July 17th 2004
It's been a while but finally back in the studios of Image Communications we put the latest version of Playout through it's paces in a fun packed 4hr show on a Saturday evening. This was the forthcoming 'version 3' release of Playout which is still under development - significantly the first time the new enhanced 1280x1024 mode of operation has been tried in anger.
In addition we had a dedicaed compressor on board before, the output was streamed out via a Shoutcast cluster relay onto the web.
Last time a few things went awry - we got caught out by not having enough time to sort everything out beforehand, there were problems maintaining the Shoutcast clusters (using a Win2k port forwarding package). Jim also has a pretty impressive but old Gadget Labs soundcard which only has driver support under Win98 these or possibly some other random factor combines to make the studio PC one of the quirkiest behaved machines I've come across - it also hosted an audio software compressor which totally flawed the thing - not to mention a clock which drifted wildly. This time round we had a proper router in place, a proper hardware compressor, a properly sync'd clock but unfortunatly still the same 'interesting' Win98 install.
A fairly annoying Playout bug was also uncovered last time around within the Shoutcast track/title update code - after a period of time it would use up all available TCP/IP connections and loose network connectivity so several reboots were required during the evening. That's now fixed but once again the latest fairly untried release is in use so there is plenty of scope for further problems to emerge.
First view of Playout V3 on a flat panel LCD
Initially everything appeared to run okay until 20 minutes in someone texted in to inform us all the Shoutcast streams had collapsed. After a frantic look around it turned out the encoder had dropped the connection to the server machine - Jim's Linux box. Earlier we'd also turned off the 'auto-reconnect' option whilst trying to solve another problem with it. This was probably the most disapointing thing of the evening as we lost the first 20 minutes including the stream which was being recorded. Throughout the evening the streams continued to drop at random intervals and it's almost certainly down to Jim's old Linux laptop not having enough power behind it to maintain them - it's certainly not something I've seen anywhere else.
Aside from that, technically everything went very well. The Win98 studio machine continued to exhibit some of it's more quirky features, the odd jingle not firing first time but nothing too drastic. Interestingly the 'clipping' effect on some of the audio we experienced last time appeared to have gone away - possibly due to an OS re-install or codec modifications on my part.... The Shoutcast clusters held up well (when they were being fed) so no complaints there either. Part way through Jim's show the button wall caused a GP fault, effectively disabling that part of the package but the rest remained usable and he carried on for a good while with several GP fault dialogs floating around the screen. This could be down to the behaviour of the PC (again) or considering this is the 'new' part of the package something in my software - it's something to look at here but I'm not overly concerned at this point.
If anything I'd say once again we were still rushed to get everything fully up and running reliably - a combination of bad luck on the encoder auto-connect & Shoutcast server reliability were really the only issues and could have been hosted on my spare Linux box I brought up without too much issue had we known. The crash..... well that machine is just too much of an unknown quantity to get too excited about it - apparently there are now drivers for XP available so next time we may well have something a tad more robust.
More broadcast highlights including pictures and the
whole show in streamable MP3 at
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