The Democratization of Broadcasting

Audio/Video broadcasting on the internet is widely supported by a number of “free” apps.  These apps shield the end-user from the ultimate cost of audio/video processing and transport.  But in some sense, they are not actually free.  Most of these apps ask you to trade personal information of value for the right to use the service. Types of valuable information include your identity, perhaps your friends’ identity, and most often they require your “attention” … in the form of advertising.  These items of “value” can be converted into real money, and the real money keeps the free service going, and the
virtuous cycle continues.

Broadcasting can require transcoding for each receiver

Broadcasting has many uses.  Some are commercial, but there are other types of one-to-many communications that are possible.  Exemplars for this type of service are the broadcast of a piano recital to members of the family, or the broadcast of an unusual impromptu street performer to a few friends.

This article examines the costs of broadcasting and asks if lowering the costs can result in a new service model: one that is lean, anonymous and speedy.

Continue reading The Democratization of Broadcasting

Microbroadcasting

I’ve recently become interested-in and fascincated-with the idea of “microbroadcasting.”  In the radio world, the term microbroadcast referred to a small radio station, often a pirate radio station. These stations broadcast infrequently, and often you needed to discover its frequency and program schedule through a means other than the radio station.

On the internet, anyone can be a broadcaster using only a smartphone with an app, or a webcam and some software.  There are plenty of “broadcast-it-yourself” applications.  So what is it that makes one a microbroadcaster and not a broadcaster?

Continue reading Microbroadcasting

Sensr Time-Lapse Playback with the DVR View

Sensr.net has been collecting vast amounts of image data from lots of cameras for well over a year now.  Until now, the best way to search and view the images has been with a grid-based view based on a metaphor of a photo gallery.  Recently, Sensr.net added a “DVR” view that uses advanced HTML and Javascript to present a fluid view of an
image sequence.

As Sensr.net receives image streams it applies sophisticated motion-detection algorithms to suppress redundant or irrelevant images.  This helps users during playback by allowing the images from an entire hour to be reviewed in only minutes.  It’s also interesting (and sometimes amusing) to see the shots that Sensr.net captures.

One of our users has been capturing morning walks with her dog using an iPhone.  (See the Lifecasting article for a HOWTO if you’d like to do this yourself.)  Watching what she saw as a slideshow or by single-stepping through the frames using the “Next” and “Prev” buttons is an interesting way to share her experiences!  Follow the link to try it out yourself.

http://sensr.net/zoomgallery/351/dvr.html?interval=hour&reft=1278426317&idx=16

I captured a street scene from a restaurant window while on my annual trip to Provincetown.  (also via iPhone.)  Take a look below.  This sequence is amusing when played with the “PLAY” button.  This one takes a while to load, so you may have to wait a little bit.

http://sensr.net/zoomgallery/345/dvr.html?interval=hour&reft=1278089700&idx=10

Adam Beguelin recorded one of these DVR views as a quicktime movie. (http://www.beguelin.com/2010/07/quicktime-screen-recording.html)  He posted it to Youtube too.  Pretty cool to watch.

These views are less-than full-motion video – they capture a experiences as images sequences that can be played back faster than realtime, or frozen as photos.  I find the time-lapse sequences to be extremely engaging in a way that is different from video.  What do you think?

Mobile Lifecasting using an iPhone and Sensr

Lifecasting is the act of broadcasting the events of ones life as they are experienced.  Lifecasts are usually real-time, and the prevalence of webcams and wireless Internet has made it possible for almost anyone to broadcast what they are doing as they are doing it.  Mobile wireless devices with Internet connectivity have opened up entirely new possibilities, making it possible to catch interesting events as they are happening — where they are happening.  Un-tethering from a laptop is incredibly liberating and allows you to share the action from where you are seeing it.

Sensr.net is a versatile service for sharing and recording image streams.  Here we focus on sharing and recording from an iPhone.

This post describes how to use Sensr.net with an iPhone App called “PhoneCam” that can transmit a continuous stream of photos to Sensr.net‘s servers.  PhoneCam is available for $2.99 from the iTunes store.  Using the iPhone means it’s possible to broadcast from almost anywhere there is WiFi or 3G.  You can even broadcast while you’re on the move.

More information about PhoneCam is available from the developer here: http://www.tidalpool.ca/phonecam/index.html.

In brief, PhoneCam periodically takes a picture with your iPhone camera and uploads it to an FTP site.  This works perfectly with Sensr.net!

