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New open source project for capturing video

19 Nov in Community, Education, Fedora, Video, Ubuntu, Python, Freeseer

At FOSSLC, we have been recording events for nearly two years now. We have hundreds of talks available online for free from our videos library. Along the way, as a non-profit organization, we've had to get ruthlessly efficient in how we do things. The technology used to record events is a good example of this. I would like to share the history and progression regarding how we drove down the cost and size of our video recording solution by an order of magnitude in both dimensions. We'd also like to announce a new open source project. There is an audience participation aspect to this post because we need your help to name it. Read on.

Prehistory - how we got started

We started out running events teaching skills with open source software. In the beginning we ran these events without recording events. The crowds averaged 80 people per event, but once the event was over, the content was lost. It occurred to us that if we could record the talks, we could reach more people. Thus the vision was born to record. We decided to experiment to see what happened.

Version 0.x - Early days - a vision to record great open source talks

We evaluated our options to record talks. The pickings were slim. While attending an event at Carleton University about ePresence I met a firm that did this. Thus we started paying a company to record our events. Pricing ranged to record the talks but was more than we could afford since the costs to record were approximately 70% of the costs to do an event. The solution this firm used consumed a 1m(3ft) by 2m(6ft) worth of space when running and took an hour to set up, a half dozen people to haul in and out of venues, and the encoding only ran on  Microsoft Windows. Thus it ran counter to our reason for existing both in terms of open source use and efficient use of funds.

Here is an example of what version 0.x produced.

Version 1.x - Cheaper, portable, running on Linux - the mobile capture station

We then worked with ePresence to develop a mobile capture station that would be smaller, run on Linux, and cost less. The results were promising and we were very impressed with how quickly the team at  ePresence developed the solution. The solution ran on a Linux laptop, fit in a backpack, and took roughly 10 minutes to set up. This was a dramatic improvement. The list price for the software was roughly on par with what it cost us to record 2 events before so we'd get unlimited events for the price of 2 events previously. Life got better.

Here is an example of what version 1.x produced.

We wanted to record OSGeo's FOSS4G conference and the  FSOSS conference. These conferences ran in Australia and North America at the same time in October. Thus, we needed more gear to pull this off. Despite generous support from our sponsors, the kind of funds needed to pay for a handful of new ePresence licenses were not available. We also learned that ePresence changed their license and were no longer open source as they were previously. This gave us significant heartburn as we like to support small businesses, and we valued our relationship with ePresence. We couldn't get the job done based on this thus we had an "itch to scratch".

Version 2.x - Faster, cheaper, open source, open standards

I challenged an talented intern whom had formerly worked for me at Ingres, Google Summer of Code, TalentFirst Network and who probably attended more FOSSLC events than anyone (hi Thanh!). The goal was to experiment to see if we could record video from the epiphan vga2usb device and audio from the sennheiser wireless microphone using strictly open source components from the command line. Without too much pain, it worked and Thanh quickly tuned it to work well. The next task was to create an easy to use gui. For this, we chose PyQT - the python bindings for the QT widget set. Using Python made sense for portability and very rapid prototyping. Using QT made sense given it's richness and liberal license.

As a result of this software, we can now equip 4 sites for the price of  a single site running with version 1.x. This is roughly 2 sites equipped for unlimited talks for the price of a single event based on version 0.x! What we find most exciting is that the cost of the gear for 2.x is roughly on par with the registration fee for most open source conferences. We've been working with open source conference organizers to let FOSSLC correspondents in to events for free if they are recording. We thank the conference organizers for supporting this and it seems to be working to capture even more great talks.

While we have clearly given up full motion video of the speaker for now, the video of the screen is bigger and full motion video by default. Thus debatable that this is in fact superior. You decide:

Here is an example of what version 2.x produced.

We used this new software for recording FSOSS and OSGeo's FOSS4G conferences. We recorded well over a hundred talks with our new software as of this blog post. While not perfect, we have investigated and solved the known crashes and quirky issues thus far. Our success rate is over 90% for capturing talks. It's a good time to invite others to join us to develop the software, or use it to record great open source talks.

In order to make further improvements and not require special software on most major Linux distributions, we switched to gstreamer for our video engine. It has done an excellent job.

The following is an example of the output from this version. We feel it is the best yet as of the time writing this post.

Thus a new open source software project is born. One that records video from any vga output. This is significant since often conferences recorded using a camcorder (as perhaps another cost effective solution) result in horrid sound, and crappy video. Personally, I find watching camcorder talks gives me a headache. With this solution, you get an excellent recording of what ever is being shown on the screen - even full motion demos, and the speaker's audio nice and crisp with good audio levels.It is almost as good as being there.

