Project Tuva: highly cool Silverlight player of Richard Feynman lectures

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Sorry it's been so long without any blogging. Between my class at Stanford, finishing the second edition of my compression book, and a profoundly cool project that'll hopefully be announced soon, things have been beyond busy.

But I've got a lot of topics in the queue I hope to get posted before IBC (and yes, I'll be in Amsterdam for the whole show).

First up, the very cool Project Tuva, a Silverlight presentation of the seven classic Messenger Lectures by famed physicist Richard Feynman Microsoft Research and Stimulant. It’s named after the small Central Asian republic of the Russian Federation to which Feynman had a long yearning to travel. Project Tuva was sponsored by Microsoft’s Tony Hey, Rick Rashid, and Bill Gates.

As I've mentioned before, I've been in this digital media game for quite a while now. And since long before we had visions of HD web video, or even DVD, multimedia education has been one of the big goals for the technology.

My school years spanned the filmstrip/16mm projector and early VHS eras. And while an in-class movie was always a treat, the linear nature of the experience could be frustrating. The really interesting parts didn't last longer than the dull parts, and there wasn't any good way to ask a question or dive deeper. And with a dull part, I could easily tune out thinking about Space: 1999 and never come back. The classic lecture format has the same problem, although the teacher could at least read body language of the class to get a sense of where to focus.

So even back in the protean CD-ROM and even laserdisc eras of multimedia, there were many efforts to add interactivity to linear video educational content. The goal was greater engagement, with students able to skim, review, and dive deep when and where something grabs them.

But while we've had a lot of great examples of the genre, the cost of creating all that rich interactive content was a real barrier to making it part of everyday education.

But the combination of the web (lots of existing content ready to be accessed) Silverlight (nice portable runtime to deliver rich experiences), and Expression Studio (highly efficient authoring), we're able to do bigger, deeper projects with a lower authoring cost than ever before.

So, check out the Project Tuva player. The content itself was quite compelling even on celluloid, but they've really done some great things leveraging Silverlight and the web. And it was a delightful surprise; I hadn’t even heard it was in progress before launched.

Let me take a tour through some of my favorite features (going roughly counterclockwise from the top):


Context sensitive extras

The right-hand side shows available extras, supplementary information about what's currently being discussed. Clicking on one pauses the video (important!) and takes the user to a graphic, web page, or embedded Silverlight app like World Wide Telescope Silverlight-based web client preview. When they're done, video playback starts right where it left off.



Typing into the search box yields a list of the matches in any of the seven videos.

Clicking on any particular video shows all matches and their context in the video.


Smooth Streaming

And it uses Smooth Streaming for delivery, of course, up to 2.4 Mbps. At the top rates it does a good job of retaining that crazy old-school-movie-on-16mm texture.

I haven’t got my hands on the source yet, but I’d be curious to see if HD could be extracted with some high-quality preprocessing.



All lectures have full transcripts, and automatically show the current line as a caption below the video window.

A full transcript mode is also available, and can be used for navigation; just click on a line to immediately switch to playing back the video there.



The timeline has some great user interface felicities. A quick click started playback at the start of the chapter. But holding down the mouse button a moment or grabbing-and-dragging the playhead allows scrubbing within a chapter.
If the timeline view is expanded, the location and type of all the extras are shown, as are the location of user created notes (described below).



The user can add time synched notes that are saved on the local machine.

This allows students to bookmark places for followup, or educators to set up a queue of particular topics for classrom use.


Simple Player

Or someone who wants to just watch the video can leave everything minimized to cut back on visual distraction. The full-screen mode is cleaner yet.

Compare the interface with all the interactive elements minimized and maximized.


The Discussion

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