A few months ago I thought of how cool it would be if I could share my love of bad movies and have Movie Nights with my online friends. Well...
Streaming video isn't as widespread and mature a technology as streaming audio, but there are free options out there. One of them, strangely enough, is Windows Media Encoder 9. Microsoft seems to have largely abandoned the product, but it's still available for download. The downside is that it's a bit long in the tooth and doesn't always play nice with newer video capture hardware.
I already had a USB-based video capture unit which I've been using to digitize videotapes. Well, WME9 didn't like that — it would run, but only at 1fps. Not really useable. So I went out searching on the net to find out what hardware is known to run well with WME9. I started with the hardware it was certified on, which is all no longer in production. Most makers of video-capture hardware don't seem to care about WME9, either: it's not a checkbox feature anymore. But I did eventually find a PCI card whose FAQ said that it worked with WME9, and indeed it did.
The final hurdle was bandwidth. My current net connection (cable) is only about 512kbps upstream, and most of my available options would be slower. A decent video stream is about 300kbps, so I could only support one outbound stream, and furthermore I couldn't have incoming connections either. Well, there are ways around both of those problems: from my experience with streaming audio years ago, I know that there are a LOT of services out there which let you buy streaming space on their servers. Video streaming based on WME9 seems to be a thriving industry — Microsoft may have forgotten the product, but a lot of people are using it! Finding a service which would let me order only five slots (most have a minimum of ten, fifteen, or even twenty) took some work, but they are out there. As with streaming audio, video slots are also almost always priced at a flat monthly fee per slot at a given bitrate; I don't remember seeing any which had time-based charges. Using this service, I send one stream out to their servers, and then up to five people can watch. It costs me the same whether I run the stream 24 hours a day or don't use it at all, so we can watch whatever we have time to, and all hang out on the MUCK and comment on it as we watch. We've been doing this for several months now and it works astonishingly well, well enough that my friends make time to be around for Movie Night.
For an initial $100 investment in the card (I was willing to pay to get one which I knew would work; experimenting could probably turn up one for a lot less) and a flat $23 a month, I have a Movie Night with people literally across the continent. Even ten years ago that would have been unthinkable with consumer-priced equipment and connections.