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The Media

Beyond The Cell -- Journalists' Video Phone 223

dimitri_k writes: "This article from gives some information about the video phone that has become standard in reporting recently. It uses H.263 for compression, and a satellite phone to call into ISDN lines. Maybe people on Slashdot can brainstorm ways to increase the bandwidth of these things in the short term (i.e. cost-ineffective combination of lines) so that the cable news networks can turn the grainy, live, night-vision shots in Afghanistan clear." This setup looks a little chunky, but when you consider the capability to beam video information from anywhere in the world, it's very impressive.
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Beyond The Cell -- Journalists' Video Phone

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  • Divx Onboard (Score:3, Interesting)

    by anewsome ( 58 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:17PM (#2403347)
    Might be the killer application to finally get MPEG4 or OpenDivx codecs into hardware. This alone could probably get higher bitrate, higher quality video transmitted over the lines.
    • Re:Divx Onboard (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's worth pointing out that Open Source hasn't delivered jack in terms of an open video standard that gets "higher bitrate, higher quality video". DivX was a hack of existing, closed source, Microsoft codecs.

  • Its not worth the effort, too grainy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Despite the technological limitations on these things, the ability to broadcast from anywhere definately shouldn't be overlooked. There aren't exactly a lot of broadcast stations or internet connections in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan, and without this clunky-yet-working technology, we wouldn't be seeing much of anything from the front lines right now.
  • pics not that bad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AssFace ( 118098 )
    I've been impressed with the pics they are sending out, but the rate of refresh leaves something to be desired - jerky images and long delays for audio. but it is very impressive that the images are as clear as they are, and the audio doesn't seem to break up at all - I presume they give prioirty to audio, or since it is a *phone* after all perhaps the voice part is already taken care of.
    • I've been seeing a lot of the long audio delays on satallite relays that are just from D.C. to New York. That bugs me more than some slow refresh on a cross world video phone.
      • The long audio delays can come from two different sources. First off, there is the amount of time it takes for the signal to travel from the phone to the tv studio. Second, it typically takes a bit of time for the video decompression to occur. Rather than lose AV syncro, the audio is actually delayed to be played with the appropriate video.

        Here's where it gets interesting: When someone asks you a question in real life, they rely on the amount of hesitation on your part to assess how honest you're being. With these things, you always appear to be hesitating before speaking. Imagine a debate or discussion with someone in studio and someone else in the field. You'd have an asymmetry in how honest these people are perceived.
    • From the article:

      The networks have learned that if they keep the images simple, the live shots feed with higher resolution. There is a reason. Sharp says the system only updates the pixels in the screen that change from frame to frame. So if a correspondent is standing in the dark with a few lights in the deep background, the only thing that is changing on the screen is the reporter's face. If the background is busy with activity, the whole screen has to refresh every frame, so the image is not as clear. All of the bandwidth is being spent updating the entire frame.
    • To add to above...I seem to have sent it off before it was ready.

      Since bandwidth is an issue, priority can be given to audio, since audio takes up much less bandwidth than video for a proportiionate level of quality.
    • The low image quality seems rather appropriate. It serves as a reminder that they are working from the field, in the middle of no where.

      I think it will be just a bit shocking when the technology matures to the point that real time video feeds from remote parts of the Earth in the middle of a war zone become indistinguishable from local feeds. What they have now is low quality, but still very cool. Once it's no longer low quality will we still realize how cool it is?
  • This setup looks a little chunky, but when you consider the capability to beam video information from anywhere in the world, it's very impressive.

    All the footage I have seen has been a pixely mess.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:20PM (#2403361)
    I hope someone will think of using this to broadcast pr0n videos live from remote places, like "antarctica upside down" or "easter island statue-hard III" or something.
  • I thought secretaries were suppose to be able to read their PHBs speeches to them over a regular sized cell phone, complete will FMV? And what happened to the Dick Tracy cell phone watch? What about the head mounted displays for the average day trader that likes to sit in a park full of pidgeons and yell at his computer? Don't tell me I've been fooled by somebodies marketing team!
  • Why real-time? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MikeyNg ( 88437 ) <> on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:22PM (#2403376) Homepage

    It seems that alot of criticism is being directed at the choppy video feeds. There will always be a trade-off of quality and compression that is limited by bandwidth. I really don't see the bandwidth problem being solved in the near future. But, who says that these feeds really need to be in real-time? Yes, there are certain instances where having a real-time feed is useful, but it would also be good if they could capture some high quality feeds then "squirt" them to the receving stations. It wouldn't be instantaneous, but you could get a better quality feed.

