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F/OSS Multi-Point Video-Conferencing

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the and-what-about-those-flying-cars dept.

Communications 127

DarkSarin writes "Given that solutions like iChat can seamlessly video-conference for multiple parties on the Mac, and that others are semi-commercial, like Oovoo (which recently left beta and is no longer free for more than 3-way calls), what do you recommend in terms of a F/OSS solution to a need for moderate-sized video-conferencing? Ideally, it would be something which does not use a web-page and does not require hours of configuration. iChat is insanely easy to use. Mebeam.com is also quite simple to operate, but requires so much screen real estate that it can't easily be used in conjunction with any other software. Referring to other documents while in the middle of the conference is nice, but it's important to have the reactions of the other participants — and not everyone has multiple monitors. I am aware of projects like vmukti and services like ustream.tv, but I am thinking more in terms of a stand-alone application that is F/OSS (Ekiga/GnomeMeeting comes to mind, but it does not do multi-point video chat unless one also has access to an H.323 gateway, which is apparently non-trivial to implement). With the prevalence of broadband connections, I am surprised that a solid effort is missing for making easy, painless multi-point video-conferencing for more than 3 or 4 connections (which seems to be the most that a lot of 'free' solutions offer, or even the low-cost ones). So, my question is two-fold: First, why isn't there a better effort at medium to large video-conferencing that pretty much anyone can set up? Second, do you know of any F/OSS applications which work well and support a minimum of 6 to 8 connected parties?"

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FreeSWITCH can do Video Conf. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453708)

http://www.freeswitch.org

Re:FreeSWITCH can do Video Conf. (1)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454724)

No, it can't. While FreePBX/Asterisk are fine audio conference platforms, the question was about VIDEO conferencing. Unless some dramatic changes have been implemented while I wasn't looking, these packages have no capabilities to process video streams in the manner required for "conferencing".

Re:FreeSWITCH can do Video Conf. (2, Informative)

lowlands (463021) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454918)

Please read the comment more carefully. FreeSWITCH is not FreePBX nor Asterisk. It's Asterisk done right and then some. More info about FreeSWITCH is at http://www.freeswitch.org/ [freeswitch.org] and joining #freeswitch at irc.freenode.net will get you in touch with a very helpful community ready to answer your questions. Try it, be amazed, contribute, and enjoy!

Re:FreeSWITCH can do Video Conf. (2)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454992)

My bad for the FreePBX/FreeSwitch typo. FreeSWITCH doesn't do video conferencing either.

How do we use the softswitch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23456138)

After reading several documents on the FreeSwitch site, including the good article about the difference between FreeSwitch and Asterisk and the background to the new development, I'm a lot more informed about its internals (which were indeed interesting to me as a developer), but I'm still totally in the dark about what FreeSwitch actually does, *in practice*.

Asterisk is proclaimed to be a PBX while FreeSwitch is a "softswitch", but that doesn't say anything about how FreeSwitch can be used. Give us some practical use cases please! Or, if it's just a library and has no end-user use cases, then can you please just say so?

VLVC might solve your problem (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453764)

VLVC is an end of studies project realized in EPITECH. Its main goal is to developp a videoconference module for the VLC software.

http://www.vlvc.net/en-home.html

Skype? (4, Informative)

Goeland86 (741690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453784)

I know Skype isn't FOSS, but the latest Linux beta for skype does video chat with windows.
I was pleasantly surprised when I tried it last week from my linux platform.
It also does n-way calls. And runs on Linux, Windows and Mac. Something to follow up on?

Re:Skype? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453902)

The problem with Skype is that it really is completely proprietary (not just the client, but also the protocol) and you have no way to guarantee that you can still use it anymore in a year or two...

Re:Skype? (2, Interesting)

Tack (4642) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453958)

Luckily, using Skype isn't something that is likely to create vendor lock-in. So when a viable OSS alternative becomes available in the future, switching to it will involve about the same amount of effort as it would if that software had existed today.

So if the options are using Skype now and switching in 2 years (say), or using nothing for 2 years and waiting for something to come along, the former option seems more agreeable.

Re:Skype? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454162)

Luckily, using Skype isn't something that is likely to create vendor lock-in. So when a viable OSS alternative becomes available in the future, switching to it will involve about the same amount of effort as it would if that software had existed today.

That makes no sense. Once something becomes a defacto standard it is nearly impossible to get everyone to switch to something else. Market share is everything. This is exactly how Microsoft maintains their monopoly. It is the reason the vast majority of people use Windows. It is the reason the vast majority of businesses use Microsoft Office. It is the reason everyone uses MP3s instead of Ogg Vorbis; and GIF instead of PNG. It is also the reason no one uses IPv6.

Due to networking externalities, Skype is exactly the sort of thing that is likely to create vendor lock-in.

Re:Skype? (2, Insightful)

Tack (4642) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454330)

The reason Microsoft maintains a monopoly with Office is because its grip on the market perpetuates and expands due to proprietary formats. Skype deals with transient data, so the analogy to Office, or MP3, or GIF (or any other kind of file format) doesn't work.

I also don't quite understand your point about networking externalities. In fact, as I see it, because Skype sort of Just Works through firewalls and doesn't typically require any explicit configuration, any OSS product which also Just Works for the same reason could be used without involving any networking changes.

