City of Orem Webcasts Live Council Meetings While Recording Content for VOD With Matrox Monarch HD and PrimeGov Software
H.264 Encoder Offers Transparency and Convenience to Every Citizen
Ever wondered if it’s ok to feed the squirrels that come out foraging after hibernation? Or use pesticides on the lawn? The City of Orem, Utah communicates its stand on such common and not so common issues through periodic council meetings and by-laws. Feeding wild animals, watering regulations, parking vehicles on the streets overnight, building permits, fencing restrictions, bringing pets to events, budgets and voting results; these are merely a few of the topics to which the City of Orem residents seek answers. The onus being on the residents to be aware of changing rules and by-laws, the city sought to find newer, better ways of communicating information to them.
Before webcasting came into the picture, the residents needed to be physically present at council meetings to know and understand the outcomes. Now, they get the same information from the comfort of their homes. When the meeting timing is not convenient, residents are able to view the video on demand (VOD) version at their own leisure. Furthermore, live streams and VOD of internal committee meetings have brought greater transparency to the public.
Streaming and recording are driven by the Matrox Monarch HD H.264 encoding appliance together with a real-time meeting manager application by Prime Government Solutions (PrimeGov), a world leader in legislative management software solutions. Monarch HD is used for live streaming videos of the council meetings and simultaneously recording them for later VOD use. PrimeGov lets the public search for an item of particular interest from the meeting agenda and view related video snippets. In addition, the application is also used to manage meeting minutes noted by the clerk, staff records, automated agendas, internal committee approvals and votes.
At the council chambers in Orem, cameras capture and send HDMI feeds to the onsite Monarch HD device, which outputs RTMP streams compatible with many popular CDNs including YouTube and Ustream for video streaming over the internet. With the City of Orem benefitting from access to publically owned fibre network, the streaming is set at a higher than average bit rate of 12 Mbps with 720p resolution. Monarch HD is also set to record the meeting simultaneously to a USB drive with the same bit rate and resolution. In the future, they propose to go for full 1080p resolution Blu-ray quality recording. With Monarch HD, the recording bit rate can be set even higher, independent from the streaming bit rate, with the combined bit rate as high as 30 Mbps.
The start and stop actions on the Monarch HD for streaming and recording are controlled remotely by the PrimeGov cloud-based application (PrimeGov Legislative Management Suite). PrimeGov used Monarch HD’s API (Application Programming Interface) to integrate the start and stop functionalities within the application. When a City of Orem user clicks on Start or Stop on the city’s web portal, the application communicates with and instructs the Monarch HD unit through API calls that happen behind the scene. The ability to integrate with the unit through the straightforward API is one of the main reasons that PrimeGov selected Matrox Monarch HD.
PrimeGov manages the legislative process and integrates it into the video recorded with Monarch HD. After the meeting, the MP4 files copied to a network location by the city are accessed by the PrimeGov cloud-based software, trimmed lightly and uploaded to a public portal. PrimeGov timestamps the video when a motion is called to vote and provides links (jump points) to the meeting agenda items. The jump points are stored in PrimeGov’s site and point to YouTube. The exact number of seconds into the meeting is passed as parameters to YouTube. Residents who wish to view specific items can click on the corresponding title in the agenda and go directly to the relevant video snippet.
In their regular workflow, the City of Orem prefers to work with YouTube to save costs because a media server is not required. However, Monarch HD’s flexibility to work with several CDNs has saved the day for them in some difficult circumstances. On one such occasion, the day before a council meeting, the City of Orem’s building was struck by lightning that disabled a major part of their network equipment. While the city was scrambling to get the equipment back, Matrox technical support pitched in ably, provided connection to Ustream video streaming services as an alternative temporary workflow, and walked PrimeGov through the whole process. Consequently, the city was able to successfully stream and record the next day’s council meeting without hiccups.
While the webcasts are viewed by a good audience, video on demand is gaining popularity as residents are able to watch at their convenience. Additionally, the transparency these live streams and videos on demand afford is a huge benefit well appreciated by the residents.
Richard Drew, the CEO of Prime Government Solutions identifies several unique advantages to using Matrox Monarch HD. “The flawless integration lets us interact and remotely start and stop from our application. The ability to record while streaming comes in handy as onsite backup is paramount for a hosted solution such as ours. It has an incredibly fast start time compared to other solutions using standalone encoders or media services. And the flexible RTMP stream lets us push content to multiple CDNs.” He also appreciates how Monarch HD allows them to be expertise focussed; “Monarch HD is a life saver for us because it takes care of something that we’re not good at. We don’t do video at all. We make the calls to the Monarch HD through the API and it does everything video related for us.”