Museum Virtual Worlds

Bringing Real and Virtual Together

Encoding Tools for Live Webcasting into Virtual Worlds

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Since the beginning of the Exploratorium’s explorations with virtual worlds (circa 2006–I know, seems like a long time ago!), we’ve combined live webcasting with exhibits to create social events.  To bring the outside world in using programs like webcasts, you need a capable audio/video encoding tool that can communicate directly with a streaming media server.  Virtual worlds like Second Life, can then deliver that stream to the participant by accessing the stream location and rendering it in the viewer application.  For video, we can make a surface act like a big projection screen and show the live stream.  Two programs which we’ve found to be useful to encode digital video from a camera or other video signal are QuickTime Broadcaster from Apple and Wirecast from Telestream.  Both are capable of connecting to a QuickTime Streaming Server (QTSS) which is the necessary server application you need to stream video into SL.  I haven’t been able to successfully use a Helix Universal Server, another popular streaming media server, to get video into SL yet, but I keep thinking it’s possible.  Also, I haven’t had an opportunity to experiment with using other server apps like Wowza for this but hope to at some point.  QuickTime Broadcaster is only available for the Mac,  but is free from Apple, and makes setting up an encoder system fast and easy.  You may need to enter a username and password to authenticate with QTSS from QuickTime Broadcaster through the application’s Network configuration.  Wirecast is a commercial application, though you can obtain a discounted educational license which makes it fairly accessible, cost-wise.  It’s cross-platform and I’ve used it on both Mac and Windows to encode and connect to QTSS.  Wirecast has many other features like video switching, which are very useful and worth checking out.  Both programs allow you to select a video input source on your computer –webcam, external camera via capture interface or Firewire, name the stream (you’ll need this to know the stream url), and to simultaneously save an encoded file to your computer while it’s sending the encoded video to the streaming server (useful for posting the video for on-demand viewing after the live event).  On October 9, 2009, we’ll be doing a live webcast from a remote location (the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton) and using Wirecast to encode real-time telescopic images and video of Exploratorium scientists Paul Doherty and Ron Hipschman who will be hosting a program about NASA’s LCROSS mission.   The program will be streamed on the Exploratorium’s website and into our amphitheater on Exploratorium Island in Second Life.

Author: Rob Rothfarb

Rob Rothfarb directs Web development at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, a museum of science, art, and human perception. He develops online exhibits, educational resources, and technical infrastructure for the museum. He’s interested in the application of interactive media technologies to the development of dynamic, networked content and media infrastructure to support exploration, communication, and learning. His background includes experience in software development, computer graphics, interaction design, and digital video. Rob’s interest in community and interactive 3D technologies led to work with several pioneering virtual world software companies and to interactive multimedia projects for museums including the National Gallery of Art and the National Constitution Center.

One Comment

  1. This is very useful, thanks!

    Here’s a dated, but useful, section of the Second Life knowledge base about streaming video:

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