I understand what you're saying about the risk of Skype being a de facto standard, but this is different from monopolostic vendor lock-in because the initial "expense" of deploying Skype is roughly equivalent to the later "expense" of deploying some OSS alternative. (Maybe that initial expense is a bit less, but it's eclipsed by the benefits of being able to actually do the video conferencing in the interim.)

Re:Skype? (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454932)

The lock-in comes from having to convince everyone you know to switch from Skype to something else. That being said, nobody in the thread has confirmed that Skype can be used to do videoconferencing. It has only been confirmed that it can be used to do video chat between Windows and Linux, which can be done instead using Ekiga Windows Messenger, using the SIP protocol (believe it or not).

Re:Skype? (1)

rawler (1005089) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454962)

Ever heard of The Network Effect [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Skype? (3, Insightful)

Tack (4642) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455110)

Yes, but the network effect doesn't invariably result in lock-in.

My point is that with something like Skype, you're dealing with transient data, the software itself requires very little configuration (and no configuration generally needed outside of the software [e.g. networking]), and usage of the software doesn't require a lot of training. The barrier to replacement is, compared to other examples, really fairly low.

All that's really required is that you agree with those you want to conference with to use a given piece of software, and then install it. This is an obstacle, but it's not a substantial one. Because this effort is roughly equivalent to the original effort of agreeing to use and installing Skype, the I disagree with the lock-in argument.

Nobody disagrees that the ideal situation is to use OSS if some viable candidate exists. If it doesn't, all I'm arguing is that using something like Skype -- if it provided the necessary capabilities (which apparently it doesn't, but that's moot for this discussion) -- is a sensible stop-gap. In this particular case, I don't accept that the implied alternative (use nothing while you wait for an OSS solution) is the best option. (Sometimes it might be.)

Re:Skype? (1)

rawler (1005089) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455670)

As usual, Wikipedia, while not being absolute truth, or even a credible source, sums things up better than I can myself.

Network effects are a source of, but distinct from, lock-in. Lock-in can result from network effects, and network effects generate increasing returns that are associated with lock-in. However, the presence of a network effect does not guarantee that lock-in will result. For example, if the network is open there is no issue of lock-in.
I certainly agree that there's plenty of business value in using proprietary communications rather than resorting to inferior methods of communication.

However, proprietary communications protocols are text-book examples of how network-effect easily creates barriers to technological changes, which is a mild kind of lock-in. (Not the worst form, but certainly bad.)

Anyone around before reverse-engineered multi-protocol IM-clients became commonplace, or that requires MSN connectivity only because that happens to be what some friends are using, knows exactly what it's like in practice.

Re:Skype? (1)

Yogiz (1123127) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457492)

False.

Skype creates an even greater lock-in then Microsoft Office or most anything else that can be come up with. With office you might want to make documents that you want to use yourself later and sharing them with others is not always a necessity. Not so with Skype. Speaking with yourself is something that can easily be done without software. If you want to switch from Skype to something else, you have to make sure every contact in your list does the same. Skype's protocol is not open and has not been implemented by anyone else but Skype. Really, I started using Ekiga lately and tried to convince a couple of people to switch over as well. They said that was not going to happen as they would no longer be able to speak with the 40 people in their contact list. Sure, you could do gradual switching by using two programs for the same task until everybody switches but who wants to do that? I had to get back to using Skype as noone else was willing to do the switch. Don't underestimate the lock-in capabilities of anything that you can't use in a disconnected computer for ten years without problems.

Re:Skype? (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456360)

In fact, as I see it, because Skype sort of Just Works through firewalls and doesn't typically require any a explicit configuration, any OSS product which also Just Works for the same reason could be used without involving any networking changes.


You gotta be kidding me. Seriously. Have you ever tried to get Skype working through a firewall that does access control ? You have pretty much give the computer unlimited access to get Skype to work. (Unrestricted https = full access, since you can use to tunnel anything).

Re:Skype? (1)

Tack (4642) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456550)

Well, you'd be hard pressed to find a firewall whose purpose was not "access control."

Perhaps you mean a firewall with a restrictive default outbound policy. In this case, of course Skype, like another other software of its ilk, will require special configuration. But the common case (for Skype's target audience) is restrictive inbound and permissive outbound.

Re:Skype? (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 6 years ago | (#23460092)

Have you ever tried to get Skype working through a firewall that does access control
as opposed to....?

Re:Skype? (0, Offtopic)

Goeland86 (741690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455022)

Notice that I did note that it wasn't an FOSS program. However, for most intents and purposes it's free (as in beer) for end users, and companies who wish to use it can get a subscription for technical support.

Also as the debate over proprietary / standard argument goes elsewhere in this thread, I'd like to point out that most end users are aware of Windows Live Messenger's webcam capabilities, yet many of them switch to skype. Just because Microsoft came up with netmeeting and MSN / WL Messenger doesn't mean that it will become the standard. Same holds true with Skype. Yes it's easy, yes it's simple, but NO it's doesn't have features that can't be provided by another software project, like MS Office, specifically Outlook is what my father (remarkably computer literate for a director of his department, I worked in his company) is constantly reminding me of.

