MobileVideoStreaming

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'This page is mostly about methods for live video streaming from a mobile device (either over wifi, 3G or perhaps even bluetooth) but much of the info may be applied to audio only or photos.'

Remote Media Streaming / Upload

Intro

The reason you might want to do this are either to broadcast live video from a remote location for instant viewing by a third party audience (the public probably) or to ensure that the video footage has been 'beamed' safely offsite incase your camera person is detained (or their equipment/footage is seized) so you still have the footage safely stored to review and publish as appropriate.

Scenarios where this would be useful include most protests but specifically things like office or land occupations where free access to and from the protest are unlikely. For example, protests which are kettled and police prevent media people from getting in or leaving, office occupations where the camera person is likely to be arrested and have their footage and equipement held as evidence, direct action in remote locations where mainstream media are unlikely to be able to access and yet footage or photos will be required quickly.

Live or later

There are some conflicting issues to consider, quality and speed. Basically you can get stuff online quickly but you need to compromise quality - ie lower resolution, frame rate and greater compression - or you can aim for something closer to broadcast quality but it's going to take much longer to make it available and you'll probably need to send less.

Another issue to consider is that live is potentially dangerous since footage might compromise or implicate somebody. You should think very very carefully about when it is sensible to make live footage public and make sure that everyone involved is aware. In many cases it will be better to sacrific immediacy for the ability to have somebody check the footage before making it public.


The Camera

Camera Phones

Many mobile phones have camera but what is important is what operating system the phones run and what connectivity is offered. What we need are phones that we can install new applications on and which offer wifi and/or 3G.

Generally there are phones which run Symbian (an open source operating system) mostly Nokias, smart phones running some variety of Windows Mobile, phones which support Java apps and, of course, the iPhone.

Nokia N Series

This 'guide' will concentrate on the Nokia N series mobile phones running Symbian S60 version 3 although much of what we cover will probably be applicable to other systems.

N95 and N95 8GB

The Nokia N95-1 can now be purchased second hand for under £100 unlocked. It features 3G, bluetooth and wifi and boasts a very capable 5 mega pixel camera which can render video at 30 frames per second even at 640x480.

The Nokia N95 8GB is more expensive and although it has 8GB built in it does not feature a microCD slot so is probably less useful to media activists than the older model.

N93 and N93i

Even cheaper than the N95 is the N93 which can b picked up for little more than £60. The stills camera is less cablable than the N95, 3 mega pixel I think, but incredibly it offers a x3 optical zoom and should match the video abilities of the N95. While it has Wifi just like the N93, the 3G modem doesn't offer HSPDA and so is potentially much slower. However, in terms of uplink, I'm not sure there is any significant disadvantage - but I could be wrong.

iPhone 3G, Blackberry and HTC phones

I've got no experience with any of these phone for this purpose but it should be viable on basically any phone with 3G and suitable third party applications to support video streaming.


Webcams

Other options might include webcams, (which are dirt cheap) - either built-in or plugged into a laptop or into some kind of embedded device such as a router or NAS running a suitable linux distro. It would probably be undesirable to use a laptop due to their weight, size, cost and power consumption. Embedded devices such as a Asus WL-500 router or WL-HDD wifi NAS box could be a low cost and low power alternative.

IP Cams

Better still (in terms of less kit and investment) would be an IP camera plugged into a small wifi AP or better yet, an all-in-one Wifi IP camera. I've not tried a Wifi IP cam but have used my IP cam plugged into a small travel router with some success. I think there is a lot of scope to explore this option used in conjunction with public wifi hotspots.

Analogue

Of course digital is not the only option here - analogue cameras such as cheap CCTV cameras or DV camcorders (perhaps with broken tape mechanism). The disadvantage with analogue is that you'll probably want to digitize it anyway and since it would probably be most efficient to do that at source you might find the analogue option fairly pointless. One advantage of transmitting the video still in analogue form would be the cost of the equipment you risk in the field since such as a camera and sender could work out cheaper than some of the other options.

