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iPod touch tour at Tate - technical notes

Page history last edited by Doug McFarlane 15 years, 10 months ago


Gustav Klimt Multimedia Tour

Tate Liverpool, 30 May – 31 August 2008





It was decided to deliver the tour as a podcast pre-loaded on the device so that tracks could be set in any order needed. This also saved on bandwidth and other technical hurdles which we would have to face with a completely wireless delivery of the tour. It also made it easy to repurpose the podcast on our website for people to preload before they come to the gallery.

Since audio and video podcasts are separated within the iPod touch interface, it was decided to go with a video-only podcast with an onscreen animation when there was audio-only narration. This prevented separating content up and provided a more unified experience. [This distinction between audio and video podcasts seems to be fixed in iPhone OS 2.0 with both viewable within the ‘podcasts’ tab, our devices are running 1.1.4]

It was also decided to deliver the tour along with extra content wirelessly to people with their own iPhone/iPod Touch in the gallery, via an optimised website.




All the editing of audio, video and image assets, collated from the producer and image researchers, was assembled and edited in Final Cut Pro.

An on-screen animation was produced with LiveType which was looped and inserted whilst there was audio narration only so that users had some visual feedback. The animation was decided upon from a style that had been proved successful previously.

The iPod touch screen ratio is between 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen (3:2 I think) and uses a double tap to zoom in and out. To avoid confusion and unnecessary touch input, it was decided to deliver the video at the actual screen-size of iPod to negate this. As the assets entailed mixing widescreen DV and square aspect ratio pixels (jpeg pictures and animation) in the Final Cut timeline, and then to be shrunk to exact screen size at encoding, a custom timeline setting had to be created and tested.

Each video track was exported and encoded as an H.264 Quicktime file at the default iPhone encoding settings from Final Cut Pro. Maintaining the aspect ratio of the timeline ensured that the video was output at the exact 480 x 320  screen size of the iPod.


iTunes syncing / tagging


Tracks were opened in iTunes and tagged with the correct information and the poster frames set.

Poster frames were set as pictures of the track numbers or graphic needed, this shows up in the iPod track listing interface and negates the need to reiterate this in the title, leaving more space for the actual track name.

Tracks were uploaded to the Tate server, an RSS feed was written and ordered so that the tracks appeared correctly in iTunes and the device (iTunes orders tracks by release date).

RSS uploaded to website and then the whole podcast  was downloaded back to the syncing computer as a video podcast in iTunes.

All devices were synced with one computer. The first iPod was setup as a ‘master’ and then subsequent iPods were all restored using the backup of this iPod, effectively cloning all the settings and content to the others.

2 or 3 iPods were synced at the same time. iTunes doesn’t really like syncing 10 or 20 at a time and it grinds to a halt (especially since restoring and cloning each iPod from the master means reinstalling the OS every time).


Interface/iPod setup


To minimise confusion the home screen was set to the minimum possible icons with the video icon only in the bottom dock.

The tour included a ‘how to’ video track informing visitors how to use the device (as well as being shown at the point of sale).

It was still possible to delete tracks however – visitors were told how to avoid this at POS. If any were deleted you can easily see from the number of episodes detailed in the track listing. Any which came back with missing tracks could easily be re-synced quickly with the laptop, adding them back to the device when the visitor returns it.

The video preference was set to ‘start playing from beginning’ in the iPod settings, so that for each visitor the tracks start again at the beginning.

All the other preferences (homescreen layout, wireless turned off to preserve battery life, custom homescreen graphic synced from photo library, brightness set at minimum to preserve batter life, etc) were cloned in iTunes at setup.


Battery / Charging issues


Battery life proved a hurdle. With video playback and wifi on, only an hour or two of battery life can be squeezed from the device. To maximise the battery life for video playback, as mentioned above, wi-fi was turned off and the screen brightness was set very low.

This problem was exacerbated by the dwell time of the device with visitors and no sustained period of recharging between uses due to unprecedented demand. (More devices were brought in later to address this).

A new device so existing battery packs to extend life of device were not compatible. [there is one available now]

Consumer USB hubs not providing the iPods with enough power so purpose built charging racks were used.


Wireless Delivery


Departmental objectives and cost prevented us from getting a server from IT that connected to the Tate’s network.

Therefore a small scale localised solution with wireless distribution of content from a laptop server was chosen, as the scale of uptake (based on the target audience) was presumed to not be too high as to prevent a good streaming experience for the visitor, i.e. time taken to load video /bandwidth available /gallery coverage and strength of wireless network/etc.

A wireless distribution network was setup using consumer Apple Airports dotted about between the gallery walls and a linux server set up to spoof itself as being connected to the internet (which Airport wireless base stations need to think before they work).

An iPhone-optimised website was built and tested – the site delivered the video podcast within it's interface as Quicktime videos apart from audio-only tracks which were delivered as audio this time, saving bandwidth and battery life on visitors devices (this also assumes people are familiar with their own devices they bring, so visual feedback is less important).

It also included other content on the site – a scrollable timeline, a feedback form and extra information about the gallery visiting hours/shop/events/etc.

The drawback was that the site required monitoring and testing as iPhone OS updates appeared to make sure website still works, which proved difficult due to distance from Liverpool and no on-site expert help. [There were changes to the webpage Quicktime handler in iPhone 2.0 which caused a temporary problem with our setup]


Photos of the iPods being setup can be seen on our Flickr page.


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