If you could make Outlook platform independent, or come up with an alternative that does everything Outlook does (yes, I know about Evolution, but it's not quite as complete) and is compatible (or can import all of Outlook's data) then you'd have a chance of migrating companies off MS Office. The real problem is that the tools in competitors to Office aren't always as high quality, or existent (thinking of the document revision tools in OO.o).
But that was a long off topic segment. Personally I'd support a company that makes their product as cross-platform as possible, as Skype has done. Sure it's not OSS, but people have a right to make a living with code, too!

Re:Skype? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454184)

but it doesn't do n-way video conferencing, which is partially what the post was about (the other was that it be a F/OSS app)

Re:Skype? (3, Informative)

pizzach (1011925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454188)

Skype can't do 3 way video conferencing, which is what the original poster was asking for. (I know, I've tried.)

Re:Skype? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23455090)

Me too. When adding a 3rd party, you lose the video.

Re:Skype? (1)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455518)

I know Skype isn't FOSS, but the latest Linux beta for skype does video chat with windows.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tried it last week from my linux platform.

It also does n-way calls. And runs on Linux, Windows and Mac. Something to follow up on?
The last time I checked (about 2 days ago, admittedly, so maybe something has changed) a three way video conference did not work in skype. Maybe there is a way to make it happen that I'm missing, but I sure couldn't figure it out. If you have a link, I'd love to see it.

Re:Skype? (1)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 6 years ago | (#23458834)

You need two computers and two cameras. You sit between them and point each camera so they can see both you and another computer.

Simple!

Works best with LCD screens.

Re:Skype? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23456608)

I've got a webcam built into my new thinkpad and the video quality I send in skype in linux is much poorer than the video quality I send in skype from windows. I notice the video quality my brother sends from his mac is much better than mine too.

Specifically if I move too fast i get "tracers" as my family calls them. In the "myself view" I look jerky.

VIC and RAT (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453802)

VIC [ucl.ac.uk] allows arbitrary numbers of people to join in a videoconferencing session. It fails the 'easy to use' test, but could probably be used as the basis for an application that doesn't.

Re:VIC and RAT (3, Informative)

Ice Wewe (936718) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454064)

Given that the newest package listed on their site is from 2003, I might consider a different project. Gnomemeeting is one option, however I haven't found it to be that user friendly. You could use GTalk, assuming they all have Google accounts.

http://www.mebeam.com/ [mebeam.com] has a plug-in for GTalk that allows for multi-way video conferencing.

http://preview.tinyurl.com/5qdp38 [tinyurl.com] (Link to the plug-in)

Re:VIC and RAT (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454698)

VIC and RAT are now both developed as part of AVATS [ucl.ac.uk] , which is still active.

Re:VIC and RAT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23456386)

ekiga (gnomemeeting) sucks! nice project if it worked out of the box, but i failed after hours and hours of testing, opening ports and trying different application combinations to "talk" each other (gnomemeeting on linux, xmeeting on mac and netmeeting on windows). they are all just crap! might work if you are on a lan using only ekigas, but will probably not outside your lan, ot at least not without hassle.. when you finally think that it somewhat works (receiving calls but unable to make them for example) if you move with your laptop it stops working again.. you sometimes just don't have time to experiment to see if it works or not. there is a lack of such applications that work reliable and in an easy way (plug-n-play). sad, it is a very nice application (installed on all my computers but never used at all)

h323 (4, Informative)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453820)

Any h323 client will do the job, like Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting). Also, for those in the science community, evo.caltech.edu is a nice Java-based collaboration tool.

re: evo (3, Insightful)

danpritts (54685) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454072)

see http://www.accessgrid.org/software [accessgrid.org] - this is "vic & rat" as mentioned above.

which is from the people who went on to do evo.

It can be non-trivial to make it work but it fits the rest of your requirements pretty well. It's gotten more user friendly in the last few years goo.

If your network supports multicast, AG will use it, which means you don't need a central server. This mostly means R&E networks, there is very little multicast availability on the commercial internet.

Re: evo (1)

prefect42 (141309) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459472)

Even with multicast you still need a Venue Server, but you don't need lots of network bandwidth for that machine. You can simply use an existing venue server, but that makes you reliant on external services.

It's pretty easy to setup these days, although if you're planning on using h264 you're going to need a whole lot of CPU.

Re:h323 (1)

Gromius (677157) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454228)

Also, for those in the science community, evo.caltech.edu is a nice Java-based collaboration tool.
Your definition of nice seems to differ from mine. Its of course much better than vrvs but it seems to have issues and doubly so for video. Its not reliable yet and sometimes if CMS and/or ATLAS are having a large meeting, grinds to a halt. Although to be fair it is rapidly improving. I have observed that (pulling number out of ...) it has only a 60% success rate. Additionally it is more designed for large prearranged meetings and is not as immediate as say ichat when you want an adhoc meeting to discuss something.

H323 not multipoint, EVO not functional (3, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456450)

H.323 fails the multipoint test - there is an old project OpenMCU which used to provide some sort of multipoint linkup for H.323 but it never seemed to get beyond an early alpha stage.

EVO is horrible. It's JAVA+vic/rat. Quality is terrible, it is really slow to connect each time and you can't always connect. It is supposed to be the VC tool of choice for the LHC experiments. However it is so bad that almost every meeting I attend uses the CERN telephone conferencing in preference or the ESNET H.323 MCU which the Tevatron experiment (D0 and CDF) use.

