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Project Number: Telematics for Research 1007

Project Title: MERCI

Title of Deliverable: Seminar Deliverable I

Deliverable ID: D11.1

Produced by Workpackage: WP 11

Contractual Date of Delivery: 31. August 1996

Author(s): Peter Feil, University of Stuttgart

Andreas Rozek, University of Stuttgart


Based on the results of the earlier MICE project, MERCI - Multimedia European Research Conferencing Integration - aims to integrate technology components to allow for proper development of tools for multimedia collaboration.

The components developed within MERCI technology workpackages are tested within validation workpackages and the feedback is used to improve theses tools further. Once they are considered rugged enough they are made available to other projects and institutions.

As distance education is an excellent consumer of the MERCI technology, the "Seminar Workpackage" (WP11) has been organised to apply the tools in several distributed seminars.

This deliverable describes the work that has been done within the Seminar Workpackage in the reporting period. It covers the regular networked multimedia project meetings and the first set of MERCI seminars. A short introduction into booking systems for MBone events is also given.

Keyword List:

Multimedia Seminars, Distance Education, CSCW, MBone

Table of Contents

1 Introduction/Overview

2 The Weekly/Bi-Weekly Project Meetings

3 The MERCI Seminar Series

3.1 The HP Distance Learning Initiative

3.2 The First MERCI Seminar

3.3 The Second MERCI Seminar

3.4 Future Seminars

4. Booking of MBone Events

4.1 The Session Directory SDR

4.2 MERCI Seminar Booking Forms at RUS

4.3 Remote Conference Mailing List

4.4 The MBone Broadcast Schedule

4.5 The MBone Global Agenda at CILEA

5. Evaluation

6. Summary

A Annexes

A 1. References

A 2. List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

A 3. Whiteboard Test Sheets

1. Introduction/Overview

The MERCI Seminar Workpackage has the following objectives:

During the reporting period these aims could be fulfilled by regular networked multimedia project meetings and by a first set of events in the MERCI seminar series. Major problems were only caused by the continued lack of high-speed connectivity between MERCI partners which sometimes resulted in a very bad network performance.

This deliverable briefly describes the multimedia project meetings and the MERCI seminars already held. It also explains how such MBone events are being announced and booked today. After some remarks on the evaluation process (which has already started) the paper closes with a summary.

2. The Weekly/Bi-Weekly Project Meetings

Already under MICE auspices a weekly multimedia project meeting had been introduced. This habit was continued within MERCI, but soon changed to a bi-weekly cycle.

New components or new releases of tools considered ready for validation are regularly introduced into these project meetings and tested there. Only after having been proved to be rugged enough for wider use they are being made available to other validation workpackages, related projects, Sponsoring Partners, and to the public.

This is how for example new versions and new features of the following MERCI tools have been tested within the last few months:

  • New releases, implementing additional redundancy schemes and supporting new hardware platforms (PC), have been tested; the compatibility to VAT has been proven, and bug fixes verified.
  • New releases, supporting new hardware platforms (PC), have been tested and bug fixes verified.
  • There is a real need to run these networked multimedia meetings to discuss the progress of the work within the project. Especially the Network Text Editor appeared to be very useful to produce the regular meeting minutes.

    Figure 1 shows a snapshot of the video tool VIC at one of the MERCI project meetings.

    Figure 1: Snapshot of the video tool VIC at a MERCI project meeting

    The MERCI Seminar Series

    Distance education is an excellent consumer of MERCI technology. For this reason, we have organised the seminar workpackage to use MERCI tools in several distributed seminars. The components developed within technology workpackages are tried out here, and the feedback is used to improve the tools further.

    Typically the seminars incorporate audio and video of high quality and shared whiteboard facilities, using both conference rooms and workstations. The Network Text Editor NT/NTE is additionally used to give the distributed audience a possibility for direct feedback during ongoing seminars.

    The Distributed Systems Seminar Series, part of a formal course of study at University College London, is the first category of MERCI seminars that is being made available to students in at least five countries. The second set of seminars includes other courses or events that are broadcasted over the MBone by MERCI partners.

    The continued lack of high-speed connectivity to be provided by TEN-34 and JAMES meant that there was a very bad network performance to some MERCI partners during the reporting period. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve good video and audio quality between all partners which is essential for successful seminars. For this reason, the number of seminars given was deliberately reduced. Two seminars and a contribution to the Hewlett-Packard Distance Learning Initiative (DLI) have been broadcasted. These events are described in more detail in the following sections.

