Monday, December 14, 2009

Flash-free live web video solution

Some time ago, we all knew that video on the web was equivalent to the proprietary Flash technology. Also I used to say, that there might be political or psychological reasons for using Ogg/Theora, but never technical ones.

Well, the conditions have changed recently so it's time to bring an update on this.

HTML 5 video tag
The HTML 5 draft supports a <video> tag for embedding a video into a webpage as a native html element (e.g. without a plugin). Earlier versions of the draft even recommended that browsers should support Ogg/Theora as a format for the video. The Ogg/Theora recommendation was then removed and a lot of discussion was started around this. This wikipedia article summarizes the issue. Nevertheless, there are a number of browsers supporting OggTheora video out of the box, among these is Firefox-3.5.

Cortado plugin
In a different development, the Cortado java applet for theora playback was written. It is GPL licensed and you can just download it and put it into your webspace.

Now the cool thing about the <video> tag is, that browsers, which don't know about it, will display the contents between <video> and </video>, so you can include the applet code there. Researching a bit about the best way to do this, I read that the (often recommended) <applet> mechanism is not valid html. A better solution is here.

Webmasters side
Now if you have the live-stream at your html page will look like:
<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1">
<h1>Test video stream</h1>
<video tabindex="0"
alt="Test video stream"
title="Test video stream"
<object type="application/x-java-applet"
width="320" height="240">
<param name="archive" value="cortado.jar">
<param name="code" value="com.fluendo.player.Cortado.class">
<param name="url" value="">
<param name="autoplay" value="true">
<a href="">Test video stream</a>

Note that for live-streams the "autoplay" option should be given. If not, firefox will try to load the first image (automatically anyway) to show it in the video widget. Then it will stop downloading the live-stream until you click start. Pretty obvious that this will mess up live-streaming.

Server side
For live streaming I just installed the icecast server, which came with my ubuntu. I just changed the passwords in /etc/icecast/icecast.xml, enabled the server in /etc/default/icecast2 and started it with /etc/init.d/icecast2 start.

Upstream side
There are lots of programs for streaming to icecast servers, most of them use libshout. I decided to create a new family of plugins for gmerlin: Broadcasting plugins. They have the identical API as encoder plugins (used by the transcoder or the recorder). The only difference is, that they don't produce regular files and must be realtime capable.

Using libshout is extremely simple:
  • Create a shout instance with shout_new()
  • Set parameters with the shout_set_*() functions
  • Call shout_open() to actually open the connection to the icecast server
  • Write a valid Ogg/Theora stream with shout_send(). Actually I took my already existing Ogg/Theora encoder plugin and replaced all fwrite() calls by shout_send().
See below for the libshout configuration of the gmerlin Ogg broadcaster.

Of course, some minor details were left out in my overview, read the libshout documentation for them. As upstream client, I use my new recorder application.

The result
See below a screenshot from firefox while it plays back a live stream:

Open Issues
The live-video experiment went extremely smooth. I discovered however some minor issues, which could be optimized away:
  • Firefox doesn't recognize live-streams (i.e. streams with infinite duration) properly. It displays a seek-slider which always sticks at the very end. Detecting a http stream as live can easily be done by checking the Content-Length field of the http response header.
  • The theora encoder (1.1.1 in my case) might be faster than the 1.0.0 series, but it's still way too slow. Live encoding of a 320x240 stream is possible on my machine but 640x480 isn't.
  • The cortado plugin has a loudspeaker icon, but no volume control (or it just doesn't work with my Java installation)
Other news
  • With the video switched off I can send audio streams to my wlan radio. This makes my older solution (based on ices2) obsolete.
  • The whole thing of course works with prerecorded files as well. In this case, you can just put the files into your webspace and your normal webserver will deliver them. No icecast needed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Introducing Gmerlin recorder

Gmerlin-recorder is a small application, which records audio and video from hardware devices. It was written as a more generic application, which should eventually replace camelot. See below for a screenshot:

As sources, we support:
  • Audio devices via OSS, Alsa, Esound, Pulseaudio and Jack
  • Webcams via V4L and V4L2
  • X11 grabbing
For monitoring you see the video image in the recorder window. For the audio you have a vumeter. With recorded streams you can do lots of stuff:
  • Filter the streams using gmerlin A/V filters
  • Write the streams to files using gmerlin encoder plugins
  • Send the encoded stream to an icecast server (will be described in detail in another blog post)
  • Save snapshots to images either manually or automatically
With all these features combined in the right way, you can use gmerlin-recorder for a large number of applications:
  • Make vlogs with your webcam and a microphone
  • Digitize analog music
  • Make a video tutorial for your application
  • Start your broadcasting station
  • Send music from your stereo to your WLAN radio
  • Make stop-motion movies
  • ...
Until the recorder can fully replace camelot, we need the following features, which are not there yet:
  • Fullscreen video display
  • Forwarding of the video stream via vloopback