..uhm..can't find an answer. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453836)

Can't find any. There are several open source SIP/Voice tools but with Multi-point nope.... Ekiga/GnomeMeeting - http://ekiga.org/ [ekiga.org] ZAP - http://croczilla.com/zap [croczilla.com] SFLPhone - http://www.sflphone.org/ [sflphone.org] OPenWengo - http://www.wengophone.com/ [wengophone.com] Can anyone list some one? or should the community should try to evolve this projects ?

Too much cpu or network bandwidth required (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23455516)

The problem with an N-way video conference system is the amount of network bandwidth required as well as the amount of cpu processing power required.

One technique is to use a high powered and well-connected central server to aggregate all the conferees and the retransmit the aggregation back to their sources, with a star network architecture. This is possible with today's multicore systems to support perhaps up to 8 attendees, assuming you have an OC-3 or T-3 link to the Internet or better.

In an ad-hoc mesh network of many to many you generally run out of bandwidth or cpu resources at one or more sites, resulting in a less than satisfactory experience.

On the other hand, if you are willing to settle for postage stamp sized images at less than 30 frames per second with below telco quality sound, and you have *really* powerful processors at each site, you could get away with it.

Most people tend to be happier using conference calls (telephones) for the audio, and sharing desktops and desktop applications. That tends to have far better audio and get more work done than making faces at each other.

Google has it, but won't share (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453872)

Google bought Marratech, a company that's been specializing in videoconferencing for almost 10 years. But they don't seem to have any plans to do anything externally with it, so it's all lost in the stomach of the beast.

Re:Google has it, but won't share (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23456760)

Maybe what they have planned isn't ready yet...

(I've used it, marratech could use a lot of work)

Usually, the first thing that happens when Google buys a company is that they spend the first year moving the backend to Google's massively scalable architecture.

And they release a something for free. (Google Earth, Sketchup, Writely, Spreadsheet, etc.).

Google has a great record in this regard.

Stay tuned, I say.

Maybe they'll release something to offset the ad doldrums of the Summer.

lay em off (0, Troll)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459778)

Google bought Marratech, a company that's been specializing in videoconferencing for almost 10 years. But they don't seem to have any plans to do anything externally with it, so it's all lost in the stomach of the beast.

Send em to unemployment. Marratech was pretty crappy. Huge, slow, sluggish, with poor support for PDF and none for ODF. The audio and video was stored in some monstrously huge, proprietary format with no way to export except for the 'analog hole'. Further the support you paid for was money down the drain.

There is a need for a good multi-point video conferencing system. Marratech is not it.

There is a need for a FOSS multi-point video conferencing system. Marratech is not it.

There is a need for an open standards multi-point video conferencing system. Marratech is not it.

MOD UP! (1)

crhylove (205956) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453918)

Mod Parent Up!!!

Oh wait, that's the article, isn't it. I'VE BEEN ASKING THIS FOR YEARS!!!

Hopefully the new voice and video for pidgin thing won't suck, and we can finally supplant a corporation BEFORE it becomes a hegemony (though Skype is pretty much there already. BLAST!).

IRC (4, Funny)

johannesg (664142) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453924)

You kids these days with your graphical user interfaces! Just go with the One True Unix Way: command line! It is quick, it is easy, and it works on VT100 terminals over a 14k4 modem. Why would you need anything more?

All you need to do is set up an IRC-server in multi-pointcast mode using the -nrl option, and then connect to it with reverse protocol multiplication using the -t option. You can add new users by typing :nusername:ip;port:macaddress;. Trivial.

Re:IRC (0)

Kasimir Gabert (1046658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454000)

This is a joke, right? There is a huge difference between IRC and Video Conferencing...

Re:IRC (5, Insightful)

hostyle (773991) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454142)

Correct. One is a huge waste of time and bandwidth, the other isn't.

Re:IRC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454396)

haha someone mod this guy up. comedy gold.

Re:IRC (3, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454052)

...and the ASCII Art codec...

Re:IRC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454084)

any other forum on the internet would have modded this as a troll. Damn you /.

Re:IRC (2, Insightful)

Nikker (749551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454212)

I think if IRC is ok then it would just be sent as an email.

Re:IRC (1)

story645 (1278106) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456076)

irc doesn't require refreshing every three seconds

Re:IRC (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454412)

All you need to do is set up an IRC-server in multi-pointcast mode

Bah.

Just use talk(1). Use it to talk to yourself, even. Tell a few jokes, share ideas, brainstorm, engage in role playing (a bit of added configuration will allow you to 'su badgirl16' or 'su leatherman' for quickie session), or just check in and see how things are going.

Re:IRC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454502)

IRC? 14.4K modems? Beh. You don't need none of that new-fangled stuff. What you really want is YTalk.

Re:IRC (1)

Igmuth (146229) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454794)

14.4k modems? Kids these days... Whats wrong with a perfectly good 9600 baud modem?

Re:IRC (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455234)

Damn Ricers! What's wrong with a perfectly good 300Baud Acoustic Coupler?

Re:IRC (2, Funny)

ryszard99 (1193131) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459314)

damn you kids with your fancy acoustic coupler. back in my day we used fire and blankets, now get off my lawn!