    • Why would they waste high quality feeds on the sub-standard reporting they broadcast?
      • Why would they waste high quality feeds on the sub-standard reporting they broadcast?

        Don't you get it? It isn't the quality of information or reporting that matters. (That's why Dan Rather has a job.) Didn't you watch the movie (I think it was titled) Broadcast News?

        It's all about impression. And fluff. Appearance. Not substance.

        It just needs a pretty gui. People who have deep thoughts about human psychology and user interface need not apply.

        (Score: -1 - Obvious)
  • Wouldn't you need to align a dish for this to work? How do get it aligned?

    I seem to recall them using similar technology during the Gulf War, but it wasn't this portable.

    • The new generation of satellite phones don't need dishes, though the antennas are usually large and bulky, not to mention the power supplies...

      Actually, a lot like cell phones 15 years ago...
      • It must require way more power to blast the signal every which way rather than use a dish. I wonder how much battery life they get out of the thing.

        It seem like there ought to be someway to have a motorized dish antenna that could automatically align itself.

        • On many large yachts, they have small satellite dishes [] inside fibreglass domes which automatically rotate to track the satellite as the boat moves along, so you can watch satellite TV whilst moving, and also access satellites for comms and phone. These only cost a few hundred dollars, so it can't be that hard to put one of these on a satellite videophone...
        • There are solid state solutions to this, mostly involving fractal antennas and the like, which don't require any moving parts. But, even a simple dish antenna is possible. The problem is that the entire system becomes a bit more complicated as a result...
    • You may be thinking of the Al Franken self-contained one-man remote studio with satellite uplink as seen on SNL during the Gulf War. ;-)

      Problem was, the dish mounted on his head and the power supply on his back were so heavy they caused him sever back and neck pain (not to mention that when he turned his head during a broadcast, the feed would drop out).

    • This makes me think of Al Franken with a small satellite dish on his head, reporting from the (first) Gulf War on Weekend Update/SNL.

    • by rhammack ( 471235 )
      IIRC, range and bandwith are determined by 2 general factors (ingnoring frequncy, etc.) a useful abstraction is that the range and bandwidth depend on 1)Power & Efficiency of transmitting antenna, and 2) Area & efficiency of recieving antenna. this means that you have two approaches: bigger, more powerfull transmitters, or bigger, more sensitive recievers. To get really good bandwidth from a small, low-power sat-phone, you need a BIG, sensitive recieving antenna in orbit. in short, maybe the telecom industry should concentrate on the sattelite end, rather than the phone, since any practical hand-held has size and weight constraints, whereas a sattelite (ignoring cost) can be as large as needed.

  • I noticed on NBC last night that when they showed footage taken with a video phone they only used the left 1/3 of the screen for the video phone image and then showed maps or other footage in the rest of the screen.

    This made the lack of resolution less apparent. Scaling the image up to fill the screen produces a very pixelated image. Also it seemed that the low framerate was less noticable this way. It wasn't nearly as annoying as the video phone footage that I've seen in the past.

    Perhaps if they don't want to transmit in real-time and can afford a minute or two of delay they could record some footage at a higher resolution and/or framerate and then send it to the network and have them assemble it at the network. It might take 3 minutes to transmit 1 minute of footage this way. You lose the realtime aspect of the current setup but you could get better quality.

    • I noticed on NBC last night that when they showed footage taken with a video phone they only used the left 1/3 of the screen for the video phone image and then showed maps or other footage in the rest of the screen.

      Now they have a legitimate reason for those irritatingly cluttered screen layouts. Not only will they be broadcasting 7 different feeds simultaneously, but they will all have crappy resolution!
    • >they could record some footage at a higher resolution and/or framerate and then send it to the network and have them assemble it at the network

      That's exactly what it says in the article. The tradeoff is the amount of time it takes to transfer the data. If it is breaking news and you want to get it on the tube first, you sacrifice quality.

      "It can edit the story in the field and send the completed story back; but in Afghanistan, it usually sends the 'raw tape' back and the bureau assembles the story"
      "Those at the receiving end can decide how much quality they are willing to wait for. To feed a minute of video at top quality would take between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on the quality of the connection."
    • It might take 3 minutes to transmit 1 minute of footage this way.

      First off, a 3 minute delay is still "live". So, you can live with that... you just can't interview the reported with the video synced. Second, if they do this with three systems, they get the video streaming. Third, if they are using three systems, then why not just link the streams? (interleave the frames, preferably, so if one drops, you just loose one out of every three frames). You then get near realtime (a chunk of a second lost in the bounce for an uncomfortable pause), and have a nice fallback.

      Of course, if it were this easy, they would presumably be doing it. Or this may be very first gen, throw it together and hope it works style tech, and in six months we'll see all the good obvious ideas we post here are used as standards.

