Devoxx (not only the 2013 edition !) takes place in a cinema complex, the Kinépolis. It is the second largest in Europe, the first one is located in Barcelona. Although this complex is also the site of conferences (Devoxx is one of them!) and corporate events, it is primarily a place for the cinema, in which you can even watch films with real actors, with no slides and no live coding (yes, it’s a little disappointing, but it seems that some people like that …). I had the chance to visit the backstage (thank you Stephan), and even if the advent of digital technology has changed the organization of theaters, the atmosphere is still incomparable. So let’s go to a little guided tour, in a place where you’ll hear about picture in picture, terabytes and optical fibers. This not the Cinema Paradiso we all once loved, but still an amazing place !
The curious devoxxian will not have failed to notice the projectors at the top of each room. Curious because in fact, the interesting part of show is usually on the other side the one shown on this photo. And if you’re in Devoxx it’s usually because you’re insterested in what is happening down on the stage and on the screen. The big projector right in the photo is used to project the films, the left, which is in operation, is installed by Devoxx.
The even more curious devoxxian (there’re none on this picture) will have noticed the ceiling structure of the large space that gives access to the rooms. The white part is below the room itself. Above are the raked seating. The black part is the floor of the projection room, there’s only one, which distributes images to all the rooms of the complex. Cleverly designed. You can access this room by a hidden staircase (yes, like in Harry Potter), and then another geek paradise awaits us.
The first vision of this space is striking: if we had’nt climbed a long flight of stairs finished by a stool miller, one would have the impression of being in the basement. But hey, basements to attics, even the architects most avant-garde have not thought of it yet. Perhaps we’d better not shout it too loud…
No daylight, only the multitude of lights from the different switches, hard disk racks, audio console, and of course , video screens control. Strange place, a concentrate of Devoxx, conductor of the great mass.
Because everything is processed here. The laptop of each speaker (who would project our good ol’ plastic slides nowadays ?) is connected to this control room. The videos streams are sent to the hard drive racks on one side, and to the projector on the other. The recordings will allow the publication on Parleys, in the best conditions possible. A second image arrives here too : the video camera one. Those two images, the one from the laptop and the one of the speaker are then combined together in a third one, projected on the giant screens of the rooms, following the picture in picture technique.
Those two video streams are sent on this rack, for now. For now because these terabytes of videos are going to be encoded before being published online. They will then be postprocessed by the Parleys indexors, synchronized together with the slides, to produce the “Parleys” look and feel, well known by the veteran devoxxians.
The audio stream is also processed here. It is added to both video streams before the recording : the one of the speaker, and the other of the laptop screen. It is also directed to the sonorization system of the rooms.
Both the sound and the video have been processed, Devoxx can go on. There are still two points though, and the first one is not the least : the speakers synchronization. Because all this amazing machinery works because of one thing : all the speakers of all the rooms start their presentations at exactly the same instant. If one room is late beacuse of some kind of technical issue, then everybody must wait. And of course, if everybody starts at the same time, then everybody should also stop at the same time ! To achieve this, all the speakers have a control screen in front of them where a countdown tells them how much time is left. This screen is controled from the control room too. This way all the video and audio streams are controled together, thus making the work of the operators simpler.
The existing decoration of this room matches very well the guardian of speaking time. Beware, innocent speaker, if you do a step through …
The video streams have been recorded, now it’s time to project them in the rooms. At the end of the process are the massive video projectors. And considering the size of the screens, I dont think that our regular meeting rooms barcos would be powerful enough for that.
The giant screens are illuminated by a Barco, but a bit bigger, weighting about a hundred kilos. It’d better be stable, the slighest vibration would make such an amplitude on the Kinépolis screens, it would make our dear slides, and beloved demos approximatively unreadable.
One last thing for the celebration to be complete : the Internet access, and this is handled here too. The veteran devoxxians know that : the Wifi has always been a serious matter. Stephan told it several times : it’s an important expense in the organization of Devoxx, and the quality has not always be on par. But this year, no mistake : the 3500 of us multiconnected geeks had their wifi. Knowing that each average devoxxian owns a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet (sometimes two), that’s about 10k devices to connect to the Internet throught the Wifi at a given time.
Here again, only one solution : the right one ! Dedicated optical fibers, a nice tangle of network cables, a rack of switches, and off we go.
Despite all these beautiful devices, the success of Devoxx relies on a little army of people, two in each conference room, and the team that takes care of the control room. All these guys (and women !) are under a permanent voice connection. Is there a problem somewhere ? A laptop that wont connect to the video input ? No worries, everything is taken care of within minutes, at the cost of a few sprints up and down the stairs of the large rooms. Video technician, a job any rest ? Apparently not for everyone!
The guided tour is over, let’s go back to the party. One last glimpse through the small projection window. True, actually, it’s not simple at all !