Broadcasting Events

Guidance on recording and broadcasting events was developed by the Recording & Broadcasting (R&B) Working Group. This was established by the Best Practice Committee for the purpose of exploring low cost solutions for the member group community, and met between December 2011 and December 2012 to survey existing practice within BCS and trial various technology options. The WG submitted a draft report to the November 2012 meeting of the Best Practice Committee and a final report in December 2012. The report was accepted and forwarded to the Membership Board for ratification in December 2012, which endorsed it and accepted its recommendations in full. Best Practice Committee is currently developing an action plan to implement the recommendations.

The final report can be read here: BCS Recording and Broadcasting Report Final.pdf,

More details about the working group can be found at http://www.volunteer.bcs.org/content/recording-broadcasting-rb-working-group.

In this guide:

  • Why Record and Broadcast?
  • Accessibility for End Users
  • The Role of Member Group Web Pages
  • Hosting & archiving
  • Keeping within the rules
  • Common scenarios
  • Technical solutions for recording, broadcasting and editing

Why Record and Broadcast?

Recording and broadcasting have been used in the Media industries for many years, as the essential basis for building mass markets, i.e. markets larger than the number of people who can be accommodated at a live event. They enable remote participation in events as well time-shifted and repeat participation in these events. The costs of recording and broadcasting technologies have now reduced to the point where they can be applied to smaller communities and specialist events, such as those that take place within BCS groups.

In recent time, technologies to support electronic meetings have become widespread with many commercial offerings available, ranging from person-to-person video conferencing to multi-person video meetings with facilities for sharing slides, documents or other content, and providing options to use multiple cameras and microphones. These technologies now overlap with recording and broadcasting technologies to the point where they may provide a satisfactory solution for some groups.

Many BCS groups have a registered membership which includes international members and, for popular groups, may be two orders of magnitude greater than the number who attend live events. Many factors prevent members from attending events in which they may have an interest: travel distance or time, competing family or work commitments, physical limits on meeting rooms, disability, language fluency and so on. It's vital for the success of BCS groups, and the BCS as a whole, that these members be empowered to participate in the activities of groups which they have elected to join.

This guide provides you with an overview of the main options and other points to consider when recording an event such as a BCS event such as a Branch or Specialist Group meeting for live or time shifted broadcasting. However, best practice in this area is constantly evolving, so information is necessarily incomplete and may become out of date. This guidance is not intended to limit innovation, but rather to establish some well tried methods which groups can adopt easily.

[The intention is for this guide to be 'living', and so where it is out of date, needs expanding, or is just plain wrong, do get in touch with the best practice committee who are responsible for this guide.]

Accessibilty for End Users

An important point to consider is how members will want to use the content you create. How will they participate, and will your recording meet their needs and wants? What kind of event produces the content: conference, workshop, invited talk, etc.? What kind of device will members use to access content: personal computer, tablet, smartphone, music player, or Internet enabled TV? Will users need to store content on that device or could it be streamed to them? Will they be able to access content via a browser or must they install some specific client software for the chosen solution to work? What type of network connection will be needed with what bandwidth?

How quickly will the content be needed? In some cases, immediate access to content as a live broadcast, or as a recording which is available immediately after the event, is highly desirable. In other cases, creating a high quality recording with long term value may be more important. There may be trade-offs between different technical options which favour one or other of these. Where a live event is planned, do remote members need to participate and what level of interactivity is appropriate?

With technology rapidly advancing and becoming more ubiquitous, answers to some these questions may appear obvious to desk workers in urban western locations. However, they may not be quite so obvious to mobile workers, members based at home, and those in remote locations or developing countries, so consider the needs of these audiences as well.

It's therefore important that each group establishes a feedback channel and learns from their members' input. The feedback channel can operate via word-of-mouth, e-mail, or via a social networking web site such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, or a survey tool such as SurveyMonkey. In choosing a channel, consider its accessibility from the devices which members will use to access content and the immediacy of the feedback you need. Whilst a live broadcast event may benefit from immediate response, feedback on recorded events may still be valuable even if a delay of days or weeks is involved. Some forms of delayed feedback, such as periodic surveys of members' opinions, are also valuable for planning future group activities.

The Role of Member Group Web Pages

Most BCS groups have web pages to advertise their activities and events, hosted either on the BCS web site or that of another organisation. These can provide the framework for a basic broadcasting service by including links to content such as documents, speaker slides, transcripts of proceedings and various types of recordings. The creation and maintenance of an effective web site is therefore a excellent method of extending any group's reach and should be seen as a prime responsibility.

In addition, groups may wish to place content on other publicly accessible websites, including social networking web sites such as LinkedIn, Flickr, Slideshare and YouTube which are well adapted for particular types of content such as documents, images, audio, and video.  These web sites  provide more advanced functionality which may include discussion threads, content hosting, search facilities, and various forms of web based conferencing, as well as management facilities allowing usage of content to be tracked.  They therefore provide valuable mechanisms for the distributing and interacting with content, which may be seen as another form of broadcasting, as well as a form of storage.