      Or (donning my conspiracy hat), the obvious ideas are all held up by patents.


    • If they don't need real-time uploads, there's a lot of "cheap" consumer-level products that can create digital video of sufficient quality (between their current phone and real video).

      Personally, I use a $200 Kodak camera (MC3) to shoot video while skydiving... it's not as good as a video camera, but more than enough for use in these situations. Going into the $500+ market, you'd get even better quality. (for samples, see: My Skydiving Weblog [])

      Sure, it'd be a pain to upload video manually after shooting, but you could still do it on your satellite phone, and it'd be better quality.


  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe people on Slashdot can brainstorm ways to increase the bandwidth of these things in the short term (i.e. cost-ineffective combination of lines) so that the cable news networks can turn the grainy, live, night-vision shots in Afghanistan clear.

    Is the above comment some kind of joke? There are companies with R&D teams working on this for quite a bit of time and this fellow think all we need is a brainstorming session on Slashdot.

    Hey, buddy, get a grip...

    • Probably chumming for free labor ...
    • Whoop... the R&D goes into compression algorithms, not increasing bandwidth for a broadcast machine. Getting more bandwidth to a remote area isn't an easy problem, but thankfully we're talking about getting more bandwidth to -one- location than actually networking the Afghan mountains.

      I'm not sure how sateline phones work, as I don't have one laying around to play with, but what about using technology to "shotgun" two modems together? This was popular roughly 2 years ago if memory serves, and is supported by Linux in some way shape or form.

      Granted, the tech was meant for land-line modems, but assuming that two sat. phones within a close proximity don't knock each other's bandwidth down something like this would work.

      Why aren't news companies doing it then? It takes some setup, no doubt, and you'd need a laptop, more equipment, and basically a sys admin along with camera crew and reporter that they've already got over there. Imagine that help-wanted ad: "Linux sysadmin willing to travel abroad to war torn nations. Hostile work environment, could possibly be hit with mis-guieded cruise missle. Excellent health benefits."
  • Sat uplinks? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Quasar1999 ( 520073 )
    Perhaps I missed something, but why don't they just use their satellite uplinks??? Why use these crappy videophones that look worse than streaming video on a 56k modem?

    I'd much rather be watching 30 minute old footage, then grainy 'live' (2 minute delayed) 'images'. Why don't they just record them with a standard handheld camera, send the tape to a nearby satellite uplink site, and beam it back to CNN???

    and besides, I have seen CNN rewind 'LIVE' events before my eyes... When they put the little 'LIVE' Icon on the screen that don't mean crap... Just watch CNN for a few hours and watch them do it... Pausing/Rewinding of LIVE feeds happens way too often...
    • ...broadband sat uplinks require a big, bulky satellite rig by comparison and can be a liability if you have to move in a hurry.
    • One of the primary problems is as these devices become more and more ubiquitous, there will be more and more competition to get the feed in now .

      If CNN didn't have at least the grainy picture, someone else would and would lose viewers cuz what they're seeing is less real-time. (or so the argument goes).

      Additionally, how much does the normal sat transmission equipment weigh? How bulky is it? I suspect that that might be another reason...

      For now, the mix of crappy live feed from the Boonies and better, but not real time will be what is around. At least until the algorithms and hardware are more up to snuff.

      I'm surprised that we are not seeing a few news UAV's...

    • you need a friggin' truck to do a satellite uplink. Not exactly easy to get in and out of a hostile country is it?
  • by esvoboda ( 166456 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:28PM (#2403408)
    This might be brute force, but how about add the capability to transfer data over two or more phone lines simultaneously, in parallel, if they exist at a location?
  • Now this is really what "news for nerds" is all about. I'll bet that I was not the only one who sat thinking about how the videophone worked/looked instead of listening to the actual news broadcast. :-)
    • I can definitely second that...

      I was watching it last night at about 7:00 EST and noticing how much vidphone technology had improved, and wondering how they were doing it...

      Actually, now that my nostalgia processor has kicked in, I was actually musing that this was the worst live feed I'd ever seen and that it must therefore be some new, super-portable digital application that I hadn't heard of yet...
  • by Livn4Golf ( 83604 )
    "By then, Sharp will be the ripe age of 26, and will be able to tell his friends tales of the old days, back when the Internet started and he was a teen-ager. "

    Umm, the Internet is older than Mr. Sharp. It turned 30 [] way back in 1999.
  • Why don't they just record everything in a digital format, then ftp the freakin things? DivX would be great solution here. I'm pretty sure that the US Ships have Internet access on board. I'm sure that there is a way to increase the quality of the films, and stream line the process. However, I'm not going to waste anymore of my time here. No one is going to take any of these suggestions, there all watching shitty videos on the news... ;P
  • More bandwidth? (Score:5, Informative)

    by merlin_jim ( 302773 ) <James@McCracken.stratapult@com> on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:30PM (#2403423)
    Well, first off, cut out the full duplex operation. Send voice only out to the field, and use the extra bandwidth for more frames. The reporter on the other end rarely needs to see what's happening in the home office, while the whole world would appreciate a clearer picture.