Re:IRC (2, Funny)

asCii88 (1017788) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455206)

Why do you even need that when you can have two plastic glasses and a cord?

audience? (3, Insightful)

story645 (1278106) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453986)

First, why isn't there a better effort at medium to large video-conferencing that pretty much anyone can set up?
Probably 'cause it's assumed that the only people really need medium/large video-conferencing software are universities and companies-and they can afford proprietary software, so why try too hard?

AccessGrid? VRVS? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23453990)

Accessgrid:

Works fine, even supports multipoint *HD* video conferencing, open source though the "hours to set up" depends on your tech competence. It doesn't *need* working multicast, but works a lot better with it.

Not really AG-specific: Also note that multipoint video conferencing requires either echo cancellation (and ALL software echo cancellation sucks, you need still need hardware DSP units even in 2008) or headsets for everyone - one bad node can ruin they meeting - if you think an echoey 2-way conversation is bad, you should experience a 15-way conference some time (though that might need academic/military bandwidth :-) )

http://accessgrid.org/ [accessgrid.org]

EVO? (Successor to VRVS).

Kind of new, but descendant of VRVS. Kind of a cut-down accessgrid. Easy to use, though is web-page based.

AFAIK, like VRVS, interoperates with AccessGrid, though participants in a conference tend to be "second class citizens".

http://evo.caltech.edu/evoGate/FAQ/index.jsp#Basics01 [caltech.edu]

software echo cancellation (4, Interesting)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454026)

Not really AG-specific: Also note that multipoint video conferencing requires either echo cancellation (and ALL software echo cancellation sucks, you need still need hardware DSP units even in 2008) or headsets for everyone - one bad node can ruin they meeting - if you think an echoey 2-way conversation is bad, you should experience a 15-way conference some time (though that might need academic/military bandwidth :-) )

Just curious - why should "software" echo cancellation suck? The DSP-based cancellation *is* software, just on a DSP. Modern CPUs ought to have enough horsepower to perform the same function reasonably quickly, yes? No?

Re:software echo cancellation (1)

flux (5274) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454236)

I could envision one reason: it is possible to attain much smaller latency with DSP. With DSP you can guarantee n sample window within which the corrective action is taken; it will be very difficult to do so small windows when you have 2 kilobyte buffers you record sound into.. (Doesn't need to be that bad, though: that's already >40 ms with assumed 44100 sampling rate.) Perhaps if you use an approach similar to RT-Linux?

However, I believe many soundcards have had built-in programmable DSPs for a while (not really followed the matter, but atleast my good ol' Audigy has one; perhaps the advent of built in sound has killed that?), so maybe they can do that too.

Re:software echo cancellation (3, Informative)

btempleton (149110) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454554)

They do. The latest skype's echo cancellation is very good and done in software. They are also doing 640x480 at 24-30 fps, which is broadcast video quality, if you have the bandwidth and CPU for it. (about 800kbits up and a dual core.)

Re:software echo cancellation (1)

makeyourself (704660) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457830)

Not quite broadcast [wikipedia.org] quality, if you ask me...

Re:software echo cancellation (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454562)

More on the same point. Everyone but you has been doing 40+ person voice conferencing for the past 3 years.

And I killed an ancient demon while doing it. So nyeh.

Re:software echo cancellation (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23458204)

That's not the same thing at all. Gamer-drones wear headsets and/or are sitting alone.

Room echo cancelling hardware means everyone in each room of the multipoint meeting can just talk normally without looking like a silly geek, but every room in the meeting has to have either echo cancelling hardware or a headset, or echoes creep in.

This takes really fast DSPs to do well.

Demand? (1)

nfk (570056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23453994)

The answer to the first question is probably that no one who can do something about it (ie develop it or pay someone to do it) is sufficiently interested.

have you looked at DimDim (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454024)

DimDim is pretty good, i'm not sure if its opensource though.

PC VS iChat (1)

polyex (736819) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454070)

iChat is nice, but last time I used it (a couple of years ago), there was no way to videoconference with something on the PC side. You could type at people using a PC with an (AOL account?) but no video. This made it rather lame unless you convinced all your family/friends etc to start using Macs. I guess they figured the Halo effect would not hold with a chat program as it might with iTunes/Ipod etc. I don't know if this has changed as of yet...

Re:PC VS iChat (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454474)

AIM doesn't support the multipoint video but video over aim works just fine.

Why hasn't this been finished. people have been asking for video chat in things like gaim/icq/MSN for years and no one has done anything about it. yes it is hard, but shouldn't be that hard. This is a point where F/OSS can shine. since everyone else is proprietary as well as not directed at home users, F/OSS can step in and create a true standard to start with.

Re:PC VS iChat (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454842)

iChat connecting with PC clients using AIM to do video chats did work when I tried it about a year and a half ago. The problem was you had to use an old AIM client on Windows because AOL updated the video protocol and made it incompatible with iChat. This may have changed [so you can now video chat between iChat and the latest PC clients], but we switched to using Skype, as it worked a lot more reliably back then [and has been just working since then].

Re:PC VS iChat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23455094)

This is a point where F/OSS can shine. since everyone else is proprietary as well as not directed at home users, F/OSS can step in and create a true standard to start with.


Seems to me like this is the kind of arduous task where you would need company backing to even get a standard off the floor.

