Saturday, March 31, 2012


iPhone streaming video is just more deja vu

by Larry Geller

My mind is easily blown by today’s communication technology. Most recently: a live stream from an iPhone from Occupy Hilo Media (@OccHiloMedia) did it. Here I am, sitting in an apartment on Oahu, but attending a talk given in some grassy field in Hilo.

The penetration of iPhones is so high that most anyone can do this. I’m thinking of all the meetings I attend where we used to struggle about how to include those from the Neighbor Islands. Excuses are getting thin, folks, if I can listen to a talk delivered outdoors on Hilo, but no one can figure out how to do the same in the opposite direction. Excuses, excuses. Just get an iPhone.

Now, the sound from Hilo is hard to hear even though the iPhone does a good enough job of it. I have to crank it all the way up on my computer because the speaker is at a distance. That’s ok for now. In the future, I bet people will find ways to get better sound. That will give newspaper and TV reporters a run for their money. iPhone users will learn how easy it is to bring a tripod or even a monopod to steady their camera. Good enough will give way to near-perfection.

This is happening now. Within my lifetime. That’s what blows my mind.

Flashback: it’s 1985 in Tokyo, Japan.

GE and NEC Corporation had long been in talks about starting a joint venture company in Japan. NEC’s trademark was “Computers and Communication” or “C&C,” and the JV was to be called “C&C International,” which demonstrated the high expectations and commitment of NEC management, that they would share their identity with a foreign company by allowing the C&C to be used. I was to be senior vice president and a director of this new little company.

But how to get publicity for it? It wasn’t that the news would miss the story. After all, two of the world’s largest companies were getting together, but there were many joint ventures of one kind or another. I was wondering how to make a splash. What would get us off with a big blast?

There were no iPhones then, just to put things in perspective for younger readers. Rather, we still had bulky telex machines. Email was coming in slowly on in-house networks. News still clicked in on wire services delivered by clunky teletype machines at newspaper offices and in the lobbies of some major hotels. The foreign correspondents’ club still had many manual typewriters. Long distance phone was still expensive. There was no Internet.

NEC was a leader in teleconferencing. They regularly used video teleconferencing equipment internally, though it was too expensive for most other companies to try. NEC had leased international lines into their local office in the States right near the GE office. Aha.

So I proposed that GE and NEC executives sign the final agreements via teleconference. GE executives would take a short drive over to the NEC office. That was really radical. It should be a winner in the press.

And it was. We got the splash we expected. The event was covered by every major newspapers in Japan and many we had never heard of. It was everywhere.

To set it up, we held a preview so that photographers could come into the semi-dark teleconference room and take test shots. No one knew how to expose for both the bright screen and the participants around the table. This way they could run off a roll or two of tests and have the film developed in time for the real event. As a result, newspapers across the country were guaranteed a picture showing the foreigners on the screen and NEC executives in the room.

No one had to get on a plane [secret: some NEC engineers did fly over to make sure all the equipment was working and to coordinate]. The documents were signed on one side, passed into an attached fax machine, and we could watch as the paper was extruded, signed and returned on the other end.

Everyone was thrilled with the new technology.

You’ll be interested to know that each still frame scanned from top to bottom in about 10 seconds, and then was transmitted while the next frame was scanned, etc. The international circuit could do only 9,600 bps.  Any iPhone these days puts that to shame, of course.

Yes, we had slow scan teleconferencing but it was mind blowing to most people nevertheless.

All of the NEC senior executives at the time were older folks. I suspect they’ve gone on to that great Akihabara in the sky, well before iPhones and streaming video became commonplace. I’m reminded by their example that Steve Jobs had no corner on innovation. If he’s up there, he’s no doubt sipping nectar with NEC’s Dr. Kobayashi, perhaps with iPhones to translate. It was Dr. Kobayashi’s idea originally, back in those relatively dark ages.


Can you recommend a good tutorial for this kind of iPhone live streaming?

Sorry to say I don't have an iPhone. Not that I am an iPhobe, but I am not the best person to ask.

Ryan Ozawa probably knows the answer to your question. Or the Occupy Hilo folks who have just done it.

I've seen several streams from an iPhone. Those done indoors where there is a sound system have come out well. The Hilo event was hard to hear, but the video was good. Now, knowing nothing about it, I wonder if it is possibe to (say) leave a Bluetooth cellphone-type headset near the speaker as a microphone and use the sound from that. Or a better Bluetooth mic, I think there are some.

If this doesn't yet threaten professional camerapeople, the day is near when it might.

In ten years I fully expect to be wearing a Batman watch that is more capable than the iPhone.

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