Thursday, 21 March 2013

EVS5 - Event Viewing System 5 is nearly ready

EVS5 is nearly here :-)
Ok, ok, I heard you first time ..... what the hell is EVS5???

Some of you are aware of and some of you are using a viewing system I put together ie. EVS4. A simple gallery using Html/PHP on a web server based system which was viewed using a web browser. A couple of key features was that it auto builds the gallery as you add images to a folder. Create a new folder and it is automatically added to the gallery menu. But, it had some limitations which left some room for improvement. The core of the system ran from a single PHP file so anyone with a LAMP (Linux), WAMP (Windows) or MAMP (Mac) server  installed could use it. A major limitation was that all viewing stations should be using the same screen resolution and on lower resolution screens you could quickly end up with a large number of thumbnail pages for any one event that the user would need to wade through to get to the images they were interested in.

I watched people using EVS4 and took on-board a fair bit of feedback from users and photographers. From this came a wish list of the things we would like in a better viewing system.

1. It should be screen resolution independent. The system should work out the optimum number of thumbnails to display depending upon the device being used and you should be able to have different devices with different screen resolutions using the system at the same time. EVS5 does all this.

2. It should be able to be viewed in a browser on PC's, Macs, Linux boxes, Ipads, Android pads etc. EVS5 runs happily in a browser on all of these.

3. It should support much more thumbnails on a single page so that the user can find their images quicker. EVS5 does this.

4. It would allow the selection of a page of images and run a slideshow of that page. EVS5 does this.

5. It should have the minimum of user buttons, click ons etc. I doubt I could get any less :-)

6. It should be easy to install and maintain. It is. If you can get a basic web server running on your network you can install and configure EVS5.

7. It should support optional watermarking of images being displayed to reduce instances of attendees photographing screens. EVS5 supports png format watermarks that are automatically centred whether the image being viewed is in landscape of portrait format. The watermark can easily be turned off (on a gallery by gallery basis) if you don't require it for a particular event.

8. You can lock the viewing system to just the current event. The gallery menu is disabled and the user cannot view other events.

9. Menu item names within a gallery should be meaningful eg. if you are shooting equestrian you would like a menu which showed the Class, the ring, the type of  class and the fence heights. You could create a folder with this as a name or you can now use a simple folder name eg. c1 for Class One and associate a description linked to the folder via an XML file. It sounds a bit more complex than it is. Basically the system checks to see if you have a file that describes the folder content. If you have it uses this instead of folder names. What this means is you can use very simple folder names and have a descriptive menu item for that folder.

10. The system should clearly display image names/numbers so that the user can quickly order the correct image.

11. There should be no database to configure or to get its knickers in a twist. EVS5 does not use a database at all. However, we are planning a module which you will be able to add to EVS5 which will use a database. This module will collect user information and allow some pretty clever user interaction. Like being able to select a rider number and being shown a collection of images from that event which feature that rider.

12. It should not require a keyboard to operate and there should not be a way of the user getting into the underlying system. EVS5 does not require a user keyboard to operate and we have disabled as many features as we can to ensure the user cannot get to the raw data.

13. It should work with the mouse wheel and touch screens. Try buying a mouse without a wheel and you will understand why this was a requirement :-) EVS5 works with mouse wheels and touch screens.

We tie all this together in a wireless based system which uses the minimum of hardware to deliver the  maximum of configurations and usability.

Example One. We can run two print stations and a mix of viewing stations at an event. For an equestrian event, as an example, we can shoot wirelessly back to a FTP server. This passes the full size images to LightRoom and passes web sized images to the web server. The photographers can send images to a sub-folder in the FTP server eg. c1 and the system will pick up images from c1 and recognise these as Class One and put them in the appropriate web folder. Within seconds of a photographer taking a picture they are available in the correct folder with an appropriate menu and page title on the viewing terminal.

Example Two. A small black tie event. We run a single print station and a couple of Android 10" pads as viewing terminals. The photographer shoots using an eye-fi card. Images are picked up by the system in the default eye-fi folder and copied to the current  LightRoom folder. Images are then resized and put onto the web server to be viewed via the browser on the pads. Table shots are suddenly worth doing as you can show the results at the table as you shoot.

What is left to do? There are a couple of tweaks and code tidy ups needed. The help system needs re-writing. The system needs a bigger test on a bigger event (ten viewing stations and 5000 plus images across 20 folders all shot and displayed in a 6 hour period). This has been arranged and will be happening very shortly (within weeks).

Probably the key factor defining how and when it is released is a simple decision I must make. Will I make it generally available as a simple download and users can pay (work does actually cost money) based upon their honesty? I don't want to complicate things with unlock codes etc.  Do I release it as a service whereby I install and configure it for you and demonstrate its usage so that you know you have a working system, you wont have messed up your existing system and you will have been trained on how to use it? There are obvious differences in cost to the user depending on whichever of these routes I choose. The second option has significant benefits to the purchaser as they will also get some professional advise on system sizing, hardware and network requirements and components and they will have the peace of mind of knowing that everything is working as it should be. I am fortunate in that I have an IT background and so the mix of photography and IT that a modern photographer faces is not a major hurdle for me. I would like to provide a service were you can concentrate on being a photographer and not worry too much about how the system goes together. You don't worry about how the camera is made you just have to learn to use it. That is probably what I am aiming at. I build the system and you learn to use it.

Either way a decision will be made in the next couple of days about how it will be released.