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So telepresent stuff is done by computer?
It's the Internet, right?

Well, it can be. For people just starting out as a hobby, that's often the way it's done. Some artists with large budgets can also make reliable broadband connections through the Internet. However, in our network, we tend not do it either way. We use a videophones over plain, ordinary telephone lines.

One species of videophone is well-adapted to our artistic situations. Much as the Sony Porta-Pak liberated video artists from the studio, the current generation of videophones makes 2-way communication much easier, simpler, and creative than ever before. The new videophones are free-standing information appliances, in some ways like a Web-TV box, and do not need a computer. They are very compact and portable, and work wherever there's an ordinary telephone line and standard AC current.

Based on the H.324 international standard, these videophones work with consumer cameras, TV sets, audio amplifiers, and so on. So it's easy for artists to borrow items in their homes, get started, and learn the craft. For that simplicity, artists can still exchange recordable, projectable motion video with partners thousands of kilometers away. Demonstrations in live shows have proven that H.324 is theatrically viable. It's poet-friendly technology, accessible to anyone with a creative aptitude, a modest budget, and enough skill to set up and operate a VCR. (And that would include setting the VCR's clock!)

OK, but the Internet is growing. Why not use it?
We do use it, especially when RFM is online. However, 2-way videoconferencing on the Internet, using modem-based computers, has serious practical limitations. H.324 sidesteps most of those limitations by mandating a direct telephone link between sites. Connections are secure, video and audio data don't get lost, and the nearly universal access to the telephone system in North America ensures that e-poets network partners can produce events where the broadband Internet has not yet been built.

Further, H.324 works with video from various countries. For example, American and British users do not need to worry about converting their video from NTSC to PAL and back. H.324 conveys video equally well from either video standard, without regard to its source.

Videophone technology has improved considerably over the 6 years I've been producing telepresent events. By donating compatible gear to multiple North American sites, I've enabled my peers and myself to produce multiple events with minimum re-tooling. With the addition of each new compatible site, the potential connections multiply, such that with very few additional sites there are many more potential cross-cultural interactions.

So while e-poets network is not avoiding the Internet, it is not dependent upon it, either.

Why not use ISDN or DSL? How about cable modems? There are lots of new technologies that can help you.
I agree absolutely. I hope to put them to good use. But my solutions have to work for others, too. The imperative behind e-poets' theatrical encounter is two-way communication. The audience and the artists enjoy a dialog in real time -- there are senders and receivers in both ends of the connection, both on stage and seated in the house. So everyone must have compatible communications systems. H.324 solves our basic needs within our collective, basic means. If a room has a telephone line, we can link it up and do so reliably.

On the other hand, if anyone cares to contribute wideband services and systems to me and a few other media poets around the world, we are all ears.

So you're abandoning the Internet altogether?

As I've suggested, the Internet is OK for entry-level videoconferencing on a budget, where reliability isn't an issue and there are no paying guests to see such a show. But many non-technical artists, such as writers and poets, tend to have frustrations with the Internet's minutiae just the same. The Internet can be expensive, complicated, unreliable, and demanding. H.324 gets around that issue where the solutions are as simple to access as a common telephone.

Once broadband access improves, and more sophisticated network technologies find their way out to the public at prices artists can generally afford, we'll embrace the Internet for two-way connections. Until then, there's plenty of stuff the Internet is good for, like text and other recorded media (like e-poets' Book of Voices). All of us will use the Internet more fully in the future.

So are there any technical standards?
Among poets? Not really any. This is why we've moved to recommend H.324 as a de facto communications standard.

Back in 1994, standards weren't a problem and Internet-based videoconferencing was only then being born. There were two networks built upon videoconferencing arts, and each used its own kind of videophone. Depending upon your affiliations, you used either one videophone or another, and that was that.

Then as the Internet grew, diverse technologies were considered a virtue. Everybody got to try something new, and many of us telepresent artists did. Just about anything new, as a matter of fact.

But after three years or so, the technological diversity made telepresent collaborations more difficult. New partners didn't necessarily have compatible videophones or conferencing software. I had to re-tool my studio to tailor-fit each partner for effective 2-way communication with every event. This was expensive and difficult for everyone involved.

The expense was often not with the software we used, but in time spent troubleshooting the software in our applications. Sometimes we'd have repeated trials and still not find any answers as to why a software program didn't work. So even "free downloadable software" had a cost, mostly in R&D, but sometimes in botched, ruined or cancelled productions, too.

There must have been a little controversy over this... "free" having costs... tech not working... Am I right?
Yes, and more than you might suspect. There was enough controversy around this issue to cause at least one poetry conferencing network to break up. From some of those remnants, the e-poets network was born. We needed workable, functional solutions and we did not want to wait for the Internet to mature. H.324 turned out to be the only solution we could count on.

During the second half of 1998, I sent H.324 videophones to five other poets or poetry groups in North America: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Toronto, Ontario; New York, New York; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Auburn, Washington (near Seattle). In all cases, the videophones proved their utility, and the associates agreed that they could produce forthcoming events using them.

We hold these technologies to be workable:

  1. H.324 is a de facto standard for entry-level videoconferencing among artists, regardless of an artist's network affiliation, if any.

  2. Members of the e-poets network are prepared to work with any poet, media artist, or arts organization willing to engage us with reasonable proposals for events using up-to-date standards-based technologies, H.324 being the primary one, but others being considered where joint means and abilities permit.

  3. When we webcast, we will use RealVideo on publically accessible servers. Online, simultaneous chat will be made available wherever possible, ensuring the web audience's means to respond and interact with the artists as our programs are broadcast.

  4. Where broadband Internet access is mutually available to participating sites, we will consider alternative systems for 2-way videoconferencing using computer software and TCP/IP. H.323-based systems are preferred.

H.324 videoconferencing systems are available commercially from InnoMedia. This company makes the InfoView H.324 videophone, a flexible and complete videophone with a built-in camera at an affordable price; NTSC and PAL models permit international videoconferencing copyright © 1999-2016 e-poets network
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