VIDEOCONFERENCING

Congratulations! You survived 1996. While headers like !LIVE NUDE VIDEOCONFERENCING! may initially turn heads, new tech is already allowing serious Internet users to see and sometimes talk to each other. The increased deployment of ISDN - (Integrated Services Digital Network) is going to boost this new area of cyberspace into as yet unknown heights, but until then bandwidth and RAM is what cyberlife is all about. I've figured that the closer I get to the edge of virtual communication the closer I seem to get to overstepping the limits of my equipment. To make things worse I became interested in videoconferencing last year after being involved in a Rave which featured an ISDN connection from a venue in Cape Town to one in San Francisco. A representative of the Dalai Llama took our call. I was there when the picture came up. It was really clear but the sound was bad. (This is still the weakest part of the link). The assorted mob at the other side were chanting something we could not hear. Maybe this was also because the ambient music at our rave venue was LOUD. But one of the Frisco team wrote on a piece of paper and held it up for us to see and we broke into smiles as we saw what he'd written: GLOBAL PEACE NOW!! (Of course). We waved to each other across the planet. What a rush. That linking across and space created tangible headspace and was something I couldn't easily forget. You couldn't help but feel the emotional impact of the event.

In the ensuing months I kept imagining hundreds of Raves at different locations on the planet simultaneously on-line. I envisaged dancers from Africa, Hawaii, New Zealand, South America, Mt. Shasta, Seoul, Beijing, all dancing to the same song. I eventually subscribed to the CU-SeeMe LIST at Cornell University, which is the centre of CU-Land. I also avidly began scheming ways to get my hands on this new tech. The first thing I did was acquire a US Robotics 33,600 Baud modem. That took a while and cost me some big markers with Sheri, my sister-in-law in New York.

Then began another six months of sussing things out. I e-mailed various clueless Net based companies to find an affordable video capture card but it's amazing how people have the affront to advertise stuff in cyberspace and then not bother replying to their email. Or when they do it's in such a short-and-sweet format that you feel unhappy about giving this company/individual your credit card number. But after many adventures I eventually found my way to a website called WINNOV at 'http://www.winnov.com/' from whom I received surprisingly prompt and personal attention. A chap called Robert Scoble assured me that my battered video camera would work with their VIDEUM capture card. Price $300 + Postage. I must have been desperate by that stage because I e-mailed him my credit card number, then anxiously waited. The card arrived a week later and Azmazz, my resident tech genius, eventually came over and installed it in minutes flat into a spare slot on my P120 motherboard. The software loaded into '95 with no hassle - as advertised.

We plugged the cam into the video input and the mic into the audio, reconfigured some preferences for video and sound and promptly got a picture on the screen. It was that simple.

We were ready to impact on vidland. The moment had arrived to email the juicy Cornell LIST;---------Hello All; This is Schwann and Azmazz from Cape Town, South Africa at the end of the world where clouds swirl around wild crags and the 'Flying Dutchman' haunts the seas. We have just entered vidland and would like to test our equipment. Please call us at IP 196.3.254.124.-------While we waited for someone to call us we tried linking to various reflectors, but before we could achieve interface the first DC (Direct connection) from the LIST came in. After that things rapidly went insane but I can report that it was a blast of a night. Many different people were viewed. I hypnotised a gangster in Brooklyn with my crystal ball and Azmazz helped out at a girls school in Maryland. There was a Netcop called 'Gold' who wanted to know more and a pretty Chinese girl called 'Pops' who stuck her tongue out at us. We laughed so much that I had a sore face for days. Azmazz left for home bleary eyed at 4.30AM. The following few weeks were a blur of reflector numbers and late nights and I think addiction could be the right term to describe what I went through. I haunted certain reflectors and began developing a CU-SeeMe personality. You'll probably do the same. The Cornell Reflector (IP:132.236.91.204) is a good place to start. MTV (IP:206.64.190.25) is another. The nice thing about CU is that you can dial into Finland, France, Malaysia and other weird places where dubious robed individuals type strange symbols to each other. If you are really lucky some will even speak English to you.

