Category Archives: Blog

Golden Gate Tower Tour

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The weather looked sketchy minutes before the tour

I had the opportunity to go on an exclusive tower tour on the Golden Gate Bridge while I was in California. 15 minutes prior to the tour the fog was still hanging around the tops of the towers so it looked liked the tour might be cancelled. At the last minute the sky cleared and we were good to go!

I was accompanied by another guest, our Golden Gate Bridge employee sponsor (my wonderful cousin) and a bridge safety supervisor. We checked in at the security desk, signed waivers that included not posting any photos online from the tour (due to security issues), and were issued hard hats. After a quick walk across a small portion of the bridge to the South tower the bridge supervisor unlocked a heavy iron door that led to the inside of the tower. You should have seen the strange stares from the people visiting the bridge as we stepped into the tower and locked the door behind us.

Once inside the tower, we took a very small phone-booth-sized elevator to the top of the tower. On the way up I got to marvel at many of the 600,000 rivets that are part of a single tower of the bridge. Each rivet was white-hot when it was pounded into each hole, fusing itself with surrounding steel as it cooled. I can somewhat imagine the incredibly dangerous and laborious work that was involved in building the bridge. I have the deepest respect for the builders of this bridge.

The fog lifted just in time

The view from the top was absolutely stunning! Looking down to the bridge deck below with the sweeping main cables and guide cables was an incredible site. The views of San Francisco, the bay and surrounding area was so beautiful. While we where there, a massive oil tanker passed under the bridge on it’s way to oil refineries. Tiny sail boats raced on the water below. We thought we saw a raft (group) of sea lions swimming out to sea. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

A huge thanks to my cousin for making this happen!

 

Adobe Education Leader Summer Institute

This week I’m in sunny San Jose for the Adobe Education Leader Summer Institute at Adobe Corporate offices. It’s a fantastic week full of executive presentations, sneak peaks, product sessions, certification exams, peer presentations, focus groups, social events and much more. If you’re interested in tuning in to some of the ideas and thoughts going during the week, tune in to the Twitter tag: #AEL2011

6 Reasons You Should Consider HTTP Dynamic Streaming

For years, we’ve been able to deliver video content on web servers using the HTTP protocol as progressive downloadable video. Problem is, if a user wanted to jump to a specific point in a video they would need to wait until the video had downloaded from the beginning to the point where they wanted to watch.
Real-time streaming severs solve this problem by just delivering the bits that are needed to display the video on the screen at the moment but they have their own set of challenges. Specific ports needed to be open so getting through firewalls could be problematic. Real-time streams needed constant, dedicated bandwidth so having multiple, concurrent streams could seriously impact the network.
Enter HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS). The concept for this technology has been around for some time. I remember dabbling with it in QuickTime even before HTTP Live Streaming was announced by Apple. The idea is to break up a long video file into smaller segments and fragments. When a user plays a video online, the video player loads a manifest or xml file that tells the player what video segments and fragments to load and plays those files back seamlessly in sequence. Here are some reasons why you should consider HTTP Dynamic Videos to deliver your content:
  1. HDS runs on Apache using a free Apache module called Origin . No expensive streaming server needed to deliver video on demand (still need a streaming server to use HDS for live broadcasts, online video recording, DVR functionality, and DRM).
  2. HDS is delivered through port 80 so all the firewall issues we’ve had in the past are gone. Hurray!
  3. Multi-bitrate support means better network efficiency. Bitrate switching works “mid-stream” as mobile users move from wi-fi to cellular networks.
  4. Better bandwidth control. Real-time streams demand dedicated bandwidth. HDS is managed as downloaded files on the network so latency can be a little more forgiving.
  5. Seeking within the video. HDS allows the user to seek to any point of the video without having to download the entire clip.
  6. A future release of Adobe’s HDS will include iOS support. This will allows us to serve a single set of video files to all platforms. This one is huge! Who wants to maintain a 2nd sever and an extra set of media to serve to iPhones and iPads? Not me!
I’m happy to see Adobe build tools to support HTTP Streaming. Hopefully we’ll see additional features added to the Creative Suite that will help make packaging HDS content easier.

