The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest & Conference in Berlin

A few days ago, while on my way back from the GStreamer hackfest and conference combo, I tried to come up with a list of pearls to share here and arrived at a pretty troubling conclusion: there was no easy way to do so.

The Hackfest

I met Luis (De Bethencourt) a kilometer away from my hotel on a cold Saturday morning on October 8th. By then, I had already figured the only exercise I’d be able to get during my short 4-day stay in Berlin was going to be related to my commute, so I decided to embrace walking. We headed for C-Base as soon as we meet at his hotel’s lobby and arrived 10 minutes later to meet the typical familiar faces from the GStreamer community. So did everything start.

The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest Conference in Berlin - cbase2
First day of hackfest at C-Base

The GStreamer developer community, while quite compact, has a surprisingly large number of regulars; people tend to stay around. This is something you hardly notice from outside the project – not even as a user if you aren’t paying attention – but it’s quite evident if you have been around for a while because you keep running into the same people over and over. Granted, you might not know everyone, but chances are good you will eventually get to meet the new ones. They’re likely going to be around for the next gathering anyways.

The OSG GStreamer team, Luis, Arun, Thibault and myself, had some sort of plan. There were areas we had agreed to work on and for the most part, we did. Everyone had a talk to deliver too and we even had a sprint arranged for Sunday, so it looked like we were off to a busy weekend. The way we work closely resembles the community we work with and there’s no single pair of OSG multimedia engineers living in the same part of the globe. A properly timed face to face can do wonders, and it did. For example, Luis had recently started playing in the management big leagues with his promotion to European team lead and it was the first time we saw him exercising his new role. We can spend 8 hours a day on IRC, but there’s nothing like seeing wildlife in it’s native habitat, and you can’t exactly get that from ASCII alone. Images are necessary.

So what were we working on for the hackfest? Well… Here’s the silver-lining run down.

The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest Conference in Berlin - team
OSG team at a break during the GStreamer Hackfest 10/08/2016

Arun spent most of his time presenting and gathering feedback on his synchronized/coordinated playback ideas. We have been thinking about quite a few use cases that might benefit greatly from a more established infrastructure in that regard. Additionally, he helped with the changelog wrap-up for this period and an assorted set of other release-related tasks.

Thibault has been putting a lot of thought into enhancing deep run-time inspection, notification and logging. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that besides fixing quite a few GStreamer Editing Services bugs, he spent most of the hackfest coordinating with some of the elders on bringing CTF (Common Trace Format) to GStreamer and continued working on his implementation while considering ideas that may ultimately lead to a tighter integration of traces and logs. More on this as HE develops :-)

Luis entertained himself with a set of tasks better presented as a full list:

  • prep work to write a GStreamer parser element in Rust,
  • write documentation for the AudioVisualizer Base Class,
  • port the puzzle (gst-plugins-bad) element to 1.x,
  • play with the Meson build system and its use for GStreamer,
  • rebase some Linux kernel work (with mainline) to get it ready to submit for 4.9-rc1,
  • research the latest work done in v4l2 and,
  • prepare the OSG Multimedia team sprint.

I worked mostly on digital terrestrial television. Primarily to make sure whatever I was presenting on my Monday talk actually worked in Berlin; a few fixes to the DVB-T supporting code included. I have a signal generator that allows me to test multiple broadcast standards, but there’s nothing like a real-life setup. Relatedly, here’s the channels.conf file for Berlin mitte I came up with while testing. You’re welcome.

And all of a sudden, it was Monday morning.

The Conference

The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest Conference in Berlin - betahaus
Betahaus, the conference Venue as it looked at the end of the event on Tue 10/12/2016

The conference took place at a venue with a completely different vibe this time around; Betahaus defines itself as a place for idea sharing and it looks the part. There were two main conference rooms, the Arena (where I had to fight Monday after lunch) and the Innospace, which was a bit larger. For the most part, the two parallel tracks had a full attendance, with everyone of the hundred-something GStreamer lovers, haters, or both having a proper place to sit. Drinks and lunch were included and complementary, the latter sponsored by Facebook. The conference had a comparatively large set of corporate sponsors but that’s not unlike every single GStreamer Conference I’ve attended. Did I mention people tend to stay around? Well, companies do too.

The big news came from tpm, aka __tim, and officially Tim-Philipp Müller (everyone’s favorite reviewer), right after some slides with the latest development highlights: the project is going to be backed up with a foundation; some really brief notes on the reasoning behind it and spare details followed. This is a somewhat popular idea, and it makes sense. I think everyone who didn’t know about it was in agreement. Way to go!

Going through each one of the talks would be kind of boring. Not to mention redundant, as they were all recorded by Ubicast (long time GStreamer user and conference partner) and are now available online. For the most part, we got the usual mix of incredibly useful light-training sessions and exposure to new and interesting use-cases and novelties. The topics were well balanced and rounded, and the schedule was followed to the letter, always a plus. Our team had a few appearances in it:

The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest Conference in Berlin - talk
Conference talk at the “Innospace” room during the first day of conference
The 2016 GStreamer Hackfest Conference in Berlin - panel
OSG’s Europe lead, Luis de Bethencourt, moderating a panel of GStreamer developers at the end of the conference 12/10/2016

Additionally, Julien Isorce, a Samsung colleague and long-time GStreamer developer, briefly gifted the audience with “Code review in Chromium project + quick update on the Media Process based GStreamer backend”. It’s always great to see Julien and even better to passively pick his brain. Thank you!

The Pearl

Remember I told you right at the beginning how hard was to select what to share from the GST Conference/Hackfest combo-like experience? There’s just too much to process, let alone the overwhelming sense of respect for everyone presenting talks and helping around. It seems almost like any kind of selective process would end up being unfair. I pondered about this for a few minutes while my plane approached home and made a bold choice. If being fair was impossible, I would aim for absolute unfairness and present you with my absolutely arbitrary single pearl of the conference: Lubosz Sarnecki’s Holographic Telecommunication in the Age of Free Software. This VR-focused talk had my attention right from its title and Lubosz delivered to the promise; enthusiastic, complete and even loquacious would be the words I’d use to describe the lecture, but you’d have to see it to understand, and you should.

The End

That was pretty much it. The hackfest went for a weekend, the conference for 2 days and most of the attendees for four to five if you catch my drift. The rest of the world just continued living without paying much attention. Considering we’re a group of developers who enable distraction as part of our work, this might be our very own fault.

Author: Reynaldo Verdejo

Husband, Dad, and Multimedia FOSS developer by trade in between. His work is primarily found in GStreamer and FFmpeg, but he has also contributed to an assorted list of free and open source software during his more than a decade-long software development career.