    3.1 The HP Distance Learning Initiative

    The Distance Learning Initiative (DLI) is a program that has been launched in December 1993 by the MERCI Sponsoring Partner Hewlett-Packard to support the emerging concept of the European Tele-University. For more details see [DLI].

    HP's objectives in this program match very well with the goals of the MERCI Seminar Workpackage:

    On February 15./16., 1996 a DLI workshop had been organised at UCL. With contributions from some MERCI partners this event was broadcasted to the MBone as part of the MERCI Seminar Series.

    3.2 The First MERCI Seminar

    The first MERCI seminar, part of the Distributed Systems Seminar Series, was held at RUS on March 19th, 1996:

    The following Figure 2 shows a snapshot of the audio tool's window taken during this first MERCI seminar.

    Figure 2: Snapshot of the Audio Tool Window during the 1st MERCI Seminar

    The speaker was sitting in front of a SGI Indy workstation at RUS using audio, video and shared whiteboard tools to transmit his talk. The audience was located all over Europe, among them a students group in the Seminar's Room of University College London. This presentation was also received at CeBIT'96, where the MERCI tools were demonstrated at the RUS stand.

    3.3 The Second MERCI Seminar

    The second MERCI seminar, also part of the Distributed Systems Seminar Series, was held from UCL on May 24th, 1996:

    UCL arranged for the transmission of this local seminar. The argument of the seminar was that virtual reality displays work because of visual illusions that are part of the normal visual process in both "real" and "virtual" environments.

    The initial audience consisted of about 25 remote participants in addition to those attending locally. Unfortunately the seminar transmission had to be abandoned after a hardware failure of the speaker's radio microphone which was not repairable or replaceable within the time period of the seminar. Replacing the battery and adjusting the position of the clip-on pick-up did not solve the problem which was later found to be due to a broken wire connection.

    The technical set-up involved the use of:

    It was very unfortunate that all the preparations for measurement and evaluation were wasted as a result of the hardware failure.

    3.4 Future Seminars

    As soon as the network conditions between the MERCI partners become more reliable, it is planned to hold additional networked seminars on a more frequent basis. For the time being, two more seminars are scheduled for September:

    Prof. Richard.D. Kenway/Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre

    Prof. Michael Levine/Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center

    Prof. Zouchi Muraoka/Waseda University

    Pierre Chavy, i.R./CEA

    4. Booking of MBone Events

    If anybody is planning to establish a private MBone session that should not be advertised to the public, there is no strict need to do some kind of booking. However, although it is principally sufficient to agree on the IP-multicast and port addresses to be used, care has still to be taken not to plan for addresses that have already been occupied by other sessions. Even in this case, it therefore makes sense to use the SDR tool to determine these parameters.

    In all other cases - if one wants to book and advertise an MBone session - it is recommended to use some or all of the tools and booking systems described in the following sections.

    4.1 The Session Directory

    SDR is a new session directory tool - developed within MERCI - that has now replaced the older SD tool with many more features and functionalities.

    The session information window of this tool shows the names of all session announcements that are currently being received. When clicking on one of these session entries one can get additional information about that specific event, such as a detailed description, time and date information, contact points and media types involved with the event.

    To join a certain event, all one has to do is to select one or more of the media buttons (audio, video, whiteboard, text, ...), which start the appropriate MBone tools using the specified parameters.

    To create a new announcement SDR provides another window "Create New Session", which allows to specify all the information and parameters needed. This can be done by simply giving some textual information and by some mouse clicks, without the need to go into deep technical details.

    4.2 MERCI Seminar Booking Forms at RUS

    To allow project partners to submit their proposals for seminar contributions, RUS has developed a WWW-based MERCI Seminar Booking Form. Its first version is already in use and can be found at [SemRUS]. The entry page of this booking system is shown in Figure 3.

    Figure 3: Entry Page of the MERCI Seminar Booking System at RUS

    By clicking on a specific month one gets an overview of the events booked for this month in calendar form. As an example the following Figure 4 shows the entries for February 1996.

    Figure 4: MERCI Events booked for February 1996

    More details on a certain event can be retrieved by clicking on the corresponding entry in the calendar form.

