Technology Tuesday: Switchcam

I vividly remember the first time that I used Google Earth (then “Keyhole”) to zoom in on my house from “outer space.” I was blown away with this newfangled technical wizardry and knew that there would be tons of uses for ‘aerials’ in the coming years. It was with this same sense of wonder and awe that I recently discovered Switchcam for the first time and similarly can only imagine the incredible future that this will have.

Switchcam allows users to view or create videos from multiple sources and then present them seamlessly from multiple angles. The user can easily & quickly jump from angle to angle and even choose which audio source to use. It’s really amazing how it all works and provides an entirely new and fresh experience in watching an event rather than simply quitting a YouTube video, searching for another one and starting it all over from the beginning. We will take a look at this amazing service that has recently received funding by several high-powered investors including Mark Cuban.

So what exactly does Switchcam do? It stitches videos together from a particular event that have been uploaded to YouTube and precisely aligns them. Then, from the web console, the user can quickly jump to any of the videos and become a virtual producer in deciding what they want to see during playback.

Before we get any further, the best way to understand the beauty of the product is to see it in action. Check out a recent Phish show from the DCU Center in Worcester, MA.

LINK: Phish DCU Worcester Switchcam

Pretty cool, huh?

You can see in Rift, for example, how three totally separate views (tight view [from yours truly!], full stage and deep in balcony) are presented simultaneously and in perfect unison. The “Audio Source” button allows you to pick the best audio source while the desired video plays. While Switchcam attempts to pick the best video in terms of audio and video quality and display that for a given segment of the video, you can switch to any source at any time.

Unlike YouTube playback, if there is a segment with outstanding video from a concert, say someone that grabbed a few minutes from the front row, your video isn’t over when that few minutes is done. It just seamlessly blends with another source for continuous playback. And better yet, if that video source has completely blown out audio as some of those “up front” sources tend to get, the video isn’t ruined as you quickly toggle to a different audio source.

[Switchcam Interface showing available angles, audio sources, "camera crew" and other

I asked Brett Welch, CEO and Co-Founder of the company a few questions to better understand the service.

What was the motivation for this? How did it all come about?

I’m a huge live music fan, and I noticed so much recording going on. I spoke with my co-founder about this and we really felt that it was such a waste that no one could easily enjoy other people’s footage – and that artists couldn’t use that footage to promote their live performances. After a few conversations we realized that the idea could really work for lots more than music, and we started Switchcam.

 What features do you hope to add in the future?

 I want to allow people to experience every single angle available! The problem is people don’t really have enough compute power and bandwidth to deal with that much video. So right now we can only show three, but we have some ideas about how to show more without destroying people’s computers.

How will artists and performers benefit from Switchcam?

 It’s a really cost effective way of creating promo content for an artists, particularly if they are on tour. Frankly, fan footage is often much more engaging than pro footage. Fans like to feel like they’re there. Fans can actually help and contribute to an artist by taking great videos. This helps them sell tickets and creates more fans.

Often we get asked, “what if people stop going to shows cause you’ve got the whole thing on Switchcam?” Honestly, I’ve never ever heard anyone say, “oh, I’ve seen YouTube videos of that show. It was great, but I don’t need to go now.” These videos increase the likelihood of going to a show, not the opposite.

What is the most exciting thing about Switchcam?

The whole world is recording video of the most interesting moments around them. If we harness those videos and create videos of people’s shared experiences, we’ll be able to enable people to experience any event, anywhere. It’s automatic film creation by the people, and that’s exciting.

So how exactly does the whole process work?

How it works behind the scenes is the ‘secret sauce’ of the company so who knows how this black magic actually happens.

From the user side, it is quite easy. You need to register an account (annoyingly only with Facebook connect at the moment). Then, simply enter the artist name, city and optionally date. Switchcam will query available dates for that performer from Setlist.fm and output a list of potential show dates. Pick the date you want and a list of potential matching videos is displayed. You can eliminate mis-matched videos from your result list. When you are satisfied with the videos, simply click done!

Although Switchcam does a relatively good job at finding the show you are searching for, you are unable to manually add results that you’d like to add to your project. It would be a nice feature to be able to fine tune the results a little bit more (say by particular YouTube uploaders) and even add your own manually found results.

Also, once your video is rendered, it is done for good. If more compelling videos are added later, you’ll have to re-render your project. Being able to easily add other sources to an existing video, or ideally to have them monitored and done “on-the-fly” are future features that I’d love to see.

Switchcam will render the video and email you when it is complete. I’ve made a few videos and they’ve been rendered as quickly as just a few minutes and as long as an hour. In any event, your “show” is now available for public viewing and you as the creator get credit as the “curator” while the videographers are credited as “camera crew.” Likewise, for curators, there is some sort of social portion where you are credited with “points” for views and video creation which will likely unlock special features in the future.

What else can Switchcam be used for besides concerts or DJ sets?

While live music is currently the focus, Switchcam is working on sports as well. That would be a pretty fascinating use, to be able to see a big moment from a game via many different fan angles. Likewise, live political and news events are other interesting uses that are being explored.

A couple of other things to keep in mind:

Switchcam is still in beta and very new and there are about 1,200 concerts available online with more being added every day. A few things that are being worked on is the ability to better pick up date data from YouTube uploads. Right now, the service has a tough time picking the correct show from a multi-night run of the same band. So for example, when I tried to create my Worcester video, I was offered up all the videos from both nights. This necessitated going through all the “matches” and having to manually select them.

Additionally, while individual songs are always precisely timed, the song sequence is not always 100% perfect. Thus, although we see a relatively accurate setlist sequence from my Worcester video, there are mistakes like Torn & Frayed as the show’s encore rather than third song.

Finally, the “Search” feature on the site for finding videos is woefully under-powered. If you tried finding my video without the link and searched, “Phish Worcester”, it would come up as zero results. You have to search for band name only and then scroll through the results. As videos continue to pile up and more are added, this function will need to be improved to add usability to the site.

Bottom Line

I love Switchcam! It is amazing technology and offers users an entirely new way to enjoy live video events. As the service continues to be refined and improved, you can only imagine how many artists and users will be clamoring to create events. I fully imagine that one day soon, watching live concert video without Switchcam will be akin to listening to music on cassette tapes or eight-tracks: quaint, cute, and completely out-of-date.

Surf around, find some cool videos to check out, and by all means, why not curate a couple yourself? Render one with great results? Leave the link in the comment section so we can all enjoy!

Happy Switchcaming!

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4 thoughts on “Technology Tuesday: Switchcam

  1. Rygar Reply

    This is a very cool idea and the Worcester video is great! I can’t seem to find a full screen view option or HD quality settings but that may be in the works I suppose.

  2. Parker Reply

    Good point Rygar, I am assuming that the lack of full screen and HD options has to do with what Brett was mentioning about how bandwidth intensive it is already. All three videos I assume have to be playing and buffering and using the video card at the same time even though only one is selected so you can instantly change without lag. I suppose HD might be too taxing for most. But for those machines that can handle it, it sure would be a nice option.

  3. Phil Bryant Reply

    It’s neat but it’s not as cool as Vyclone.

  4. Parker Harrington Reply

    Thanks Phil, yes I’ve seen Vyclone and that is a neat app. But the 60 second time limit at this point renders this mostly a novelty until it can do several minute or longer videos. Would be interesting to see a mashup of Vyclone with multi-angle video and Animoto with killer transitions and effects. Also, being able to add a soundtrack later seems like a pretty critical component.

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