June 27, 2003

Dyne:bolic: A broadcast studio on a Linux CD

- by Russell Pavlicek -
There are Linux distributions galore that target office, home, and server
systems. But a new Linux distribution promises to provide a multimedia
studio -- complete with the ability to transmit Webcasts worldwide --
without ever installing any software on your hard drive. Sound impossible?
Not for a new Linux distribution called Dyne:bolic.

With this Linux distribution, you simply load the CD in the drive, boot
up, and go to work. Like Knoppix and some other live CDs, no installation
is required. Dyne:bolic is a truly interesting distribution with real potential
to become the power tool of do-it-yourself Webcasting.

Alpha software blues

I began my investigation by downloading the ISO image for Dyne:bolic V1.0
Alpha 5 pre-release CD-ROM. Unfortunately, I had difficulties with the sound
and network cards on five PCs, and I could not get the sound to stream
successfully on two more. Finally, I decided to test the earlier stable
V0.5.2 version instead.

The stable version worked fine in the two machines I tested. The first
was a 500MHz AMD K-6 desktop with 96MB of memory; the second was a
first-generation 166MHz Pentium laptop with 64MB. The Pentium laptop is
pretty much the minimum requirement for this software, so I was anxious to
see how well it would behave on such an old machine.

The stable version booted up fine on both systems with a couple of minor
caveats. First, for some reason, DHCP would not work correctly on the
laptop. I ended up having to define a fixed network address for the
machine using the network configuration option. And secondly, the system
lacked the proper driver for a WaveLan Gold wireless card.

These are two very minor glitches considering that the
software is attempting to be totally self-configuring for all machines
without the benefit of an actual installation. It has to identify and
configure all the hardware -- including sound, video, and network -- on
the fly during startup.

The machine starts up with a WindowMaker desktop. A
right click brings up the menu for the common functions. The first task is to
configure the network if it failed to configure itself during startup.
I did it and found it quite painless.

The next task was to log in to PublicVoice.FM. It calls itself a
"self-operated micro-radio network." This is a free service (currently, at
least) which acts as a distribution point for Webcasts. You can sign up
quickly via the Web during the PublicVoice.FM login

The last step is to activate MuSE. MuSE is the Multiple Streaming Engine,
a dandy little utility that mixes as many as six audio streams (local files or
network streams) plus a microphone. The result can be played locally,
saved onto the hard drive, or streamed across a network. In its default
settings, the stream goes to PublicVoice.FM, where it becomes accessible to
everyone on the Internet.

In a few relatively simple steps using software
stored entirely on CD, almost any PC can become a portable mixing and
Webcasting station. And it even had acceptable results on my first-
generation Pentium laptop.

Once the stream to PublicVoice.FM is activated, it shows up on its
Web page as an active program. Simply click on the URL and you're hearing
the broadcast. Given that even a fairly old laptop can turn out
acceptable results, this opens the door to all types of on-the-spot news
and event reporting.

I remember the first time I saw The Linux Show broadcasting live from
LinuxWorld Expo some years ago (long before my affiliation with them
began). The guys needed a fair amount of dedicated equipment to get the
job done. With Dyne:bolic, a modest laptop with a stable network
connection (even by modem) has the potential of being a remote broadcast
station. If no Internet connection is available, the mixed stream can be
stored on disk for transmission later.

Using Dyne:bolic, a series of individuals with laptops and microphones can
stream to central server for mixing and retransmission to PublicVoice.FM.
And since the software does not require installation and comes with its
own operating environment, you don't even need to dedicate
laptops to the task. Each participant could insert the CD, reboot his personal
laptop (even if it is a Windows PC), and produce a stream to be mixed in
to the final Webcast -- an amazingly neat solution.

More good stuff to come

The V1.0 Alpha 5 software might not have been ready for normal use, but it
did reveal some interesting details about the direction of the
project. Basic mixing and streaming functionality will be joined by a
number of additional multimedia capabilities.

For example, a set of tools included in the next release
targets deejays with tools such as terminatorx (for filescratch
turntables), soundtracker (music track sequencer), gdam (digital deejay),
and pd (pure digital signal processing).

Another set of tools gives recording (rami), encoding (oggenc), and
track ripping (rip) capabilities. Once you have the tracks, you can edit
them using audacity, gnusound, and rezound. And, of course, you can
play back your tracks using xmms, mpg123, ogg123, and madplay.

When you get ready to stream, the new version includes an on-CD
version of icecast, which lets you stream directly from your machine to the
Web without using PublicVoice.FM.

The pre-release V1.0 includes
a suite of video tools as well. A number of video effect generators are
included. Software such as mencoder and nuvrec can record video streams
from your TV card. You can manipulate the video files using
utilities like nuvedit and cinelerra video editors. The videos can then be
played using mplayer and gmp4player, or prepared (using mp4creator)
and streamed (using mp4live) for the world to see. And we cannot forget that
you can watch television (xawtv) and your Web cam (palantir) as well.

The new version adds a few text and still image tools as well.
Plus, it includes a few impressive multimedia games to allow you to pass
the time when work is over. (Freecraft is on the preliminary list, but
given Blizzard's recent cease-and-desist order to that project, I won't
hold my breath about it being included in the final release.). All in
all, it's an impressive rich
multimedia studio on one CD. I can hardly wait to see how the
finished edition of V1.0 will run.

In a world of generalized Linux distributions for the home and
office, Dyne:bolic is a welcome change. It enables almost any PC to become a
multimedia studio, and serves as a reminder that Linux can be
used as a base for truly innovative solutions.

Russell Pavlicek is a consultant and author dealing with Linux in business. He is a panelist on The Linux Show weekly webcast, and is a contributor to a number of Linux Web sites. He formerly wrote the Open Source column for InfoWorld magazine.


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