Seeing how F/OSS is trying even harder to stay off proprietary codecs and things, it's hard to make AND test two new compression standards. OSS refuses to acknowledge MP3 for sound compression, but could use OGG. It won't use MPEG, but could probably use Matroska. I don't really know if these standards are as good for A/V streams as they are for file transmissions, but I don't see Adobe flash using them after all these years

The problem is that Matroska and OGG have been out for a while and still have no strength out there. Companies adopting new technologies would rather see the more popular and current tech, which is already proprietary.

Or we could use open source stuff and just include codecs on the installers. The problem then is multiplatform support.

Finally, we have the bandwidth problem. People just won't understand that you need that 800kbps for good framerates at broadcast 640x480 @24fps quality, like a poster near this thread said. My dad still doesn't get why he can't even get people on MSN to chat with video on... the problem is the vid quality and webcam resolutions really suck. Even without multipoint bandwidth to worry about

OpenMCU (1)

hweimer (709734) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454080)

It seems that OpenMCU [sourceforge.net] , which is part of the OpenH323 project, does exactly what you want. You can then use your favorite H.323 client to connect. Be warned though, that running a MCU consumes huge amounts of bandwidth.

Re:OpenMCU (1)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455578)

And as I said in the post, the H323 stuff is not easily set up. That's part of my frustration. Let me put it this way. We actually installed OpenMCU, but then there's almost zero documentation on how to properly configure the server and then connect to it. Point me to this, and I'd gladly use it.

But it shouldn't be that complicated, and ad-hoc networks should be possible, I think.

OpenMCU (1)

jalet (36114) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454082)

Install GnuGK and OpenMCU and you're done.

Installing and configuring GnuGK is somewhat complex, but it works flawlessly (doesn't do multipoint videoconferencing but it's a gatekeeper, definitely needed IMHO)

Installing and configuring OpenMCU is ..., how could I say this while still being polite... There's no documentation available to the best of my knowledge, and the --help command line switch doesn't seem to entirely match the openmcu executable... Anyway you can find some entirely outdated docs and combine them with what you obtain with --help, then hope for the best... and maybe read parts of the source code... I think it's the ONLY Free Software I've seen which made me want to have its development team hanged (just joking...)

Anyway, I was able to make it work during tests, so if you've got some time to spare on this you could try it as well. It definitely does what you want to do.

Now install GnuGK and OpenMCU (on two different boxen, unless you want to play with fire and complex port settings...), register your endpoints with the gatekeeper, and you'll have a working point-to-point and multi-point visioconferencing system.

Re:OpenMCU (1)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455596)

So that doesn't really help much now does it. A project or software sans documentation is as good as no software. Sorry, but telling me to use a project without documentation when I've asked for something more presentable is as good as spitting in my face.

Now if the community wants openMCU to be useful, then document it. I'd even be willing to work with the developers to write the documentation (that I can do, I'm not much of a programmer, but I can write).

Re:OpenMCU (1)

jalet (36114) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455682)

> ... is as good as spitting in my face.

Well, then maybe you are expecting too much from people who want to help YOU fix YOUR problem for FREE.

I'm also available for consulting work BTW, and I'm sure a lot of other people as well. But maybe you don't value the work of other people enough, especially the guys who developped OpenMCU (I'm not one of them). This project sucks at least because it doesn't have useable documentation. Anyway at the time I answered your posting, it was the only answer containing the name of a software which does exactly what you want, if we except vic which is, historically, more related to multicast visioconferencing.

I'll try to remember to not try to help you next time.

Re:OpenMCU (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23458700)

Whoa, chill out. Sure, he used a terrible analogy there ("spitting in [your] face", really?) but your own overreaction isn't helping any.

He did offer to help the developers write the documentation, something that I haven't seen nearly enough of.

Perhaps instead of jumping right on and accusing him of "expecting too much", or telling him you'd try to "remember to not try to help you next time", you could have just politely pointed out that you consult on these sorts of things. He might have hired you, and you could have a) committed better docs to OpenMCU as a result, and b) gotten paid for it.

Of course, that doesn't sound quite as noble as accusing him of "expecting too much from people who want to help YOU fix YOUR problem for FREE", though...

Re:OpenMCU (1)

Krodren (928196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455884)

The immediate parent, by the original Ask Slashdot poster, is one of the worst reactions to a helpful post I have seen in years.

Seriously. Read that post. Then re-evaluate if you really want to spend any time or effort to help this guy.

Re:OpenMCU (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23458794)

The immediate parent, by the original Ask Slashdot poster, is one of the worst reactions to a helpful post I have seen in years.

Seriously. Read that post. Then re-evaluate if you really want to spend any time or effort to help this guy.
What?! You know what, you may not like it, but when your parent said

A project or software sans documentation is as good as no software.
he was absolutely spot-on.

A multi-point video-conferencing system is going to be difficult to configure correctly, and without any documentation at all? Just by reading incorrect help switches and thousands of lines of source code? What the fuck are you smoking?! Source code is not documentation.

And your parent went on to say:

Now if the community wants openMCU to be useful, then document it. I'd even be willing to work with the developers to write the documentation (that I can do, I'm not much of a programmer, but I can write).
He wants to help put together documentation for an app that, even its supporters agree, has none whatsoever. This is exactly the kind of contributor the community needs. How dare you insinuate that the community should turn its back on him!

Honestly, I love the principles of the F/OSS movement, but sometimes I think Free Software advocates like you deserve the second-class status the rest of the world ascribes to you. You know how a project really gets a great reputation? Help out even the people who don't read source code.

