VOICE Scheduled Testing Session #5

Monday 6 April, 2020, 20:00 UTC

Candidate: Big Blue Button

Previous Session: Test Session #4

Comments by: @strypey@mastodon.nzoss.nz

VOICE (VOICE Organized Investigation of Chat Engines) is an informal app testing group, trialing free code apps to see how well they handle voice chat, especially with groups. We aim to have a group chat testing session at least once a month, although other times can be set up if anyone is keen. For at least the next couple of months, we have a regular testing session at 20:00 UTC on the first Monday of the month. Our next session will be this Monday, 4 May, testing Linphone (with a group this time). We currently use a Matrix room to confirm the timing of testing sessions, as well as for discussion about available apps and related topics: #voicechat:matrix.org

In our first testing session for 2020, we tested Big Blue Button (BBB), a voice and video conferencing server. Like Jitsi Meet, it uses WebRTC, so users can join a BBB conference using any web browser. The web client originally depended on Adobe Flash, but has been rewritten using HTML5, so Flash plug-ins are no longer needed to use it. Code developed for BBB is licensed under LGPL, but the project has also used components from red5phone, which is GPL.

BBB was originally developed for use as a digital classroom by educational institutions, integrated with Moodle and other LMS (Learning Management Systems). It is endorsed by the Open Educational Resources Foundation, who also host an instance for their community. So while it was engineered to handle massive numbers of users, it was designed to be operated mainly by an instructor working with an audience of students. To allow all users to create rooms, start meetings, invite others, and manage recordings, without requiring any LMS integration, the BBB team developed an add-on called Greenlight.

For this test, we used the BBB instance hosted by the NZ Open Source Society, which uses Greenlight. The testers included 3 members from the VOICE group on Matrix, and @lightweight@mastodon.nzoss.nz who is the sysadmin of bbb.nzoss.nz and host of the Community Room that we used for the test. In total, we had 8 devices participating.

Strypey: The laptop I have with me is 10 years old and doesn't handle WebRTC apps very well, so I used a mobile device, which runs ColorOS 2.1 (based off Android 4.4.4) using Fennec F-droid 68.6.0 browser. I had one or two problems with scratchy audio, both with hearing and being heard. But I think that was because my internet connection was a bit patchy in the room I was in, and my device was low on battery. I had an issue with not being able to maximize user video streams, but I found that maximizing the screen-sharing element and then minimizing it again solved this problem.

My one grizzle is that my browser was constantly asking for permission to let BBB use my mic and cam. It doesn't seem remember when I just clicked 'share' to give permission a few seconds ago, let alone remember between sessions. But it seems to be a problem with the versions of Fennec or Android I'm using, rather than BBB, as nobody else reported it.

jdiercks: I connected from 4 devices simultaneously: * Brave 1.4.96 (Chromium: 80.0.3987.132, Official Build, 64-bit), on Ubuntu 19.04 * Chrome (80.0.3987.163, Official Build, 64-bit), on Windows 10.0.18363 (Build 18363) * Safari on iOS 13.3.1 * Brave 1.5.120 (Chromium 80.0.3987.149), on Android 10 (build QQ2A.200305.02)

All connected successfully and after granting permission for mic/camera, all were able to to send and receive audio/video. At various times during testing, some video frames were grayed out for some participants, but not the same on all devices. No one device seemed to be particularly more prone to the problem than the others. A/V quality seemed good overall, except for the problems Strypey noted above with his particular connection.

Stéphane: I had two devices connected: * Laptop with Ubuntu 18.04 and Firefox 74.0.1 * iPhone with Safari on iOS 13.3.1

Both worked well. On the iPhone, also tested with Firefox Focus 8.1.4, but as @lightweight mentioned, app requirements on the App Store mean alternative browsers can't be used for all features (Javascript interpreter related). An error message was shown when trying to join, although it was possible to “request desktop site” and see and hear everyone, without being able to be a part of the conversation.

BBB seems to be a good alternative to Zoom, in particular for training and teaching purposes. The ability to take notes collaboratively, pick the quality of the video capture, chat publicly or privately, share a screen (not tested as not activated for guests), and present slides as stills make it appealing and tick most of the boxes.

Regarding privacy, BBB encrypts between user and server, but does not do end-to-end encryption – just like Zoom (but at least, it doesn't claim it uses it). As @lightweight mentioned, it matters to trust whoever is hosting the BBB instance in use.

One small pain point for me: the action of muting and unmuting plays a sound that is a bit disruptive to following what others are saying. It is good to make it clear what is happening, but this is too much (the sound can be turned off on the server side).

Overall, an excellent experience with this tool. Very positively surprised!