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!)


80 Replies to “State of the TWiT 2009”

  1. Very impressed with the State of Twit Leo, you and yours allow me to avoid mass media when commuting to work.  I’m also impressed with the Echo comment system.

  2. The TWiT empire continues to get better and better Leo. I remember the days of ROTSS and how happy I was to find that. Now whenever I am on campus (and not in class) I always have my browser on TWiT live. Keep up the amazing work everyone at the TWiT Cottage. And Thanks.

  3. Very nice Leo! I wish you were still on television but i’m sure television will be in your future again. Twit is becoming a force to be reconed with.

  4. all of this sounds awesome. however i think that Mr Leo should never let TWiT out of his control. i think that he should always have the final say. he is the only reason people listen to twit.tv and as a listener i trust that he would always keep his followers in mind. im just scared if it gets to big the corporate side might mess with the shows i follow. like has happened before.

  5. I’ve used Disqus on my site for comments, but Echo looks great. Love all the options for logging in. I already commented on the studio upgrades on FF so I’ll say great new comment system here ^^

  6. Leo – nice to see your hard work paying off and the business side of TWiT expanding – we do not hear(see) the team that makes all of the great content possible.
    Thank you to you and all of the team – keep up the great work.

  7. Don’t worry – the whole reason I started TWiT was so that no one else could tell me what to do!

  8. thanks for the update, it sounds pretty cool. i thought the digital upgrade went through last week. i wasnt able to watch on thursday/friday when you said upgrading was taking place. i also just realized not you or anyone will read this comment. i probably wont even come back to see if anyone commented on it. keep up twit, i like it.
    dirty soggy puppies o_0.

  9. I am a huge fan of Disqus but Echo seems to take it to the next step. I’m sure there will be some cross pollenization as time goes by. And, by the way, in theory your Friendfeed comment should make it over here eventually.

  10. Such exciting stuff! I look forward to video downloads.
    BTW, Leo–at the end of para 5 and in para 6 you refer to “Skypesaurus” when I believe you meant “Streamasaurus.”

  11. Keep on keepin’ on Leo. I found out about Revision3 and TWiT both at the same time a few months ago, and it was like reaching geek nirvana. I had been lost since the great TechTV debacle, now I am found.

  12. Yes, I’ve been checking out their site and all the user options. It has a really great FF feel to it.

  13. Good! I agree with jesseww: both your direction and vision are what makes twit stand out from the other IPTV/Podcast/netcast “networks”.

  14. Why not outsource all the back end server and IT work to where it belongs… India and China? 😉 No point paying people in the west to fiddle with technology….

  15. Because we are using hardware. I don’t see how an IT person in India could help us design and build something like Skypesaurus.

  16. Hmm please let us know if you get Echo sorted out, this is the first time I have seen it and it looks really good. Except for the spammy re-tweets.

  17. I like the new Echo, but I can’t help but feel it’s a little… overly complex, what with my need to log into all the services I have accounts with. Though adding following options and images is a big step forward.
    Being a big broadcasting nerd (I’m majoring in Radio/TV/Film production in school) I love seeing these behind the scenes rigs, but I have to wonder: why is the Streamasaurus running on Mac Minis? What happened to the Octo Mac Pro you bought after Apple refreshed them to run on Nahalem chips? You mentioned it on TWiT when you were talking about getting set up with BitGravity, and you were questioning whether or not Nahalem was the way to go. So what happened to it?
    Also, is it more energy efficient to run six Mac Minis (or four, for a closer comparison) than it is to run an Octo-core Mac Pro? Just wondering, I mean there are other good reasons to run multiple machines than power efficiency (all the eggs in one basket for example).

  18. JSKIT Echo has got to be the easiest to implement, easiest to understand and just overall best commenting system out there.

  19. I think the big problem with Echo, though, is that (I’m sure you’ve noticed now) your massive following ends up retweeting you (or something) and it ends up being fed into Echo, which seems to be creating a lot of feedback (the bad kind). If Echo can figure out how to clean that up, it’d be sweet.