Go on, you know you want to overengineer it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454094)

implement an access grid [wikipedia.org] node!

VLC Http Interface? (5, Interesting)

Doomedsnowball (921841) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454288)

What about VLC? It has it's own little web server and customizable http interface. It is trivial to host a page with multiple VLC windows running streaming from remote webcams. I know because I have been given such ridiculous tasks from clients. VLC is so flexible and open, it's not much work to customize it using only basic HTML and Javascript knowledge. Throw in a little AJAX and PHP and you have your shared whiteboard and an upload function. Simple, really.

cuseeme (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454514)

I may be showing my age but we were doing this over 10 years ago with a cuseeme reflector and various clients (yes even using linux) - audio worked ok with one person 'presenting' at a time with others commenting via text chat - which works ok in certain scenarios. For multiple speaking speaking at that time we used the phone for audio and software for video.

VSee.com (0, Offtopic)

drydiggins (612614) | more than 6 years ago | (#23454594)

VSee.com

Patents (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23454704)

You can blame patents for the sorry state of OSS videoconferencing. All of the usable protocols (h.263, h264) are patented.

After 2 years of searching for a reliable, easy to use solution we went with Polycom. I am afraid you will have to do the same if you need something in 2008.

Open Meeting? (4, Informative)

Olmy's Jart (156233) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455640)

http://code.google.com/p/openmeetings/ [google.com]

No experience with it, I just happened to be looking at the freshmeat announcement a couple of days ago.

Features:
        * Video/Audio
        * See Desktop of any participant
        * Multi-Language and Customizable
        * Whiteboard with drawing, write & edit, dragNDrop, Resizeing, Images (DragNDrop from Library), Symbol(s)
        * Conference while drawing (4x4 or 1xn modus)
        * Safe Drawings / whiteboard and load it next time, edit and resave
        * Import Documents (.tga, .xcf, .wpg, .txt, .ico, .ttf, .pcd, .pcds, .ps, .psd, .tiff, .bmp, .svg, .dpx, .exr, .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, .png, .ppt, .odp, .odt, .sxw, .wpd, .doc, .rtf, .txt, .ods, .sxc, .xls, .sxi, .pdf) DocumentImporting

        * Send invitation and direct Links into a meeting
        * Moderating System
        * User-/Organisation-/Moderating- System
        * Backup and Language Module (LanguageEditor, BackupPanel)
        * Private and Public (Organisation only) Conference-Rooms
        * Technologies used, see TechnologyPortfolio

Re:Open Meeting? (1)

pangloss (25315) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459118)

*Sounds* interesting. Does the demo portal (http://inno02.fh-pforzheim.de:8080/openmeetings/ [fh-pforzheim.de] ) work for anyone? After Flash loads, I just see an autoconnect url printed to the screen.

Try wengomeeting (1)

schweini (607711) | more than 6 years ago | (#23455716)

try wengomeeting [wengomeeting.com] for a flash-based videoconferencing tool (up to 5 participants)
It's not open source, but the company (wengo) does offer an open source client for their other services.
This concept shouldn't be too hard to re-implement with an open source flash media server, like red5. but sadly, red5's documentation is severely lacking.

Re:Try wengomeeting -- with Asterisk (1)

Hoffer53 (832181) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457962)

Depending on your technical skills, there is plenty of documentation on getting Asterisk to work this way fairly quickly. Wengophone or wengomeeting should be able to use Asterisk to facilitate the transport.

RTFA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23455932)

Did anyone actually read the freaking question? He wants a FOSS VIDEO conferencing application that can handle SIX or SEVEN SIMULTANEOUS calls. That immediately rules out Ekiga, as he said, all of the voice only solutions and even non-free Skype.

It is a good question. Video chat/conferencing is an area that Linux and the FOSS world has avoided for far too long. Until recently Ekiga was the only one and anyone that doesn't see the problems with Ekiga has obviously never used both Ekiga and Skype.

The FOSS community is well overdue for a decentralized Skype like product that does video. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one is working on one. Meanwhile Apple has iChat. Windows has MSN Messenger, GTalk, Yahoo Messenger, Skype and many more. Linux has Ekiga and most recently Skype.

You can look but you won't find (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456100)

It's really difficult to find a decent and working MCU (Multipoint Control Unit) that's both free and allows to see all participants at the same time. Asterisk has a solution, but only one participant can be seen at the same time. There is Caltech's Java client as mentioned above and VLVC but that's not really complete or working.

I settled on using OpenMeetings (www.openmeetings.net). It's FOSS, based on Java, Flash and Red5 and it works really well.

Cart-before-horse-department (1)

frisket (149522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23456346)

what do you recommend in terms of a F/OSS solution

Given that the support in Linux for video and webcams is so disastrously broken as it stands (largely the vendors fault for not providing APIs and driver details), what's needed first is to fix it so that all the common webcams (cheapo and expensive) "just work" -- both in standalones like Ekiga, aMSN, Pidgin, etc as well as in Flash-based browser applets -- and specifically work without slowing the system to a crawl or running at 4fps.

Once that's done, perhaps *then* we can start to look at multi-way VC.

which ones... (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457080)

...do work on linux now? Any of them?

