2019 Lecture Capture Survey

We’re excited to announce that our 2019 Lecture Capture Survey is complete. We had a chance to take a birds eye view of ten of the leading lecture capture tools and make some observations about general trends in this rapidly evolving product space.

We hope this information will be useful to you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments to oit-mt-info@duke.edu.

A publicly accessible PDF version of the complete survey can be found here: https://duke.box.com/s/r50wv3sgqanxj7pq2x7xiud6vppldqfj

-OIT Media Technologies Team

Help Us Test Sonix.ai

OIT has been following what’s happening in the evolving world of captioning over the years, and in particular monitoring the field for high quality, affordable services we think would be useful to members of the Duke community. When Rev.com came along, offering guaranteed 99% accurate human-generated captions for a flat $1.00 a minute (whereas some comparable services were well over $3.00/minute), we took note and have facilitated a collaboration with them that has been very productive for Duke. A recent review of our usage shows that a lot of you are using Rev, with a huge uptick in usage over the last couple years, and we’ve heard few if any complaints about the service.

While in general there has been a dismissive attitude toward machine (automatic) transcription, the newest generation technology, based on IBM Watson, has become so good that we can no longer (literally) afford to ignore it. With good quality audio to work from, this speech-to-text engine claims to deliver accuracy as high as 95% or more. IBM Watson isn’t a consumer-facing service, but we’ve been on the lookout for vendors building on this platform, and have found one we feel is worth exploring called Sonix. If cost is a significant factor for you, you might consider giving it a try.

Sonix captioning is a little over 8 cents per minute, and has waived the monthly subscription requirement and offered 30 free minutes of captioning for anyone with a duke.edu email address who sets up their account through this page: https://sonix.ai/academic-program/duke-university.

We are not recommending Sonix at this time, but are interested to hear what your experiences with them are. And we would caution that with any machine transcription technology, a review of your captions via the company’s online editor is required if you want to use this as closed captions (vs just a transcription). In our initial testing Sonix’s online editor looks fairly quick and easy to use.

If you set up an account and try Sonix, please reach out to oit-mt-info@duke.edu to let us know what your experiences are and what specific use cases it supports.

 

What’s New in Camtasia 2019

Another year, another Camtasia release. My thoughts on my experience testing the new features:

  • Audio Leveling – this seems to be the marquee feature, or at least the first listed in TechSmith’s marketing. Basically, you set a project to autolevel all the various audio media in your project to the same target (-18 LUFS – this can’t be adjusted now but may be add in a future release). This will not normalize the audio within various media, so loud and soft parts will stay the same relative to each other in the same clip. This feature is mainly aimed at users who are recording in multiple places, and possibly with different microphone inputs. If you’re recording with a consistent, professional setup, this feature probably won’t add much value to you.
  • Cursor Smoothing – I’m not sure who was complaining that their cursor was moving too much on screen but this effect will algorithmically remove cursor shakiness and replace it with smooth movements based on where you click and leave the cursor on the screen.
  • Custom Keyboard – TechSmith added 10x the amount of keyboard shortcuts, so power users can now set their own shortcuts for things like zooming, adding annotations, muting audio, adding custom animations etc. (For super power users, they’ve also added some Macbook Pro Touch Bar support, allowing you to scrub through the timeline, split clips, and jump between edits).
  • Add Logos to Themes – At Duke, we have a video branding package that allows to easily add branded lower-thirds to videos in FCPX and Premiere. This feature allows you to create a similar effect in Camtasia where you could add a logo like the Chapel bug and make the video feel that much more professional.
  • Batch Export (Mac) – This is a really great addition if you’re creating dozens of videos as we do in production on online courses. After you’re done editing (or if you’re exporting screen captures of slides to be imported into another editing program), you can now just add all the relevant projects to a queue and export them all with the same settings.
  • Hide Desktop Icons (Mac) – When setting up your recording, just toggle an option to make all the icons on your desktop invisible! Very handy for clutter-prone users like myself. Note: you have to set this before doing your recording. Unlike removing the cursor, this is not something you can adjust after the recording is complete.

Those were the highlights for me, but there’s also some new updates to text formatting, device frames, visual effects, etc. Also, I learned TechSmith has its own video review tool! Cool. If you’re at Duke and looking for a video review tool, you can reach out to oit-mt-production@duke.edu and we can set you up with a trial of our preferred platform LookAt.io.