    In order to book a new MERCI seminar one proceeds directly from the entry page to the following WWW page, which is shown in Figure 5. Every information about this new event can be entered in this form. Once a new entry has been submitted, the data base of the system is automatically updated.

    Figure 5: Form to add a new entry in the MERCI Seminar Booking System

    4.3 Remote Conference Mailing List

    The remote conference mailing list ( is used to discuss various MBone multimedia networking applications, their appropriate use, solutions to problems, new conference applications, etc. Its main purpose, however, is related to announcing reservations for upcoming events on the MBone.

    Emails of this list are stored in an archive and can be found at:

    4.4 MBone Broadcast Schedule

    As the overall bandwidth available to the MBone is normally limited to 512kbit/s, it is recommended not to schedule too many broadcasts at the same time, because otherwise all of them will suffer from a bad network performance.

    There are two different locations where MBone broadcasts should be registered, in addition to a message on the "rem-conf" email list. The first one can be found at [msri].

    4.5 The MBone Global Agenda at CILEA

    The second location where MBone broadcasts should be announced is the MBone Session Agenda at CILEA in Italy which can be found at [CILEA]. Its features are more or less the same as those of the MBone Broadcast Schedule mentioned in the previous section.

    5. Evaluation

    Due to the continued lack of high-speed connectivity between the MERCI partners the number of seminars given in the reporting period was deliberately reduced. This is one of the reasons why the evaluation procedure in the Seminar Workpackage has only recently started.

    In co-operation with the MERCI workpackage "Usability and Assessment" a general questionnaire has been developed which is also available online as a WWW based form at [SemForm]. This will make evaluation of future seminars more effective.

    One important experience gained from the past seminars was that the overall quality especially of audio streams depends not only on the network performance but even more on the audio set-up at the sender's site. Proper placement of microphones and a good choice of audio equipment is the key factor to achieve good audio quality.

    6. Summary

    MERCI has successfully tested and used its own tools in the weekly/bi-weekly networked multimedia project meetings during the reporting period. The first set of the MERCI seminar series has been held. As soon as the high-speed connectivity provided by JAMES and TEN-34 is available, additional networked seminars are planned on a more frequent basis.

    The first version of a WWW based seminar booking form at RUS has been completed and the form is in use. In co-operation with other MERCI workpackages a Seminar/Conference General Questionnaire has been developed, which will make evaluation of future seminars more effective.


    A 1. References





    [Kumar] V.Kumar; MBone, Interactive Multimedia on the Internet. New Riders Publishing, 1996



    [Savetz] K.Savetz, N.Randall, Y.Lepage; MBONE, Multicasting Tomorrow's Internet. IDG Books Worldwide Inc., 1996





    A 2. List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

    ATM Asynchronous Transfer Mode

    CSCW Computer Supported Cooperative Work

    DLI Distance Learning Initiative of Hewlett-Packard

    HP Hewlett-Packard

    JAMES Joint ATM Experiment on European Services

    MERCI Multimedia European Research Conferencing Integration

    MICE Multimedia Integrated Conferencing for Europe

    NT/NTE Network Text Editor

    RAT Robust Audio Tool

    RUS Rechenzentrum Universität Stuttgart

    SCIMITAR Support and Coordination for Integrated Multimedia
    Telematics Applications for Researchers

    SDR Session Directory Tool

    SGI Silicon Graphics Inc.

    UCL University College London

    VAT Visual Audio Tool

    VIC Video Conference Tool

    WP Work-Package

    WWW World Wide Web

    A 3. Whiteboard Test Sheets

    Bad experiences with slides produced by lecturers which weren't familiar with the technical limitations of an MBone session (or its hardware set-up) lead to the development of two whiteboard test sheets which may be used to test the appearance of a slide before it has actually been designed. For example, many slides turned out to be crowded with text which had therefore been rendered using a tiny font. After been projected onto a silk screen for an auditory sitting in a lecture hall this text turned out to be hard to read. Similar problems occurred when using certain colours or „embellishing" effects like shading of sketches.

    The following two screen shots give an impression of these test sheets - the original file may be downloaded from


    The sheets are available as FrameMaker files as well as in PostScript format.

    Figure 6: Whiteboard Font Test Sheet

    Figure 7: Whiteboard Graphics Test Sheet