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Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 12:32 am
by russellhltn
However, one concern still has to be addressed - untimely updates. If you pull out a unit that hasn't been used in 6 months, there will be updates pending. And from what I've heard, Win 10 is pretty pushy about that.

Unfortunately, the alternative is something that rarely gets updates (like cheap Android boxes) - and likely has some vulnerabilities as a result. As they say, pick your poison. However, if the WiFi was turned off, limiting the number of people on the local LAN, the risk might be acceptable.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 8:49 pm
by carsonm
On Windows 10 you can now set it to update/restart at a different time like at 3 am or what is a more convenient time to apply updates.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Thu Mar 09, 2017 5:50 pm
by randysteck
Although an older thread, this request is still active. Over the course of the last 2 years, we've systematically eliminated the weak spots in our system, including those enumerated by other posters. This is what we've done:

1. Found inexpensive, high quality, reliable HD cameras (2) for the stake center. Security cameras with large enough zoom; about $350 instead of over $2000 for PTZ. Plus POE capable.
2. Used vMix on a PC for video switching and streaming. This has been simple and bulletproof.
3. Created kits for each remote location including ethernet cable, HDMI cable, ground loop isolators, audio impedance matching to XLR inputs.
4. Eliminated large presentation screens (bought on ebay; difficult to set up) in favor of drop down screens at all remote locations.
5. Updated projectors at remote locations to HD capable and at least 3000 lumens. Also used for other functions and were inexpensive at about $400.

The weak link is the PC on the receiving end. We've tested commercial streaming services and are about to use one because they support Roku, AppleTV, Fire, laptops (PC and Mac). Plus they have no scheduling issues as they call upon a pool of available servers while paying for only those in use. The $50 cost twice a year is well worth the peace of mind given the many reported outages from the Church system. We'll use the Church system as backup, in particular when we have a general authority in attendance.

The setup is now simple (less than 30 minutes) at both the stake center and remote locations. Quality has noticeably improved to the point that members are now asking for such things as closed captioning (which we we will clearly never do). We have redundancy at most of the points along the signal path.

Our goal has been to provide remote locations with the highest possible sense that they are present in person while eliminating any disruptions which detracted massively from the conference in the past.

It would be great to have an RTMP feed from the church distribution system that we could use with a Roku. In fact, creating a Roku app is nearly trivial if that capability existed.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 7:55 am
by johnshaw
I've tested using a simple Kodi STP puchased from Amazon for $30 or so... quick and easy. The problem is how difficult it is to maneuver in the case of a failure or hiccup in the stream. It's rock solid for hours in my testing, but what happens in the scenario if it fails. The wireless mouse and wireless keyboards are bulky to maneuver, etc... A simple app would be great that if a hiccup happens, you can then click a button 'restart' to get back to the stream rather than having to close the web browser and then open it up again.

I'd be interested, I didn't test Roku, but isn't there a web browser, does it work with the html5 palyer?

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 11:39 am
by rannthal
Isn't it great that the church provides a way for members to be able to attend stake conference from a convenient place at no cost to them.

Isn't it great for those in the Middle East, Africa, many places in South America, Asia, and even here in rural areas of the US to be able to use a system so they don't have to travel many, many miles to hear the word.

Isn't it great to have a system in place where shut-ins can use to be able to feel like they are part of the ward and stake.

How nice it is to have options to use to get the word out to members of your stake.
There are many out there who are very grateful to have a single SD camera and a VidiU, with low grade laptop using a low quality projectors on projecting to a 5 foot pull down screen and have less then 500k bandwidth.....with no other options out there for them.
You are lucky your stake has options....please take advantage of them to server the members of your stake well. I'm sure they will be and are very grateful for what you have done and will do for them. Well done, STS!!!

I find a few interesting things in what was said a couple of posts back:
1. I find it interesting that one feels that the weak link is the PC on the receiving end. In all my time here working with the system and being a STS myself for a rural stake, the PC has never been a problem.....ever. The Internet has been a problem several times, but never the PC. If taken care of and properly managed, they are rock solid, even from using members laptops. I'd like to hear more on why this is thought.
2. It was mentioned that other services have no scheduling that implying that the church system does? If it was, I would like to hear about them, because I haven't seen or heard about any recently.
3. It was mentioned that there are "many reported outages from the Church system". What outages are being talked about? Maybe I just don't remember them or I wasn't told about them, but we are very aware of problems that happen with the system. I am aware of a couple since the system has been in effect, but many...I'd sure like to know about them.
4. If the church system is so bad and awful to work with, I find it curious that it would be used as a backup...especially when general authorities are in attendance. One would think it wouldn't be used at all....which is really curious because over a given weekend, there are well over 100+ successful events and over 550+ successful events a month with only a few failures...most of which are low bandwidth areas, training issues or equipment/hardware failures in the meetinghouses.

