Wednesday, 22 September 2010

'The end of an era': Developments at Zaplive and how they impact us.


Since the launch of the new website earlier this month we've received lots of feedback from you, our viewers, pointing out what you liked, did not like and where there were problems with it. Thank you for that, please keep sending us your praise, gripes, joys and irritations, all are invaluable in making sure the current problems with it will be resolved as soon as possible.

One recurring criticism was that we rolled out the new site before it was ready. This is obviously a fair, and correct at that, point to make as some features (e.g. archiving) were not ready yet, while some others (most notably the chat) did not work as they should. Until today we could not really respond properly to this question as the main reason for launching the site when we did, could not yet be made public.

Now that Zaplive has publicly announced it yesterday, we can also share this information with you.


Unfortunately Zaplive will stop operating in its current form by the end of this month and this means that from that date onwards we can no longer use their player and the site they were hosting for us. Originally this was to happen already last month, which is why we did roll out our incomplete site when we did, knowing it was incomplete and would probably have some bugs in it. Not doing so, would have risked being caught without a site at all!

Since Zaplive shared this news with us, we've been working hard on first finding a new partner and then on building a new player and site together with them. If the past months have shown us anything, it's that it is no easy task to rebuild all the features Zaplive had built into their player and website, whether it be the registration and chat, or the player, archiving and hotspots. And, while it may seem strange to say so at this time, it has made us even more appreciative of all the hard work that was done at Zaplive to develop and maintain these.

Christian, Markus, and everyone else at Zaplive: Thank you for your efforts during the last couple of years!

But, back now to the new site, the current situation, and what this all means.

As it stands, all WildEarth and producer broadcasts on Zaplive will stop on September 28th, so that the only way to watch our streams will be on the www.wildearth.tv website, on J.TV, or through an embedded player on the content producers' sites.

Also from that date, the archives will unfortunately not be accessible anymore in their current form. The recording will go on, but seekpointing and viewing them will not be possible for a while. We are working hard on a new system, one that needs to be built from scratch, but at this time can not yet tell you exactly when it will be ready. As a subproject we are therefore working on making the Safari.tv game drives accessible for 'time-shifted' watching. I.e. record them in their entirety, so they can be watched later when someone missed them.

One
very important point about the archives is that all existing archives as well as the seekpoints that were created for them will be kept, and included in the new system. So all the effort spent on capturing and seek pointing will not be wasted!

Then the two main areas we, and you, have found to be a problem with the new site; the chat rooms and its general behaviour with regard to e.g. resizing windows, navigation, etc. Within WildEarth Interactive (the name of the new partnership between WildEarth Media and PixelProject) we are working full speed on resolving both of these.

It turns out that the chat engine we chose does not cope well with a high number of chatters, which is obviously a problem..., and that the capturing and archiving of the chat history slows the whole chat, and sometimes even the whole PC, down to a crawl. We have looked under the hood of the chat and have tuned the current engine as best as we could for now. While this should improve the situation somewhat, WE clearly
"need more power, cap'ain" and are currently working on replacing it with a much more powerful engine, more capable of handling the load and are doing all we can to have this upgrade in place before Zaplive stops broadcasting.

To fix and improve a number of smaller issues on the new site, we are changing the set-up from 100% Flash to a 'regular' html site, with Flash objects on it. This will provide the best of both worlds: The powerful capabilities of Flash with all the familiarity of an html site.

I hope this update, while not providing all the answers, does shed some light on why things happened as and when they did and about what lies ahead. Please feel free to send any questions and remarks to webmaster@wildearth.tv .


-- Peter

Friday, 17 September 2010

WE are very proud.


The afternoon safari on the 10th September (Friday) was broadcast in 3D ... (as well as 2D). This was another world-first!! So for those of you that were watching the safari you were a part of history in the making ... the very first time that a safari was broadcast in LIVE 3D!! :)


As many of you know, it has been a huge effort, by quite a few people, to make this dream a reality. I thought that I would briefly tell you about some of the key steps that had to be taken and some of the hurdles that we had to overcome.
There are three main areas where pioneering work was required: the 3D rig on the safari vehicle, the Master Control and the video player on the Internet.

