Real Hackers Videoconference In Terminal

At some point or another, many of us have tried to see how much of our digital lives could be accessed from the comfort of a terminal. We’ve tried Alpine for email, W3M for web browsing, and even watched Star Wars via telnet. But, in the increasingly socially-distant world we find ourselves in today, we find ourselves asking: what about video calling?

Okay, we weren’t asking that. But thankfully [Andy Kong] was, and saw fit to implement it when he and a friend created AsciiZOOM, a “secure, text-based videoconferencing app, accessible from the safety of your terminal.”

As you may have guessed, [Andy]’s solution replaces the conventional video stream we’re all used to with realtime animated ASCII art. The system works by capturing a video stream from a webcam, “compressing” each pixel by converting it into an ASCII character, and stuffing the entire frame into a TCP packet. Each client is connected to a server (meeting room?) which coordinates the packets, sending them back and forth appropriately.

As impressive as it is impractical, the only area in which the project lacks is in audio. [Andy] suggests using Discord to solve that, but here’s hoping we see subtitles in version 2! Will AsciiZOOM be replacing our favorite videoconferencing suite any time soon? No. Are we glad it exists? You betcha.

18 thoughts on “Real Hackers Videoconference In Terminal

  1. Now this is about the level of Rube-Goldberg I want in my *video*conferencing solutions. I love it.

    I already started annoying several colleagues to try and get this going for our lunch team-building.

  2. I’ve always used Pine for email and newsgroups. No experimenting there.

    When I got full internet access in August of 1996, to June of 2001, I dialed up to my ISP, where I had shell access, running Pine and Lynx (the text only browser) at my ISP. So my computer was just running a terminal emulator.

    And I still run Pine (well, technically now it’s Alpine)

  3. From how_to_set_up.txt:

    > 7. Oh you want audio now? And chat feature? Kids today are so greedy… Use discord or something, if y’all made it this far I’m sure you can figure it out.

    Good but; without audio support, the main ideology (“zoom’s e2ee sucks”) is not satisfied, unfortunately. Most of the time secrets are transmitted throgh audio, not video. And forwarding kids to discord while talking about privacy is, meh.

    1. > Most of the time secrets are transmitted throgh audio, not video.

      Remember the hundreds of low-grade thrillers, where the protagonists chat about inane stuff while passing written messages on camera? The uninitiated (and life) imitate art.

  4. Although the publication date is 2020-04-25 it looks like a late April Fools’ joke. A good one, but nonetheless. Just look at this:

    > Since we only used 4 unique “characters,” we could have further reduced this down to 2 bits if we were really pressed for space, but the additional processing on either end would have led to additional latency.

    Because mapping a single byte stuffed with four 2-bit values to four characters adds latency, right. Even on ZX81 this would take less than a microsecond. Hmm… ZX81… It gave me an idea… BRB… ;-)

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.