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11/15/2002 Archived Entry: "More CALL Utilities: Paralinguistic Basics Toolkit (v. 1.0)"

Today I'm releasing the first version of an application I call the "Paralinguistic Basics Toolkit". This is a demonstration of the current interactive capabilities of the audio/video object that comes pre-built in the new Flash 6 player. If you have a supported microphone and/or video camera (e.g., a web cam) attached to your computer, the application will first request permission for local access to your microphone or camera.

(Screenshot from the "My Volume" tool)

Although the controls are still a bit primitive, the sample indicates what may be coming in the future. For now, practical applications are limited. But, if you have students that need practice with their speaking volume or making eye contact, this toolkit may be of some help.

NOTE: I recommend turning down the volume of your speakers first as the time lag (and echo) can be a distraction.

For those interested in Flash authoring and ActionScripting coding, I have included a sample of the programming code used in the application.

Here is a bit of code that shows the basics of presenting the local audio and video streams in the "My Mirror" section:

myVideo = Camera.get();

myMic = Microphone.get();

As you can see, it's pretty easy to access the video and microphone objects in Flash. The first two lines above address the video object and the last two lines address the microphone object. In both cases the objects are attached to an empty movie clip placed on the stage while authoring. I gave the movie clips the instance names "myVideo_mc" and "myMic_mc". (The reason for using "_mc" in the name is to provide instant access to the built-in code hints that are provided in the Flash authoring environment.)

With this code, a user's video camera and/or microphone are accessible for local use only. In other words, the video and audio streams are generated on the user's computer and are not sent anywhere.

Macromedia's Communication Server MX technology enables live chat with voice, video and/or text elements. The company has recently published an article on "Creating shared learning spaces with Macromedia Contribute and Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX" that explains that process in detail. It's an interesting read for CALL developers considering use of these new technologies.

Disclaimer: My only connection to Macromedia, Inc. is that I have purchased and make use of many of their software tools.

Replies: 4 comments

Works fine for me, Jim (except my cheap Philips webcam, which "conviently" installs automatically in XP, gives a green image. No way to adjust it since Philips says no software is needed - XP will take care of everything. Same webcam worked great in Win 98 days.)

More importantly, when will your system be broadcasting?

Posted by Mike Marzio @ 11/20/2002 12:49 AM PST

That's a very good question, Mike.

The only barrier at this point is the cost. The cost of a dedicated or collocated server is out of my reach at this time, and there are not many ISPs that currently offer the Macromedia Flash Communication Server as part of their web hosting packages. However, there are a couple that do.

The folks at Media Temple (www.mediatemple.net) have such a deal. Prices start at $15/month for a very small amount of bandwidth--an amount suitable for setting up and testing the service. The next level is $75/month for slightly more bandwidth and concurrent connections. This might be fine for a very small-scale deployment, though for a growing online course/community, one might need more connections and bandwidth. The next levels include more connections and more bandwidth. Of course, they cost more as well ($125, $300, and $600 per month).

The folks at Vital Stream (www.vitalstream.com) offer "managed server packages" (I believe this is what other ISPs call "collocation services"--where you essentially lease a dedicated server which is managed and maintained on their premises). They only have two levels--and no inexpensive way to start. The monthly fees are either $530 or $730 depending on the amount of bandwidth you choose. Plus, they ask for considerable start up fees.

By the way, you can find demonstrations of a live Flash chat application at both the sites listed above.

Then, there is also a cost for the Communication Server software itself. Prices range from $99 for the Educational version, to $500 for the "Personal Edition" (which supports 10 concurrent connections), to $4500 for the "Professional Edition (which supports up to 500 concurrent connections--and can be upgraded to support even more).

Macromedia has published an article which sorts out all of these details. See: Which edition of Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX do I need?

So, does anyone have a few thousand dollars they could spare?

Posted by Jim Duber @ 11/20/2002 11:08 AM PST

Great Stuff Jim,

Would love to ponder the next Killer application with you. Let's see what we can do to get you that thousand dollars.

Posted by Curtis Robinson @ 11/26/2002 09:25 PM PST

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction to find out more about Flash.

I believe this is a very interesting area for educators with some technical expertise.

I would love to hear about future developements in your experimenting with this technology.

James Pratt.

Posted by James Pratt @ 03/07/2003 07:26 PM PST

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