In today's Road to BriForum article, we're going to take a quick look at the various technology voodoo that we use to run the actual BriForum conference.
Ever since the very first BriForum in 2005, we've recorded the breakout sessions so that attendees could watch the sessions later, and so that non-attendees could buy DVDs of the content. We've slowly improved our video quality over the years, culminating with our current side-by-side Flash-based video player.
One thing that has NOT improved over the years has been the speed with which we are able to create the DVDs. In the "perfect" world, we'd get the videos posted to the website within a day or two, and have the DVDs available within three weeks. (One week for us to create them, and two weeks for manufacturing / shipping to our warehouse.)
But in reality, the DVDs have taken 3-4 months to create.
Why is this? Technical difficulties. ;)
At every single BriForum, we encounter some major technical glitch when recording the videos. One year there's a loud audio hum. The next year the keyframe rate isn't right. The next year we can't get the videos in sync. Each of these problems requires a lot of manual labor to fix, video-by-video.
Though we didn't set out to become "A/V engineers," we are no longer novices when it comes to:
- video encoding
- video re-encoding :)
- video splicing
- video keyframe rates
- audio/video bitrates
- audio noise removal
- audio mixers
- audio feedback :(
- Adobe Flash proxies
- Camtasia Studio 5 (awesome)
- video cameras
- wireless mics
- wireless mic interference
- high resolution screen captures
- VGA Frame Grabbers
- analog capture cards
- PAL vs NTSC
This is everything that we've learned so far. But what issue will crop up next that will cause the DVDs to take three months instead of three weeks? Who knows. This whole thing is so complex and has so many parts and systems, some ours, some rented, some belonging to the venue.
We need to simplify.
Then it occured to us. How are IT vendors simplifying today? They're building appliances. Look at the Citrix Access Gateway. Citrix took a lot of complex software which would be easy to misconfigure and put it into a single box, that they "own," to guarantee it will work consistantly.
We need a BriForum recording appliance.
To begin, we decided that we need to "own" the entire AV chain. No more renting wireless mics and borrowing cables and hooking up everything on the fly. We will use our equipment that we know works together.
To that end, we've purchased some 6U shippable rack-mount cases. We're mounting everything we need to record a session in a case: our wireless mic receiver (2.4Ghz spread-spectrum frequency hopping), our audio processing unit (compressor, de-esser, and feedback eliminator), our audio mixer, a rack-mount PC running our encoding software, and a power conditioner.
We also own the video cameras and tripods, so when we go to a venue, all we need is (1) power, (2) a connection to the house audio system so the audience can hear the speaker, and (3) a VGA connection to the house video projector. Everything else is in our appliance.
We've always had lofty goals for BriForum, and we keep pushing ourselves further each year. This year we're pushing ourselves further than ever before, and this new recording appliance is a small part of that.
By the way, BriForum 2007 Amsterdam DVDs are finally available. :) $49 for people who attended the conference, $249 for those who didn't. Everyone who buys the DVDs also gets instant online access to the session videos.
BriForum 2008 Chicago will be June 16-18, 2008, at the Chicago Navy Pier. Early-bird registration is open now.
If you'd like to give an independent presentation on a technical topic, our call for papers is open through March 31. If you're paper is accepted, we'll pay all your expenses to attend BriForum this year.
Ericom, eG Innovations, Quest Software, Appsense, and visionapp, RTO Software, and triCerat will all be showing off their latest products in our DEMO Lab.
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