H.264 Licensing for Education

I’ve had the opportunity to read the H.264/AVC licensing summary (PDF file), and then request the official AVC Patent Portfolio Licensing document. It arrived a few days later and I’ve had the opportunity to read the whole text when I’ve had free time during the last couple of months. The document outlines the official terms and conditions for using the H.264 video codec. It’s been a very interesting read (the whole set of documents is about 118 pages). Here’s what I’ve gathered in reading the document and doing a little research online:

  1. H.264 is different than most of the video codecs we use today in that in many instances there’s a royalty fee attached to the viewing of the video.
  1. I asked the MPEG-LA about any exemptions for non-profit organizations. This was their reply: “All Licensees sign the same AVC License and are subject the same terms, including non-profit organizations.”
  1. The MPEG-LA (governing body of this license) wants all content producers using H.264 whether you receive remuneration or not from your video to sign the licensing agreement. (See this post by Jan Ozer )
  1. This is one serious legal document. You should probably have your legal counsel view every detail of this document before you or your institutional representative sign it.
  1. You may be taking your chances if you’re thinking you can use X.264 without making any kind of royalty payments to the MPEG-LA (See http://www.x264licensing.com/faq and the comments of this post by Jan Ozer ).
  1. There are a few instances where no royalties are required. They include:
    1. Making your content freely available on the Internet.
    2. Videos sold under a Title-by-Title structure that are 12 minutes and under in length.
    3. Videos sold by a Subscription with under 100,000 subscribers.

Now where does educational content fit in to all of this? Students pay tuition in order to take classes and indirectly pay to view content specific to that class. If that content is in H.264 format and is not freely available on the Internet, which licensing model does it fall under?

In Article 1.43 of the AVC Patent Portfolio License it gives the definition of of Title-by-Title AVC Video as: “Commercial AVC Video which is Sold to an End User in connection with the End User’s request for the specific content represented by the Title of AVC Video and for which and End User is obligated to pay any form of remuneration.”

By-Title could fit if you’re thinking a course is a title and you’re interpreting the collection of videos used in the course as a title.

In Article 1.41 of the same document it gives the definition of Subscription AVC Video: “Commercial AVC Video which is not Title-by-Title AVC Video and for which an End User is obligated to pay any form of remuneration.”

Subscription could work just by default if Title-by-Title doesn’t apply to you. Students could be seen as subscribers to a particular course, just with a set time limit.

Now, I’m no lawyer, and I would strongly recommend you talk to one before signing any legal document, but you can see there’s no clear model that fits for education. I suppose you could pick a model that best serves your particular setup.

Whether the videos you are delivering in the Title-by-Title or Subscription models fit within the royalty-free structure or not, be prepared to do a little record keeping. Keep track of your viewers so you can provide records if needed. If you exceed the criteria for royalty free video, be prepared to pay the following royalties:

    • Title-by-Title longer than 12 minutes:
      • 2.0% of the remuneration paid in Licensee’s first Arm’s-Length Sale or $0.02 per Title, whichever is lower. (This could get a little tricky trying to determine the actually cost of the video from tuition).
    • Subscription greater than 100,000 subscribers:
      • 100,001 to 250,000 = $25,000
      • 250,001 to 500,000 = $50,000
      • 500,001 to 1,000,000 = $75,000
      • more than 1,000,000 = $100,000

H.264/AVC Video is fantastic video codec. You can get higher quality video with lower bit-rates and smaller file sizes. With all the electronic desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones that use AVC hardware decoding, educational institutions need to be aware of the terms and licensing issues that come with the technology.

Oh, and in closing, Article 6.1 of the AVC Patent Portfolio Licensing document says: “This Agreement shall expire on December 31, 2015.” So be prepared to take another close look at this in a couple of years. These terms are subject (most likely) to change.

Side note: Always, always, always have a master file of your video projects so when the time comes, whether it’s an updated H.264 codec or some new technology, its easier to re-encode your videos!

Introducing Panoramic Utah

I’ve been involved with creating panoramic photos since the late 1990’s. Back in the day, we would take a series of photos with a film camera mounted to a Kaidan panoramic tripod head. The photos would then need to be developed and then scanned with a digital scanner. Those digital files would then stitched together to create a cylindrical panoramic experience and exported to QuickTime VR. A cylindrical panorama allows you to zoom in our out and click and drag on the image to move left or right but, like a cylinder, you can’t look completely up or down.

Today’s modern 360° panoramas provide a complete immersive experience allowing a visitor to be placed directly within your location. Visitors can click and drag to specific areas of a panorama and can zoom in to see greater detail. Multiple panoramas can be linked together to create a virtual tour. With new ways to deliver 360 panoramic photography to computers, tablets and even mobile devices we’re seeing a resurgence of panoramic photography in the industry. 360° panoramic photography can be used for:
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Digital Publications for Tablets
  • Photo Journalism
  • Location Scouting for Movies
  • Crime Scene Photography
  • Real Estate
  • Virtual Tours of Campuses and Universities
  • Panoramic Prints
  • and more…
Panoramic Utah is a web site showcasing 360° panoramic photos of some of my favorite places in Utah. Some people think that Utah is just a desert wasteland and is a speed-bump between California and Colorado.  While Utah does have wasteland, it also has alpine forests, high mountain peaks, crystal clear rivers, 5 national parks, 7 national monuments, and over 3 dozen state parks all with some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes on planet. My hope is after immersing yourself in Panoramic Utah you’ll actually visit some of these beautiful places. Hope you enjoy the site.