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From one bird to another...

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The Mole | 17:55 UK time, Saturday, 23 May 2009

Right, if you're watching Springwatch birds live on the internet and taking it for granted, then here's one for you...

I casually asked Phil, the Live-Streaming Manager, how the images make it from the webcams in the nests all the way to my computer via the internet. This is what he said:

"The remote camera feeds come back to the main control room - the MCR. Considering they are cabled physically this is no mean feat in itself. They are then presented to the story developers - the people who decide what to show you - on two large plasma screens. The equipment in front of them is a mixture of switching equipment and hard disc recorders, so for the web they look at the streams and switch the output streams to the most interesting pictures at the time. If they see interesting behaviour they can also record it to hard drives so they can use that footage as inserts for the TV programme. They also have laptops in front of them so they can write the commentary that accompanies the pictures and talk to the audience on the webcam message boards.

The audio and video streams that the story developers decide to capture is then routed to equipment that encodes it into Adobe Flash format for the web. This rack of equipment is connected to an array of satellite modems that provide the broadband connection required because of our rural location. The data is sent by small satellite dishes to a satellite - sometimes called a 'bird' - orbiting the Earth at a distance from us of 38,786.76 kilometres. The data stream is then down-linked from the satellite to an earth station in Fuchsstadt, Germany, in the foothills of the Bavarian mountains. From here, it travels across a fibre optic connection from Germany to London where it is relayed to a pool of distribution servers that the viewing public are connected to.

The whole journey takes around 300 milliseconds. Or less than half a second..."

All of which reminds me of Alice In Wonderland and the scene in which Alice says she can't believe in impossible things.

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," replies the Queen of Hearts. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I'm still struggling with one and it's almost time for tea...


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