However, a number of factors may influence what can be achieved via an external web site and these include:

  • overall storage requirement (some sites have limitations)
  • overall scalability of the chosen solution (see discussion of technical solutions below)
  • overall number of users/concurrent usage required
  • overall cost of the solution including licencing costs

A group should therefore consider carefully what content to place on each of the web sites that it chooses to use.

Hosting and Archiving

Any web site will also provide a basic cataloguing mechanism, since it is normally appropriate to associate content derived from a particular event with the web page announcing that event. This enables subsequent date related searches for content, but does nothing to assist searches by topic, speaker, or other attributes of the content.  Whilst search engines such as Google may enable members to locate useful content (for example a search on "BCS + parallel processing"), they are in no way specific to a particular group. Content hosting web sites such as Slideshare and YouTube provide more advanced ways of locating content via mechanism such as topic related folders or search engines, and use of Slideshare for audio content and YouTube for video content is therefore recommended.

There is also a need for consolidated archive of video content produced by BCS member groups, which is easily searched and available to all. For this reason, a dedicated YouTube channel for member group content has been established at https://www.youtube.com/user/BCSgroupsandbranches, which will have centralised support for uploading content to it. Procedures for this will be documented when they are available.

The overall objective for BCS is to demonstrate the strength and depth of its specialist activities by building an archive of material derived from its groups. There is reason to believe that, over time, this archive could become a valuable resource for BCS members and, more broadly, for the wider community involved with information technology.

Keeping withing the Rules

Rules relating to the management of the recording or broadcasting process, and subsequent management of recordings produced is given in the Rules section of the Volunteer Portal. These rules relate to copyright in recordings, the protection of BCS's reputation and privacy of individuals, and the security of recorded materials. The general approach taken is that most member group events are operated on a non-commercial basis where BCS does not pay speakers for their content, nor does it seek to profit from this content. Many BCS meetings are also open to the public and their content becomes public domain material. Under these circumstances, formal legal agreements are unnecessary and a simplified procedure can be used.

However, it always necessary to obtain each speaker's agreement to the rules and this may be achieved by sending a simple letter/e-mail to the speaker and obtaining a written reply indicating their consent. This may be coupled with guidance on other subjects such as the style or length of the presentation. An example of a guidance letter is given here.

Scenarios

Recording a meeting

The context for most recording or broadcasting activity is a meeting or event at which an expert speaker presents material which has value for a wider audience, or as reference material. Whilst it has been customary for each speaker to provide a copy of their slides, is often difficult to reconstruct the speaker's argument, or recall the finer points, without a record of their words. For this reason, audio is valuable and all recordings should include an audio track. In some circumstances, audio plus slides may provide a sufficient record. However, a survey of one member group suggested a strong desire for video content as well.

Most speakers will use electronic slides (and possibly other electronic material) as visual aids to support their presentation. It's important to capture these as well as the audio/video stream, but experience to date suggests that video capture is not an ideal way of doing this: too often, a video camera is used to capture the speaker's face at the expense of the slides or a poor quality copy of the slides. Therefore, a PDF file or direct “screen grab” of the electronic material must be captured as well. Once captured, it is often desirable to synchronise the slides with the audio/video stream and merge them into a single stream for publication. The offline and online scenarios differ in the way in which this is achieved.

The differences between scenarios therefore lie in the nature of the material captured (either audio+slides or audio+video+slides), the equipment used, the file size generated, and the effort required. Recordings will often be followed by an editing step, during which the recording is improved and converted into an appropriate format for publication. The scenarios may also be combined in various ways to achieve a given group's goals. For example, it may be desirable to have a live broadcast of an event at moderate quality and subsequently produce a higher quality, edited version for longer term reference.

The basic idea behind the Recording & Broadcasting scenarios is that they can act as simple recipes which any member group, even one with a low budget and limited skills, can adopt in a straightforward way. They have already been tested and used for routine events, so any group adopting one of them can be reasonably confident that it will work. The scenarios are also graded so that skills developed using the early scenarios can be re-used and enhanced with later scenarios.

Nine recording scenarios are defined:

  1. Documentation only

  2. Offline Audio

  3. Online Audio

  4. Offline SD Video

  5. Online SD Video

  6. SD Video Live Broadcasting

  7. Offline HD Video

  8. Online HD Video

  9. HD Video Live Broadcasting

In all cases, “audio” implies that both slides and audio will be captured and “video” implies that slides, audio and video will be captured.