Sidecar

Rumor has it that Apple is working on a feature named Sidecar that will allow you to seamlessly use your iPad as a secondary Mac display. While there have been workarounds for this for a while, as someone who just purchased an iPad, I’m super excited to hear about this and hope it works well. I wrote an article about the Luna Display a while back and there are other similar pieces of equipment that can achieve such a thing, but if they update to make it intuitive, I’d love the chance to save $80 or so, or just avoid trying to fumble with other apps.

The feature will reportedly work by hovering over the green maximize button in a window and giving the user option to launch the screen from there, among other things. Fingers crossed for a swift release!

Recording an Interview with Zoom

For one of our online courses, we wanted to include some video testimonials with former students to discuss how the class prepared them for the real world. The only problem was that some of former students we wished to talk to lived in California – not particularly conducive for a quick recording session in our studio on campus. Instead, we used the video conferencing tool Zoom to facilitate the call and I used Camtasia to do a screen recording of the interview. While the concept is simple, I found some tips that can make the execution feel a bit more professional.

First, the basics of remote video recording still apply. The subject sat at a desk that faced a window which provided a lot of natural light. It was also around 7am in his time zone so it was pretty quiet as well.

In some scenarios, to get the best possible video quality, I’ll ask the subject to record themselves with an application like Quicktime and then send me the video file. While this helps bypass the compression of streaming video and screen-capture, it comes with a couple drawbacks. First, I as the video producer don’t have direct control over the actual recording process which is a risk. Second, subjects are usually doing you a favor just by agreeing to the interview, and the less you ask of them the better.

Ruling this option out, there’s two other choices. Using Zoom’s built-in recording tool, or using a third-party screen capture tool like Camtasia. They each have their plusses and minuses. Zoom’s built-in tool allows the user to simply hit record within the interface and save the file either to their local computer or the cloud. This will generate both a video file and an audio-only file. However, if the meeting unexpectedly shuts down or the conversion process is interrupted, the recording files could become corrupted and non-recoverable. With Camtasia, the recording is isolated from the conferencing tool so I can better trust that it will record successfully, even if the call drops.

Recording with Camtasia does present another problem. If anything shows up on my screen, be it an email notification, or my mouse moving and activating the Zoom room tools, that is all recorded as well. Zoom’s local recording tool will capture just the video feed.

For the purposes of this video, I would just be showing the subject and would edit out the interviewer’s questions. For this reason, I wanted to make sure that Zoom only gave me the video feed of my subject and did not automatically switch video feeds based on who was talking, which it does by default as part of the Active Speaker layout. By using the Pin function, I can pin the subject’s video feed to my interface so that I will only be seeing the subject’s video, whether I record by screen capture or by local recording. This won’t affect other participants’ views, but it’s also important to note that it would not affect the cloud recording view either.

While facilitating the interview, I muted my microphone to ensure no accidental sounds might come from my end. And because we would be editing out the interviewer’s questions, we coached the subject to rephrase each question in his answer. For example, if we asked “Why is programming important to you?” the subject might start their response with “Programming is important to me because…”

Ultimately, it was just a simple matter of starting the video conference, pinning the subject’s video, and hitting record on Camtasia. From there I could just sit back while the interviewer and subject spoke. Like a lot of video production, proper planning and research will make your job a lot easier when it’s actually time to turn the camera on.

Remote AV Control

“If only I could be in two places at once!”
– Every AV Technician… Ever.

But… what if you COULD be in two places at once? During a training earlier this year, I discovered that one hardware manufacturer offered a simple method of gaining remote access to the GUI of an AV system. As you built the system, it automatically created a password protected HTML5 web page where (assuming you knew the correct URL/password) you could control the system.

As organizations demand more from their AV systems, this kind of functionality will be an invaluable resource for small AV groups when providing evening or emergency AV support.

Quick AV Signal Flow with Lucidchart

When collaborating on the design of classroom AV systems, having the ability to rapidly sketch, modify, innovate, and share a signal flow diagram is an invaluable tool in avoiding expensive mistakes before install. But, creating signal flow diagrams has traditionally been a challenge for AV technicians as the software is either expensive, overly complicated, or locks the AV technician in as the single point of modifications for all time.

