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panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Martin French

Live video broadcasting has always been the preserve of the mighty television companies and a lowly dance person would never dream of an 'as it happens' video broadcast to a location thousands of miles away. There are commercial video conferencing solutions available to the public but they're expensive. So what can you do for free, or almost free?

Broadcasting video over the internet is not new thing. Companies small and large, from a range of backgrounds have been trying and failing to make live web-casting a commercial and practical reality. The most common problem is that the hardware infrastructure has never really been up to to the task and the costs are always prohibitive, even if you only get a few thousand people watching. So for dance it was always going to be a non-starter.

What if though, instead of trying to broadcast to the masses you focused your attention on live linking from just one location to another? The practical applications are really up to you but live lecture demonstrations, choreographic collaborations or live performances are all perfectly possible with freely available video conferencing technology.

With this 'how-to' I will focus on using iChatAV on the Apple OSX platform but the basic principles apply to pretty much any video conference setup. I'm also going to work on the basis of a lecture demonstration. So one side of the video conference is demonstrating while the other side is simply watching and listening.

Born To Send

Let's call the demonstration side the 'transmission station'. For transmission you need some pretty basic bits of equipment. An Apple computer (the newer the better), a high quality video camera, a tripod, firewire cable, high speed internet connection (2Mb or better) and a well lit dance studio or theatre space. The Mac should have either the Tiger or Panther version of OSX installed because those come with iChatAV as standard.

Set up your equipment as shown in the illustration below

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Don't be tempted to use the built in camera on your Mac if it has one. Those cameras are fine for video chats but they aren't good enough for what we are trying to do. When the video is sent over the internet it will be heavily compressed so we need the video image to be as high quality as possible before that happens. It will also make your life a lot easier if the camera is not attached to the computer. For Macs with built in cameras you can select which camera to use from the 'Video' tab in the preferences of iChatAV.

For a lecture demonstration the sound will also be important. You can either use the built in microphone on your camera or a separate microphone hooked up to the Mac. As with the camera you can select which microphone source to use in the preferences for iChat.

Try and resist the temptation to move the camera around. Using it from a fixed position will help the video quality a lot. If you have an operator controlling the camera then reframe a particular shot as necessary but tracking dancers around should probably be avoided to enhance clarity.

Pay close attention to how well lit your demonstration space is. Video cameras don't see as well as the human eye so get as much light on your studio or demonstration area as possible. If you can get some front lights set up then all the better because the front of the face or body are the areas that usually get swamped with shadows.

Incoming Signal

We'll call those watching the demonstration the 'receiving station'. For this side of the transmission you will need pretty much the same equipment but with the addition of a digital video projector. You will also need to hook up the Mac's sound output to some speakers. Just run a cable from the computers headphone socket to your amplifier, pretty much any amplifier and speaker setup will work.

For video conferencing with iChatAV both computers must have a camera attached even if the receiving end won't be using it for the majority of the demonstration. Set up your equipment as illustrated below.

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Before the two computers can talk to one another over the internet you need to set up account with either AOL (which is free) or Apple's .Mac service (which is not free) if you don't have one already. Both of these services work in exactly the same way. Once you have a 'screen name' just add the screen name of the person/place you want to connect to as a 'buddy' and you're all set.

Starting the video conference is as simple as hitting the 'video' button in the iChatAV buddy window as shown in the graphic below.

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When you first start the video conference it will be running in iChat's small video window. On the receiving computer simply hit the 'green' traffic light button on the top left of the video window and the video will switch to full screen.

Finally, we need to get that full screen video running on the projected image. Open your Mac's system preferences and select the 'Displays' option. Next, click on the 'Arrangement' tab in the middle (if there is no arrangement tab then your projector is not hooked up properly or it might not be turned on) and check the 'Mirror Displays' option in the bottom left corner.

mirror-id.png

Since the video image we are projecting from iChat is limited to 640x480 don't make the projected image too large. You will find the video is actually much clearer if you reduce the size of the projection so that it's large enough for everyone to see but not so big that they notice the fluctuations in the quality.

Sadly, it's not possible to turn off the 'picture in picture' on iChatAV but you can make it smaller. It's not that difficult to ignore it completely.

The full screen iChat window will now be visible on both your computer display and the projected display. You are now ready to start your live lecture demonstration and it's not costing you a penny, except for the internet connection that is.

Caveats

Because we're not using satellites and multi-million pound relay stations and switching gear the video image is not broadcast quality and there will be a slight delay in the video image from one computer to other. However, if your transmitted video image is well lit and coming from a good camera source then it is more than good enough for certain purposes.

The live nature of the broadcast and the fact that the video and sound can go both ways on a domestic, broadband internet connection could provide you with some very interesting experiences for either you as an individual dance artist or your company.

The Good:
Runs on a domestic internet connection.
Requires only basic Apple computer with free software.
Good quality video.
Two way 'live' broadcast.
Easy to set up.
No additional costs involved.

The Bad:
Slight delay on video image.
Video quality is limited to 640 x 480.
Will not always run at 25 frames per second.

[ Get A Good Camera ]
[ AOL ]
[ .Mac ]

[ image by Sascha Burkard ]

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