Uplink

3G / HSPDA

Flat rate data tariffs mean there is no longer any need to be afraid to use it. GPRS is available pretty much everywhere in the country but is way too slow for video. Coverage for 3G is now pretty extensive but there are plenty of places where you still don't get a good signal and speeds vary a great deal from place to place. Speed is generally still not fast enough to ensure smooth streaming of reasonably high res video. However, software like Qik mitigate against this issue by buffering the output and continuing to upload in the background even after you stop filming.

Most modern mobile phones with a decent camera with have 3G. Battery life will be very short once you start sustained use of the 3G connection (see power issues).

Bluetooth

Bluetooth can apparently be used to stream video (see the Movino suite for axample) but I haven't personally tried it and I'm not convinced that the short range possible would offer any practical applications to media activists wanting to stream video.

See WWIGO http://motvik.com/products/wwigo and SmartCam http://smartcam.sourceforge.net/ and Mobiola http://www.warelex.com/products/webcam/


Wifi

Now we are talking, decent bandwidth and speed, plenty for video. The problem is coverage, how can we be sure to have wifi where we will need it?

Temporary portable hotspots

Ok, so 3G is too slow and there is no wifi internet access where you're working? No problem. Assuming we don't care about getting video live on the net immediately we can provide our own wifi access point with network attached storage and FTP server onto which we upload our video for later collection. This allows the camera person to be pretty certain of getting their footage out and safe from being grabbed by the forces of darkness.

Better yet, what if our portable access point had it's own 3G connection and a big fat battery so that it could act as a rely to upload our content to the internet... this would not only save battery life on the camera devices but we might also get the opportunity to rig a direction antenna on the 3G uplink to obtain the best possible transfer speeds.

The wifi box does'nt need to be anything as bulky or elaborate as a wifi router with NAS, I've used a windows mobile PDA which has wifi and sd card slot. I installed an FTP server and could send files from the N95 to the SD card in the PDA. Battery life on the PDA was the main limiting factor but it would be trivial to add a large 5v battery pack or even a small solar panel.

Potentially a second N95 could be used although that's probably a waste of resources and I've not located a FTP server for symbian yet.

Analogue

As mentioned earlier, we don't have to use digital and could send our video via a microwave link eg. cheap domestic 2.4 or 5 ghz audio video senders. To obtain greater range directional antennas could be used - or perhaps even microwave amplifiers. The disadvantage with analogue is that you'll probably want to digitize it anyway and doing that at source is almost certainly more efficient. The advantage is price as a CCTV camera and sender is probably much cheaper than most other options.

Power Issues

You'll quickly find that power is a major issue and so you must either be extremely disciplined or have plenty of battery power. A camera phone streaming video via 3G eats batteries. As an example, I got through 3 batteries in an evening and the end result was 30 mins of video online.

Software

Client Side

Kyte Producer

http://kyte.com

Qik

http://qik.com

"Share Live Video from your mobile phone. Qik enables you to share live video with your friends and family right from your mobile phone. We currently support dozens of handsets—so go ahead start sharing your moments live. Your streams are automatically recorded. These are available through your profile page on www.qik.com"

http://m.qik.com/info/faq http://m.qik.com/info/product_highlight http://m.qik.com/info/supported_phones http://getsatisfaction.com/qik - support forum


Movino Suite

http://www.movino.org/

Broadcast LIVE video from your mobile phone over 3G or WiFi onto your website. Or use your phone as a bluetooth webcam in Mac OS X. Free and open source.

Movino consists of:

  • A broadcasting application for Symbian S60 phones
  • A broadcasting application for camera phones with J2ME support
  • A GUI application and a QuickTime component for Mac OS X
  • A video server for Linux
  • A web interface based on the Drupal CMS

The phone clients can be used directly with a video server without any OS X computer inbetween.

The video server can be used without web interface, if you just want to archive the video material.

The phone client can be used with the OS X components without a dedicated linux based video server.

Online / Server Side

Embedding Video and Drupal Modules

There are modules available to display your streaming video in Drupal (see Movino for example) - I don't have any experience of this.

Useful Resources =

  • Sic FTP is a free ftp client for S60 phones
  • A windows mobile ftp server is Mocha FTP
  • An SD card mod to a WRT54G router runing DD-WRT could act as wifi FTP storage