Free Synchronized Multi-Channel Video Player
MultiScreener is a set of free applications that synchronize the playback of Quicktime movies on multiple computers, using a local network to tie them all together. (It can also sync multiple movies on the same computer using multiple monitors.)
It is intended for multi-channel video art, video walls, trade shows, and digital signage. When I developed it in 2008 I wanted an artist-friendly alternative to expensive industrial DVD players and sync boxes. MultiScreener provides synchronized multi-channel video playback using regular computers.
Note: If you are planning on buying new equipment for multi-channel playback I suggest buying BrightSign players instead. They are cheaper and more reliable than computers. (See my easy setup instructions.) MultiScreener is a great solution if you already have Mac computers, though.
How It Works
There is a Server and a Client. The server plays a movie and also sends position information over the network. Each client “listens” to the server and subtly adapts its movie playback speed to stay in sync. There is no limit to the number of clients.
Originally, I assumed that each client would run on its own machine, but you can also run multiple clients on the same computer, with each client feeding a different monitor.
Looping and de-interlacing are available, and all settings are automatically saved for unattended startup. MultiScreener can output to the computer screen or external video devices (like DV cameras or decks). There is no native resolution or frame-rate, so all Quicktime video formats are supported.
If MultiScreener Doesn’t Do What You Want
- Read the MultiScreener Guide. It’s included in the download, and updated more frequently online.
- Looking for a Windows version? I don’t have one. There is an unsupported version below, for Windows XP, contributed by somebody else. (I don’t have a Windows machine so I cannot help you in any way.) Also see the visual patching language VVVV and its tonfilm-videosync module (free for non-commercial use).
- Looking for an iPad version? I don’t have one. iVideoShow works OK, but sync is not accurate and there’s a long pause at each loop. MultiVid is similar but I couldn’t get it to sync at all. Others might have better luck.
- Looking for an Android version? I don’t have one. The closest I’ve found is Blinkendroid and it doesn’t work for this kind of stuff.
- You can modify MultiScreener. The source code is included under a GPL license. You will need MAX/MSP/Jitter, which costs money, but there is a free 30-day demo.
- The BrightSign HD220 is an inexpensive ($350) hardware HD player that can be synced over ethernet. Usually you need to use their (Windows only) authoring software to setup the boxes for each show, but there is an easier Mac-compatible way to configure them via script files.
- Spend $$$$ on well-supported professional software like Dataton’s Watchout, Renewed Vision’s ProVideoPlayer, Scalableplayer from Scalable Display Technologies, or VirtualVTR.
- ArraySync from NaSoLab is a semi-affordable set of apps that do exactly what MultiScreener does. I haven’t tried it but maybe it’s better?
- ygboX is a free and open source solution, based on Quartz Composer, which has deep hooks into the guts of Mac OS X so it plays back HD content with fewer dropped-frames than MultiScreener. There is one major caveat (as of Feb 2009): The server plays video and sound, but clients cannot play sound. (It’s a limitation of Quartz Composer so the author can’t do anything about it.)
- Most Pixels Ever (MPE) is a free, open source library for the Processing programming language that allows Processing sketches to run across multiple computers on a network. Processing is too slow to play broadcast-quality video but perfect for computer-generated graphics.
- VPT (Video Projection Tool) is a free app by HC Gilje that handles all kinds of complicated video projection tasks (cueing, mixing, effects, keystoning, etc…). It doesn’t explicitly handle syncing of multiple videos on different machines, but it can play multiple videos on one machine, and it supports a rich set of OSC messages for remote control.
- LPMT (Little Projection Mapping Tool) is an open source app for projecting multiple channels of video stills, colors, or live feeds onto real-world objects. It doesn’t handle syncing of multiple videos on different machines, though. (It was made with OpenFrameworks and distributed primarily as source code. Compiled Windows and Mac versions are available as a trial download).
- HDsync is being developed by NIMk in the Netherlands to synchronize HD playback on modified Western Digital TV Live players.
- If you want to have 3 synced displays from a single computer (with a single monitor port) you can also try the Matrox TripleHead2Go. (You make a super-wide movie, played from your single monitor port via Quicktime Player. The Matrox box splits the signal across 3 separate monitors.)
- MSA Quicktime Player is a free Mac player that spans a super-wide movie across multiple monitor ports, similar to the Matrox, except it’s software, and it requires a monitor port for each display.
