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.
Douglas Gayeton said to crowds both corporeal and digital that Fabricated Realities, the mixed-reality screening of his film, Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey, was “surreal.” Not just because the simultaneous screening occurred at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and on Exploratorium Island in SL, but also because SL creator Phillip Rosedale was in the (real) audience. 40 people at the Exploratorium watched the film as well as projected views showing the same number of avatars, gathered in an amphitheater in SL for the screening and opportunity to dialogue with the filmmaker. The audience in SL enjoyed seeing the live scenes from their world streamed to the theater in real life, then back again into avatar space. After the screeniing, Doug spoke about his own odyssey making the film, collaborating with a SL resident who he’s never met IRL (in real life), and shared his insight about the continually changing virtual world medium.
A new event involving virtual worlds currently being planned at the Exploratorium is Fabricated Realities. This will be a mixed-reality event that takes place at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and on Exploratorium Island in Second Life. The Exploratorium’s Cinema Arts Program will present a screening of Douglas Gayeton’s machinima documentary, Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey at 2pm PST on January 24, 2009. Doug, who will be part of the public program at the museum, will also appear in SL via live webcast. The idea is to bring the film, speaker, and audience together from the two spaces. We hope the interaction will work and are planning to include a projection screen in the physical theater that will show the audience in the amphitheater in SL. We’ll encode and stream the movie into SL in real time so that the audience there will see the same thing as the audience at the museum, with just a slight delay. We’ll plan to allow the SL audience to ask questions of the filmmaker and to have live video of his reponse streamed back into SL. The technical setup to manage the video streams and two-way communication between the real and the virtual is a little dicey (more on that in a follow-up post), but we’ll be leveraging our experience with routing audio/video signal for presentation and live video encoding/streaming.
On August 1, 2008, the Exploratorium will webcast a total eclipse of the sun as seen from remote Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China near the Mongolian border. Our scientists and media development crew will capture dramatic telescopic images of the eclipse, which will be webcast via the Exploratorium’s website and in Second Life. The program will be hosted by Exploratorium scientists Dr. Robert Semper and Dr. Paul Doherty and feature NASA Heliospheric physicist Dr. Eric Christian who will show some of the latest imagery of the sun from NASA’s SOHO and STEREO missions, and explain how the solar wind can impact us here on Earth.
On Exploratorium Island in Second Life, we’ll host an eclipse viewing event featuring the live webcast, interactive exhibits, and music. You can view the eclipse webcast in the amphitheater on Exploratorium island as well as other sims including Sploland, Spindrift, Nanotechnology, UK Future Focus, Science School, and SciLands.
Putting on this event in SL is presenting some different challenges than the first time we brought a total solar eclipse webcast there in March 2006. It’s a great opportunity to continue to learn about putting on museum events in a virtual world. I’ll be sharing more details of the event as well as details of those challenges in the coming days.