A few weeks ago I finally decided to join the rest of the universe by immersing myself in a little online multimedia. I figured that Microsofts offerings would be a simple and obvious place to start, and what better than to start with than NetMeeting and Windows Media Encoder?
A Little Too Connected By NetMeeting
One of the things I have been itching to do is to setup a NetMeeting
connection, so instead of phoning home while I am at work, I could make a
NetMeeting call and carry on a visual conversation with the family. Things
didnt quite work out as I expected. Establishing the connection turned
out to be nightmare. Sound and video would work in one direction but not
the other. Consulting Microsofts NetMeeting site, I found this little
To establish outbound NetMeeting connections through a firewall, the
firewall must be configured to do the following:
- Pass through primary TCP connections on ports 389, 522, 1503, 1720,
- Pass through secondary TCP and UDP connections on dynamically
assigned ports (1024-65535).
In other words, pretty much disable your firewall and expose your PC to
the outside world if you want to communicate with someone external to your
network. I dont think so! Guess Ill have to wait until Microsoft
comes up with the better approach, as in a practical one. (Well see
what we can come to expect from Microsofts new SIP-enabled Windows
Messenger in the context of .NET and several other initiatives just out of
the starting gate.)
And Now For The Praise
Right around the time I was playing with NetMeeting, I got presented
with a challenge from our MIS department. What they wanted to do was to
replace the closed-circuit camera used to view visitors before
allowing them to enter the building with a PC camera so several people
would have the opportunity to view the visitors and let them in if the
usual person wasnt at her desk. At the time I had no solution to offer.
While Web programming is a major part of what I do, my job is mainly
back-end work: Database integration, object oriented programming, and
scripting are among the areas I can handle. User interface, however, is
not one of my strong suits.
The most I had ever done with a multimedia file was to place it on a
Web folder and create a link to it. Now I wanted to broadcast a live
picture, and I knew that required a new tool. I found that tool in Windows
Media Encoder. The name, while technically correct, could be quite
confusing to the uninitiated. I knew the client side of Windows media was
called Windows Media Player. So I was looking for a product name such as
Windows Media Server. The name Encoder suggested some sort of API library
to me. With some hesitation and skepticism I decided to install the
Encoder. Indeed the Encoder was the program I was looking for.
I am not a veejay, so indulge me here. I was amazed at the breadth of
features and the ease of use of the Encoder software. Within minutes I had
plugged in my cheap USB Intel PC camera, calibrated the software, and I
was broadcasting my cluttered office to the rest of TMC. Unfortunately my
PC camera wasnt equipped with a microphone, so I plugged in a
microphone to my video card and now we had sight and sound. And finally
when I realized that this was the most boring broadcast ever transmitted,
I switched the sound source to the CD-ROM drive and played some Led
Zeppelin and Pink Floyd for my captive audience. Hard to believe it, but I
had set up a crude public access channel right out of my PC and I was the
owner, producer, and director. Making the PC visible to the outside world
required only one hole poked in the firewall, and if I werent using the
http port (80) for Web server, I could have assigned it to the Encoder and
wouldnt need to poke any holes in the firewall (http port 80 is
normally kept open at all times).
My head was now brimming with ideas. I could use this to spy on my
front yard from work as it gets trampled by deer and geese. I could set it
up between our different offices so we can check up on each other. Or I
could just point the camera outside so others in the office without
windows could check out the outside weather. Unfortunately I couldnt
remain the company deejay. Not only do I not have the time to constantly
switch records, but I have no intention of angering the National Music
Publishers Association (NMPA) with licensing problems.
If you have ever dreamed of becoming a broadcaster, I highly recommend
the Encoder as a starting point. Its easy, its fun, and best of all
its free. You can find it at www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/.
Let me know how it works out for you.
As for using the Encoder instead of a closed-circuit camera, I
discourage it. The process isnt exactly real-time as there are a few
long seconds of lag between capture and display, and even then the picture
didnt have the same quality as the closed-circuit camera.
Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality
every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the
position of Director for TMCnet.com your online resource for CTI,
Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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