Well the decision to start building a LIVE 3D safari broadcast was taken some months ago, and for a while the work all centered around the safari vehicle. Safari.tv had done a 3D test with a rented side-by-side rig, which is simply a plate on which two video cameras are mounted next to each other. This had allowed us to film a few shots in 3D and start getting an understanding for the geometry and what it all means. Some of these 'shots' were loaded up on the WildEarth YouTube channel. However, the big challenge with the rig was to be able to zoom in and out all the while maintaining the 3D effect in such a way that it does not cause headaches or discomfort. 
Basically the inter-ocular distance (gap between cameras) and the convergence (toe in of cameras) have to be automatically adjusted based on an algorithm. So Russell Bowden, and his team at 3Drigs.com, built us a motion controlled mirror rig. This rig had to have some elements that are quite unique to our circumstances. We wanted the smallest possible rig, that could withstand 6 hours of bumping and beating on an open 4x4 in the dust and heat of the African bush. We wanted the right 'eye' (right camera) fixed and facing up vertically, so that the mirror could be tilted towards the ground so that glare and reflections would be reduced. The motion control had to be of a super high standard so that very rapid adjustments of the camera geometry could reliably happen while broadcasting LIVE. We chose High Definition industrial block cameras from Sony, because they had integrated lenses and are totally programable and can be controlled externally using the Sony control protocol.  The whole system is controlled by an on-board touch screen computer, the software for which was started by the 3Drigs team, but eventually perfected and finished by Alex Voz at safari.tv. The software that controls the rig is ultimately the heart, and brains, of the system. It is this software which ensures that you get to see the scene in 3D without causing discomfort, all the way from a wide shot with the presenter in the foreground to a zoomed in shot of the leopards head. There is still quite a lot of perfecting and tweaking required in this software, but it is in very safe hands ... Alex's.



Then the two video feeds (from the two 'eyes') need to be converted into SDI, the right 'eye' needs to be flipped and flopped (vertical and horizontal flip), they need to be recorded, converged and 'squashed' into a side-by-side frame compatible feed, which looks like this ...

Then the video feed needs to be encoded, modulated and transmitted. This part we already new all about thankfully. The video is then received in the Final Control at safari.tv and re-encoded and streamed from Djuma in South Africa to the WildEarth Master Control in Dublin, Ireland. 

This Master Control has been built by Peter Braat (the WE technical director, partner and shareholder). It is an entirely 'cloud based' master control, and possibly one of the first ever built. What that means is that it is built completely in the 'cloud' ... the Internet. There are no people sitting in front of rows of screens controlling what gets sent to our channel clients and viewers on TV, the Internet or iPhones ... it's all written in code and lives on the Internet.
I think it is a pretty impressive system that he has built. The MC (as WE have started calling it) ingests the video from safari.tv at 6 Mbps, which is a very very high bit rate to transport around the globe and has taken an inordinate amount of effort from a whole bunch of other people, but I will let Pete tell that story another time. The MC then archives the stream at full resolution, and plays out the LIVE stream if our schedule (managed by Emily remotely) has us in a LIVE safari time slot. The MC will playout archived safaris to the TV clients if the LIVE safari is not being broadcast. Of course on the Internet WE do not play out non live shows into our LIVE streams. 
The MC also transrates the 3D stream down to 1 Mbps for our connected TV partners like ZooVision and LiveStation, down to 500 Kbps for our 3D viewers on the Internet and 150 Kbps for our iPhone viewers watching with their Cinemizers. The MC also does what WE call 'splitting and stretching', which is basically splitting off the right 'eye', from the side-by-side stereo video, and the stretching that 'eye' back to normal frame size. This process creates our 2D feed, which is then transrated to 1 Mbps, 500 Kbps and 150 Kbps for those viewers that either can't or don't want to watch in 3D.
All of these functions are executed in real time and in parallel ... making it a pretty 'busy' Master Control and a pretty size-able achievement.


The next big challenge was being able to convert side-by-side 'frame compatible' stereo video into anaglyph for our Internet viewers. Once again there was nothing 'off the shelf' that WE could use, but thankfully YouTube had already pioneered an anaglyph 3D player so WE had something to copy ... and most importantly we knew it was possible.




WE turned to our new partners at PixelProject and in particular the Flash guru Preston Thomas, who immediately got to work on building a Flash video player from the ground up, that would be able to not only render anaglyph video, but also was ready for Adaptive Streaming (subject of a future Blog) and integrated our new ad serving solution and provided far more real time info about the stream. After a few weeks of hard coding WE had our first look at the PixelPlayer ... version 1.0 is now LIVE on our new site. Basically the player splits the side-by-side stereo video in half (left 'eye' and right 'eye'), then it stretches each eye back to full frame, and colors each frame with a different tint, depending on what the viewer has chosen. So you could select red/green or cyan/magenta or whatever color combination that the glasses that you have need, just like the YouTube player. Then the player overlays these two video feeds in just the right way to make sure that the 3D effect will work on your computer screen. Again this is part science part art, and WE are all very happy with the result that Preston and his team achieved.


So overall it may seem fairly simple but behind the scenes an incredible amount of pioneering work has been going on. I know that some of you have been frustrated by our technical problems, and have said things like 'walk before you run' or that '3D is a waste of time', or had fears that some how WE were going to only focus on 3D and no longer provide 2D, but all of this is not the case. It is really important that WE pioneer this new format for LIVE safaris, not only because it will provide people with an even more immersive experience, but also because it sells!! 
As many of you know, the advertising revenue that WE receive on the Internet barely covers the bandwidth costs from our video servers to your computers, let alone all the other costs required to run WE and safari.tv and produce this content. However, if WE could distribute our channel on TV then WE could access sufficient revenue to make our businesses viable ... and 3D is highly in demand in the TV world right now. :)
WE are very proud and excited to say that WE have concluded several long term license deals for our 3DTV channel and 3D safaris. (I will write a Blog about these new partners soon). These license deals have secured WildEarth's and safari.tv's futures and mean that you can expect us to carry on broadcasting, improving and pioneering in the world of LIVE wildlife broadcasting for some years yet.


Thank you all for your support and patience over the past few months. There have been plenty of problems and hurdles that have caused our broadcasts to be less than optimal. There are still a few teething problems, but I expect that within the coming few days a few weeks all of this issues will go away, or at least reduce dramatically. 


Written by Graham Wallington

Thursday, 16 September 2010

News from Pix Controller





Bill Powers who owns Pix Controller has been really busy with his Pennsylvanian Woods cameras over the past few months. Below he has written about some interesting sightings and given more info on what is going on. There is some great video to go with it as well. Enjoy and thanks Bill.
Emily

We are now streaming three wildlife cameras and we are starting to see a lot of wildlife activity as summer is ending and cooler temperatures are moving in. One of the most interesting sights we have seen is this whitetail "deer family". For the past four months we have been seeing a buck, doe, and fawn feeding together. This is very odd since the whitetail buck, males, are not monogamous. We had a few theories posted on our Facebook page that the doe and buck may have been birth twins and reunited for the summer. In any case this was a rare event to view for such a long period of time. However, the whitetail breeding season is about to get underway and we suspect this family will break up soon.
Deer Family Video: 
Another interesting sighting was a fawn that bedded down in front of wildlife camera #2 one afternoon. The fawn was caught sleeping for several hours. On occasion we have seen deer bed close to our main PTZ camera, but only for brief periods of time. It was a real treat to have the fawn bed so close to the camera for the viewers to watch.
Fawn Bedded Video: 
Although the bird nesting season has come to an end in our area we did notice that something built a nest in one of our large nest boxes. We installed a camera in the nest box and found that a gray squirrel was sleeping there occasionally at night. We have the camera signal running back to webcam base station, and when we see the nest is occupied we switch the feed from wildlife camera #3 to broadcast the nest box. Typically the squirrel will sleep in the nest box about once a week, and just for the night time hours.
Squirrel In Nest Box Video:
The wild turkey are back. We didn't see any flocks of hens with poults this summer. However, lately we have seen a flock of hens and grown poults regularly on wildlife camera #1 and #2. We have also been seeing a bachelor group of Tom, male, turkey feeding on several of the remote motion-activated cameras.
Bachelor Group of Turkey Feeding video:

Written by Bill Powers

Friday, 10 September 2010

A brand new web site.

Hi again,

Almost a week has gone by since my first blog on 'Ringo' on the Safari.TV blog and a lot has happened since then. So time for the next one, on the WildEarth.TV blog this time. (Just to keep everyone guessing ;-)

The main event for the week has obviously been the launch of the new site, which, although certainly not 100% perfect, I think has gone fairly well. We've received lots of feedback and are working our way through this to first fix those things that do not work as they should and then start making the site better by modifying and adding features.

This is a huge amount of work (as was the creation of the site) and will probably never be truly finished. I think it is therefore high time I introduce the people behind the scenes. WE have partnered with a company called PixelProject, based in Cape Town and owned and run by Preston Thomas and Rahle Dusheiko. Preston is the technical wizard, while Rahle has been working her magic on the look and content side of things. This new site is not simply a once-off project for them, but part of a long-term partnership with us and they will continue to maintain, expand and improve the site. We believe this is a win-win-win situation for WE, PixelProject AND all our viewers!

Now, if I would try to summarise your feedback so far in one sentence I think it might go something like this: "The new site looks great, but where are the archives and could you change ... on the new chat room?"

To the first WE would simply like to say 'Thank you' and forward the compliments to Rahle, Preston and the rest of the PixelProject team. The second and third parts require a somewhat more detailed response.

Firstly, the archives. To paraphrase a favourite action here of mine: "They'll be back!", and bringing them back has the highest priority now that the site has launched. One important point to note is that while the archives are currently not accessible on the new site, the recording continues so no sightings will be lost.

Also, as those of you who've used the archives, and especially those that have been creating seek points/hotspots know, the 'old' system was not very user-friendly. Therefore it would not do to simply try to rebuild it as it was. This is a unique opportunity to come back with something much better, more intuitive, something user-friendly and simply plain fun to use! More information on this will follow soon.

Then on to the third part, and the area we received the most feedback on; the chat rooms. The amount of feedback on this feature shows once more how important these are! Preston has been keeping a close eye on them and the feedback about them and has already started working on ironing out some of the glitches you've reported. Most of them should therefore disappear over the coming couple of days.



Finally I want to thank everyone who has sent us feedback, and ask that "y'all" keep doing so. There is only so much that can be tested and prepared beforehand, and also our ideas might not always match your preferences or actual experiences. So hearing back from you about what you like and don't like, and about what does not work as it should, is extremely valuable and much appreciated. To make sure your comments and suggestions end up in the right place, please send them all to webmaster @ wildearth.tv.

-- Peter

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Operation Migration 2010

As most of you will know the Crane Cam launched again this year on August 5th 2010 sponsored by Duke Energy. It is fantastic to have these beautiful birds to watch again as they go about their day to day training before they leave on migration on October 1st. This is the target date at the moment but due to recent bad weather this may be set back.

Nacedah National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 as a breeding grounds and Sanctuary for the only eastern migrating population of Whooping Cranes. From mid August to the beginning of October they train the birds for their migration. They take to the air whenever the weather is good and lead the flock on circuits around the refuge to get them familiar with what will become their summer home for the rest of their lives. When the birds are young and inexperienced they fly low and more slowly in case they drop out of the sky.

There were only 13 chicks this years and so they were split into two cohorts rather than three. At the moment the cam shows early morning training sessions and also interactions in the pen during the day. By the middle of August a group of eight young cranes in cohort one were already flying well with the trike. Cohort one is getting very strong now and cohort two is not far behind. There is only three weeks left until they launch but unfortunately the weather is not playing the game. During the month of August it was good weather and they flew most days. There was a lot of fog but this would quickly clear enabling them to go out. However, September is a different story. There have been a  few storms already, one that knocked the camera out. At the moment they are only flying every three or four days.

WE look forward to following this years migration and seeing how these thirteen chicks do on their maiden voyage. I would like to share a story with you that I read on their site which is very cute. Normally the chicks are named by numbers. However they have named one of them Zoey 'flower child' Woodstock. This is because she is crazy about flowers. In that area there are a lot of purple clovers and she is obsessed by them. She attacks them and eats them pulling them out one by one. The Woodstock names comes about because she is very spacey and always running around after flowers. So the name Zoey flower child Woodstock was born.

For more information on Operation Migration 2010 log on to www.operationmigration.org and follow their daily blog.

Written by Emily Wallington