Sunday, November 21, 2010

Drive picture quality improvements, 3D is back!

It's been a while since I've posted a blog here and it's high time for an update on where we stand on some outstanding issues which as always includes some good news and some bad news.

I think that, while not the only ones, four of our main issues are: drive picture quality, the water hole camera, chat performance and archiving. Let's start with the bad news and work up to the good news.

First then: The waterhole camera. We have decided to take the approach of rather not spending more time and money on small fixes, but rather focus on replacing the current system with a state of the art new one that will provide a crisp picture, clear audio and allows for 24/7 (remote) manning. We are currently finalising the system design, so its implementation is unfortunately still some time off. And the same goes for the archives. Designing a top-class archive system from the ground up is proving to be a formidable task and it will still take some time before this will return.

Then on to better news....

You will all be aware of the fact that the current chat is unstable, tends to crash at busy times and had a couple of other issues as well. While Preston from WildEarth Interactive has been able to make some improvements to the current chat, we have reached the limit of what can be achieved with it. As with the waterhole camera the approach we took is to rather design and build a proper new system, rather than try to keep fixing the old one.

Preston has (almost) completed this and the new version will be rolled out in the beginning of next week. A so called 'stress test' has been done on Friday with, I believe, 1000 (!) chat bots and it passed with flying colours. More on the new chat can be found in the next WildEarth blog to be posted tomorrow.

The arguably most important issue we've had lately is the drive picture quality. For a while now the picture quality of our drives has been outright awful, there's no other way of saying it. This was the result of a myriad of problems ranging from bandwidth issues and radio link problems, to having to stretch part of the 3D feed to create a 2D one, etc.

We have been working on a totally different set up and have run a test this morning that proved successful and showed a significant improvement in the quality of the picture. Today's PM drive will be the first one broadcast in this manner, which also once again includes both 2D and 3D broadcasting!

Without going into to much technical detail, the new set up takes a copy of our raw and uncut TV channel feed that goes out from Djuma. (Now at this point some of you might wonder how this TV feed can go out at high bit rates while the web stream at lower bit rates can’t. There's a lot to say about that, but in essence it comes down to the fact that we are using equipment with extensive error correction capabilities for our TV feed to overcome the internet problems.)

This equipment is expensive and unaffordable for Internet broadcasting, but we have found a way to tap into its output once it 'arrives' in Europe and then convert it to an Internet-ready feed on our servers in Ireland. So from this afternoon you will be watching an internet version of our raw, uncut, TV feed!

To be able to do this some other things needed to change as well. Some are limitations imposed by this set up; others could be seen as 'fringe benefits' and positives. E.g. we will not be able to run the drive leader and end clips or insert info straps on the bottom for a while as it is a raw feed.

But on the positive side there is now a separate 24/7 waterhole cam and outside of game drive times highlights of previous drives can be watched on the Safari Channel as these are part of the 24 hour TV channel.

While the clarity and crispness are not yet where we want them to be, this new set up is certainly a step in the right direction and Alex and I will be working hard on further improving it over the next days and weeks.

Showing the highlights of earlier drives also means we will for the first time ever be playing out non-live content in our main player. We have thought long and hard about whether or not we should do this as we aim to be live all the time. We are working on better separating the non-live parts from the LIVE drives, but did not want to hold back the better picture quality until that is complete. So in the mean time we have overlaid all non-live content with a continuous 'Pre-recorded' message to make sure there it is clear which parts are non-live.

So, while there is certainly still a lot that remains to be done to first get us back to where we were, and to then go beyond that!, I think the above is certainly a step in the right direction.

Will and I will talk about this and more on tonight's FireSide chat, that will from now on be shown on the new Djuma Waterhole cam, and no longer on the Safari channel. So be sure to tune in to the Djuma waterhole cam tonight!

And, as always, please let us know what you think!

--- Peter


  1. Well I am now totally confused!

  2. FANTASTIC PETER!! I have been watching them in 3D and recommend to those who can view 3D to get a pair of Anaglyph ones (from blockbuster, or any of your local video stores should have them, amazon, ebay) Its worth it to track down a pair. How much fun it is to view the drives in 3D.. I now need to get large screen tv and connect my laptop to it.. So wish the states would pick up the broadcast soon. Anxious to see this in 3D with true colors!! Thanks Peter and all WE crew for all you do and are doing to improve and upgrade and bring a piece of your magical world to ours!! :-)