    They're using H.263 compression algorithms... some dismal figures (it was made to be used at 10 fps, for instance!) Here's a nice page [] detailing the standard and some comparisons to MPEGs...

    Here's a great page [] comparing H.263 to MPEG-4... Hmmm... Jurassic Park encoded in High Quality MPEG-4 beat the 64 Kbit/s rate of H.263 by nearly %20... the video phones are, according to the article, 112Kbit/s... Anyone have any clue about using MPEG-4 to do this? Sounds to me like it'd be a much better compression algorithm...
    • MPEG-4 may be a better algorithm, but is it a suitable algorithm for real-time or short-turnaround compression?

      These reporters want to stream this stuff live, or at least get it transmitted ASAP. I would personally choose the Sorenson compressor, but I know how much time it takes to compress even a short clip. Waiting an hour to compress a 3 minute video clip may not be practical.

      I think that H.263 may have been chosen as a more suitable compromise between compression speed and video quality for reporters in the field who may sometimes be running for their lives.
      • Re:More bandwidth? (Score:2, Informative)

        by stux ( 1934 )

        I design and write an MPEG4 video codec... its called 3ivx... you *might* have heard of it :)


        We can realtime encode CIF type video on a PBG4 (Titanium)

        With a 1 frame latency.


        MPEG4 is based on H263... so its perfect for this type of application. []
      • I think one could easily build an MPEG-4 encoding cluster. Since the system is in an aircraft aluminum box anyways, it's not like you would be making it much less portable, especially considering the size and complexity of the camera in the first place.

        Just use some PC/104 or similar embedded technologies to build a cluster that does realtime MPEG-4 encoding. Or even better, use some of TI's new high-speed Digital Signal Processors (I have one [] sitting on my desk that runs approx. 2.4 GIPS and cost here [] is a company that has already done an embedded MPEG4 encoder for videophone apps...
    • Wouldn't MPEG-4 result in drastically shorter battery life due to larger processing requirements?
  • Ugh. H.263? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chasing Amy ( 450778 ) <> on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:31PM (#2403428) Homepage
    The guy who mentioned DivX and MPEG-4 above wasn't far off at all. The problem here is definitely the compression technique. The one they're using is utterly ANCIENT by today's standards, which can produce better framerates and image quality with lower bandwidth. Anyone remember the similar i.263 codec that used to be used in AVI videos traded over the Net? No? Now you know why nobody uses it anymore.

    I too have been seeing those video phones in use, on the Fox News Network. But I had no idea ancient software was to blame, I just thought it was all the bandwith's fault. But they're not using that bandwidth to its full potential. They need to use an MPEG-4 based codec instead. Make their own, or use Microsoft's little AVI-based implementation, or anything--just use a modern compression technique.

    I'd also imagine they could improve quality substantially by interpolating any lost frames, back up to the NTSC standard or a flat 30FPS. Surely a big news conglomerate can afford the hardware and software to do that relatively simple, though horsepower-intensive-in-realtime, chore.

    Cheap bastards. ;-)
    • They need to use an MPEG-4 based codec instead

      But they need real-time video compression.

      If you're compressing pr0n with mpeg-4, then you can use an asymetric compression such as mpeg-4, since you don't care if the compression takes ten times as long as the decompression.

      A design goal of some compression algorithms is to spend a disproportionately large amount of horsepower in compression to make decompression easy for 386 machines with low-end web browsers. But the compresser guys can use high end equipment.

      Now apply this algorithm to a jello-vision situation and it doesn't work. Some parts of a video might take longer to compress and some parts take less time to compress. But on a live feed, you can't have extra slow portions of compression, because the data is comming in live and you end up missing frames.
      • I don't know much about MPEG-4, but I can tell you alot about MPEG-2. MPEG-2 is designed to be encoder-intensive, as well as encoder-biased, meaning that improvements can be made to the encoding process, but a five year old decoder will be able to decode it. MPEG-2 encoding is also a multi-step process; you go through, cobble together a rough-encode scheme, then go BACK through and re-encode it. Also, a lot of the neat tricks, like VBR, wouldn't be much use. With MPEG, you're playing for space; how much video can you cram onto that VCD or DVD? With these phones, you've got bandwidth; you want to fill those 64 KB of space, at all times, or it's just not worth it.
      • MPEG-4 is processor-instensive, yes. But it's actually fairly simple mathematically, just slow on general-purpose processors. That's why a video phone device should have it in a hardware encoder. Surely the budget of CNN and FoxNews can afford the fundage to get it done.
        • I understand that hardware is the best way to do it. But Mpeg4 seems designed to solve a different problem -- as another poster points out. That is, the problem of fitting in minimum space.

