Well, last night at men's 6:33 we had our Skype call from Argentina. And it worked...kind of. However, the connection they had down there was extremely poor and our own LAN wasn't doing so hot for external connections either. However, we did like we had done for when they went to India. We bypassed audio transmission and sent only video through Skype. Then we plugged someone's Blackberry into the sound board via headphone jack and were able to get audio that way. So Skype for video and Blackberry for audio. It worked fairly well and we were able to get a decent show up on the screen.
However, WE of course, were stressing out the entire time and we had leadership up in the sound booth bugging us as to why we weren't getting this feature to work or why they couldn't hear us or why why why...
And of course, we didn't know because we hadn't anticipated the Blackberry/cell-phone idea one bit. They just handed us the cell phone and said, "This is how we did it this morning!" But neither of us were there "this morning," so we had to figure out what they were talking about. Anyway, the same leadership person that was pretty much instigating all the stress also said afterward that we should just come up with a standard. He said, "Skype team," but I assume that to mean that we just need to write up a whitepaper or standard on how to make Skype work for missions trips that we want to bring in during a service. And I've come up with a few ideas.
The first idea is to codify the setup we had last night. Have a headphone plugin going to a cell phone from the board for audio and Skype the video in and combine them successfully. However, Skype, I noticed, is pretty horrible with video, especially when the camera is low resolution. Besides that, we only have a framerate of maybe 2 frames/sec if the connection is good and less if the connection is bad or flaky. In fact, there were times where we had 1 frame/2 minutes last night.
So maybe we should scrap the Skype idea and go for something a bit more reasonable like UStream. UStream is like an online video recorder that will also stream your recording live as you record it. Of course, I've no idea what the quality of the transmission would be if they were on a slow connection, so this might require a bit of thought.
As for audio, working with everybody else's cell phone was just horrible. The first one we got was a flip-phone that required security unlocks due to the international connection and it kept disconnecting on us. The second was a Blackberry and we got audio okay, but had a bit of trouble sending audio back. Besides that, the guy was up in the sound booth yelling at his phone the whole time. Thus I've come up with a solution. Perhaps the best idea would be to create/research a box which would replace the telephone handset. We DO have a landline in the sound booth which we can probably more easily call and get a reasonable connection (cell phones either way increase chances of dropped calls). My idea is to somehow vandalize or 'decompile' the telephone handset which is on a PBX network and replace it with a plain old RCA I/O. This would require a bit of impedance matching and possibly some audio amplifiers to interface the phone earpiece/mic with a regular audio input/output. This is probably the best solution that I can think of. Of course, the store-bought one costs somewhere around $400, so that's out. I can't imagine a church paying that much money for a once-a-year occurrence. Besides, I think I can make my own, with my dad's help.
So those are my ideas and reflections. I didn't think last night was at all efficient, and standardizing it will make things a whole bunch better.