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Going, going live

By rebecca Macfie

Wednesday 1st October 2003

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Imagine this: you're a homesick Kiwi expat longing to escape another bleak London winter. So you log onto your computer, search the available real estate back home, spot a house that you fancy, and, come auction day, enter the bidding online from the other side of the world.

Chris Lee, managing director of Christchurch web development company e2-media, reckons this vision is a natural extension of a system his company has developed for live media streaming of house auctions. Since early August, e2-media has been running live streaming of regular Friday auctions from Harcourts Gold's Christchurch offices, allowing viewers to follow the bidding from the comfort of their own PCs. At this stage viewers can enter the bidding only by communicating via cellphone with an agent in the auction room, but Lee says online bidding is possible once systems are in place for verification of bidders.

Harcourts Gold manager John McFadden says his company was keen on e2-media's live streaming system because it provides greater transparency for absentee purchasers and sellers. The system also has obvious appeal to anyone following the property market, although so far it allows for only 50 viewers at any one time.

The system developed for Harcourts is the result of a $280,000 research effort by e2-media - one third funded by a Technology New Zealand grant - into live streaming that's affordable for small and medium sized businesses. Not that it's rocket science - Lee explains that most of the effort went into working out which existing technologies would combine to produce the best possible image to the optimum number of viewers.

A permanent camera in the auction room sends video feed to a nearby computer, which compresses the image and transmits it via Jetstream to e2-media's streaming server in central Christchurch. From there the image is transmitted to registered online viewers.

As the auction progresses, bids are entered into the system, with the latest bid appearing at the bottom of the viewer's screen.

A warning to property voyeurs tempted to log onto next Friday's auction - a broadband connection is recommended. While it's possible to receive the stream via old-fashioned dial-up, the quality of the image is likely to disappoint.

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