This software features:

  • An easy to use gui with a start/stop recording button and text boxes for the speaker & talk title
  • Real time thumbnail image of what is being recorded from the screen
  • Real time audio level feedback (so you know the sound is ok)
  • The speaker, title, and date recorded is automatically added to the file name
  • The video file output can be transcoded to nearly any format using ffmpeg
  • The software is free for use, free to distribute to as many sites as we like
  • The software is open source and thus the costs, risks, and benefits of developing it are shared with any who chose to do so

We need your help

We will be making the code available from github (obviously with an open source license). We will announce the mailing list, wiki, and bug tracker shortly. Before we do... we need your help. What should we call it? Please comment here to make a suggestion. We'll create a poll to let people vote on what the development team feels are the top 5. If you provide your email for us to contact you, the winning name will get a very nice golf shirt with heat dissipating/ sweat wicking /bacteria killing technology (value around $40).

If you are interested, we encourage you to get involved with this project by using the software, providing ideas for useful features, reporting any bugs, and possibly contributing code should you desire.


Very cool, I really enjoyed

Very cool, I really enjoyed it. Do you know of somewhere I can read more about it?

Screen shot posted

Check it out here:

We'll post a video soon as well.

entry for the naming contest

Building upon Rad's entry, I suggest "FreeSeeR"

It is WeseeR

Hi !It is just like a VCR ? So we see and record .WeSeeR !CheersRad

Version 2.x demo not working

When I try to see the version 2.x demo I can't ! Tried it in Chrome and FF. Are you able to fix. The version 1.x demo looks great.

Need more information to debug

Thank you for reporting that. We're using to host the video - they support free codecs as well as proprietary. A few thousand people have watched our recent videos without issue. Perhaps there is something unique to your set up? Please email me at aross at fosslc dot org so we can get a few details of your set up in private and help debug.

this project already exists

wiki.opencastproject.orgMatterhorn seems to already be tackling this.  :)

Cool, checking it out

Thanks for pointing this out. We weren't aware of any software that did what we needed it to do, especially off-line recording, open codecs, etc. We'll check out this project to see where it's at and if we can us it as is, contribute to it, and if our work should continue. The nice part of what we've done is the simplicity and ease of development on it given the python/QT roots.

benefits of "ReFree" double entendre

While some not in the know might want to avoid any name that might have a double entendre, good marketers know this actually helps awareness, publicity and marketing efforts.One huge benefits of "ReFree" is double entendre to "Reefer" that will  get it talked about and make it a household tweet. you could even make a overt play on it a product slogan "Don't let your brilliant talk go up in smoke. Preserve/Record it forever for free with ReFree.""Billabong" literally became a household brand becuase kids everywhere thought it was cool to have a shirt with a "bong" on it so it was adopted quickly.

Another name suggestion "FreeRe"

Actually the name should indicate both the fre nature of the soulutiona nd the fact  that it allows replay of what is recorded.Maybe "FreeRe" or "ReFree" does that.

name should be "ReSpeak" Or "ReTalk" or RePresent" or "ReOrate"

The name should be "ReSpeak" Or "ReTalk" or "RePresent" or "ReOrate"  or something that indicates   the ability to replay a talk or presentation because it has been recorded.

Where do we get involved, get the source code, etc?

While I think this article is great and that a name is necessary, where's the source code?  How does it compile?  Can I hack at it now?  I don't see any links in the article that point to the source repository.  That might be because you don't have a name, but I kind of think it'd be good to try it out and see how it works to name it.Cheers,Clint

Thank you for your interest.

Thank you for your interest. We'll be putting it into github shortly - one of fosslc's repositories. The software is a python script (using pyqt for the gui). Thus no compiling is necessary for this software itself.

It uses other components like mencoder/mplayer for the video handling. If you're on a Fedora machine, you may need to compile. On Ubuntu, apt-get install is your friend to add the prerequisites easily.

We're setting up an other page as I type this to share information about how to install and use it, as well as how to pull the code, etc. Having the name settled keeps us from having to rip and replace the things that care deeply about name later.

How about

WormCam (inspired by Arthur C Clarke's Light of other days)

camcorders are fine

camcorders are just fine

mini usb camcorders are just fine

flip video, $120, boom. done.

Respectfully, we disagree

We have done camcorders for events. The results were awful. You hear the sound from the audience almost more than the speaker. Screen details are tough to make out.Please help us - if you feel strongly that a $120 camcorder can do as good a job, please post an example so we can decide for ourselves. We just haven't seen it.

KDE-Style name

In keeping with the KDE style naming (since it is based on Qt after all) I suggest Kapture.

Cool suggestion

Orator, I like that. Inspired by that, I just finished Asimov's Foundation series (very good books!) how about FirstSpeaker?

A speaker for open source software, eh?

I like the ring of Orator as the name of this new software. It allows even more of the public to listen in on the enthusiasm and comments on an open source developer as he / she discusses his / her project.