On the bleeding edge of videoconferencing

Yesterday, I appeared on video a National Symposium to be held by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in Adelaide (details here and program (PDF) here).

Unlike previous videoconferences I’ve done for smaller seminars (audience up to 30 who can fit into a dedicated venue) presenting to a big event like this posed lots of difficulties, though most were satisfactorily resolved at the end. After initially giving assurances that they could handle a videoconference, the venue advised that they didn’t have an ISDN line, or any adequate alternative, and that installing a line would cost thousands of dollars. We looked at various computer-based options, but eventually decided that we would be unlikely to get sufficient reliability and video quality that way, so I stepped back from the frontier and made a DVD of my presentation which I mailed to Adelaide. Even that fairly low-tech approach created some problems, as playback of computer-burned DVDs turns out not to be 100 per cent reliable. There was a scramble to find a setup that would play the DVD, but it all went well in the end.

The plan was to take questions by audioconference, and this was incorporated in a panel discussion where questions were addressed to several speakers. The organisation on this point was a bit ad hoc, and the sound quality was very poor. Fortunately, perhaps, the format only allowed for one or two questions per speaker.

A benefit of going this way is that it’s reasonably easy to make a podcast. Unfortunately, my slide design, which works fine on standard projection equipment, and seems to have gone OK in the DVD, is very hard to read in a small movie format. Even with this poky format, 30 minutes of video turns out to be too big to upload. I’ll have to split it into parts. I’ve attached the presentation for the moment, but even that is 8.3MB..

Overall, my experience here is an indication of some of the kinds of adjustments that need to be made if videopresence is going to replace air travel on a large scale. None of them are huge in themselves, but they reflect the marginal status of this option When the problems are overcome, the advantages, such as the permanent availability and reusability of the video and podcast will be substantial, but at the moment, it’s still on the bleeding edge.

Powerpoint 8.3 Mb

8 thoughts on “On the bleeding edge of videoconferencing

  1. Congratulations for having a go John … and yes the technology available today leaves a lot to be desired. Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro (formerly Macromedia Breeze) is probably the best option at the moment but its expensive. There’s a hosted version that’s $750/month* for 10 users and a software license version which costs $16,500 for 50 concurrent users (.edu customers only)

    Go here: Acrobat Connect Pro 7 (Education version) and click the “How to Buy” link.

    More information here:
    Adobe upgrades Acrobat Connect Pro, Presenter

    How many people were you broadcasting to this time?

    * All prices in USD, but hey, there’s not much difference now!

  2. I cheerfully and unthinkingly set an assignment this semester in which students had to submit a record of interview. “Save yourselves the work of transcribing and just send an mp3 or even a video,” I told them carelessly.

    I’m now grappling with a mess of mp3 files that don’t play, video files in formats that Windows never heard of, other video files that stop about two minutes into a 30 minute interview and students wailing that the university server won’t accept a 4 GB file.

    I’m starting to think there’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned 2,000 word essay :(.

  3. There must be a limit to telepresence. The command ‘beam me up Scotty’ would take many more electrons to store the rebuilding information than there are electrons to rebuild. If limited mobility and less social interaction is our fate I fear the gene pool will suffer.

  4. I’m now grappling with a mess of mp3 files that don’t play, video files in formats that Windows never heard of, other video files that stop about two minutes into a 30 minute interview and students wailing that the university server won’t accept a 4 GB file.

    That’s the great thing about Flash. The player is already installed on 98% of client desktops, whether they be Win, Max or *nix, and the Flash file format was designed from scratch to run over the ‘net so file sizes are small.

    Is it any wonder Flash video has gone from zero to total domination on the web in a couple of years?

  5. Hopefully the FTTN network will make the need for dedicated ISDN lines a thing of the past.

  6. There is an awful lot of IT infrastructure to put in place before this stuff becomes really common. And bandwidth is going to be a continuing problem

  7. It seems with technology, we’re not as good as we think we are. Yet. I imagine that lots of people have an interest in maintaining the conference culture, with associated travel, trips & add on holidays/weekends away, so the technology for alternative teleconferencing needs to be really smooth so there’s no excuse.

    If you were trying to make a statement about avoiding air travel – I’m reminded (having just watched ‘Dreamtime at the G’) of the Long Walk and it makes me think, perhaps an interesting & special conference experience would be one where participants walked all the way there. I think after a good night’s sleep, a feed & maybe a foot massage, people might really value the opportunity to sit & listen & talk, and it might improve the quality of the participation!

  8. I think that you may be able to convert your PowerPoint to DjVu and it will be significantly smaller

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