Scenario 0: Documentation only

This represents existing good practice where a record of the meeting is provided in the form of a copy of the presenter's slides, or a transcript of what was said, or both. These documents should be provided in PDF form because that is most widely used and is the most convenient for downloading over the web. The advantages of this scenario are that documentation is compact, easily transmitted over networks, and requires no additional software or skills. The disadvantages are that the presenter's slides seldom provide a complete record of the meeting, and that transcripts are expensive or time-consuming to produce.

Scenario 1: Offline Audio

This scenario uses an inexpensive digital voice recorder, sometimes equipped with a tie clip microphone, to record an audio stream to a storage device in the recorder. The speaker carries the voice recorder in his/her pocket. Typical consumer recording devices use an SD card for storage and have a capacity of around 30 minutes of audio. [For very short recordings, a smart phone could substitute for the voice recorder but this is not recommended for larger/longer meetings.] Semi-professional devices may be capable of capturing much longer recordings and/or higher quality. There is often no control of the recording device while it's being used, although some devices may enable monitoring of sound levels.

Data from the storage card must imported into a computer, usually as an MP3 file, which may be used directly or edited. Speaker slides must be captured separately, usually as a PDF file, and there is generally no synchronisation between audio and slides. They may be manually synchronised for web publication via SlideShare.

Scenario 2: Online Audio

This scenario uses a microphone connected to a laptop computer, equipped with recording software such as Audacity, to capture an audio stream directly to the computer. Recent experience with remote microphones, including directional microphones, suggests that sound quality may be unreliable unless the microphone is actively managed. Therefore, a tie clip microphone is normally a better option, connected to the laptop via a long cable or a wireless microphone kit, using an audio jack or USB connector. Some speakers like to move around and are unhappy with the idea of being tied to a cable, so a wireless microphone is the recommended solution.

The wireless kit consists of the microphone plus a small battery powered transmitter which is worn by the speaker, and a base station receiver which is connected to the laptop. An advantage of a wireless kit is that the receiver and laptop may be positioned remotely from the speaker. It is often convenient to operate this configuration from the back of the lecture room, where a volunteer can start and stop the recording, monitor sound levels, switch microphones, etc without disturbing the speaker.

Normally, the software used for recording is also used for subsequent editing. With a suitable hard disk drive installed in the laptop, or an external hard drive, recordings of one hour up to several hours may be captured easily. The best known software for this purpose is the free, open source Audacity which may be downloaded from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/. Other audio recording software may also be used, but will usually be priced. (Alternatively, both slides and audio track may be captured using Camtasia, by selecting no camera input.)

Audacity provides a convenient “dashboard” style user interface for operating the recording, plus a waveform display used during recording and editing. It stores recordings using the .aup file format and supports editing in this format, although a faster computer may be required for editing. There is a fairly comprehensive tutorial at http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Audacity_Wiki_Home_Page. The edited recording can be converted to MP3 format for distribution using an additional software package known as Lame. Speaker slides must be captured separately as a PDF file because Audacity does not support capture of this data. There is no synchronisation between slides and audio, and two files must be published to capture the complete recording. However, when a recording is published on the web using the SlideShare service, slides can be manually synchronised with the audio track.

Scenario 3: Offline Video at Standard Definition

This scenario uses a digital camcorder plus microphone to record a combined audio + video stream to a storage device such as an SD card or a hard disk drive. Normally, the camcorder should be mounted on a tripod somewhere towards the back of the lecture room where it will not disturb the speaker and should have a long enough focal length lens to make this possible. A number of popular makes of digital camcorders are currently available with wide range zoom lenses, which makes it possible to select a convenient focal length. Most camcorders have a built-in directional microphone but sound quality may be unreliable and therefore use of an external microphone is recommended. This could be a camera-mounted microphone or a wireless microphone of the type described in Scenario 2. In either case, it's important that the camcorder have an input socket for the external microphone, to enable both audio and video tracks to be recorded on the storage device.

Standard Definition (SD) video uses a resolution roughly equivalent to that used in conventional analogue TV pictures or VGA computer monitors, and often defined as 720 x 576 pixels. This enables long recordings to be captured on a single storage card although the length of recording also will depend on the storage capacity of the card. SD cards are currently available with capacities up to 32 Gbytes, which should allow several hours recording.

The camcorder and microphone combination is usually operated by a volunteer during the meeting. The combined audio + video tracks on the storage device must then be imported into a computer running a suitable video editor such as Camtasia, which is also capable of capturing speaker slides (or other displayed information). Synchronisation between the slides and audio/video track may be established during editing. The editing recording willl normally be rendered into MPeg4 format for publication on the web.

Scenario 4: Online Video at Standard Definition

This scenario uses video camera and separate microphone, both of which are connected to a laptop computer equipped with recording software, to capture audio and video streams directly to the computer. One advantage of this approach is that the recording software can also capture the speaker slides via “screen grab” technology and synchronise it with audio/video stream during the recording. Alternatively, the camcorder may be equipped with an external microphone as described on Scenario 3.

