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Timeshifting A Conference: Can we all agree? Please? August 21, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in computers, Conference, DeepTalk, Video.

A video feed or recording of a big physics conference is a mixed blessing.


If there is a video recording of a huge conference – like DPF – it would be 100’s of hours long. Many of the parallel sessions describe work that is constantly being updated – so it isn’t clear that if you posted the video how long it would be relevant. I’ve seen conferences just post video of plenary sessions and skip the parallel sessions for I imagine this very reason.

I definitely appreciate it when one of the big conferences does furnish video or streaming. But I have a major problem: time shifting. Even if I’m awake during the conference it is rare I can devote real time to watching it. Or if there is a special talk I might have to try to arrange my schedule around the special talk. But, come on folks – we’ve solved this problem, right? Tivo!?!? Or for us old folks, it is called a VCR!!!

Which brings me to the second issue with conference video. Formats. For whatever reason the particle physics world has mostly stuck to using RealMedia of one form or another. Ugh. I was badly burned back in the day with the extra crap that RealMedia installed on my machine so I’m gun shy now. But the format is also hard to manipulate. I tried a recent version of their player (maybe about 6 months ago) and they have a nice recording feature – exactly what I need here. But I couldn’t figure out how to convert its stored format to mp4 or other things to download to my mp3 player! There are some open source implementations out there – but I’ve never encountered one that has been good enough to reliably parse these streams.

This year’s Lepton-Photon is trying something new. They are streaming in RealMedia, but they also have a mp4 stream. And the free VLC player can play it. What is better is the free VLC player can record it! And convert it! Hooray!!! I can now download and convert these guys and listen/watch them on my commute to work and back, which is perfect for me (the picture above is a screen capture of the stream in VLC). The picture isn’t totally rosy, however. VLC seems to loose the stream every now-and-then. So when I’m recording it I have to watch the player like a hawk and restart it. Sometimes it will go two hours between drops, and other times just 10 minutes. It would be nice if it would auto-restart.

Which brings me to the last problem. Discoverability. I really like the way my DeepTalk project puts up a conference as a series of talks. But the only reason it works is because the conference is backed by a standard agenda/conference tool, Indico. My DeepTalk tools can interface with that, grab the agenda in a known format, and render it. We have no such standard for video.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did it the same way? You could point your iTunes/Zune/RealMedia/Whatever tool at a conference, it would figure out the times the conference ran, schedule a recording for streams, or if the video was attached, it would download the data… you’d come back after the conference was over, click the “put conference on my mp3 player” and jump on that long plane flight to Europe and drift off to sleep to the dulcet sounds of someone describing the latest update to W mass and how it has moved the most probably Higgs mass a few GeV lower.

Would that be bliss, or what!?