As we enter year 700 of COVID-19, some faculty and staff are looking at 2021 wondering how they can spice up their online teaching environment without spending hours or days learning a full-blown video production application. While Zoom offers a wide range of ever-expanding features, there is still plenty of room for growth and mmhmm, a startup from Phil Libin, is capitalizing on that need.
First and foremost, mmhmm acts like PowerPoint steroids. You can supercharge your presentation by your webcam video overlayed on rich media content elements such as slides, images, videos, sounds, etc. Best of all, I was able to pick up the basics of the application in under 20 minutes or so, your mileage may vary. The easy drag and drop configuration nature of the application will have you creating or enhancing your presentation in minutes. Best of all, you can save your layout so that the next time you present, unlike Zoom, you won’t need to reposition your webcam feed, content location, etc.
Where mmhmm really excites us is its ability to feed that content into Zoom and a range of other video applications as a virtual camera or piece of content. While Zoom has enhanced a few features in this area over the past 6 months, mmhmm is considerably further along when it comes to rich presentations. On top of that, mmhmm is capable of capturing your presentation locally in a high-quality .mp4 video file WHILE also sharing that presentation with Zoom. Yes, Zoom can record the session, but sometimes you want a higher quality version, or you would rather not have the participants being a part of your recording. It’s the best of both worlds.
Finally, mmhmm has a copilot capability that will allow a remote participant to manage aspects of the presentation. This would come in handy when you have large productions where people are working together advancing slides. Perhaps not something for everyday use, but for power users… this could be a game changer.
It just works!
Adds a level of sophistication to presentations, when you have the rich content
May allow for a better teaching delivery
Simplifies tasks that could take 30-60 seconds in Zoom (30-60 seconds doesn’t sound like long, but when you perform that task 20-30 times during a class, it’s an eternity)
The ability to save rich presentations can’t be understated… and is a feature lacking in Zoom. Having to “reset” your video layout can be problematic.
The subscription pricing model is… well, expensive ($9.99/mo or $99/yr – no educational pricing to be seen)
mmhmm can consume a considerable amount of processing power. The fans on my MacBook Pro were screaming when running Zoom and mmhmm with advanced videos, etc. in the content box. I’m sure the new MacBook Pro with the M1 CPU won’t even blink.
You CAN do much of what mmhmm does with free and open source applications if you are willing to invest a good bit of time learning such platforms (which can be buggy at times), but mmhmm packages it up in a more faculty/staff friendly package.
Music teachers across the globe are struggling with the reality that they cannot bend time/space to their will and teach music synchronously as they’ve done in the past. Modifying instruction and understanding the limitations that online instruction impose will help make a meaningful learning experience for your students.
Mike from Brooklyn provides some great ideas on how to make the most of teaching online using something as simple as the mobile phone you already have. Again, understanding the limitations of camera angles and microphone performance and adapting are key to having successful online lesson
Here’s a summary of top points from his video:
Sit at a 45° angle from the camera for wind instruments so students can see the embouchure and fingers
Lighting is always important (no light behind you)
Student(s) and instructor should be in a quiet environment
Number your measures – students and teachers to make conversation about the music more efficient
Audio compression is significant. Sit farther away from the phone when performing and move physically closer when talking
Put phone on a tripod or some sort of a stand to avoid “difficult” angles
In a recent conversation with Brooks Frederickson from Duke’s Department Of Music, we both agreed that making sure the sound going into the computer is the best it can be is critically important. Using a headset mic or your computer’s built in mic will start your audio’s life off at a disadvantage so any challenges along the way will only make a bad sound worse.
In their testing, they’ve found that the reasonably priced Røde NT-USB mic is a great all purpose mic for use with many types of instruments. This pressure gradient mic features a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer, A/D converter 16bit 48kHz to make it extremely flexible for voice and instrument use.
They are also experimenting with two interesting technologies.
They are using Cleanfeed to handle the audio collaboration while using Zoom to handle video. It offers built in recording, conferencing and a mixer to help give you much better control of your audio.
Soundtrap is a web based DAW that allows you to produce asynchronous collaborative music projects. Each individual performance will be in sync since you all will be playing with the same track. Brooks aptly described this as “Google Docs for music creation”. This could be used as a new approach to producing ensemble performances.
Please comment below for any tips/tricks that you’re employing to help continue music education through this challenging time.
This past Friday, Cisco visited the Technology Engagement Center on Duke’s campus to provide an update on their software and hardware offerings. While much of the conversation revolved around “behind the scenes” updates to the platform and general trends (on-prem vs. hybrid installs vs. Cloud), they did mention a range of new AI-based features that may be available in the near future, specifically transcription, translation, and virtual assistant services.
No Cisco conversation would be complete without an overview of their existing and soon-to-be-released hardware. While many of their offerings are unchanged, they do plan to offer a version of the Cisco Webex Room Kit Mini without the codec, for rooms where you simply need BYOD support. If a codec is needed for the room, a simple software key will bring the room up to a full Webex Room Kit Mini.