The choice of cameras which may be connected to a laptop includes external webcams and camcorders attached via a digital bus, such as Firewire, or an analogue to digital conversion device, often known as a USB video grabber. Some higher priced video cameras have the Firewire feature, but we were unable to find it on consumer models. However, most camcorders provide an analogue output signal which may be converted to an SD quality digital signal via a conversion device. These are readily available at around £20 and we recommend the LogiLink USB video grabber. This is supplied with drivers for Windows computers and free open source driver is available for Mac computers from www.bentrask.com.

Most external webcams have a short focal length lens and must be placed close to the speaker. This requires a USB extension cable for connection to the laptop, since it is normally convenient to locate this and other equipment at the back of the room where a volunteer can start and stop the recording, manage camera angle, recording levels, etc. Camcorders usually have wide range zoom lens and may be placed at the back of the room, close to the laptop and other equipment.

To make use of the “screen grab” function in recording software such as Camtasia, the speaker's slides must be installed on the same laptop which is being used for the audio/video recording. It is therefore necessary to copy the speaker's slides to the recording laptop before the session begins. The person operating the laptop should be alert to following the speaker's slide changes as they occur.

Normally, the software used for recording is also used for subsequent editing. File sizes will typically be an order of magnitude larger than with audio recording but a modern laptop with a suitable hard disk drive, or a high capacity external hard drive, should enable recordings of several hours to be captured easily. Experience suggests that Camtasia is suitable for this purpose. Its “screen grab” function uses a rectangular marquee to denote the area of the screen to be captured and this would normally be positioned over the window used for the speaker slides, but could capture the output from any application. The benefit of performing this screen grab in realtime is that accurate synchronisation may be achieved during the  recording process, avoiding work during the subsequent editing process.

Camtasia is available from Techsmith Labs, together with other related products. See http://shop.techsmith.com/store Action=DisplayHomePage&Currency=GBP&Locale=en_GB&SiteID=techsmit for details. It provides a convenient “dashboard” style user interface for operating the recording, plus a waveform display similar to that provided by Audacity for the audio stream, which is used during recording and editing. It records composite files in its own format and supports editing in this format, although a faster computer may be required for editing. As previously noted, speaker slides may be incorporated into the video output stream and synchronisation established during the editing process.

Scenario 5: Live Video Broadcasting at Standard Definition

This scenario uses the Tricaster system to both record and broadcast standard quality video. A full description is beyond the scope of this report; users should refer to the Tricaster manual and undertake specific training. Tricaster can only be used in the Wilkes 1 and 2 rooms in the Davison Building.

Tricaster is a semi-professional recording and broadcasting system incorporating a camera control console, a video mixing desk, and a personal computer. The console enables individual control of the meeting room cameras which may be panned or zoomed via a joystick control. It also allows pre-set camera positions to be programmed and selected at the press of a button, so that the meeting coordinator can select a particular view quickly. The video mixing desk enables the coordinator to view the output of all cameras and select in real time which will be used for output to a recording device or broadcast channel. In addition to cameras, the mixing desk can be used to select pre-recorded still pictures, e.g. BCS logo, meeting title, etc., and external video feeds from other sources such as the data projector which is showing the speaker's slides. The mixing function includes transition effects such as fade in/fade out. The PC is used to host recording software and manage the resulting files. Video output can be forwarded to an external streaming server by running Adobe Flash Live Media Encoder, which will encode the video stream in Flash format and allows specification of a URL where the server can be found.

In the hands of a skilled operator, Tricaster enables real time selection of which inputs should be recorded or broadcast, thereby avoiding work which would otherwise be required during the editing stage. However, it also requires significant preparation before each event to set up camera positions, meeting titles, video feeds, etc., and processing after the event to render recorded data into a compressed form suitable for long term storage. Video data is recorded at SD quality because that is the capability of the meeting room cameras and the iVGA feed from the data projector.

Scenario 6: Offline Video at High Definition

This scenario is very similar to Scenario 3 because most modern consumer camcorders have HD capability. When recording in HD mode, they will capture video at a resolution of either 1280 x 720 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels (“full HD”). At 1280 x 720 resolution, approximately two hours recording can be captured on a single 16 Gbyte storage card, or approximately four hours on a 32 Gbyte card. At 1920 x 1080 resolution, recording times are less than half these numbers. Some modern digital cameras, particularly digital single lens reflex cameras, have an HD video recording mode which also records to an SD memory card. Whilst these cameras have a wide choice of superior lenses which can be used with them, in practice they are less useful for video work because of limitations in storage capacity or maximum recording time, which may be as little as 20 minutes.

The camcorder and microphone combination is usually operated by a volunteer during the meeting. The combined audio + video tracks on the storage device must then be imported into a computer running a suitable video editor such as Camtasia. The editing and publication process follows the same approach as used in Scenario 4, but note that Camtasia is also capable of capturing speaker slides (or other displayed information) so that synchronisation between the slides and audio/video track may be established during editing. Even at HD resolution, direct video capture of the meeting room projector screen is usually inadequate and therefore it's necessary to include of copies the speaker's slides during the editing process, in the manner described for Scenario 3.

