State of the TWiT 2009

Here's the latest from the TWiT Cottage. We've been pretty busy!

First, Colleen has done it again! Introducing Streamasaurus...

Streamasaurus is a worthy successor to Skypesaurus, and in a similar vein. Skypeasaurus is the four-machine Skype setup I described here last March. This time we've created a six-computer setup to support our streaming video. Each computer will serve one stream: BitGravity high and low quality streams (right now that 1mbps and 350kbps), Stickam, Ustream desktop and Ustream iPhone, and a sixth (we're looking at providers now - your input is welcome).

Streamasaurus consists of six Mac mini computers, two running OS X for our Bit Gravity streams, and the rest running Windows and Flash Media Encoder for our other providers. We use three analog-to-digital converters to convert the S-Video output from our video switcher and analog audio from our mixer (well it's analog for a few more days - more about that in a minute) into the Firewire audio and video our Macs require. We're using Canopus ADVC converters: one ADVC 700 and two ADVC 110, each with dual outputs for a total of six streams. The Macs are connected to our symmetric 9Mbps Ethernet-in-the-First-Mile (EFM) broadband connection from Sonic.net.

We built Streamasaurus to give us more -- and more consistent -- streams. For the first year TWiT Live was streamed on Stickam alone using a Dell laptop and an ADVC 300. In February we expanded to stream on Ustream.tv and Bit Gravity. More providers give you more choices, and provide us with more reliability. But they also require a more sophisticated set of streaming computers. Hence, Streamasaurus.

We are using Streamasaurus to take advantage of a special feature offered by BitGravity. When you watch the stream at live.twit.tv the player will automatically adapt to your bandwidth, giving you our highest quality stream (a whopping 1Mbps) if you can handle it, or a 400Kbps stream if you can't. If you use VLC you can choose to play either high,
http://bglive-a.bitgravity.com/twit/live/high, or low
http://bglive-a.bitgravity.com/twit/live/low, stream directly. You'll really see the benefit of this when we upgrade our cameras and switcher to HD. We're waiting for Newtek to release the Tricaster HD, and as soon as it does we'll go hi-def. Expect that later this year.

And that leads me to item two: We are making a major upgrade to the studio this week. On Thursday, after Paul and I finish Windows Weekly, Colleen and a crew from Telos Systems will pull out our all our analog audio cables and lovely Onyx mixer and replace them with CAT-5 and an Axia system from Telos. This is an all-digital system consisting of a honking big dedicated computer system called the PowerStation and a control surface that looks like a mixer. All the audio comes and goes over Ethernet, though. The only analog devices remaining in the studio will be the mics, but their output will be quickly turned into bits and passed along into the PowerStation via CAN-bus. This all-digital system will sound cleaner and be much easier for us to use. We're very grateful to Telos, and Kirk Harnack, Telos's Executive Director for International Development for making this possible. It's a major upgrade to the audio for all our shows.

Finally, I would like to welcome two new employees to the TWiT family. Erik Lanigan is a 2009 Florida State graduate who converted the Student Broadcast Center into a podcast production studio, edited some hilarious student videos, and has worked part-time as the IT guy for his dad's law practice since the age of 13. He has interned for the Colbert Report, is a fantastic audio and video editor, and a great fellow all-around. Erik will be working with Tony Wang on audio and video editing, but like all the TWiT staff he'll be pitching in everywhere, and you can expect to see him on the air from time to time, as well. We're thrilled that he survived the arduous TWiT interview process.

We've also hired a business manager. Lisa Kentzell started a year ago as our part-time bookkeeper and has proven so invaluable that we've asked her to officially come on board. She built her previous business from five people to 150 and has already put TWiT on a much more sound financial footing. Lisa will help us manage our growth as we continue our march to become the CNN for geeks. We're so glad to have her expertise and twisted sense of humor.

Frankly, running the business was beginning to take its toll on Dane. He's off this week taking a well-deserved vacation. When he comes back, and dries out, he'll be taking a larger role in content production and show development.

Thanks to all of you for making this possible. TWiT wouldn't exist without our incredible community. Remember, before there was Twitter, there was TWiT. And before there was TWiT, there was you. Thanks for all your support!

(Incidentally - take a look at our cool new comment system, Echo from JS-Kit - let me know what you think!)