Review: Stream UK Stream Connect
[Editor's note: This article appears in the Spring issue of Streaming Media - European Edition. Click here for your free subscription.
In the December issue of the U.S. version of Streaming Media, I reviewed a product called Datpresenter, a software-based webcasting system that uses a wizard interface that allows a presenter to rapidly set up a webcast. In that review, you may recall I mentioned early webcasting systems were hardware-based, such as the Accordent Capture Station and Sonic Foundry Mediasite. The shift toward self-service systems such as Datpresenter and the newer Stream Connect, which I am reviewing this month, take advantage of better processors and software-based encoding systems directly within the presenter’s computer.
Stream UK, the creator of Stream Connect, is a company that many of our Streaming Media Europe attendees will be familiar with, as it was announced as a finalist within the U.K./Europe Regional Content Delivery section of the Streaming Media Readers’ Choice Awards at the 2008 Streaming Media Europe show.
Stream UK saw a need to provide a simplified yet powerful interactive streaming platform that could be managed by the presenter through a series of seven steps. The product, Stream Connect, was launched in late February 2009 and is currently available only on the Windows platform (Windows XP or Windows Vista). Stream Connect uses Adobe Flash Media Encoder to push a video stream from the presenter’s computer to a Stream UK server. Users can view the content in Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2, as long as they have Flash Player 9 installed.
Assuming the presenter has a machine that meets the criteria just listed and a webcam or equivalent audio/video device that is plugged into the computer and accessible to the Flash Media Encoder, the only other criteria the presenter must meet is a broadband connection speed of at least 512Kbps to upload the live Flash video encoding.
Let’s look briefly at the seven steps that Stream Connect requires for a presenter to launch a webcast.
Step 1: Purchase a Webcast Package
As a self-service webcasting tool, Stream Connect is designed to be purchased and immediately used; in fact, the company says its technical support is to be used for assistance, not permission, meaning many users should be able to immediately start their own webcast without requiring human intervention. A variety of packages are available, with add-ons such as interactive chat and polling, which we’ll discuss a bit later.
Step 2: Use the Webcast Interface
Customers use the webcast interface, via one of the two browsers mentioned before, to set up the “look and feel” (branding, logo, colours, and the like), as well as to upload resource materials. This is achieved through customisation of one of the several templates provided within the webcast interface. Stream Connect even has a demo available at http://screlease.streamuk.com, showing a Stream UK-branded template complete with polling, chat, and resource materials that can be downloaded.
Figure 1. Choosing a template
During the setup process, a PowerPoint slide synchronization tool called Slide Controller is downloaded (hence the reason that a Mac or Linux machine cannot be used as the webcasting platform). This allows PowerPoint slides to be timed to the presenter’s video and audio. The PowerPoint slides can then be uploaded after the presentation, limiting the amount of preplanning needed to launch a webcast. Please note that PowerPoint files from Office 2007 (e.g., .pptx files) cannot be used.
Figure 2. Uploading content / resources to access during webcast
Step 3: Generate Encoder Profiles
Once the Flash Media Encoder has been chosen within the webcast management interface, a profile text file is downloaded to the local machine. The file includes information that tells the presenter’s Flash Media Encoder tool which Stream UK server should receive the video and audio stream.
Figure 3. Loading Profile into local encoding system on Stream Connect
Windows Media is also being added, as is the ability to control the Digital Rapids encoding appliance. But the initial Stream Connection software uses H.264 and On2’s VP6 via Flash.
The encoder profile is a simplified way to avoid having to generate encoding settings via trial and error for presenters who might not be familiar with the technical aspects of a webcast. The profile also allows the Slide Controller to show the video and the audio streams, as well as the PowerPoint slides.
Integration will allow online audio and video content providers to better monetize their material.
New online media platform is built on Kaltura and uses Level 3 as its CDN.