          What a sat phone needs is a way to fit a fixed bandwidth. What happens if a certian segment of your live feed, after encoding, no longer fits into XXX Kbps? What is needed is an encoding algorithm designed to fit a fixed bandwidth -- which is a very different design goal.
          • In case you didn't know, just as with MPEG and MPEG-2, you can set a *maximum* and *minimum* bitrate in MPEG-4 encoding.

            Therefore, setting the max and min bitrate to whatever the sat phone can handle, would prevent any problems. Not all MPEG-4 recording has to be done in 2-pass VBR, which some don't seem to realize. It still provides better compression than H.263 even with single-pass CBR at any given bitrate, except maybe for extraordinarily small ones, much smaller than I'm sure they're getting on those sat phone uplinks.

            Not everyone realizes this though, since the most common MPEG-4 implementation is Microsoft's hack of it into an AVI codec, and in "official" versions of their MPEG-4 codec this functionality is usually hidden. In fact, in most of their MPEG-4 releases, the ability to record in that format at all is disabled.
            • No, I didn't know this. But (given sufficient processing power) can mpeg4 also produce a given bandwidth in real-time! It's not that I want the mpeg4 to limit itself to a playback of 128 Kbps, but I want the encoding process to produce 128 Kbps.

              This opens up the interesting question (can of worms?) of how do you pre-determine (calculate) the processing power required to product X bits-per-second? So you can pick which embedded processor to use in your new Phone-O-Matic design?
    • Remember, while it is easy to write some software for windows or linux to make it do some fancy new video format, for a video phone device like this I suspect they may have custom made hardware to drive the H.263. Making the same thing for a newer codec may be a good idea but it will take longer to get into an embedded device like this an onto your desktop. They should be inverse multiplexing over several line though. But that is a pretty obvious solution so I assume they had a good reason not to do it.
      • This points to my first question:
        What sort of CPU are they using for this thing? The solutions open to us may differ, slightly, depending on whether they are using a dedicated/ custom DSP chip or a general purpose CPU. Then we've got questions like (P)ROM vs. EEPROM. The PR sheet didn't give any of these kinds of data. Is anybody able to contact the manufacturer for this info?

        If we can get a combination of people with close links to the manufacturer and people with a good history, perhaps it would be possible to arrange the loan of a few units for people to hack on? The hackers would get some interesting toys to use for some interesting project, and the company would get access to the resulting open software. I think that it could be a pretty good win-win situation.

  • Maybe people on Slashdot can brainstorm ways to increase the bandwidth of these things in the short term (i.e. cost-ineffective combination of lines)...

    Well, if money is really no object, why stop at cost-ineffective line-aggregation tricks? Why not send every correspondent in the field with a Delta and a CommSat and a laser uplink (some assemply reqired)?

    - Oh well...

  • I understand that news agencies really love "on location live" shots, as can be evidenced by the nightly news almost any day of the week, showing the hospital that so-and-so is in after the accident at 11 pm. But when reporting something from that far away, I think they would want at least broadcast quality, especially since our government's image to the world may hang on what they say. Yes, it would prevent a live question from the home team, but why not beam those questions over a voice-only feed and record them on the same tape as they are sending anyways? this live news crap is going way too far.
    • Tell me about it, i think it is too fill in the spaces when they have nothing to say. Yesterday I watched on MSNBC for eleven minutes as they marveled at how bright the headlights on a pickup truck looked at seven miles with their new infrared cams...

      Lame lame lame lame lame, live broadcasting.

      Oh and here is another thing, how secure are these reporters? Why the hell should we be delivering state of the art communications equipment to a country where the foreign press has far more advanced tech the standing government?

    • This camera was the only way the world was able to see the departure of the crew of the US intelligence plane from China. The Chinese would not allow broadcasting, and a several ton van with a sat. uplink could not be smuggled close enough to film the departure. However, these small video phones fit the bill nicely. These should enable footage to be filmed under similar circumstances in the future that would otherwise go unreported or lack effective visuals.
  • CNN used them to film the US spy plane crew returning from China... .html
    • In '89, I remember watching CNN's coverage of the Chinese suppression of students in Tianamin Square. The CNN crew didn't have cameras, but had an early ancestor of these phones - it sent the "video" at a frame rate of about 1 frame per MINUTE - the image would come in scan line by scan line, and when it got to the bottom of the screen, start updating again at the top. Very hard to watch, but hey, it was pictures...

