Summer 2009 Issue

Up in the Air

Mobile Streaming Video

By Bill Brown,* WB8ELK

Photo 1. Alan Sieg, WB5RMG, demonstrates the portable streaming video system.
(Photos by the author)

 

Now that high-speed wireless internet service is available in most areas of the country, it’s now possible to televise live streaming video while mobile or portable with lightweight equipment. When doing a balloon launch, or any kind of activity—such as Field Day, special events, and hamfests—this is a great way to share your event with viewers from around the world.

I investigated some of the most popular “free to the general public” streaming video websites (Camstreams.com and Ustream.tv, for example), and although you can certainly use these sites for your streaming video and there are many hams using these sites, you may have to put up with some restrictions, such as limited number of viewers at one time as well as some advertising.

For an event that might generate a large viewing audience, I found that the best choice for me was to join the BATC (British Amateur Television Club) with yearly dues of 4 pounds (about $5.50 US). On its website (www.batc.tv) you get a dedicated personal “Members Streams” area where your streaming video link will be always be shown on the list whether you are using it or not and will immediately activate once you start your video. A nice plus is that you get to download the Cyber version of the club’s CQ-TV magazine as part of the deal. Note that you do not need to be a paid member in order to view the video streams and events.

I have successfully used this to televise a number of balloon launches with great results. At one point we had over 100 viewers in several countries. The BATC indicates that their capacity should allow several hundred viewers at one time. One nice feature is its chat room area next to the viewing screen. Please note that to get your callsign or name to show up (if you haven’t logged onto the BATC website as a member) is to use the command: /nick CALLSIGN (e.g., /nick WB8ELK).

At any given time as you scan through the Members Streams, ATV repeaters, or the special Live Events area, you’ll see a number of hams around the world sending streaming video.

Uplinking Your Video

The hardware needed to uplink a portable or mobile video stream is not at all hard to do anymore. I use an ASUS EeePC netbook computer that weighs just a little over two pounds (see photo 1). Another good choice would be the ACER Aspire One series. If you are near a WiFi HotSpot, you can link in directly that way via the netbook’s internal WiFi module. However, for more remote areas, I use the Verizon Wireless USB727 modem. It requires an additional monthly service fee, but the modem cost is fairly reasonable and sometimes is free depending on the length of term of your contract. You get 5 gigabytes of uplink bandwidth each month (I recommend not exceeding this limit, since the extra charges rack up pretty fast). However, at the streaming video setting recommended by the BATC, it works out to about 80 megabytes an hour of use, which in the case of occasional 4-hour weekend events is plenty for my use. If you are planning to do continuous webcam monitoring, just be careful to monitor your monthly limit or use a WiFi link instead.

All you initially have to do to set up your computer for streaming video via the BATC website is download Adobe’s free Flash Media Live Encoder 3 software. This software shows your live camera video on the left and the outgoing streaming video on the right-hand viewport (see photo 2).
 

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