Technical Considerations and Feasibility
Posted Mon, Apr 19, 2004 at 12:04 PM
Modified Wed, Nov 1-, 2004 at 11: 1 PM
Table of Contents (of original proposal):
2) Hello (Virtual/Physical) World
3) Yonge-Dundas Square: Public vs. Private
4) Detailed Project Description
5) Technical Considerations and Feasibility
6) Conclusions and Next Steps
Unknown to many, video billboards currently run their video feeds off of a computer that is already accessible via the internet. An example would be Ryerson University�s Channel 84 that is viewable to anyone who tunes in while on the Ryerson campus.
In my current position at the Rogers Communications Centre (RCC) my job is to update Channel 84 by using a �broadcast multimedia� program called Scala. Quite similar to Microsoft Power Point, I design a key frame page with images, video, and/or text to create a multimedia slide show. When I�m done sequencing everything, I publish a special Scala playback file that I upload to a normal computer dedicated to outputting the show to television screens, video billboards, or even mall kiosks.
The broadcast screen simply displays whatever is on the computer so if I run the file, the slide show will start at full screen and appear much like a regular television station. While I don�t expect the video billboard operators to be running Scala specifically, they more than likely use a similar product that runs on a computer.
Since I would like Hello World to be up for an extended time period whether it be a week or a month, I will rule out hacking into their computer systems. Therefore I would be required to gain access in legitimate ways, which involves either buying airtime or having the airtime donated. I have not called for a quote but it is without a doubt that, for a highly trafficked area such as Yonge and Dundas, airtime would be out of range for my budget or even too expensive for a small company to sponsor me.
Current video billboards facing Yonge-Dundas Square include CHUM and LG Electronics. While I was unable to find a statement from LG, the CHUM website claims:
�Our goal is to foster audience intimacy and build brand loyalty through the use of bulletin boards, chats, email newsletters, contests, polls, games and exclusive downloadable content. Given the increased adoption of wireless devices and the growing use of SMS messaging, Interactive has developed games and wireless concepts that extend our brands truly into the palms of our fans. CHUM Television Interactive is leading the charge in Interactive Television in Canada, developing enhanced content for four channels - MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, Citytv and Star!. This will allow CHUM and its advertisers to actively engage our audiences in two-way communication, extending the reach of our brands and facilitating direct response from the comfort of one's couch.�
From this, I believe a means of sponsorship could actually come from the media company itself since this form of interaction has never been done before in Canada. It could also be great marketing for the unveiling of one of the media towers currently being constructed.
While speaking to an employee of Samsung who have a media billboard on the 401, he warns that any media company may push for a heavily branded interactive game. He also made me aware of a similar project created as a promotion for Yahoo! Autos that ran on a video billboard in Times Square this past month. Cell phone users were able to dial into a toll free number to be queued into a line and then play a simple two-player racing game using their keypad.
So while I won�t rule out of the possibility of a branded game, I would feel that it would diminish the true spirit of Hello World as a way to have non-commercial fun using commercial tools. Another source of sponsorship could be the City of Toronto since they are continually looking for ways to promote the city after the decline of tourism due to SARS last summer. Regardless of who sponsors this project, I would still need to be on good terms with the media company in order to configure their broadcast computers for game play.
Beyond the negotiations for airtime, computer software decisions would need to be made. Current multimedia broadcasting programs do not allow for multiple connections and a game server would need to be set up.
As mentioned previously, most of the billboard broadcasts simply display what is being played on the computer at that time so it may be feasible to use the Macromedia Flash Player as a means of output. Flash would work well since it is vector based and the graphics are scalable to look good on both a large screen and a small laptop/PDA screen. Although I would lean more towards Flash due to my assurance in it to build rich interactive online environments, alternative development tools could include Java or even HTML.
If Flash content is to be used for the front end interface, then possibilities for the back end server include Macromedia Flash Communications Server (Flash Comm) or the Unity XML Socket Server (Unity) . The largest pro of using Unity is the price tag � free for artists or students. The creators, Colin Moock and Derek Clayton, are also located in Toronto and offer quite a lot of customer service via their mailing list if help is ever needed. However, Unity does not handle video or audio, so I would need to use Flash Com if the need ever arises.
In terms of portable devices, I would gear the on-site version of the game towards PDA and laptop users with wireless cards confirming to the widely used 802.11B standard. Data would be transferred using the TCP/IP protocol most commonly used with web browsers. If the Flash Player is not supported on their device, I may need to consider using Java or HTML.
Cell phones with web browsers could possibly have access to the game but, due to their small screen size and small processing power, I may need to exclude designing for them. Also, using a model of dialing into a toll free number similar to the Yahoo! Autos promotion seems undesirable, as it would reduce the amount of interactivity the Hello World game could offer.
It is unfortunate that I would have to exclude a large part of the population traveling through Yonge-Dundas Square but I feel that by the time the project would launch (approximately spring or summer of 2005), the adoption rate of wireless PDA and laptops will have substantially increased even from today�s current saturation.
A study done by Cadillac Fairview, owners of the Eaton Centre, indicates that the majority of the patrons to the area are professional, white-collar workers with an average age of 33 and a household income of $57, 500. In another study by the Allied Business Intelligence, 16 million people used wireless networks in 2001 and the number is expected to climb to 60 million by 2005. Based on these demographics, the movement towards wireless offices, and the falling prices of going wireless it is quite likely that Hello World could have a large enough audience to support running the game for at least a week or a month during specific time periods.
During a recent walk around Yonge-Dundas Square with my own PDA device, I was unable to pick up a wireless signal so there would need to be one installed. Located underneath the large canopy are a security office and a T.O. Tix outlet so a wireless router could be installed there. While it would be very optimistic to hope that the Board of Management would set up a free and open Wi-Fi hotspot for anyone to use, based on their desire to make money, I may need to suggest that they become a commercial hotspot. (I will keep my fingers crossed though!)
Commercial wireless companies they could partner with include Spotnik and FatPort . Both companies work on the model of pre-purchasing airtime such as $6/hour, $15 for 24 hours, or $35/month. Once you have an account set up with them, you have access to internet using your wireless device at any of their hotspots. Another company, Wireless Tribe, offers free access to all customers. Based on the wireless company, the setup fee for the venue that wants to set up a hotspot ranges from free (simply having a hotspot) to $50/month (allowing the venue to offer free or discounted access codes to their customers). In order to get a large audience to participate, the wireless access would need to be free during the duration of Hello World therefore negotiations with the wireless access provider would need to be worked out.
While the amount of collaboration between the many companies is daunting, I believe Hello World to be quite possible. The success of Hello World would depend quite a lot on the City of Toronto or a commercial company�s willingness to offer free airtime and support in return for media exposure. Media companies such as CHUM may find the project worthwhile to fund since they have parallel goals for interactive television and, in many ways, I am offering them free research and development that is beneficial to them. I have excluded the Canada Council for the Arts simply because they do not offer funding to emerging artists registered in an undergraduate program although other organizations that are funded by them could offer support.
Faced with opposition to Yonge-Dundas Square, I may need to look for alternative sites. Options past the prototyping phase using Ryerson facilities could include other video billboard screens with several of them located downtown. Possibilities for window projections across town in retail and art gallery windows could also prove fruitful for a city-wide online game.