CultureHub is deeply committed to the use of open source and consumer-based technology to make electronic media art accessible to artists and audiences. In the past year, CultureHub collaborated with resident artist Olivia Jack to produce LiveLab, an open source video call software designed specifically for artists, educators, and cultural organizations. The LiveLab toolkit provides a flexible and artful environment for producing multi-location performances, workshops, and cultural exchanges. Built as an alternative to hardware video conferencing systems, LiveLab is customizable, free of cost, and as easy to use as Skype or Google Hangouts.

One of the biggest advantages of LiveLab over hardware codecs is cost. LiveLab is completely free and open source. The price of professional hardware codecs range from $5,000–$30,000 USD. Rather than purchasing an expensive box that serves only one function, LiveLab users can use the Mac, PC, or Android device that they already own. Eliminating the barrier of cost is a significant advantage that allows LiveLab users to rapidly expand their networks and engage a diverse set of collaborators right away.

Ease of Use
Unlike hardware codecs, LiveLab is as easy to use as Skype or Google Hangouts. Hardware codecs are intentionally designed to be complicated. They require a significant amount of hardware and networking knowledge to configure and troubleshoot them effectively. Comparatively, LiveLab is plug and play, does not require a static IP, and does not require specialized knowledge to implement.

Multipoint Calls & Call Layouts
While some hardware codecs do support multipoint calling, this feature generally requires a subscription that can be very costly. Also, multipoint calls on hardware codecs are collapsed to one video plane, making it near impossible to implement in a creative context. LiveLab, on the other hand, allows users to pop out any video stream into its own window, thus allowing the user to spatialize the video streams across multiple displays in their own venue. While the call layout options offered by hardware codecs are very limited, LiveLab allows for endless customization

Multi-Channel & Data Types
Hardware Codecs can only send one channel of video and are limited to stereo audio. On the other hand, LiveLab can handle multiple streams of video and also supports multichannel audio and OSC streams. Multiple channels of data allow LiveLab users to express themselves more creatively while optimizing the potential for integration with existing a/v infrastructures in each location.

Built-in Secondary Communication & GUI
One downside to most video call solutions is they often do not allow for a second channel of communication which is essential when putting on more complex multipoint exchanges such as performances and conferences. LiveLab has a built-in chat function and also supports multiple audio and video streams. This coupled with the fact that the graphic user interface is never layered over the media streams, allows technical teams managing complex productions to stay in better communication.

LiveLab works over 4G/5G on Android devices. This greatly expands who can connect and from where. This added functionality can be very exciting from a cultural exchange perspective because it allows users to connect to room systems from outside allowing remote participants to get a more direct view into their collaborator’s environment.

We encourage our resident artists to take advantage of LiveLab in their creative practices and will be making the tool publicly available to the media arts field in the coming season.