How about dimdim (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23456616)


dimdim [dimdim.com]

Wiredred ePop (1)

merejames (1291690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457182)

Have been using epop for about 6months. Really clean easy to use and install. Great for multipoint video, chat and application sharing and really reasonably priced. Worth a look; www.wiredred.com

Farsight 2 is on the way (1)

Tester (591) | more than 6 years ago | (#23457920)

As far as I know, there is currently no complete solution. Farsight 2 [freedesktop.org] aims to be a framework that will be used to build such applications (it does all of the hard work and you just have to plug it into some signalling. There are plans to make an XMPP extension for multi-party conferencing. And to then integrate it into Gnome using the Telepathy framework. But we're still building the pieces.

Easy Cheap Solution for PC, Mac, or Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23458126)

My Company Great America Networks Conferencing offers simple cost-effective Video and WebConferencing usable anywhere there is an Internet connection on any type of computer.

You can see the software interface and sign up for a free 1 on 1 trial or a full featured demonstration free as well.

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Have a free guided tour of the software here: http://www.ganconference.com/demo.html or contact me directly for a personal guided tour of the service.

Anthony Russo
Conferencing Consultant
Great America Networks Conferencing
arusso@ganconference.com
www.ganconference.com
Phone: 312-432-5377
Skype: anth.russo

Try Dimdim? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23458296)

http://www.dimdim.com
Try Dimdim. Just came out of private beta and they just released a F/OSS unlimited version codenamed "Eagle"
The free hosted versions been running for a month and works well.

StoOdin (1)

StoOdin (996899) | more than 6 years ago | (#23458402)

Actually, the problem is the protocols. H.323 is unicast. You can't, practically, get more than about 5 people on a unicast videoconference. the bandwidth usage just skyrockets. If you want to get 6-8, or more, people on a videoconference you have to use multicast - and very few know how to do this considering that 99.9% of routers stop multicast dead in its tracks. My group solved this problem about 5 years ago but couldn't get it to market. *sigh*, c'est la vie.

koz-n-fx (1)

koz-n-fx (1291792) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459230)

Anyone who has ever tried to get OpenMCU to work knows that it's alpha software. The problem with multipoint has nothing to do with bandwidth limitations or all the other ideas I read so far. When you shoot sound for a theatrical production, all sorts of effort is expended to make the quality as high as possible with no interference at all. That is completely different from videoconferencing. Each videoconference is conducted in a large echoing conference room with air conditioning noise and a single microphone in the middle of a bare table. Connect three of these rooms together and nobody can understand anything even with good echo cancellation. Four is out of the question. If anybody in the mix has a regional accent, the limit is two, not three. The methods of suppressing this all have their problems. Vocal Keying, for example, is usually awful because it clips words and sounds mechanical, etc. If you don't do something, each room gets the air conditioning and traffic noise of all the other locations. Echo cancellation only affects incoming echoes, not outgoing. So who is most likely to have multiple soundproofed conference rooms in diverse locations? Multi-million dollar corporations. Everybody else uses iChat. There are worse things than to have to go run down a nice Mac to have a conference. That's getting easier and easier. Commercial conference systems (Polycom, Tandburg, LifeSize), Mac xMeeting, and Windows NetMeeting all can speak to each other via H.323. We would give anything to have OpenMCU work... Koz

access grid (1)

donhav (41208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459436)

look at http://www.accessgrid.org/ [accessgrid.org]

Last time i used this, about three years ago, this was a real pain to make work, but once you have it going, its great and will support 6 - 8 connections.

priorities (1)

Tom (822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459690)

As someone who is (trying to, and sometimes succeeding) to use video conferencing in a business setting, my advise is this:

Your #1 priority is that the stuff works. No hassle, no fiddling around, none of the "just edit line #192 in /etc/something/other.conf" stuff. It has to work then and there with the push of a button.

Anything that can't guarantee this is unsuited. Maybe you can get it to work with a little messing around in a minute or two, but you can be sure that at least one remote partner can't. If it's any more complicated than turning it on and pushing "connect", there will be trouble. If there is trouble, acceptance falls. Once acceptance is low, you can forget about it, even if by then it works flawlessly.

Cygnal (1)

MaryBethP (1079677) | more than 6 years ago | (#23459978)

Cygnal is another project from the Gnash / OpenMediaNow team. Multi-channel video conferencing is the #1 goal right now. It should be ready for outside developers now. From their dev site http://wiki.gnashdev.org/Cygnal [gnashdev.org] : "This is a Flash media server compatible audio and video server. It handles negotiating the copyright metadata exchange, as well as streaming the content. It will need to handle many thousands of simultaneous network connection, and support running on large GNU/Linux clusters. It should support handling multiple streams with differing content, as well as a multicast stream with a single data source. There are several other streaming servers that handle streaming audio and video. Some handle multiple formats, but most have a protocol supported only by that one project (like shoutcast). None but Red5 support Flash, and that feature isn't working yet anyway. Due to the patent issues surrounding MP3, and the fact that FLV and ON2 are closed formats, one of the main goals of this project is to support free codes and free protocols as the primary way of doing things. Optionally there will be support for MP3, FLV, and ON2 (VP6 and VP7) when playing existing Flash content. Both FLV and the VP6 & VP7 codecs are included in ffmpeg. Users can use the ffmpeg plugin for Gstreamer to use these proprietary codecs."
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