- Bino is a free Mac/Windows/Linux video player designed for 3D projection. We can use it to play two videos on two connected displays. It’s scriptable and seems to work great. (How To: Launch Bino, Set Bino’s Fullscreen settings to “Dual Screen”, Select both movies simultaneously in the “File / Open” menu, set Input mode to “Separate Streams, Left First”, set Output mode to “Left/Right”)
Download Current Version (It’s old but it works!)
Feb 03, 2009, 24MB with source “patches” for MAX/MSP/Jitter 5.
NOTE: The auto-startup Applescripts included in the download won’t run on modern Macs.
Updated ones are here.
Please read the MultiScreener Guide for instructions and a detailed Changelog.
You may need to adjust your security settings and/or install Java. See Installation Instructions.
Changes in this version:
- Changed to GPL 3.0 license
- Recompiled with MAX5
- Tested HD playback
- Fixed: Fixed error in client timing comparison. (improved sync accuracy).
- Fixed: Fixed occasional loss or overwrite of xml preferences file
- Fixed: client sync meter was sometimes inaccurate
- Fixed: Simplified and optimized speed-control math
- Fixed: Simplified window-position save/recall at startup
- Fixed: Counters sometimes displayed wrong times
- Fixed: Now uses more conservative timing when entering/exiting fullscreen
- Fixed: Changed size of filename display to accommodate long filenames
- Fixed: changed “Way Off!” indicator into “Finding Frame” indicator
- Added: “Mute Sound” button added
- Added: “Hide Mouse in Full-Screen” button added
- Added: Client now indicates playback speed
- Added: Client now has user-settable frame offset
Known Bugs in this version:
- If you launch MultiScreener via Applescript, it sometimes fails to load preferences. This is a vexing problem that only happens on certain machines under certain conditions. I’m investigating solutions for the next release.
- If you put the computer to sleep while MultiScreener is running in fullscreen mode, it wakes up OK but the mouse pointer becomes visible.
- One user reported red flashes in full screen mode and frequent crashes (MultiScreener Client, OS 10.6.6 and 10.6.7). He disabled Apple Remote Desktop and the problem disappeared. When running OS 10.6.2, ARD and MultiScreener coexisted peacefully.
- MultiScreener 0.95 (Windows – experimental un-supported build)
(17MB, no source patches included) … but you can download mine in zip format
Many people have asked for a Windows build and I’ve told them to compile it themselves, using the free MAX5 demo for windows. Finally somebody did, so thank Jake Rugino for this. I haven’t tested it because I don’t have Windows machines, so you’re on your own. (Some people have reported that it doesn’t work with Windows 7.)
Made With MultiScreener
I’m amazed at the scope of MultiScreener users who have contacted me. From a small flamenco festival in Spain, to the Museum of Modern Art, and plenty in-between. Here are some of them:
Artists & Designers
- Jane Cassidy has used MultiScreener in numerous installations:
Frimaire Is The Color (2 channel rear projection onto warehouse windows)
Long Since The Sun Has Set (4 vid channels + surround sound, on 2 old G4s and one MacBook Pro)
- Dustin Zemel modified the MultiScreener code to support proximity-based video switching for his piece SCOOP 6PM at U of Oregon’s White Box Gallery in Portland, OR.
- Jeb Johenning (Ocean Video) used MultiScreener with 11 laptops and projectors to make this amazing ad for PUMA shoes:
- David and Hi-Jin Hodge ran MultiScreener on 4x Mac minis (2010 version) to drive 8 synchronized screens for “Impermanence”. It was part of the traveling exhibit The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama which visited the Nobel Museum in Stockholm to correspond with the announcement of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Steina Vasulka
- Michele Theunissen
- Elise van der Linden
- Marko Schiefelbein
- Kimmo Karjunen (award-winning Finnish lighting designer)
- Merge Group
- Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom
- Zig Gron
- Sharon Houkema
- Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry
- Björn Rodday
Museums & Galleries
- Australian Centre for the Moving Image – www.acmi.net.au “screen worlds”
- ATOPIA, an artist collective in Oslo, uses MultiScreener to sync 4 screens for the “Vitrine” public projection series.
- Jason Watkins synced 26 iMacs for the Digital Media Production class showcase at
Arts University College at Bournemouth (UK). The 1 week run was trouble-free.
- SUNY Purchase New Media Program
- School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Edinburgh University’s new new-media art gallery InSpace
- Art Academy Minerva – The Netherlands
- In 2008, MultiScreener was included in a CD-ROM packaged with every copy of the German MACup magazine.
Have you used MultiScreener for something interesting? Let me know and I’ll link to your work here.