Live streaming: is it for you?

Readers of this column are obviously interested in working with video on the PC; however, if you take a straw poll of your friends with video cameras, you may be surprised at how little footage actually gets onto the hard drive. This is a travesty, as unedited video means that families and friends all over the country are being bored senseless watching hours of footage that should have been cut.

In an effort to make DV available to a wider audience, as well as to encourage greater use of a PC in the creative process, new features and technologies have been introduced to make video more relevant to the current generation, who demand everything right here, right now.

Web video

Local networks, the Web, even mobile phone SMS, all reflect the growing obsession amongst a section of the community to be in constant contact. If you feel the need for instant video gratification, the latest developments in camcorder design should appeal.

USB streaming has features that let you quickly convert video to a Web-friendly format for downloading to a PC, or stream live video from your camcorder. If you'd rather not send your video out on the Web live, you may want to edit the footage first.

Using USB for video transfer has advantages over the traditional DV-editing process using a FireWire connection. USB connections can easily cope with the demands of low-resolution video, and the fact that nearly all PCs have a USB connection means more PC users can affordably delve into the world of video editing before committing to more advanced hardware and software.

Most camcorders sold today include an entry-level video-editing package that can prepare and output video in a Web-friendly format. Sony and JVC have even included an application (Pixela ImageMixer) with some of their latest cameras that is specifically designed to deal with the preparation and delivery of Web video.

We're going live

Live streaming enables you to use your camcorder to transfer video live to the Web. Interesting applications for this feature include video conferencing on the road, or broadcasting live concerts on a shoestring budget. By connecting the camcorder to a PC via the USB terminal and installing USB driver software and conferencing software (such as Windows NetMeeting), you can transform your camcorder into a sophisticated webcam.

Video is not transferred to tape but passes through the camcorder as a continuous video signal that can be transmitted over the Web. If you plan on sending video over a broadband connection, an image resolution of around 320x240 would be optimal, with a frame rate of around 15fps. If you need to enable video delivery to a modem connection, reduce the resolution and frame rates accordingly.

The downside of this streaming format is that the camera must remain physically connected to the PC throughout the USB connection. This is fine if you are in a static meeting with colleagues, but is a less than perfect solution if you want to show anything outside your office, or move away from your computer.

Alternatives

Sony's IP range offers a camcorder that connects wirelessly to anything that supports the Bluetooth protocol, which means you can send files to another Bluetooth device over the Web. At the moment, live streaming over a wireless connection isn't a viable option for the average camcorder owner, but as network connections improve, it won't be long before anyone can broadcast live video over the Web without a physical connection to a PC.

If your camcorder doesn't have a USB streaming connection, it may be able to capture a Web version of your footage from the DV tape and store it on a Flash card (such as a SD/MMC card in the Panasonic, JVC and Canon range, or a Memory Stick for the Sony range). Then simply use a card reader to transfer the footage, ready for editing, from the card to the PC. Note: before readers start writing in to say that their camcorder doesn't work properly, be aware that not all camcorders with a Flash memory facility can capture Web video files directly, or from the DV tape. Flash storage on camcorders was initially introduced to allow users to capture digital still images to share either electronically or as prints.

If your camcorder doesn't have USB streaming, or the ability to write Web quality video to a removable Flash card, all is not lost.

You can still capture, edit and output Web-quality video using your camcorder and a PC with a FireWire card - it just takes a little longer and uses a lot more of your PC's resources.

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