Scenario 7: Online Video at High Definition

This scenario is similar to Scenario 4, using High Definition capture devices in place of Standard Definition devices. However, these include HD webcams, especially tripod mounted studio webcams which are now available at low prices, or HD camcorders. These offer an especially cheap and easy-to-use form of digital input for recording.

Unfortunately, consumer HD camcorders provide digital output only in the form of an HDMI connection, which can be connected to a device such as digital TV or Blu-Ray recorder but not to most laptops. Few conversion devices are available to provide the needed connection to a laptop, and these are typically high priced. Another option may be a semi-professional video camera with a Firewire connection. These provide high quality digital input to a laptop but are mostly very high priced. Second hand cameras with this capability are sometimes available more cheaply on e-Bay. The use of cheap analogue-to-digital conversion devices with analogue output from the camcorder reduces quality to SD level, and is therefore not recommended.

Normally, the software used for recording is also used for subsequent editing. File sizes will typically be an order of magnitude larger than with audio recording but a modern laptop with a suitable hard disk drive, or a high capacity external hard drive, should enable recordings of several hours to be captured easily. Experience suggests that Camtasia is suitable for this purpose. Its “screen grab” function uses a rectangular marquee to denote the area of the screen to be captured and this would normally be positioned over the window used for the speaker slides, but could capture the output from any application. The benefit of performing this screen grab in realtime is that accurate synchronisation may be achieved while avoiding work may during the subsequent editing process. It's worth bearing in mind that a number of web video publishing sites, such as YouTube, will apply high levels of compression to video content when it is published.

Scenario 8: Live Video Broadcasting at High Definition

The combination of HD video capture devices, such as webcams built in to modern laptops, and online meeting software enables high quality videoconferencing between small groups of participants. A wide range of products are available which support this capability, some of which are free, and some for which a charge is payable. Conferencing with over 16 users is normally charged at a higher rate than for less smaller numbers.

This type of software is widely used to support webinars with moderate audience sizes but the assumption is that the presenter is seated at a desk. However, it can be adapted to use in lecture style meetings by using a tripod mounted studio style webcam which provides a view of the speaker and the area immediately surrounding him/her. Audience numbers will be limited to that supported in an online meeting.

Uniquely, Google+ offers both an online meeting capability, known as "Hangout", and an “on air” option which enables video data from the meeting to be broadcast live to a related YouTube account. This provides a live but non-interactive broadcast of the meeting which is very appealing to some audiences. Audience numbers are limited only by what YouTube can support, so are unlimited for practical purposes.

Another attractive feature of this offering is that the software automatically records the video stream and posts the completed recording on YouTube after the event has finished. This avoids post-event editing work although YouTube compresses the video stream and reduces quality to approximately SD resolution. A sensible approach may be to make a higher quality recording in parallel (using the technique described in Scenario 3), which can be edited and posted on the web at a later time.

At least two participants must be available to set up the online meeting, before it can be broadcast. These participants must have Google+ accounts but those viewing the broadcast do not need Google+ or YouTube accounts. The online meeting is established by the meeting coordinator who should initiate a Hangout and invite at least one other participant, preferably a volunteer using a nearby laptop. Live broadcasting is triggered by selecting “Hangout on Air” while setting up the online meeting, which causes the screen data to be transmitted to the linked YouTube account where it will appear as video. To view the broadcast, participants merely have to search for the meeting coordinator's channel or find it via an e-mail link.

By default, the Hangout will use the built-in webcam and microphone in the coordinator's laptop, and those of other participants. It's therefore necessary to select the right camera using the Settings panel and it's usually a good idea to mute these other cameras and microphones, to avoid an interrrupted dialogue, distracting pictures, background noise or avoid feedback occurring. In practice, it is essential to monitor both the output from the online meeting and the YouTube broadcast to confirm that video and audio quality is acceptable, which may require use of three laptops.

Video input of the speaker may be captured from a cable connected webcam placed nearby, or from a camcorder attached via a video grabber device, as described in earlier scenarios. Audio input may be captured from a webcam. This is usually satifactory when the speaker's voice is amplified by meeting room speakers but otherwise may appear distant. Alternatively,  a wireless microphone worn by the speaker may be used, with the base station connected to the meeting coordinator's laptop. These settings can be changed during the course of the hangout, enabling the use of close up, wide angle, and other camera views. Speaker slides or demonstrations may also be shown by selecting the “share screen” option, but note that a copy of the slides must already be installed on the coordinator's laptop.

Google+ also supports “applications” such as text chat which may be run within the Hangout window. This is often useful for side coversations between those operating the Hangout.

