Felix Stalder on Sat, 14 Sep 2002 14:58:09 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> TV under the GPL

This seems like an interesting experiment in terms of what constitutes
value outside of copyright. OK, it's PBS, so it might be a bit different,
but what Cringely offers as unique value is a) timeliness (he's the first
to broadcast) and editorial authority (his way of editing the material is
the best).

This reminds me of J.P. Barlow, who once said that the closer you get to
the source, the more expensive information becomes and as you move further
downstream it becomes free. It seems like a good time to remind oneself
that there used to be more optimistic scenarios for the Net and that not
all of them were necessarily pure evil hype.



We've been busy all this time -- John Gau and I -- doing anything for the
show we could that didn't cost money. We chose a title -- "NerdTV" -- and
figured out how to make a show remarkably like the one I described so
blithely months ago. "NerdTV" will still be downloaded, not streamed, and
a single technical standard will be used for all viewers no matter what
kind of Internet connection they have or what operating system they are
running. The show will appear each week in a dizzying total of five
versions. Of the three video versions, one will be for nerds, one for
suits, and the third version will be all the raw footage so you can edit
your own version and make fun of me at parties. There will be two
audio-only versions -- one MP3 and one Ogg Vorbis.

Viewers will be free to share and redistribute the shows under the General
Public License, which is something no other TV network in the world is
doing. So there!

I will now go into obsessive detail about the technology behind "NerdTV."
If this bores you, I'm sorry, but the fact is that what we are attempting
to do is something that really hasn't been attempted before at this scale.
This is very difficult to do well and we are proud of what we've already

To make the video editable, it will be distributed as an MPEG-4
datastream. Right at this moment, an encoder shoot-out is taking place to
determine what software we'll use. So far, Envivio appears to be winning
the encoder battle, and NewTek's Video Toaster 2 looks to be the editing
system of choice, but that could still change since new products and
versions seem to be appearing daily.

The "NerdTV" video player isn't a player at all, but an applet that is
being supplied by the very nice people from IBM Research. This is not any
shipping IBM product, but rather a custom applet IBM's Michelle Kim and
her crew are whipping-up just for "NerdTV." Going with an applet means
there is no player application to download and install. We don't have to
make a choice between Windows Media, RealPlayer, or QuickTime (actually, I
suppose what we've done is reject all three). And we'll run just the same
under Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, even on the odd IBM mainframe. No
advantage is lost by going with this applet, which has surprisingly good
performance and will run on even the grottiest old PC. You'll be

In order to get the most out of our 120 kilobits-per-second -- a speed we
chose because it would allow modem users to download a half hour show in
approximately one hour -- some production habits have to change. Rather
than using one very expensive camera, we're using five fairly cheap ones
-- JVC miniDV camcorders. JVC is the only brand that offers true
progressive scanned CCDs on its low end models. By going to progressive
scanning, we save some bandwidth and avoid having to go through a
de-interlacing process before encoding. By shooting in PAL, we save about
15 percent in overhead by displaying 25 frames-per-second rather than 30.
Many streamed videos will run as slow as five to 10 frames-per-second, but
we just found this to be unacceptable.

It is perhaps ironic that in order to present a
less-than-broadcast-quality show, we have to start with
better-than-broadcast-quality video. Our raw video will be
progressive-scanned PAL with 576 lines of vertical resolution -- slightly
better than the quality Steven Soderberg got in his recent bad movie,
"Full Frontal," which was shot using a Canon Dvcam. If any networks
outside the U.S. would like to run a broadcast quality version of
"NerdTV," please get in touch with me because we could sure use the money.
Same for corporate underwriters -- we need a couple of those -- though
don't expect me to not insult you.

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