The internet's alive with the sound of music

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Musicians separated by thousands of miles can now play together seamlessly due to advanced worldwide research and academic networks and using Bitflow frame grabbers. Smooth transmission of pictures and sound permit performers to play across the Internet2 and GARR networks in real-time as if they were in the same location.

The audio and video conferencing software, Low Latency (LOLA), was developed by the G. Tartini Music Conservatory, in Trieste, Italy, and the Italian Research and Education Network, better known as GARR. Working together they wrote audio and video transmission software to diminish any trace of latency or jitter, resulting in an impression shared by both performers and the audience that all musicians are in the same venue. Ultimately, LOLA encourages greater musical collaboration, exploration and creativity, plus eliminates the travel expense associated with bringing together musicians to rehearse and play together.

LOLA significantly reduces the lag time it takes for live sound and video to travel over a network. It has proven to be a vast improvement on other musical collaboration applications that leverage the internet which either use a delay or employ tricks like having each player play along to what the other played a measure earlier. Instead, LOLA is able to connect performers to each other with latency approximately equal to what it would take sound to travel from one side of a stage to the other.

To successfully network a live musical performance, the round trip from instrument to human ear and back must be below 60ms. LOLA reduces that delay to as low as 20ms; even adding the network latency (from 0 up to 25ms at 3,000 miles distance) the system fools the ear into believing that all the musicians are in the same place. To meet this impressive goal BitFlow, a Boston-based frame grabber manufacturer, worked closely with Claudio Allocchio, the manager of GARR advanced application and innovation department and himself a trained astrophysicist and classical pianist, and Carlo Drioli, an audio/video engineer working at Udine University Computer Science Lab and at Tartini Conservatory. BitFlow provided the equipment and consultancy to help deliver on GARR’s vision.

Allocchio and Drioli choose initially to use analogue cameras rather than digital to minimise latency, and black-and-white video rather than colour to have less video noise and reduce network load (bandwidth). To get an analogue signal into digital form, they used the BitFlow ALT-PCE-AN1, a one-channel member of the company’s Alta-AN line of analogue frame grabbers. While semiconductor and industrial vision OEMs primarily use these frame grabbers, they are compatible with virtually any analogue camera, from high-speed asynchronous-reset monochrome cameras to super high-resolution colour HDTV cameras.

‘We are using the ALT-PCE-AN1 card as the video grabber for our system, and with BitFlow’s help, are building a number of different camera files to support at least a reasonable number of cameras to be used with LOLA,’ said Allocchio. ‘Even as we are exploring digital versions of the BitFlow grabbers and CoaXPress cameras, we plan for the moment to stick to the analogue versions for production systems, because they have a much better performance in term of grabbing time (latency). That said, we already added support for colour analogue cameras, too, in the mean time’

After a number of very successful demonstrations both in the United States and Europe -- the last being in Trieste where 30 institutions from 15 countries attended -- there are now a number of sites that have built or are building their own LOLA systems, reported Allocchio.  In fact, at the recent workshop in Trieste the CEO of the European Association of Music Academies (AEC) estimated that at least 150 institutions would probably consider using LOLA system within the next 20 months, with a growing number in the United States.

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