      So things have come a long way.
  • Let me just plug a little for Inmarsat, which I don't work for, however I do work for a company that make products for their satellite system.

    The present high speed is 64kbit and an ISDN line may be one way to transfer data.

    It may not seem to be a lot, but it works, it works well and it works now and at affordable prices.

    Otherwise there probably wouldn't have been sold 100.000'ands of terminals (including A, B, C and M systems) all over the world.

    Other services may promise higher speeds in the future, but Inmarsat and related companies of course aren't standing still, so also there higher speeds will appear in the future.

    In any case I hope a race/competition for higher quality of service, eg. higher speeds, will evolve because that will be great for end users as well as producers (not all producers understand it, though :-)
  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:45PM (#2403515) Journal

    turn the grainy, live, night-vision shots in Afghanistan clear.

    Even if they had more bandwidth, it wouldn't help that much. The low bandwidth causes blockiness. The graininess and the poor color comes from the fact that the cameras just don't work well in low light.

    Now, a while ago I saw something on the Discovery channel where a guy had a low-light camera that he was using to capture the aurora borealis in real time. They could use something like that.

    Of course, I could go on about how there isn't really any need for us to see explosions at night in full technicolor, but that's beside the point.

  • by squeegee-me ( 169687 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:49PM (#2403533) Homepage
    The night vision they are using is probably where the grainy-ness first comes in. It's not to say that the News Corps. arround the world cannot afford some highend night vision equipment, it's that the US and NATO will not allow anything above a certain level to be exported to non-NATO approved country, such as Afganistan. They want to keep the nice equipment out of the terrorist hands. Ever look for Night vision online? A lot of dealers will say "cannot be exported outside the US" for this exact reason. They are selling everything from Gen 1 to what some are calling Gen 3+, but only Gen 1 and maybe some Gen 2 can cross the boarder.

    I have an old Ukranian Gen 1 scope that looks similar to the footage you see on TV, but when I use my newer Gen 3 scope from ITT, it's like daylight. Hell, I've even used it to read stuff in the dark, and navagate boats with it. Gen 1 scope... uggg.... New boat anchor. Gen 3 scope... I'm hunt'n wabits... on the other side of the lake... at 3 AM... with no moon light.

    I aplaud the idea of enhansing the video, but realise, when the daytime footage come through, it's fine, night vision feed from an exportable scope, looks like crap.

    you may try to point out the military's footage looks just as bad, but you think they are going to let the enemy know they can spot an untied shoelace at a mile and a half?
  • I like that. I have always considered the term "Talking Head" to be a slight to reporters, particularly TV news anchors (as in there's a head that talks, but there's no heart or other substance below the head, sorta like a trained parrot) and here's a product called such.

    Cool for the adventurous Christine Amanpour. Not what I visualized from the article header, which made me think "Cell Phone with Camera", which I'm sure if doesn't exist will if they ever can work out enough bandwidth. (How about Slow Scan ;)

  • by G Neric ( 176742 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @04:55PM (#2403561)
    they should hire ventriloquists as reporters: ventriloquists can talk without moving their lips and this will save a ton of compressed bandwidth!
  • Get a couple of phone connections, and multiplex it between two channels...should give you about 80% more bandwith...maybe more depending on the code.

  • by ReelOddeeo ( 115880 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @05:23PM (#2403668)
    I think it is much more important that they fix the latency more than the bandwidth problem. The picture quality right now is acceptable. And it will improve.

    But latency is a much harder problem.

    I wonder how many satellites this has to bounce off of? Won? Too?

    Each satellite is abou 23,000 miles out. And 22,300 miles back. Then the reporter gives an answer. Then the answer goes another ~50,000 miles. Round trip distance: about 100,000 miles.

    Now let's see, at the speed of light, this is how many seconds? 0.6? Now add in all the processing time of video compression latency. This is probably even more time than just the distance to the friggin satellite(s).

    No wonder they ask a question and it takes 3 seconds before the remote reporter's lips start moving. And they get into "interruption wars" and "courtesy wars" due to the extreme latency.
    • Now let's see, at the speed of light, this is how many seconds? 0.6? Now add in all the processing time of video compression latency. This is probably even more time than just the distance to the friggin satellite(s).

      No wonder they ask a question and it takes 3 seconds before the remote reporter's lips start moving. And they get into "interruption wars" and "courtesy wars" due to the extreme latency.