  20. I think he meant why not have them do it all on servers you would rent from them. However, you’re completely right. It’s impossible to do this without renting satellite time to send to them, without facing massive quality loss (and the world’s hottest compression machine). It’s just better (quality-wise) to do it all yourself. Plus you really do have a lot more control over what you do, in terms of services and features.

  21. Slowly but surely your empire is getting bigger. BTW I really like this comment system.
    I can’t wait for your regional offices to start opening. 🙂

  22. BTW I turned off the option to tweet my comment reply, so hopefully it will not bounce back into this comment feed. I still love the idea of Echo.
    Also, I don’t think I said it before. But keep up the great work Leo. I have always listened to the podcasts, but I have recently started to listen to the live streams when at work. TWiG is my fav show since TWIT, it’s nice getting back into indepth Tech stuff. PC Per with Colleen is great too.

  23. Does any one know if Echo is $12 a year for multiple blogs or is $12 per installation?
    Thanks in advance.

  24. Hi Leo, I’ve been listening to your really sharp podcasts, radio and TV shows for a while now, and I learn a lot every time I visit your site. With all this new equipment, you should be able to give Fox News a run for their money. Your information and explanations are so very helpful and interesting.Best of luck with all the new equipment. I would imagine that much “tweaking” and adjusting
    will be the major part of your life for the next few days. Can’t wait to see the new shows coming
    out w’new upgrades. 🙂

  25. Will look forward to hearing more about the Telos console, I myself have only been using digital consoles for a little while, and then only in live music situations. So will be interested how it works in the podcast arena

  26. Echo looks interesting. This is the first I’m seeing it in use. However, I can’t stand that it posts both the “I just commented…” tweet and the original comment. I don’t mind telling my twitter friends that I commented here, but it’s hard to read the thread with the messages all mixed together. Is there a way to separate Twitter from regular comments?

  27. This looks really cool!  I’m glad to see that you’re still expanding and refreshing your setup, Leo.  Keep up the great work and know that you are a broadcasting pioneer.

  28. The last stream that you should do is just a plain QuickTime one.  It would be nice to be able to open the stream in quicktime player, or iTunes rather that in my web browser because flash often crashes the browser.  I think that there is a way to stream in quicktime format, but maybe the uStream iPhone feed would work.

  29. nice to be all digital leo…. you’ve always had the best sounding audio on a podcast, and now it would be even better… more power to twit!

  30. Why a QuickTime stream? You should experiment with the new technologies included with Firefox 3.5… the ability to play Theora video and Vorbis audio (OGG) directly in the browser. Don’t know how successful/popular it would be… but it’d make for a nice experiment, even if it was just temporary.

  31. Expansion of the business is always a good thing.   I may be critical of certain stuff that comes through the network (the outright dismissal/ridicule of the Zune as an example), I still love the shows and the content and they help me keep my sanity during the hour to 90 minutes I have to spend in the car each day.
    Keep up the excellent work everyone.

  32. Depends what show you listen too. Zune HD is getting generally high praise from everyone I have heard on the TWIT network.

  33. It’s still a little early to jump on that. HTML5 has not settled on a standard yet for the compression, and Google recently bought ON2 a company which develops HD streaming codecs. So in short we have another format war coming up.
    I think any HTML5 stream would be more experimental than anything right now, which might not be a bad thing either.

  34. I kind of agree with this. I have a pretty heft system, and sometimes Flash can still clog up the system, but I can watch 1080p movies with no stuttering in Quicktime or MediaPlayer. This might get better when Adobe pulls their thumb out their ass and supports GPU acceleration for video decoding.

  35. We as commenters can disable the ability to post our replys in Twitter, but I think it is upto the admin to say what is displayed in the comments. But I agree with all this twitter spam coming in I have to say that something is not working as planed.

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