Jazz to Japan: the future of the Internet

Ask most people to name the single most frustrating thing about the Internet and they'll probably cite video material on the web. Videos are often grainy or jerky, or they can take forever to download. Case in point: the widespread grumbling among those unable to download the webcast of Paul McCartney's return to the Liverpool club where the Beatles first made their mark.

A team of McGill researchers is preparing for the day when it will be possible to supply speedy, high-quality video and audio offerings.

On Wednesday night, a McGill jazz combo will perform at Redpath Hall for an audience of Internet movers and shakers attending the annual Internet Society Conference in Yokohama, Japan. The concert will be broadcast over a research Internet connection in real-time video and audio, using surround sound -- the Dolby Digital system typically used for Hollywood blockbusters. It is believed to be the first transmission of its kind from one continent to another.

"Right now, with video over the Internet, you can't do very much," says John Roston, director of McGill's Instructional Communications Centre. "The whole idea behind this project is to have a look at what the Internet is going to be like five years from now."

Roston says information transmitted over the Internet currently goes through a relatively "narrow pipe." Because McGill has access to a high-speed research Internet available to relatively few organizations, the University's researchers can experiment with the possibilities available with "a huge, wide pipe."

McGill team members include electrical and computer engineering professor Jeremy Cooperstock ("Our expert on how to move large amounts of information over the Internet quickly and efficiently," says Roston) and music professor Wieslaw Woszczyk ("an international authority on music recording in general and transmitting digital music in particular").

Other key McGill players include Vice-Principal (Information Systems and Technology) Bruce Pennycook, the project's leader, networking manager Quan Nguyen from the Computing Centre, and Roston, the project's coordinator. The project also involves a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo and Dolby Digital.

The broadcast is part of the iNET 2000 Conference in Yokohama, the most important international annual gathering of Internet professionals. Attending the conference -- and crossing their fingers -- will be Cooperstock and Pennycook.

The Yokohama transmission arrives on the heels of a similar McGill broadcast to the annual Audio Engineering Society Conference in New York last year, which was the first surround sound transmission over the Internet. That demo also involved streaming a 5.1-channel audio signal from a live performance by McGill musicians to an audience at New York University's Cantor Film Center in Greenwich Village. A live video feed of the McGill concert was streamed simultaneously and projected onto the cinema's large screen.

Woszczyk, the director of the McGill Graduate Program in Sound Recording, says, "This technology opens the way for people in entertainment, business, education, or research to collaborate live online. It will be much more appealing than the current videoconferencing model because it will offer an experience more like a movie theatre." For instance, Woszczyk envisions a future where musicians in different cities will be able to easily rehearse together thanks to this technology.

"This is what tomorrow looks like," said Roston. "We'll be watching things on our computer the way we watch our TV now."

Note for journalists:
Live Multichannel Audio Demo from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to the iNET 2000 Conference in Yokohama, Japan
Time and Place: Note that the time in Yokohama is 13 hours later than in Montreal.

Wednesday, July 19, 9:30 p.m.
Redpath Hall, Main Campus, McGill University.
Warning: No media will be allowed into Redpath Hall after 9:30 p.m. Please arrive at least 15 minutes before the concert begins.

Thursday, July 20, 10:30 a.m.
Room 419, Yokohama Conference Centre