      I'd started to notice that too. You'll notice when they're using a phone feed the latency effect halfway across the world is not quite as bad as the recent transmissions, so they must really be bouncing a lot to get that time lag.

      This also ties in nicely with SciFi stories where they always broadcast with a banner image behind them - since the banner image is constant, the image transmits more quickly with the bandwidth limitations.

      Seems to me the real major point of improvement would be in the battery technology and power system, not the casing or shell or antenna portions.

  • by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <> on Monday October 08, 2001 @05:54PM (#2403809) Homepage
    I can tell most of the folks commenting on this thread have not used high bandwidth sat phones or done much live video (or both).

    The InMarSat system is a geostationary constellation, and requires a pretty decent amount of power to transmit.

    It requires a directional antenna, which is part of the reason the phones are as large as they are. The smallest are the size of a small briefcase, and these videophones are not much larger than that.

    You can mux together multiple dishes to get 64k, 128k, 192k, 256k, etc, but each 64k requires another dish, another power supply, and more space.

    Yes, the codecs are less than perfect, but they are standard, and allow you to connect virtually anywhere in real-time.

    We've experimented with live encoding into more efficient formats and quite frankly you don't get much better quality, and the lack of built-in videoconferencing smarts on the part of the codecs costs as much as you gain in efficiency.

    Yes, if you can record, encode and transmit in near-real time the quality could be better, but then you're talking about a much more technically complicated setup that a reporter with limited resources has to manage.

    Operating a computer in your office is much simpler than doing it on a frozen rock with bombs falling nearby and a poor power supply. If you have a connection, you transmit because you never know when it may go down or your power will die. Getting a few extra FPS for extra time sounds nice in theory, but getting the story out ASAP is more important because 30 seconds from now things could change.

    The videophones are an amazing package, and little can be done to improve them much more than the simple march of technology. They'll get smaller, we'll get better sat systems with more bandwidth, the codecs will improve, but for what resources exists now, these things do an AMAZING job of wringing out all the performance possible.
    • Operating a computer in your office is much simpler than doing it on a frozen rock with bombs falling nearby and a poor power supply

      And H.263 encoding is effortless, whereas MPEG-4 would require the reporter on the scene to recompile the Linux kernel before he could transmit!

      Yes, if you can record, encode and transmit in near-real time the quality could be better, but then you're talking about a much more technically complicated setup that a reporter with limited resources has to manage.

      There is no such thing as one codec which is more "technically complicated" to the user than another. The underlying math may be harder, but it all boils down to "frames go in here, encoded byte stream comes out here" in the end.

      I suspect that changing the codec would require new videophone hardware, and that's the real problem... but the new phone won't be a whit more complicated than the old, and won't require any changes to the data link inbetween.

      • And H.263 encoding is effortless, whereas MPEG-4 would require the reporter on the scene to recompile the Linux kernel before he could transmit!

        No, but using an appliance is simpler than using a computer. The videophone is an appliance (although a complex one). Everyone in the message threads suggesting they just hook up a PC and hack out some software to get better codec quality is suggesting a solution that won't work in the field because it requires using a more complex system.

        There is no such thing as one codec which is more "technically complicated" to the user than another

        I never claimed there was. What I said was that the near-real-time use of video that would require recording, compression, and then transmission (a multi-step process), would be more complex for the user than a real-time method with lower quality.

        The point is that quality is not the ultimate goal here -- reliability is. Using a real-time standardized codec guarantees that if you can get a connection to the satellite that your video will get out.

        yes, MPEG4 would be wonderful, but the standard was finalized literally days ago. Once we have hardware that can compress it in real-time and be sure that they'll be able to connect to other systems using the same standard, then someone will build that into the videophone, but not before.

        Say what you will about the quality of the videoconferencing codecs, but the fact that you can get a windows PC, a mac, a unix box, a videophone, a teamstation system, and a picturetel system all in a videoconference together, over WIDELY divergent bandwiths and topologies is FAR more important than getting a few more FPS...
  • by klapton ( 457314 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @06:13PM (#2403865)
    First off, I watched one of the news reports via videophone and I was quite impressed by the audio clarity and the video quality. M$'s NetMeeting can't even compare at the same data rate.
    MPEG4 is an outgrowth of H.263.
    The reason H.263 is chosen over MPEG4 and other similar streaming codecs is because the latency from video capture to transmission of the encoded image is better under H.263. During some informal testing, latency of H.263 video conferencing on a LAN was well under 2 seconds. The best I could do with Real's RealProducer using their G2 codec was around 4-5 seconds. The best I could do with Microsoft's Media Encoder with the MPEG4 codec was around 7-10 seconds.
    Because of the way that MPEG2 and MPEG4 take advantage of the time domain to achieve higher compression also makes them unsuitable for 'live' 2-way video.
    Here are some links to chew on: [] ideo-streaming.html [] []
    The H.263 spec is available at [] for a fee.
  • I saw this last night on TechTV and the new release of these video cell phones in Japan. They looked really nice and actually had nice video feeds. You can read more about the phone here on this link Read here. []
  • You need to make sure you have a higher quality camera. If it records high quality, say on a hard drive or at least flash ram, then it can do the low quality transmission first for the live broadcast. Then between live feeds, do the file transfer of the parts of the high quality shots ... if you're not on the run for your life (sometimes the case in places like this).

