Broadcasting video conferences

Here’s what I did for the stream:

I started up a scaleway virtual service instance and installed videoconferencing on it. As far as I know scaleway make no claims to be environmentally friendly, I need to work on this… Further, in the end we didn’t use it, because conference sessions on it seemed to crash when a third person joined a session. Julian Oliver noted that this was probably down to incompatibility with the latest firefox. We used the main service in the end, however Julian had problems connecting to that with chromium and said ‘my’ instance worked better… In short, works well, is accessible and free/open source but currently you have to test and use particular browser versions.

I used OBS to broadcast from a browser window running jitsi to youtube. This worked well at times but was hampered by serious glitches. I had some complex audio routing going on with the jack audio server with pulseaudio bridge under linux, so that a) the people could hear my mic but nothing else b) my mic and the audio from was mixed and sent to the stream for broadcast as well as amplified in the room for the Sheffield audience. In addition I ran supercollider to render the performance at the end (via the extramuros network music system), which was also broadcast to the stream.

Annoyingly, something glitched and the audio from my mic to failed, so I was audible on the broadcast but not to the panellists. This was impossible to fix without interrupting the stream, as it involved restarting the web browser. In the future I need to use a separate computer for the broadcasting, to make things more robust and fixable in case of such glitches. It took a while to get things running again, for some reason wasn’t loading for a few minutes… It didn’t help that my ethernet usbc dongle fell out at this point!

Network performance
Iris planned to use the extramuros system for this, had done lots of testing and rehearsing with friends around the world, and we’d tested the onward broadcasting and so on. For some reason however, it didn’t work for us on the day. We’ll have a re-run soon!

I didn’t have much of a chance to think about how to set up the camera, but thought I’d experiment with sitting in the audience in the front row, and so that the panellists would have the sense of having an audience. This didn’t really work, as our audience was fairly small, and most studiously decided to sit out of shot. It was pretty cold in Sheffield so we might have looked a bit grumpy. It also meant that I was facing away from them and couldn’t see if people had questions and so on. Something to think about in the future!

We really should have looked more into simultaneous translation. There are a lot of complexities and there wasn’t time to set something up properly. Solving it is essential to having real and respectful international exchange though.

So lots of learning points on the technical side. Thankfully the speakers were amazing and put up with the glitches to give great talks.