There are many things in this world that would be great to have, one of them, which we fight issues with on a daily basis that of low internet bandwidth.
It would be awesome for the world to have good bandwidth everywhere. It would be great where if as a STS I could have an easy button and have everything work without problems.
It would be great if I could have assistants in my stake that wouldn't move so I have to retrain new people every conference and a stake presidency that understood technology better.
But alas, this is not how it is. We are given weaknesses in order for us to grow.

Remember, these boards are here to help others out and to ask questions, not to be used for a ranting area.

Keep up the good fight, STS. You are not alone. May you be successful in getting the word out to your stake members in whatever way the Lord gives you to do so.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 12:48 pm
by harddrive
Terrific post Rannthal. I have used the new system only once and it was rock solid for me and for my other buildings. I did have PVC in the background ready to go if the first system failed, but otherwise it worked great. I don't understand why people aren't using the system and having to jump through hoops to get things to work.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:33 pm
by lajackson
harddrive wrote:I don't understand why people aren't using the system and having to jump through hoops to get things to work.
Easy. Because in the past we have had to jump through hoops to get the system to work. It is better today than it used to be, and our last stake conference broadcast is the best we have ever had. But our last conference is also the first one where we were able to set up and complete the broadcast without assistance from the Global Service Center and where we weren't unceremoniously dumped by the servers with little time to recover.

If we are able to complete our next conference broadcast without assistance from the GSC, our confidence will increase. But I can assure you it is absolutely terrifying to rely so completely and helplessly on things that are so totally out of my control if something goes wrong.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:27 pm
by lajackson
rannthal wrote:1. I find it interesting that one feels that the weak link is the PC on the receiving end. In all my time here working with the system and being a STS myself for a rural stake, the PC has never been a problem.....ever. The Internet has been a problem several times, but never the PC. If taken care of and properly managed, they are rock solid, even from using members laptops. I'd like to hear more on why this is thought.
Granted, Internet speed and quality is an important issue. Thank you for the button that allows the stake to originate SD only to a receiving location. This has already made the difference for us.

As for that pesky laptop, I suppose the key here is "If taken care of and properly managed" when it comes to the laptop used to receive the broadcast. And I am not sure how I would do that myself.

I occasionally stream television shows. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. In each case, I have done nothing different than I did the previous time I streamed a show. It is the same way with the webcasting system and other Church videos.

I sometimes open my laptop and Windows 10 decides it is time to upgrade. I have no control over that. Those updates come when they come. I have gained a sense over the last year of when they will hit. But when they do, they do. At home, I can disconnect from the Internet. But you can't run a broadcast that way.

When I stream Church videos, sometimes they show up in Windows Media Player. Sometimes they show up in VLC. Sometimes they show up in whatever new-fangled video player Windows 10 uses. And sometimes they even come over YouTube with commercials. I do not know how to control that, and quite honestly I am grateful to be receiving the broadcast stream at all.

Every player has its own quirks, personalities, and settings to present a reliable broadcast picture and sound. Just recently I was unable to hide the task bar on my laptop during a broadcast because something had changed. After an evening Internet search I found that it was a bug in the latest update, and I have used the workaround several times since. At least the workaround has proven to be quick and reliable. Most are not.

As important as is stake conference, our small stake with no budget has not felt it worth the investment to purchase and maintain laptops for several buildings for only two events a year. So we rely on member laptops, usually one belonging to the technology specialist trying to receive the broadcast at the meetinghouse. They have the same challenges I have.

One poor and faithful bishop sat at his laptop during an entire conference to move the mouse every few minutes to keep the screensaver from kicking in because the webcast did not keep his laptop active as other streaming events did.

