Setup in host cities
After determining which of our business unit locations could handle the 1500kb/s encoding bandwidth requirements, we pared the number of transmitting sites down to nine sites in eight locations. Two were in Europe and seven in the U.S. To handle the rest of the breakouts, we added a second encoding room at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Manhattan for a total of nine streaming sites. Three other cites, one in Canada and two in the U.S., didn’t have the bandwidth to encode, so they were designated as receive-only sites.
Once we finalized locations, we then began to recruit people interested in learning to use the streaming system and who would be responsible for all of the encoding at their locations. Most of the volunteers came from the local IT departments. Because our goal was to eliminate travel costs, I found myself on the phone, e-mailing pictures and diagrams back and forth, to try to determine how to help the local person set up and test everything.
We knew we would have to adapt much of what was already on-site at each local office to interface with the encoding computer. While varying in size, most of the conference rooms had a projector and some type of audio system. In every location, the projectors had standard VGA inputs and the audio systems had 3.5mm mini input plugs, designed for playing computer audio over the room speakers. This made playback simple.
To get the presenter’s mic into both the room sound system and the encoding computer, we used an external mic mixer. The presenter’s mic was input into a small mixer. One channel of the output fed into the room’s audio system for the local attendees, and the other channel fed the line-level audio input of the computer’s sound card.
A video camera was set up on a tripod and locked on the presenter, who was standing at a podium. The composite video output of the camera was input into the computer using a simple composite-video-to-USB converter. A few of the conference rooms were small and had a small number of attendees planned, so in those cases, the easier solution was a webcam with built-in microphone plugged into the computer’s USB port.
At a couple of locations, we had professional HD-SDI cameras and quad-core desktop workstations instead of laptops for the encoding. There, we opted for an HD-SDI capture card. To keep it simple and eliminate an audio mixer, we ran the presenter’s mic into the XLR input on the professional camera. This sent the audio and video signal into the computer via the camera’s HD-SDI signal. We also ran an audio output of the camera into the local room’s sound system.
In every case, video was fed from the encoding computer to the room’s projector via a dual-VGA output card. That way the tech person running the encoding computer could see what was being encoded, and the presenter and attendees in the room could see the projected image.
A second computer was set up next to the encoding computer to allow instant messaging communication between the tech leads and me during the sessions. The communications operator also handled questions submitted by attendees over Twitter.