I recently saw a fascinating demonstration of a software mashup allowing presenters to show recorded video clips in Citrix GoToMeeting. This capability has been requested for many years by users of the popular web conferencing product and this is the first time I have seen it working in a fully realized fashion.
GoToMeeting uses full-desktop screen sharing to display content. Performance is generally good, but polling the host’s screen and redrawing the bits on each attendee’s screen is just too slow to allow for smooth, unbroken depiction of full-motion video. If you play a movie on your desktop, your attendees see stuttering, lag times, and missing frames.
As I reported in The Webinar Blog, Citrix added HDFaces to GoToMeeting last year. This lets hosts show a live webcam stream of themselves while presenting. The video quality, resizing, and accommodation for lowered attendee bandwidths really do work very well. You can see crisp, smooth motion “talking head” video alongside the shared desktop content.
Which brings me to the mashup part of the story. Gary Jesch of CHOPS Webcasting invited me to watch a demo where he combined GoToMeeting with a $60 downloadable software product called Xsplit. Xsplit has one of the more confusing websites I have seen, and it is hard to read through and figure out what the utility is designed to do. The short form is that it can take a variety of inputs (including movie files or screen region live captures) and send them out as a video stream.
Gary fed the output of Xsplit into the HDFaces webcam input as if it were a live video image. I was tremendously impressed with the results. Movies played back absolutely smoothly, without a single stutter. They were synchronized exactly between Gary’s host computer and my two test computers logged in as meeting attendees. When Gary paused the movie on his computer, the attendee machines immediately paused on the exact same frame. I could use GoToMeeting’s normal divider bar between the video and content to adjust the relative size of the video vs. screen content. Scaling was perfect.
Then to put the cherry on the sundae, Gary showed me that he could even use Xsplit to show a video playing off the web. Instead of loading up a prerecorded movie file on his own computer, he went out to YouTube and brought up a random video clip. He used Xsplit to define a little screen sharing region around the YouTube video playback region. As soon as he started playing the video on his computer, I could see it play in perfect synchronization without breakup or stuttering in the HDFaces video window. What was really funny is that I could also see the video in the normal GoToMeeting screen sharing content window… It was terrible, with all the playback jerkiness and dropped frames I was accustomed to.
So I can report this as a resounding success. Unfortunately there are caveats (aren’t there always?):
Xsplit is not a trivial “point ‘n click” utility that a casual user can just download and use without training. There are lots of options, configuration settings, controls, and things that are not intuitive unless you work with digital video for a living. You’ll have a learning curve. If I wanted to use this in my meetings, I might just ask Gary to run it for me as my video producer. He’s already figured out how to make it work.
Getting the sound to play back through the HDFaces interface requires a jumper cable going between your computer audio output (the Xsplit playback output) and the computer audio input (what HDFaces thinks is the microphone input from the “webcam” you are showing). It can’t be done in software.
You need a dual monitor setup for this to be practical. Otherwise the attendees will see the Xsplit utility sitting on top of your screen share content.
HDFaces is still only available in GoToMeeting. Although Citrix has been promising extension to GoToWebinar, it isn’t there yet. That’s a pity, because this application would be perfect for structured webinars with registration and larger audiences.
If you have ever wanted to show video clips in GoToMeeting, this mashup is a dream come true. Contact Gary and have him show you how it works. Or if you are a software tinkerer, download a trial version of Xsplit and do it yourself!