First, what is a signal flow diagram, and why do I need it? A signal flow diagram shows the signal path (audio, video, network, control, etc.) from inputs to outputs, for the entire AV system. It’s essentially a blueprint for the system… and would you buy a house where they didn’t have a blueprint? With a signal flow diagram, most entry-level technicians should be able to diagnose an AV issue down to the cabling or hardware level. Without this diagram, it’s difficult to troubleshoot small systems, and nearly impossible with larger systems.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been testing Lucidchart to see if it’s capable of eliminating some of the frustrations with other software-based signal flow products. First, Lucidchart is web-based, so it’s not a piece of software you need to download and manage. If you have a web browser, Windows, Mac, or Linux, you can work on your project from the office, at home, or on your vacation… because we all love working during our vacation.

The platform is easy enough for a novice user to pick up after watching a few 5-10 min. videos. But, the true power comes in the ability for the design to be shared. By pressing the Share button at the top, you can share your design with clients in a “read-only” mode, so they can see, but not modify, the design. But, you can also share the design with collaborators to speed up the process. Also, this ability to keep users up-to-date on the design means you aren’t sending PDFs of the drawings. If you’ve ever attempted to incorporate change requests from the initial release of a drawing when you’re already three or four versions ahead… you’ll understand the appeal of real-time environments.

The only negatives we see are that we are required to design our own AV hardware blocks. While this is somewhat time-consuming, once you create a block, you never need to re-create it.

Check out a quick design we created!

Keynote Vectors

I was using Keynote to show how the simple tools could be used to create effective and interesting animations. I was a little stuck on how to easily make items from scratch or where to locate free-to-use vectors for people to use, when I discovered that Keynote actually has a ton of built-in vectors. They’re located in the toolbar under the Shapes button.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that you could scroll down and see that there are tons of things besides basic shapes in there, but I found it useful and I think I’m not the only one who’s missed it. Of course, keynote has many other features that make creating your own objects super simple, so it’s sometimes worth a new wandering around software every now and then. I think that, with minimal tinkering, these assets can create a very nice and cohesive look for small animated tutorials and the like.

Is 4K in a Classroom Important?

We’re going to make this a short DDMC post… We will definitely answer the age-old question of, “Is 4K video content worth it?” The easy answer is, YES, absolutely! Well, maybe… OK, sometimes… well, it’s complicated.

First, what is 4K? 4K refers to video frame sizes of either 3840 x 2160 pixels or 4096 x 2160 pixels. Technically, 3840 x 2160 isn’t truly 4K, but it gets a pass as 3.84K doesn’t have the same ring to it (it’s actually a bit more technical, but we’re just going to gloss over that). So, 4K is big… and while you might think 4K is twice as large as 2K or HD content (1,920 x 1,080), 4K is actually four times the resolution of 2K! So, it’s a big jump in resolution… but, the real question is… can you tell the difference with your human eye?

CHARTS!!!
Looking at the above chart, if you are at home watching your favorite 4K Bluray on an 80-inch TV from 8 feet away, you should easily be able to see the enhanced 4K image over the lower resolutions available (2K, 720p, etc.), and I’m sure it looks fantastic! But, and this is a big but, if you are 20 feet away from an 80-inch screen (think a small classroom environment)… you won’t be able to tell the difference between 4K, 1080p, 720p, or even 1024×768 PowerPoint assuming you have normal vision. Yes, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Why should I care?
While I’m not saying, “Don’t buy 4K infrastructure!!!” It’s worth exploring the questions… do you have 4K content for these screens? Even if it is 4K, will you be able to see that added resolution? If the answer is “No” to either of those questions, take a breather and know that it’s still OK to install 2K infrastructure in 2019… but keep this chart handy for the next round of upgrades.

 

 

 

Extron Adventures and DDMC Session Recap

Last month, I had the fortune of attending Extron’s Control Professional Certification Program. The three-day course, which Extron recommends for “advanced users or control system programmers” was painless enough to pass with my meager programming background. The class was taught in a way that built on concepts, where at the end of the session, I felt comfortable programming a basic AV system… granted, there is still plenty to learn. This experience was in stark contrast to some of the non-Extron AV programming classes I’ve taken in the past. In a word, the class was enjoyable.