I came across a book about CU-SeeMe called 'Enhanced CU-SeeMe' by Robert Rustici on 'http://www.cris.com/~Rustici/cuseeme.html'. I e-mailed 'Bob' for a CU-SeeMe interview and was delighted when he agreed to meet me. This type of conferencing sometimes requires hanging out at exact space and time co-ordinates at 25c a unit for indeterminate periods of time but the call comes through and we get a fair vid connection, marred by a badly lagged chat window. Some of the questions I threw Bob were absorbed by lost packets, but I did manage to find out that he believes that the Net is chaos and no one can control it and that 'Net bandwidth is both the challenge for CU-SeeMe and is it's protector because the 'big boys' are unsure about Net videoconferencing and seem to be waiting for improved bandwidth before pushing big-time into this scenario. Sounds good. We agree to meet again and I hang up. It takes me a while to calm down because I've just seen into another writers study on the farside of the Planet. Amazing - isn't it? Socially it can work too. On a Saturday night my wife and I met a French couple called Christian and Marie who invited us to a cybertheatre. We changed reflectors and sat with coffee and biscuits and watched as some actors did strange stuff to their camera while playing us trance music. But CU-SeeMe is a 2-way show so we camped it up in dark glasses and hats. (I got a reputation to maintain). But if the truth be told it's still slim pickings on the vid-frontier and moments of theatre are rare in this wasteland of bored kids, boring housewives and mating mucho men. On the flip side there's always the next space launch, which literally puts you up there in real-time with astronauts and I recently found a page that advises you of all live audio and video cybercast events on the Internet at: 'http://cyber-events.com/'. You can see a rock band playing or join a dive on a wreck in the Caribbean - and other neat stuff.

But hey, CU-SeeMe is a time consuming endeavour that requires deep pockets and lots of eyegene. What are those reflectors numbers please?

Technical Intro to CU-SeeMe

The growth and popularity of desktop videoconferencing is attributed to many factors. These include advances in computer processing speed, decreased prices in computers and videoconferencing components, advances in data, video and audio compression schemes and of course - bandwidth. Bits per second (bits/sec or bps) is the yardstick used to represent how much information flows through a communication channel each second. Bandwidth is currently the limiting factor or bottleneck in communication, an especially important consideration when transferring large video files. A typical video frame contains more than 50 kilobytes of information. To send one second of 30 fps video over an ordinary phone line takes approximately 1.8 million bytes per second (Mb/sec). This is equivalent to 30 minutes at medium bandwidth and illustrates why desktop videoconferencing had been nearly impossible before computer processing power increased and compression algorithms were developed. But now file compression technology has sufficiently advanced to solve the problem of transmitting large files in a short enough time frame to stimulate continuous motion in a desktop videoconferencing session and the world is turning on to CU-SeeMe, a program which seems to be the standard desktop videoconferencing program for Macintosh and PC. It is freely available from Cornell University under copyright, while White Pines have released a commercial version of CU-SeeMe called 'Enhanced CU-SeeMe' which does colour and is available as a free trial download from the CU-SeeMe Home Page at http://goliath.wpine.com/cu-seeme.html. Basic requirements are at least a high level 486 and 16 RAM to transmit. To receive video you won't need so much RAM and only a 14,4 baud modem and either of the above CU-SeeMe programs. But to transmit video you'll also need a video camera. The Quickam is a B & W digital camera which plugs into your printer port. It costs around $89 US and is the cheapest hassle free method of 'cammin'. It can be ordered from 'www.connectix.com'. Connectix also has a colour camera for $200 US. Check their web page for specials. I've also seen a B&W Connectix (+-R840) and a colour Connectix (+-R1700) at the Yes-Express computer shop. If you already have a home video camera you just need a video capture card. This is where it gets hairy because not every video capture card will work with the software and many computer shops look at you strangely when you ask them about video capture. It's doubtful that many of them will know what you are talking about because it's not a standard stock item. Be sure to get help before buying a video card because some will not work with CU-SeeMe. You can find out more on CU-SeeMe-friendly capture cards by going to http://support.cuseeme.com/whiteP/h64.HTM. This is also the White Pines enhanced CU-SeeMe site. Once you've got the modem and the RAM and a cam and the SLIP or PPP connection you can see other users' video and transmit vid to them. CU-SeeMe provides a one-to-one connection using direct IP addressing or by entering the IP address of a reflector and also a many-to-many connection, depending on user needs and hardware capabilities. It displays 4-bit greyscale video windows at 160x120 pixels and now includes audio capabilities too. The White Pines version supports COLOUR. Otherwise surfing sites like Bill Woodland's http://cu-seeme.cornell.edu/~WCW or Streak's CU-SeeMe Info Page at http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~streak/cuseeme.html should fill in anything more you want to know and if you still have specific questions regarding CU-SeeMe and your hardware then subscribe to the Cornell CU-SeeMe LISTSERVER by sending mail to listproc@cornell.edu with the following request: 'subscribe CU-SEEME-L Your Name' -

Have fun.

schwann-cyber-shaman


BACK

schwann@webtrance.co.za