Technical options

Recording vs. live broadcasting vs. conferencing

 

In the media industries such as radio, television, film and music, most broadcasts use recorded content so there is no inherent difference between recording and broadcasting: the main purpose of recording is to enable subsequent broadcasting. Most people are familiar with this and certain recorded formats are used very widely, so it safe to assume that a majority of members will be able to use material in these formats. Recorded content may be downloaded on demand and therefore is accessible across both space and time. Because viewing is decoupled from the production of content, this form of broadcasting is highly scalable to unlimited numbers of users.

In contrast to this, live broadcasting requires both the content producer and the audience to be present in real time. This inherently limits availability to those who are able to partcipate at that time.  Some live broadcasting technologies require particular hardware and/or software to be installed at the receiving location, and others require a high bandwidth connection, both of which may further limit their accessibility for some users. Live broadcasts may also be recorded, but this does not happen automatically, and content cannot be edited while it is being delivered. However, where content is recorded, editing may still be required subsequently in order to create material suitable for an archive. For these reasons, live broadcasting is less scalable than recorded broadcasting and is likely to be restricted to prestige or critical events where timeliness in the delivery of content is of high importance. It may also be linked with the use of high quality equipment, such as the Tricaster system in the BCS Davidson Building, and professional services for content mixing, editing, etc. with higher associated costs.

When live broadcasting is combined with a real time feedback from participants, it is referred to as conferencing. There are many different technologies which enable some form of conferencing, including telephone conferencing, video call software (e.g.  Skype, Apple Facetime), online meeting/webinar software (e.g. Adobe Connect, AnyMeeting, Cisco Webex, Cirix Gotomeeting, Google+ Hangout), and massively multiplayer role playing games (e.g. Second Life). Simple forms of conferencing may be achieved by combining live broadcasting with a near-real-time feedback channel such as Twitter.

Some conferencing technologies require particular hardware or software to be installed at the receiving location, whilst others are browser based and usable on a wide range of devices. Some products include a recording option while others do not, and some allow the recording to be downloaded for subsequent editing. (See the Report of the recording & Broadcasting WG for more information.) In general, conferencing technologies are less scalable than broadcasting technologies, often with a limit of 16 active users, and are therefore more suitable for events such as committee meetings. However, Google+ is unique is providing an option to stream the output from an online meeting via YouTube, providing almost unlimited scalability

Best practice favours options which maximise accessibility and minimise costs. The unique and free capabilities of Google+ coupled with YouTube make this an excellent choice for BCS member groups who want to offer live broadcasts. Where broadcasts are not required, consider recording software as an alternative.

Having decided which of these options to pursue, a group should then select an appropriate software package before choosing a particular hardware configuration. Choice of software sets the overall boundaries of what you can achieve, affects overall cost levels, and has a much greater influence on success or failure than choice of hardware. Many hardware elements such as microphones, cameras, or external storage can be substituted for equivalents or upgraded to more capable devices without changing software or the overall architecture of the solution. Most of the skills that you will need to learn are likely to be software-related and it's ineffective to acquire these skills unless they will be deployed over a significant period. Therefore, choice of software should be treated as a long term decision.

Best practice is therefore to choose recording, live broadcasting or conferencing software before selecting hardware.

The Role of Standards

In the current state of BCS practice, few standards for the format of various types of content or enabling software have been established and there is no intent to impose particular standards. However, it is likely that de facto standards will emerge from experience and the Best Practices Committee will encourage wide dissemination of these standards. The obvious benefits of adopted standards are that content becomes more widely accessible, members can develop interchangeable skills based on those standards, and the BCS can achieve its goals at lower cost than via alternatives.

Industry practice has already created de facto recording standards for some important types of content which BCS groups may use:

  • Documents

Working documents, speaker slides, etc. should be distributed in PDF format to exploit the ubiquitous use of Adobe Reader. Typical file sizes are 50 - 100 kbytes for a one page document, 100 - 150 kilobytes for a one page presentation, hence order of 1megabyte for typical documents and short presentations.

  • Images

Photographic images such as portraits, technical illustrations, etc. should be distributed in JPEG format to exploit the widespread use of photographic capture, processing and printing. Typical file sizes are order of 100 kilobytes for a low resolution passport sized photo, 1 megabyte for a larger high resolution image.

  • Audio recordings

Audio recordings including speech and music should be distributed in the MP3 format used by music players, mobile phones, and PCs which download content from online music stores. Typical file sizes are order of 10 megabytes for a one hour medium quality mono speech recording. Stereophonic recordings and music will require larger file sizes.