    This is technology intended for a certain (1 56K channel) level of bandwidth. In the future specialized units with some more bandwidth could come along specifically for the news media ... after the CIA lets the contractors de-classify that technology.

  • ... this is Edison Carter, coming you very much live.

    :) Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    • Yay.. okay, so I'm not the only one who thinks the environment of Max Headroom is eerily premeniscient. =)

      Seriously, the world could do some good for itself if it sat down and studied the world that was created for that story. Far too many things from that show are easily possible today (or in a few years).

      And really, the method of having a single roving reporter/cameraman like that is very exciting :)

  • Here's the Skinny. (Score:3, Informative)

    by El Camino SS ( 264212 ) on Monday October 08, 2001 @09:02PM (#2404456)

    I am a news videographer, and as a man that does the occasional sat live, there are a few things that you should know. This is really interesting technology. The old way took a load of equipment, time, and money. Time is the problem... in a war, the stationary time is the dangerous part in a hostile country.

    I know that everyone is complaining on Slashdot about the picture quality of these new suitcase devices that can transmit anywhere in the world, and they are very impressive. The issue here with these transmitters is that they had to sacrifice something to get the video image in, so it was compressed to the point of massive lossiness. It is acceptable in the news business, because, well, in a situation like this, you need to be able to get out very fast.

    But to compare to current inconvenience, they are incredible. Even the newest full band KU band digital transmitters are usually packed in the size of a SMALL TEN WHEEL TRACTOR TRAILOR. Woof. Granted, the viewing of the shot on a full bandwidth is like that in the studio. But in the field without the giant tractor trailer, to get the full signal requires an engineer with a nights prep, and a Ford Econoline-size van of equipment to do it right in the field. Not less important, a rather large amount of electricity which in those situations is often hard to find. So many times you had to bring your own generators. I am not kidding the difficulty of full quality broadcasts... many of the field engineers are ex-military comm school types. It is a tough business. Matter of fact, all of news is a tough business.

    I occasionally get to speak with some of the network engineers who travel overseas in hot zones, and they say that some of them keep about 4-thousand US dollars cash on them at all times just to bribe all of their equipment into the country. When Bosnia took off the engineers were some of the first ones in, and they had to weld steel plates outside their dishes so that the snipers wouldn't destroy their transmitters. They were sandbagged in. And they had a military guard.

    I can only say that a device that does the work of a nights engineering and a truckload of equipment on a 12V DC source is amazing... AND IT DOES IT LIVE. This will save lives of newsmen by keeping them on the move, and it will keep us in touch in the world. This will soon change everything. I assume that very, very soon that the whole thing will go studio quality, and when it does, it will change the whole nature of live television. Imagine network cameras with this technology built into the camera itself. The world will not miss a thing. It sounds scary and Big Brother like, but for newsmen, we will be able to SHOW you, without the unbelieveability of us TELLING you what is going on.

    Better communication. Perhaps more people will understand the truth out there when they see it. It is a good thing... really.

    • I can only say that a device that does the work of a nights engineering and a truckload of equipment on a 12V DC source is amazing... AND IT DOES IT LIVE.

      I only hope they can get these on Star Trek, so the away team don't have to be always saying, Captain, you'd better get down here...

      I remember one episode of TNG where they only way they could visually link the away team with the ship was via Georgie's prosthetic. Ridiculous! These people can travel faster than the speed of light and they can't even transmit video over a few tens of kilometers from the surface up to orbit! Hell, my Nokia 6210 is more powerful than a Star Fleet communicator! Hook it up to my Psion and it's more powerful than a Tricorder too!

      Anyway, back on topic. If, and this is a big if, 3G ever takes off, then assuming the infrastructure was there (a portable base station with a satellite uplink, maybe in a truck 10 kms back perhaps) then we can have reporters on the ground send reports back by mobile phone. And if we all have the 3G infrastructure back home, we can watch it like that too...

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll