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Portable, Non-Proprietary Streaming Hardware? 44

Posted by Cliff
from the no-strings-content-distribution dept.
bandini asks: "My job occasionally has me running encoders for live webcasts in locations that demand a high degree of portability and flexibility. It's usually required that we provide redundant encoders, so my current setup consists of two rack-mounted WinXP machines and a KVM tray/switch in a very large, heavy, awkward case. In this age of powerful, small-form-factor computers, what kind of new configuration can I seek to relieve myself of some of the headaches of hauling around this giant case?"
"I would use a pair of laptops but we want to keep using the Osprey capture cards that we've invested in, which will take multiple A/V inputs, including XLR balanced audio. We want to keep the setup as modular as possible so that the input devices, monitor, KVM switch, either computer or either card can fail without causing a catastrophe. We want to avoid the highly integrated and very expensive dedicated machines on the market. Ideally, the whole setup would break down into a couple of carry-on sized bags, and any one component could be replaced with readily available parts. Also, I've been looking for a good online community dedicated to live streaming issues, but haven't found anything yet. Any constructive input will be deeply appreciated."
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Portable, Non-Proprietary Streaming Hardware?

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  • by Toba82 (871257) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @07:53PM (#15586131) Homepage
    Are you really asking for Non-proprietary hardware? That's extremely uncommon, even for non computer-related hardware. Ever noticed how everything says 'patent pending' on it?

    Of course, you probably only care about the software interface being open, not the design of the hardware. Carry on.
  • Shuttle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chernobog (743532) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @07:54PM (#15586141)
    Get some Shuttle XPCs [shuttle.com]
  • "Any constructive input will be deeply appreciated."

    Ha. I predict a suggestion of a pair of linux powered toasters at some point.
  • by jgaynor (205453) <jon AT gaynor DOT org> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:04PM (#15586204) Homepage
    "I would use a pair of laptops but we want to keep using the Osprey capture cards that we've invested in"

    I think before you change your hardware you're going to need to change your mindset. The Osprey cards are fantastic (ESPECIALLY their XLR input capability) but anything requiring such a large PCI card wil almost mandate a deep-chassis 2u form factor. I recently broadcast a friend's wedding and had the same problem - it's difficult to get good audio/video with standard laptop hardware. I settled on a good DV camera with an add-on quality microphone connected to a USB ATI TV-Wonder and was VERY happy with the results. At only a few hundred K/second (church broadband), the encoding was the clear bottleneck in the A/V quality. On top of that, I was taping using the DV cam the whole time so I had a very high quality copy of the action for later post-processing and packaging for the bride and groom.

    For the professional? A good DV cam (maybe PTZ, audio inputs required though) ouputting raw DV to two sources - a high-capacity DV recorder and a beefy laptop acting as the encoder. The recorder is there to prevent the encoder from seeing the akward minute-long outages you encounter when switching tapes (I ran into this problem last month).
    • by vertinox (846076) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:26PM (#15586329)
      Yeah... What the parent said.

      My suggestion (and I've seen a relative who does DV do this) is to get an SKB rackmount case [skbcases.com] with wheels ( you know the ones you see the roadees use at concerts) and put your rackmounts in there. That way you can wheel it around if need be and it won't get too banged up when you travel with it.

      Laptops won't really do well for ecoding on the fly.
    • We use a similar setup for portable EEG systems with video. We've found Firewire to be superior to USB so far, but DV is acceptable quality for a laptop. It isn't as good as the Osprey though, we use an Osprey on the desktop, and the quality is superior.

      What is the latency like for the USB ATI TV-Wonder? I haven't tried it.
    • Get a couple of Dell laptops...

      ...with hot swappable components...

      Make sure they have firewire...

      Don't forget to get one with a burner...

      Of course, I'll probably draw some fire for these suggestions....

  • Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by SlamMan (221834) <squigit AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:30PM (#15586345)
    You're not going to get all that much better than what you have. You'll probably be stuck with 2 2U boxes for your computer, since AFAIK, anything 1U that will take a PCI card is gonna be way bigger than your standard portable audio rack. Since you want to keep using your Osprey cards (good choice, btw), you're kind of out of luck for anything much smaller. I'm kind of fuzzy on what you're looking for. It sounds like your setup works. Maybe you just need to look at a case with better handles or casters.
  • This brings to mind the issue of quality... what kind of quality are you looking for? HD level? Or would standard TV quality suffice?

    As a side topic, for average quality (ie. webclip quality) for in-car video (perhaps with front and rear view so 2 cams required), what software is available? I've been looking for something similar for this, and haven't turned up much. It has to be able to process at least 30fps and encode live, so I'm guessing for 2 cams, the CPU is unlikely to be able to hold up and a hardw
  • There are two devices I recommend for this: The first one is the Edje series encoders, made by http://www.adtecinc.com/ [adtecinc.com]Adtec. They offer good quality, and use MPEG-2 streams. If you're going the cheap route, I believe it's under $500 these days. The second is the http://www.vbrick.com/ [vbrick.com]VBrick series of streaming encoders. I've only tested their MPEG2 models, but they have a wide range of MPEG4 available as well. These can also record locally to a HD. They're a bit more expensive than the Adtecs, but quite
    • I should add that both of these devices are really tiny -- The Adtec Edje 2000 is about the size of an average firewire hard drive, while the VBricks aren't much bigger (despite having a huge power brick). The Edje 2100 is about the size of a DVD player. When I read what your setup entails, I was shocked -- any of these devices will easily fit into a laptop bag.

      Unfortunately, h.264 based encoders are still ridiculously expensive, so I didn't bother to research them further. When it comes to video devices

      • I've been googling for prices on the VBricks but had no luck.

        Can someone please post some links or prices, particularly for the WM version?
        • You'd have to contact a reseller (like me) for official Vbrick pricing, especially if you want several boxes. They also make some management software, VOD servers, etc... There is a bunch of stuff you can do, if you're interested in streaming video, you'd want to talk to someone who understands the product lineup.
          I don't have access to a price list right now, but a mpeg4 single channel encoder is about $4500, MPEG2 is $6500, WM is less.
          • Thanks mate, great info. :cheers: Ball park is good enough for my immediate needs. Guessing you mean about $4K US for a single encoder WM box. Only looking for one initially but that could change. Had been considering a rack mount server with a high end Osprey card but this sounds like a much more cost effective and simple solution. The rest of the infrastructure is designed including the Internet facing media server and I think a VBrick could slot in perfectly. Would be interested in contacting you but
    • We have a couple dozen VBrick encoders (mostly MPEG4) and they work great. Very compatible with just about anything. Now, MPEG4 ain't "non-proprietary." It's just a very open standard. I think you won't find what you're looking for. I also think you're after something specific that has no real demand for its existence.

      Oh, and can you imagine a beowulf cluster of these?
    • We've got the MPEG4 model for a vBrick. Rock solid, easily portable and fairly easy to setup with one huge caveat. There's a web based interface to control almost everything, or you can do it by remote control. You don't even really need that-once the IPs are set and box configured, all you have to do is plug in the cables and turn it on.

      The big problem was getting systems on the other side of our firewall to see the stream properly. The best MPEG4 player is Quicktime, and it couldn't find the stream.

  • by Theovon (109752) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:24PM (#15586625)
    If you want to know about REAL non-proprietary hardware, you might want to look into the Open Graphics Project [opengraphics.org]. Right now they're working on a graphics card (video output only), but the topic of video capture is often brought up on their mailing list, and they have an interest in doing that once their graphics cards get going.

    If you like this sort of thing, you might consider getting involved with the project.

  • I've been racking my brain (and the Internet) over the past week, trying to get a simple Linux streaming solution working. It should take a live video stream from a Firewire IEEE1394 consumer camcorder, encode it on a laptop, and send it to a streaming server for mass broadcast.

    I've found several interesting F/OSS programs and utilties (like MPEG4IP and GStreamer), and have kept a list of all software combinations [jsharkey.org] I've tried. Right now it's pretty detailed, so hopefully it can help others. E-mail me if

  • First, thanks for the comments - lots of good stuff. I feel like I should explain myself a bit more. In the interest of making my question short and to the point, I left a few things out: -We do have the rackmounted machines in a SKB-type case - I forget the make, but it has 5" casters. So it rolls. But it's still very big, heavy, clunky, and far from easy to travel with. -We are using a 1U tray Keyboard/trackball/monitor + KVM switch unit to control both machines. The thing is, it's less than a year old an
    • FWIW, I'd suggest to take two different (!) shuttle PCs (you don't want both to have the same hardware failure), install windows on one and linux or dual-boot on the other. Make sure you get windows and linux covered from the software side. Set both up for remote control (vnc comes to mind). They also should have two ethernet cards each (there are shuttle PCs with two ethernet adapters on board). Outfit them with different firewall and different anti-virus software. You said that you sometimes have to conne
    • by Anonymous Coward

      As long as you're considering the Shuttle based on form factor, you may find the Chenming MATX-118 [chenmingusa.com] interesting. You asked to stay away from proprietary hardware and while Shuttles are standard PCs, they use proprietary motherboards and power supplies.

      The MATX solves those problems while trying to stay as compact as possible. They take the Micro-ATX form factor motherboard, widely available today. With space for 3 internal hard drives plus 3 external-facing bays, there's plenty of room for storage. There's

    • You said you want to stick with a PC based solution, but seriously, you should look at vbrick. They have a web based configuration panel, which literally takes 5 minutes to setup, including the time to unbox the unit. They are appliances, running some RTOS, so you never need to security patch, install Anti-virus etc... They are also designed to run 24x7, I've literally never seen one crash, ever.
      They don't do real media streams, Windows media is good though. You can buy an appliance with a built in hard d
    • Have you looked at expansion hardware like that made by Magma http://www.mobl.com/expansion/ [mobl.com]

      They have a product line that allows an external PCI card to be attached to a notebook.

      Some compatability testing is required because not all cards will work properly.
  • We ran three Windows Media streams from a tower (with a generator on it also running the judging / scoring system) off a small Fijian island with a small cube-form PC running XP and Raycaster.

    We had extra PCs around we could use as backups if it failed, too -- this is obviously a fairly harsh environment (sun, sand, surf, seaspray, and of course theres always the risk of it just falling off the tower in the first place).

    This is probably not so much help for your specific requirements, but the system *was* s
  • I know you said you want to keep the capture cards you have, but have you considered a MacBook Pro? You could obtain any of a variety of very portable external USB|Firewire audio capture devices (keeps the audio away from the CPU/Motherboard, which is of course good for keeping electronics-induced noise down); (also, see below).

    I've recently switched from Windows back to Mac, and it has been a transforming experience. Everything Just Works. There was very little setup to do, and it runs rock solid. It'
  • This http://www.cappuccinopc.com/expando-f154p.asp [cappuccinopc.com] seems to be what you are looking for. For inputs I'd go with the smallest LCD monitor you can find (a 10" should do) and a small mouse and keyboard. You could go with a small LCD touchscreen, but it would be annoying.

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