  • Video recordings

Multimedia recordings which normally include both video and audio material are widely used on the Internet. However, there are competing format standards with no dominant standard as yet. MPEG4 (also known as MP4, H.264) was developed in 1998 as a successor to MP3 and earlier standards, and is used in the media industries as well as for Internet streaming. The Apple Quicktime player uses this standard. However, MPEG4 is based on patented technologies which require licencing and this has limited its adoption. Around 2002, Ogg was launched as an open source multimedia format free of patent licencing and has subsequently been adopted for both commercial and non-commercial uses, including video games. WebM is a more recent format launched in 2010, derived from Ogg and supported by Google, Adobe and others including several browser makers. Adobe has announced that its Flash player will be updated to support the WebM format. Typical file sizes are order of 100 megabytes for a half hour medium resolution video (including speaker, slides and audio track).

 

The capability to play video content within an HTML5 script is browser dependent and differs between Windows PCs, Mac PCs, and smartphones. Several browsers can also host plugins which play content that the browser cannot play natively. However, there is no obvious way to determine whether a given user has installed a particular plugin. The relationship between popular standards and browsers without plugins  is documented in the following table [derived from W3C].

Video format browser support
 
Format IE Firefox Opera Chrome Safari
MPGE4 9.0+ No No 5.0+ 5.0+
Ogg No 3.5+ 10.5+ 5.0+ No
WebM No 4.0+ 10.6+ 6.0+ No

These relationships are likely to change as more of the HTML5 draft standard is implemented in later versions of these browsers. Alternatively, the use of hosting site such as YouTube ca avoid the standards problems since it converts all uploaded videos to MP4 format and implements support for playing in most popular browsers.

Current best practice is therefore to distribute video/multimedia content in MPEG4 format or use a web hosting site such as YouTube. Typical file sizes are 100 megabytes for a 20 minute video recording, and 1 gigabyte for longer or higher quality recordings.

Audio Recording

Essential equipment for audio recording includes:

  • microphone
  • computer (smartphone, tablet, laptop etc.) for digitising and processing microphone signals, or handheld voice recorder
  • software for recording, playback and editing audio data
  • software for converting audio data into the MP3 distribution format
  • storage device

In simple cases, all of these elements may be provided by a single package such as a smartphone. Devices such as the iPhone can be surprisingly effective at recording audio close to their speaker, or through an external microphone. They often have built-in software or free / low cost audio processing applications such as Audiboo or Tinyvox. However, these devices have relatively little free storage space which may limit the maximum recording length that can be achieved. Therefore they are most effective for short recordings and informal situations.

For most member group meetings, a more effective solution is a laptop equipped with an external microphone.  Audio can recorded very effectively using software such as Audacity (free and open source, for Windows, Mac OS and Linux). The recording files in .au format produced by Audacity are subsequently converted to MP3 format using another open source program known as LOME. Depending on the recording quality selected, Audacity may generate in excess of 1 gigabyte of data for a one hour talk, so a modern fairly high specification laptop is needed, possibly with high capacity external hard drive. As noted above, the converted MP3 file will usually be much smaller and therefore suitable for posting on a web site.

Some care is required in the choice of microphone. To create an effective recording, it's essential that the microphone be located near to the speaker. This can be achieved with a simple and inexpensive (~£10) cable attached microphone. However, many speakers are unwilling to be tethered in this manner and therefore it's worth exploring alternatives. One of these is to use a bluetooth headset (of the sort used with mobile phones) which enables shortrange wireless communication with a bluetooth-enabled laptop. This is also inexpensive (~£10) but depends on the speaker's willingness to wear the headset. [There may also be some limits on the range supported by bluetooth.]

A third option is a wireless tieclip microphone kit of the sort frequently used in conferences. This kit consists of several main components:

  • microphone plus battery operated transmitter
  • base station receiver with cable connection to laptop
  • optional cable connection to meeting room AV system

This configuration is more expensive (~£100 with a single channel base station) but still affordable. Its major advantage is that it enables the speaker to move around freely within the room and the range is usually sufficient for most rooms. The base station plus laptop must be located close to a power socket but may be at the back of the room, which is usually convenient for the volunteer operating it. Another cable is needed if the recording system is used in conjunction with a meeting room amplification system, and the base station must also be located near an AV connection socket, but the recording process is completely independent of the AV system. Multichannel base stations (~£200) are also available which can support multiple microphones, including roving hand held microphones, but require a volunteer operator to switch channels when appropriate to the recording.

Current best practice is therefore to use Audacity software with a suitable laptop and a wireless tieclip microphone kit.

Note that, although an audio recording may be used on its own, many will be used in conjunction with a slide set in PDF format. By viewing the audio recording and slideset in separate windows, it is usually possible to follow the speaker's references to text and/or diagrams within the slide set, using audio cues to determine when to move to the next slide.

A better way of publishing recordings may be to use as web hosting site such as Slideshare. This enables upload of both slides in PDF format and audio in MP3 format, and has a editing tool which enables synchronisation between slides and audio to be achieved. The conbined presentation may then be played in a manner similar to a video recording. It also provides a range of tools for tracking audience response to a presentation.