The rest of this post takes you through the necessary steps of configuring Sensr.net and your iPhone to enable Lifecasting on the go.  I’ve included a lot of screenshots to help you set up your Sensr account and to adjust all the settings on PhoneCam.

Add a New Camera to your Sensr Account

Login to Sensr using your Facebook username and password.  Select the “My Cameras” page.  Here you will see thumbnails of the latest images from your existing cameras.

To add a new camera to your account, click on the big green button labeled “Add New Camera.”  This will allocate a new Camera on the Sensr servers.

Tell Sensr About your Camera

On the “Camera Info” page you should fill in the fields marked with red arrows.  Give your camera a meaningful name.  Set the Timezone of your Camera. (Note: the layout of this page changed in Sept 2010.) Click on the big green “Add Camera” button at the bottom of the page to save these settings for your new Sensr Camera.

Write down your Sensr FTP Credentials

You should now be on the “Activate Camera” step shown below. Sensr.net has allocated an FTP account for your camera. The server name, username and password constitute the FTP credentials for this account.  Write yours down for later.  These are the settings that we must give to PhoneCam so that it can talk to Sensr.net.

In the example of this post, the FTP credentials are as follows:

  • FTP Server: f3.sensr.net
  • Username: cam345
  • Password: xg1qts3v4t

After you have written down these values, click on the “Take me to my camera!” button.  You will then be on the Gallery view of your camera.  There won’t be any images yet in your gallery because it is a new camera.

Configure PhoneCam

Now it is time to configure your iPhone for image uploading to Sensr.net.  You should have already installed PhoneCam on your iPhone by using the Apple App store.  When you open it up for the first time, you should go to the “Settings” page by clicking on the lowercase italic “i” at thetop-right of the screen.

PhoneCam Servers

You will be adding a new server to the PhoneCam settings first. Notice the “Server” field at the top.  Click on the right of this line to go to the Server Settings page.  (In the screenshot below, I have already added the server I called “Lifecast.”  You won’t have this yet.)


Add a new Server

To add a new Server, click on the “Edit” tab at the top-right.

From there you will be able to select adding a new server by clicking on the “+” that appears at the top-left of the page.

Edit Server

We are finally at the page where the FTP credentials from the Sensr.net site can be entered into the PhoneCam.

* Select a meaningful name for your server.  This is for your own use.  I called my primary Sensr.net upload “Lifecast” for this example.
* For the “Host” field, enter the “FTP Server” name assigned by Sensr.net.
* Ensure that the “Path” remains empty.
* For the “Username” field, enter the “Username” from Sensr.net.
* For the “Password” field, enter the “Password” from Sensr.net.

When you are done, the page should look like this.  Go back to the Servers list by clicking the “Server” button at the top-left.

On the page that follows, click the “Done” button.  Lastly, make sure your new server has a “check-mark” next to it.  This selects which server PhoneCam uploads to.  When you have, click on the “Settings” button to get out of server configuration.

Configure Image Name and Refresh Frequency

There are a few last steps in setting up your PhoneCam.

  • Give a “File Name” for the uploaded image: use “phonecam.jpg”
  • Select an update interval for how often to upload.  I like to upload continuously when PhoneCam is on, or perhaps at an interval of 5 or 10 seconds.
  • Select “Replace Images: OFF.”  This causes PhoneCam to give each uploaded image a new filename.  This option works best with Sensr.net.

The other parameters should be left as their default values.  Here is what I use.

  • Type: JPEG
  • Quality: 80%
  • Size: 320×240

And also

  • Save TO Album: OFF
  • Title: none
  • Detail: none
  • Date/Time: OFF
  • Location: OFF

Lifecast your Life using PhoneCam and Sensr.net

At this point, you should be ready to go!  Go back to the PhoneCam home page and press the Big Red Dot to start recording images.  As each image is taken, you should see status messages at the bottom of the screen counting the number of images taken and the number of successful uploads.

Lifecasting on-the-go!

Now, when something interesting is happening in your life, you can add it to your Lifecast.  Just get out your iPhone, start up PhoneCam and press the “Big Red Dot” to start recording into the *cloud*. Sensr.net is always watching for your broadcasts and recording your data.  You can even share your images on Facebook.  (That will be the subject of another post.)

Of course, the challenge remains to “be interesting.”  Keep me posted with what you find.