The annual “Network Performing Arts Production Workshop” took place at the very top floor of the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London in May 4-6 2015. UNINETT was present in the audience (but not performing, presenting or demonstrating anything this year).
The workshop seems to attract a balanced mix of people with technical and artistic background and interests. Approximately half of the presentations and demos where technically related while the other half address artistic aspects and ideas.
Day 1 of the workshop summarised the background for the workshop series and gave a quick walk through of current tools in use by key participants in the community. UNINETT was listed among the key participants. The most applied set of tools seems to be
Polycom VSX 7000 8000 9000 with “music mode” whit enables music collaboration on 4-8Mbps links, BUT with very noticeable delay
Separate presentations with further updates about Polycom and LOLA was given by representatives from the respective development communities (Polycom and GARR). Polycom units are frequently applied for master classes (100 per year at the Danish Academy of Music) but only with all musicians at one end and the instructor on the other end of the link. Due to too much latency the instructor can only listen and comment but not play himself (e.g. not accompany a singer). LOLA, approaching it’s 2.0 release but already with support for digital HD cameras (CoaxExpress and USB 3), enables full musical collaboration. Two demo sessions between London and Copenhagen showed the differences between the two tool clearly.
Day 2 focused on LOLA which seems to be maturing well and gaining support. Several users are working on a “LOLA in a box” concept which aims for a compact portable LOLA based kit. Several session addressed challenges with LOLA in real life settings due to its demand for high network (gigabit) capacity. Challenges included network hw equipment not performing according to specifications as well as interference issues between Wifi and gigbit TP cables.
During Day 1 and Day 2 several online collaborative dance performances where demonstrated. Dancers from countries in Europe collaborated. Clever choreographies made distance dances “meet” on stage. Remote dancer where also moved (thrown) from one projection surface to another. When the “demo effect” kick in for one of the demonstration, interesting insight into the efforts required to prepare for a session was given. Synching, resetting and reconnecting all tools seemed far from “out of the box”.
On Day 2 and 3 two hardware based music collaboration tools where presented, both FPGA based. “Flexilink” switches provides a multimedia service class with guaranties delay as well as best effort class. The hw design is to some extent inspired by ATM. “4K Gateway” provides fast transmission (and some compression) of 2x 4k video and up to 96 audio channels. The latter system was applied in an impressive violin (in Praha) and piano (in London) demonstration.
In general it seems now that the available sw and hw tools for (encoding and) transmission and reception of musical/artistic collaboration sessions are fast enough given sufficient bandwidth. NREN and GEANT networks also now seem well equipped to provide enough bandwidth (at small usage scale) if configured correctly. The bottleneck in the multimedia pipeline is now definitely cameras, screens and projectors. Low frame rates (<60hz) and internal buffering often introduce >50ms delays. Industrial cameras (e.g. USB3, CoaxExpress) provide promising speeds and configurability (though somewhat medium image quality), while screens and projectors still are “black boxes” at best with a “gaming mode” option. There is a need for more “white box” freely configurable cameras, screen and projector.