Current best practice is to publish slides and audio recordings via Slideshare.

[Other more professional recording options include the use of high quality and/or specialised microphones and recording devices, at higher cost. More detailed information on these options can be found in telemeeting-solutions wiki (not under BCS control)].

Video recording

Essential equipment for video recording includes:

  • video camera (camcorder) or studio webcam
  • microphone
  • computer (smartphone, tablet, laptop etc.) for digitising and processing video/audio signals
  • software for recording, playback and editing video data
  • software for converting video data into the MP4 distribution format

As with audio recording, a modern smartphone such as an iPhone 4/4S can record high quality video. Many compact digital cameras can also record video and some modern digital SLRs can record broadcast quality video, although usually only of limited duration. These video capture devices wiil normally be used with a tripod or other fixed mounting, and may be placed relatively unobtrusively to capture images of a speaker. However, video is more demanding than audio in terms of available storage space and is therefore more suitable for shorter talks, segments of talks, or discussions after a meeting, where it can be very effective.  Smartphones can also make use of editing applications to produce rough cuts more conveniently - potentially on the train home after a meeting!

For most member groups, a more effective solution will be to use offline recording with a combination of camcorder and wireless microphone, or to use online recording with a high quality USB webcam attached to a laptop computer. Modern camcorders can record audio on-camera, or by taking a feed from an external wireless or directional microphone, or from a public address system. Useful recordings have been achieved simply using the built-in camera and microphone in a modern laptop. However, this requires the speaker to stand in a confined space in front of the laptop, which may not be acceptable to some speakers. Alternatively, a studio webcam may be mounted on a tripod and positioned near to the speaker, with a USB extension cable linked to a laptop at the back of the meeting room. Using an external webcam should enable more flexibility and the webcam also includes a directional microphone. More sophisticated cameras and microphones, at higher cost, can be used if appropriate. In all cases, the camera should be tripod mounted and may require a cameraman to ensure correct tracking and framing of the speaker.

Either approach should be used in conjunction with recording software such as Camtasia, which may be used to edit offline recordings or for online capture. Camtasia also provides  video screen capture within a laptop computer, enabling synchronised capture of the speaker's slides. This requires a copy of the slides to be placed on the laptop prior to the event,   but can contribute to a more effective recording. Editing options within Camtasia enable the slides and camera video to be juxtaposed within a single output window, enabling the viewer to watch the complete recording through a single window. Other forms of screen output, such as a product demonstration, can also be captured which is a significant advantage. However, the effectiveness of the final recording depends on the camera and editing skills of the volunteers. Except with the most charismatic speakers, "talking heads" may become boring, and may not carry much additional information, so that the slides and audio are often the most useful parts of the recording.

Current best practice is therefore to use Camtasia with a suitable webcam or camcorder and external microphone combination.

For more information on Camtasia see:  http://shop.techsmith.com/store Action=DisplayHomePage&Currency=GBP&Locale=en_GB&SiteID=techsmit

An introductory guide to Camtasia is available at www.volunteer.bcs.org/sites/default/files/CamtasiaStudioGuide.pdf

For information on more sophisticated rigs, see the telemeeting-solutions wiki (wiki not under BCS control.

Conferencing and Live Broadcasting

A number of conferencing solutions are available for online meetings. These are available in free or low priced versions which cater for up to 15 remote sites in their basic form. Some have an optional management console which permits control of all participants, and some offer enterprise versions or hosted conferences which can scale to thousands of users at a higher price. Note, however, that bandwidth requirements can be demanding when multiple sites are involved and cost will be a significant issue with large scale conferences.

All of these solutions depend on each user having a webcam and microphone built in to their laptop, or externally attached. Many operate simply via web browser and claim not to require any special software to be installed. However, they still depend on each browser's capability to render HTML5 video content as described above and, therefore, some browsers may not be able to participate unless the appropriate plugin is installed. Google+ is unique in being integrated with a social media products which provide additional services such as text chat, building contact networks, posting messages, enabling searches for content, and analysis of usage patterns.

Current best practice is that Google+ web conferencing should be used where appropriate for small meetings, such as committee meetings.

As discussed, web conferencing technology may be adapted for use in a lecture style meeting by using a tripod mounted camcorder or webcam attached to the meeting coordinator's laptop. When this is used with a Google+ Hangout, there is an option to select "Hangout on Air" which broadcasts the meeting to a linked YouTube channel. This enables a very large audience to receive the broadcast in real time, or to view a recording of the event afterwards, and is especially valuable when immediate access to the content is more important than high quality.

Current best practice for live broadcasting is to use Google Hangout on Air.

Other live broadcasting solutions are available with the Tricaster configuration at Southampton Street. These require the use of Adobe Flash Media Encoder to forward a video stream to an external streaming server which runs the appropriate Adobe streaming software. This requires higher levels of technical skill for set up and operation.