Now maybe I could figure out what is wrong and what the variables are on my laptop that cause these variances to occur. But I still work for a living, have other Church callings besides stake STS, and can only be in one place at a time. So I rely on our other STSs to do the best they can and we test a lot. But each time I reboot my laptop, I have a new adventure.

Oh, and be sure you take the laptop that can plug directly into the Ethernet port. You know, the one that hasn't been updated since you used it for the last broadcast. [grin]

Please understand that I have had one successful stake conference webcast and am looking forward to having another one next month. I love that the technology is available. But it takes a lot of work to make it happen and it is not simple. I do not have the experience, skills, or blood pressure to deal with more than small, minor surprises.

Nothing is the same two times in a row. And it starts with the IP address the VidiU picks up on the meetinghouse network. If that is the only variable, you are having a wonderful webcast on your wonderful Sabbath day.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 12:59 pm
by randysteck
I went back to my previous post to see what I might have said to merit such a strong response. I think perhaps some folks misunderstood my intent, and the frustration is palpable with responses to claims I never made.

My point is simple: on the receive end dedicated video devices are more reliable than using a PC. We've been doing webcasts for about the last 8 years, even before any church system server was available. In that time we've seen it all: problems with too little bandwidth, bad cameras, encoder and streaming problems, cabling issues, sound issues, projection issues, receiver issues, and so on. We've fought through each of these because the alternative to no webcast was worse than even lower quality or some disruption on the webcast. We've also done it on the cheap, and I'd hoped that sharing the solutions would be of benefit.

Why do I keep advocating boxes like Roku? Because I've designed many microprocessors for Intel and others over the last 30 years, and I have a very good idea of what they are good for. We did everything we could to make them work for realtime tasks, such as video stream decoding. But microprocessors are much less efficient and reliable than a dedicated video decoder block on the same chip. This is why all current low power systems have a dedicated block to do just video decoding (like in cell phones). Unfortunately, HTML5 and other browser players do not use this capability (except in a few cases) so everything is still done in software. This makes them subject to all the other vagaries of the OS, which are almost the antithesis of what's required for realtime operation. Just ask yourself, which system plays videos more reliably: your cell phone or your laptop? The cell phone is using dedicated decode hardware.

The point of this is that what we might consider a problem with the transport system is frequently a problem with the PC on the receiving end. A list of problems and drops, many recent, can be found in this very forum. They sound awfully familiar, and the laptop on the receiving end has been implicated in over 2/3 of our problems. The laptop in the loop is a liability from a broadcast perspective. But, it's necessary if one insists on collecting link information. There is a clear tradeoff here between the reliability of the broadcast and the ability to collect data on it.

I am simply asking for each stake to be able to make this choice themselves.

More direct responses:
1. A PC on the receiving end is much less tolerant of internet and transmission problems than a Roku. Where a PC locks up a Roku re-establishes the link. I've seen this happen in side by side tests. Even when the Roku eventually gives up, restarting takes seconds instead of minutes as with a laptop.
2. Commercial services do not require a reservation to start a transmission. They can bring additional resources online to support streams with less than a minute warning. In a private conversation i was told that commercial webcast services follow the "80/20" rule where 20% of customers get unreliable service. Any one of these providers that I've worked with in a professional capacity would be outraged at the suggestion that they don't care about 20% of their market. Their methods are kept proprietary but all of them use pooled cloud servers with very high volumes.

It is agreed that the church system works across a broad range of bandwidths and geographies. I'm asking to make it better. Even commercial systems have more problems when received on a laptop. You've all seen this; your cell phone or tablet is much better at playing videos than your laptop or PC. This is due to dedicated video processing hardware being properly used (and much cheaper also).

I had hopes from the end of this conversation a year ago that we'd have this option. The highest reliability of a webcast system is when we put a Roku (or other dedicated video device) on the receive end. This is where the data leads us.

This is even MORE true with low bandwidth on the receive end. I can reliably run a Roku or Apple TV on a simple 5Mb link.

As I learned the hard way a long time ago: Feedback is a gift. Take this for what it's worth and if you choose to ignore it then it's your decision. I'll keep looking for the time when we can use the church system this way. I'm not holding my breath because the dynamics of this seem to dictate that the need to collect statistics is very high priority.

Re: A plea for a dedicated streaming receiver

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 1:01 pm
by randysteck
I feel your pain. It's all too familiar.