My five key takeaways from the Extron Control Professional Certification Program class are:

  • The Graphical User Interface (GUI) Designer is Surprisingly User-Friendly
    GUI Designer, the application used to design graphical user interfaces for Extron TouchLink Pro Touchpanels, is intuitive enough to quickly design basic user interfaces. Better yet, Extron offers a range of full-featured themes that allows a novice AV technician to piece together a nice looking interface in a short period of time. While I’m no artist, I built a custom user interface with a few pages, popups, etc. with ease. Is GUI Builder the most advanced GUI builder in the industry, no… but for University environments… perhaps “reasonably advanced” is advanced enough?
  • Programming… Also Easy
    Before taking the class, Extron’s programming environment (Global Configurator Plus and Professional) was explained to me as “fine for basic things, small rooms, etc., but for more sophisticated classroom environments, you really need a different platform.” That may have been true in the past, but in 2019, nothing could be further from the truth. The application’s feature-rich design allows a user to rapidly develop a functioning AV system in a short period of time. Technically, this isn’t “programming,” but rather scripting or configuring (that’s probably why it’s called Global Configurator). There were a few minor instances where the environment couldn’t magically do exactly what I wanted… but as Yoda once said… “No. There is another.” For considerably more demanding environments, Extron also offers Global Scripter, a Python-based programming environment for Extron’s Pro processors. With Python’s text-based programming, if you can dream it… Extron’s hardware should be able to do it.
  • A File Structure that Makes Sense
    If you’ve ever asked an external AV integrator to, “send me the final control system files,” only to receive 10-20 files, many looking confusingly similar, you aren’t along. You may receive the GUI, program file(s), IR driver(s), modules, config files, etc. etc. It’s a mess and can be unnecessarily confusing for novice programmers… not to mention the issue of properly versioning your programs. With Extron, a similar request for a program could result in a single file! That single file contains all of the above-mentioned components but in a nice and neat package. Sure, groups seem to be fine managing dozens of files… but should they need to?
  • Access to the Program/GUI
    One nice feature of Extron’s environment is that if you have physical access to the processor and assuming the device is functional, you can download the program and GUI. So, if you have an AV system installed by an external AV integrator… and three years later you want to change or remove something as small as a button (aka, you finally get rid of that VCR)… BUT, the external AV integrator has gone out of business, no worries… you can download, modify and re-upload the program or GUI with ease or source that out to another programmer. This isn’t the case with many AV manufacturers… and stories of AV integrators holding programs or modules “hostage” aren’t uncommon. This feature benefits the owner of the hardware over the installer, and that makes me happy.
  • Rapid Development and Innovation Made Easy
    One striking takeaway from the session was how easy it is to rapidly develop a unique AV control system. Making minor, and not so minor, adjustments to both the GUI and program takes just minutes to implement… allowing true innovation with the platform. This is start contract to being dependant upon external AV integrators. To truly innovate in an AV environment, you must have low-level access to the programming environment. This is something Extron allows any reasonably-experienced AV technician to implement.
  • An Alternative Approach to Hardware
    One interesting observation I have is that Extron seems to lag slightly behind other AV manufacturers when it comes to the bleeding edge of AV. For example, their AV over IP solutions have only recently started shipping, where others have been shipping for 2-3 years or longer. You can see this in a few different ways… one, that they are playing catch-up (this seems unrealistic), two, that Extron has a bit more of a “wait and see” approach before throwing resources into a flawed trend. A third alternative is that they want to get it right the first time in contrast to being first to market (and first to force a half-dozen firmware updates on early adopters – AKA free-beta tester). While it can be fun to be on the bleeding edge, but it’s called “the bleeding edge” for a reason.

The Extron DDMC session we hosted at Duke mirrored many of the topics covered above. While I’m in no way saying “throw out all of your AV systems and go 100% Extron!” My key takeaway is that Extron has some compelling hardware/software solutions worthy of note. Also, your perception of Extron’s offerings may be somewhat out-of-date if you haven’t given them a serious deep-dive over the past three years. Finally, I’ve found their sales folks to be wonderful to work with… in the highly competitive industry of AV, it’s refreshing.