Seven Media Group will lead the creation of the digital platform to enable TiVo's digital video recorder and service, including the award-winning TiVo user interface. The platform will be available for use by other broadcasters and broadband content owners to create a compelling, interactive, free to air digital terrestrial television offering. The TiVo's digital video recorder and service, including the award-winning TiVo user interface. The platform will be available for use by other broadcasters and broadband content owners to create a compelling, interactive, free to air digital terrestrial television offering. The TiVo Service will be available across Australia and will include internationally recognized TiVo features like SeasonPass recordings and WishList searches and allow users to access broadband content on their TV. Through its new partnership with TiVo, Seven will deploy TiVo's leading interactive advertising capabilities to develop new integrated interactive advertising strategies for their very substantial number of broadcast advertisers.

From: Seven and TiVo Inc Sign Strategic Partnership to Distribute TiVo Products and Services in Australia and New Zealand, Media Release, TiVo,
While TiVos can work with analog TV and cable (Australians have hacked analog TiVos to allow them to work here), the Australia service will use digital terrestrial TV standard (DVB-T). The announcement does not mention that viewers will be able to fast forward through ads (but not skip them). But the impetus for this is that advertisers will be able to create interactive ads.

The announcement also mentions "Engin will play a pivotal role in distribution and support of TiVo in Australia". Presumably this is the Australian Internet telephony company of that name. Engin distribute VoIP hardware to customers as well as sell phone services, so distributing set top boxes would fit with that business. TiVos can share the same Internet connection as the VoIP hardware to update their TV schedule and obtain some TV content.

TiVo previously announced a deal to allow the download of movies purchased at with It is not clear if this will be supported in Australia.

In one way the TiVo allows conventional free-to-air TV (FTA TV) to better compete with Cable TV and Internet TV, by making it more interactive. In another way it threatens FTA TV by introducing a device which can bypass it into the viewer's home. But then a home computer with a broadband connection can already provide many TV-like services. Existing broadcasters will be hoping that viewers will not notice the TiVo is really a computer dressed up as a TV and will continue with its user friendly interface, locked into existing broadcasters.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Web to Set Tob Box video download the end of TV?

Amazon Unbox on TiVoAmazon is now offering digital videos by download onto TiVo Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). Amazon keeps a record of what was bought and allows the user to download it again (if they erase their hard disk).

The interface for PCs is much the same as for books on Amazon. I am not sure what it looks like on a TiVo. Also I am not sure how well this will sell. Amazon has had digital video download sales and rentals for PCs for some time. I haven't exactly noticed a lot of rentals or sales in my Amazon Associate store.

It will be interesting to see what effect video downloads has on Australia's limited broadband.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Download Movies to Set Top Box from Web Store

There are a lot of reports in the media about video and TV available on-line. However, this is still a lot harder then it looks. You need a lot of bandwidth to download broadcast quality video (some services are only offering thumbnail size images). Some free services are full of pirated TV shows, uploaded by viewers. It is not clear if the average person wants to watch TV on their computer. One interesting alternative is the partnership between Amazon and TiVo. have a service to sell or rent videos online: Unbox Video Downloads. These are a mixture of old moves and TV shows. Buying a download costs a bit less than a DVD. Rentals are a few dollars each. As an example the DVD of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is $US19.99, whereas the download is $US14.95 to buy or $US3.99 to rent. But you need the broadband connection and to fiddle around with a computer to watch the download.

Amazon has now done a deal with TiVo, to allow videos to be downloaded direct to broadband connected TiVo set top boxes. The video is downloaded direct to the hard disk in the STB:
"Amazon and TiVo have joined forces to offer movies and TV shows that can be downloaded straight to TiVo DVRs via the set-top box's broadband Internet connection. "Amazon Unbox on TiVo" bridges the gap between Internet video and TV, offering a practical method of viewing Web-gathered content, but the offering may be too little too late for TiVo.

If hours of prerecorded TV content aren't enough for TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) subscribers, Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) will offer a solution. The digital video recorder (DVR) pioneer and the supersized online retailer announced their new "Amazon Unbox on TiVo" (AUT) service Wednesday.

For Amazon, the joint venture provides a captive audience more than one million strong.

For TiVo, the service adds another compelling feature to the device. However, will it attract new users? Will it be enough for a company that has all but been shut out of the market it created? ..."

From: Amazon, TiVo Partner for Direct-to-TV Downloads, By Walaika Haskins, 02/07/07, E-commerce Times

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