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Croquet Live streaming

[<<] [>>] by Simon Jenkins
1st May 2016 (Other News)

I have been reading about the costs associated with live streaming and the desire to know how it was done for the World Championship finals in April 2016. Here is how it was set up:

  1. A regular modern iPhone with a great HD camera on a tripod.
  2. Access to the Internet. In this case the wireless network at the NCC wasn't fast enough so a wireless access point was used with unlimited data access.
  3. Use of a free App called "Livestream" that linked to Facebook user names.
  4. Access to the streaming was free, but in this case was dependent upon users having Facebook friends. (As the commentator, I was regularly trying to encourage viewers to share the streaming location with their other croquet friends)

Lessons Learned

  1. From a commentary point of view, it would be beneficial to use a microphone that would not be affected by the wind.
  2. Whilst it may be cumbersome for one Individual to do the commentary, there should be no reason why players at perspective tournaments shouldn't give it a whirl.
  3. It is difficult to capture the whole court and be close enough to see the colour and location of the balls. A camera man is required at times to turn the camera, as unsurprisingly a lot happens in the nearest corner to the camera .
  4. Perhaps a WCF Facebook page could be set up so that all "friends" would be notified of croquet streaming activity and people would not have to rely upon being a "friend" of another croquet enthusiast on Facebook.
  5. There is no doubt that commentary is made easier with feedback from the audience (Johnners was a master at it- we could almost taste his cake as he devoured it ). So if a Facebook page was created and comments added, it would become far more interactive.
  6. It takes buy-in from the players, at the big events. Interviews, comments etc make it much more pleasurable for the viewers and in the long run will be beneficial to the wider populous who might be interested in the game.
  7. Effort has to be made in the commentary to explain the vagaries of the game as it progresses. Many of the comments I received were from people who didn't understand how the game is played at the top level.

I hope that this goes some way to moving forward with future live streaming, demonstrating that cost is not a significant issue

Techie Stuff

Ian Plummer adds:

It would seem sensible to put bounds on what limits the video and which grade of kit to purchase.

The primary bottleneck is the uploading bandwidth at the venue in question. If the camera used has 'too many pixels' it will choke the upload link. Similarly too many cameras will do the same. If the broadcast quality is higher than necessary there will be potentially bandwidth choking and a higher network cost since more data is being transferred.

A second limitation is the resolution of the device that the final images are viewed on. Even a top of the range iPhone 6 with a retina display is only reaching "2K" (its camera is however 4K).

The problem with moving to too low a resolution is that the detail is absent. If we were to fly a drone over a lawn (also for example here - turn your sound down!) with, for example, a "720p" (1280x720 pixels, 0.9M pixels) camera on it so the lawn filled the frame, then 1 pixel approximates to a square inch. This results in the balls and hoops being just 3 pixels wide. (The linked still drone pictures are higher than 720p, the streaming one can be set to 1080p ) . Drones are not ideal!

Currently the top streaming video formats use "4K" = 4096 * 3072 pixels (12M pixels); this is then compressed (H 264 compression). Lying between 720p and 4K is 1080p (1920x1080 pixels 2.1M pixels) which would probably be a good compromise. Typical bandwidths can be estimated. For example 30 fps, medium quality (34KB per frame)

720p = 3.8 Mbps

1080p = 8.2 Mbps

4K > 24 Mbps

The complexity of the image will affect the bandwidth.

If more cameras are used simultaneously the bandwidth requirement is summed. Most network packages offer high download speeds and an upload speed which is a fraction of that. In the UK I got 6Mbps upload for 100Mbps download which went up to 10Mbps upload on 150Mbps download (from Virgin). It is possible however to rent network bandwidth for special events. The catch is they generally want you to purchase in months not days.

Although wireless networking is ubiquitous it is naff. The wireless signal is easily masked by big bags of water (humans moving around), trees, microwave cookers, wireless telephones (DECT in the UK) and other wireless routers. For a fully reliable video stream cabled network connections would be a bonus. For standard network cables (Cat5) there is a recommended maximum length of 100 metres (~330 feet or 3 lawn lengths). Network cables are however trip hazards and can be a source of power (Power Over Ethernet - POE), which could be worrying in rain or thunderstorms.

To allow many people to view the video a single upload stream is sent to a big server on the internet and the viewers get their video feed from that server which acts as a relay. There are a number of companies which will do that - livestream was used for the 2016 Worlds

If standard cameras are being used, then their battery life becomes an issue. Upmarket "IP cameras" would offer the option of taking their power through the network cable.


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