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Catch it live

August 01, 2003 11:31 IST

Streaming video and audio bring the action to your desktop

When Naresh Khubchandani's sister was getting married, he was walking around in his pyjamas, but nobody seemed to mind. That's because he was in Washington, far away from the wedding venue, but watching the ceremony live on the Internet from the comfort of his home.

Says Naresh, "I was caught up with work and couldn't make it for the wedding in Colorado. The wedding planners put it live on the Net." He watched the entire proceedings and even chatted with his cousins who were watching the live telecast from different locations.

"It was a strange feeling. It was as though I was really there, gossiping with my cousins about people in the wedding hall! If not for Webcasting, I would have missed everything. Who said that technology is breaking families? It is a great way to keep in touch."

Broadcasting on the Web
Simply put, Webcasting is a process of using the Internet to broadcast live or pre-recorded information. Video and audio are transmitted in real-time in an encoded format using software called a 'streaming server'. People can watch the video or listen to the audio anytime, from anywhere in the world.

Recently, when author J K Rowling read parts of her latest book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the event was telecast live by MSN. Millions of people logged in from different parts of the world to watch and listen to Rowling live from Royal Albert Hall, London.

Shaadionline.com, the Indian matrimonial portal offers interactive Web TV that allows you to broadcast video online. The entire event is recorded on the site, converted to digital format and uploaded to the Web server. Viewers can then log on and watch the event as it happens. Bharatmatrimony.com is another matrimonial site that offers Webcasting services.

How it works
For simple purposes, a Webcam, and an instant messenger that supports it (like Yahoo!, MSN) are all that you will need to broadcast live video. If there is any event that you would like your friends to watch online, all you need to do is to switch on the camera, record the action you want to transmit and let your friends view the live feed.

Muktidham, a funeral home in Gujarat uses this method to telecast funerals. To watch the funeral proceedings, one has to add muktidham_sid as a contact to Yahoo! messenger. Authorities at Muktidham switch on the camera on request from relatives so that anybody is able to view the funeral from their desktop.

Ashok Acharya, manager of the crematorium, says a live Internet broadcast helps people living far away. "Right now, the service is free. If more people opts for live telecast, we will definitely improve the service, maybe for a small fee." He says their unique service is already receiving appreciation from all over the world.

But, for major events, this technology is not enough. Audio and video are captured on a computer and broadcast using streaming servers, which provide continuous access to the media files, enabling viewers to see an event as it unfolds. They can also ask questions and receive answers in real-time, as it happened in case of the Rowling Webcast.

Many companies too are opting to use this method for communication, training and e-learning purposes within the organisation. Ramana D, a project manager in a Bangalore-based software company, says that they use voice over the Internet to interact with their clients in Japan. "We usually go there to install and train them on the software, but they always have problems. But, we can't go there each time. It is easier this way."

The pros and cons
Deb Mukherjee, CTO of Cognizant Technology Solutions writes
that Webcasting is a very economical way to cut communication costs without affecting quality. He also goes on to explain that viewing experience is greatly improved because of streaming technology and newer compression techniques.

Dheeraj Patel, of E-brain Infotech, the developers of the Muktidham site, says that Webcasting is still to take off in a big way in the country. "We have requests for telecasting the funeral service only from abroad. People here, especially in smaller towns, don't have good Net connection. We have received many complaints. The services in metros are better."

Says Ramana: "It is far from perfect as narrowband connections do not allow for picture perfect videos, but with newer technologies being developed and implemented, I am sure we can expect better quality streaming on the Internet." 

How Webcasting works



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