It’s no surprise, but I’m a fan of Zoom and Zoom Rooms. The platform is easy to understand, flexible, and users simply like it. While many people are familiar with Zoom, they are generally less familiar with what a Zoom Room is. In essence, a Zoom Room is a computer attached to a display, mics, speakers, camera, and a control interface, that is always on and ready to host a meeting. This is in sharp contrast to a bring your own device (BYOD) space where the user brings a laptop and connects to the AV in the space, wasting precious conference time and adding complexity to the essential task of having a meeting. With a Zoom Room, similar to a Cisco WebEx Room Kit, you walk in, touch a button on the control interface… and away you go! But, unlike a Cisco WebEx Room Kit, a Zoom Room is hardware agnostic which, relying on a Windows or Apple computer at the heart of the system, attached to anything from consumer to professional peripherals. This nearly infinite flexibility of the Zoom Room platform comes at a cost of reliability. Maintaining a Zoom Room can be challenging… keeping the local computer up-to-date with the OS, security, virus protection, not to mention all the drivers of the peripherals! If only Zoom offered a Zoom Room codec style device!
Enter Zoom Room Appliances… While these haven’t shipped, they may resolve many of the issues many Zoom Room managers have experienced. By eliminating the need for an in-room computer attached to a camera, mic, and speaker… it dramatically reduces the overall complexity of the platform. Install the soundbar like device, enter the Zoom Room activation code and BOOM! The system is connected to the hardware and you’re ready for the next meeting. No more worrying about Windows updates, what feels like weekly security patches, etc. etc. It should just work! We can’t wait to get our hands on the devices to properly test these in higher education!
This past Thursday, Jack D’Ardenne provided the Duke Digital Media Community (DDMC) with an overview of Duke’s Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) offering, called CampusVision. The platform features approximately 135 DirecTV channels and several Duke internal channels from Duke Athletics and Duke Chapel. While IPTV is the primary purpose of CampusVision, it’s also capable of a range of signage and AV related tasks. Specifically, with the more expensive of the two CampusVision players, it’s capable of acting as a rudimentary AV switcher which could come in handy in locations where you may want to watch the next basketball game… yet don’t want to install an expensive or complicated AV system to manage the area. Also, CampusVision is capable of emergency notification, so in theory, you could switch over your displays when an alert goes out. Visit the CampusVision page to request additional information on the platform.
The Fusion 2019 Technology Expo in Charlotte North Carolina, hosted by ClarkPowell is an annual event that brings together AV integrators and hardware manufacturers. While the conference isn’t specific to classroom technology, it’s not uncommon to see regional colleges and universities represented. This year, seminars were provided by Crestron, Extron, Biamp, Draper, Kramer, Panasonic, Tightrope, Vaddio, and ClarkPowell. ClarkPowell provided an overview of NDI-Video over IP, which is gaining popularity in many segments.
I attended Vaddio’s session to get a sense of how the manufacturer is addressing the need to offer reasonably priced PTZ USB cameras, specifically for soft codecs (Zoom, WebEx, etc.) and Zoom Rooms. Considering the audience, Vaddio was able to provide a deep dive into their offerings and provide a range of “things to think about” especially considering USB’s distance limitations. One area to explore is the use of fiberoptic USB cables for sending signals long distances. As the Vaddio representative said, “The days of grabbing a USB cable and having it ‘just work’ are over.” It’s going to require a considerable amount of understanding of the connection protocol to ensure things work as expected, and some trial and error.
Extron’s AV over IP, named NAV, is also an area of interest. While Extron isn’t the first manufacturer to offer AV over IP, their cautious approach to the segment is appreciated. The platform looks to be easy to deploy in a mixed environment, and we look forward to seeing it in a deployment in the near future.
No expo would be complete without networking! There were opportunities to connect with other AV professionals and manufacturers, and honestly… it’s one of the main reasons the journey to Charlotte was worth the trip. Bouncing ideas off of like-minded AV professionals is a great way to spark new approaches to AV challenges. Having face to face conversations about hardware and software eliminates the need for hours of online research. Also, hearing the “horror stories” associated with AV failures is a wonderful form of AV therapy.
I’ve been enjoying the latest iOS 13 update for the past week (woot woot to dark mode!), but when I received a “Vudu Would lIke to Use Blooth” popup, I tilted my head and said, “why?” There are a number of legitimate reasons an app may request Bluetooth access. The first good reason that comes to mind is the ability to detect what device you’re connected to, to provide a unique experience. For example, if an application detects that I’m connected to my car stereo, it may automatically provide a unique driving mode (a few applications currently take advantage of this). Cool… but what are the not so good reasons? Well, applications like Vudo (Vudu is a subsidiary of Walmart) could, in theory, allow Walmart to track my location as I walk around a Walmart, building a unique profile based on my movements. If I hover around the green tea aisle of the store too long I shouldn’t be surprised if I received a targeted add for similar products. This can become increasingly concerning with an organization that has the ability to correlate different databases based on your email addresses or unique identifier.
The worst part is… the apps haven’t changed to add this notification. Only iOS has changed to notify the user when a specific app requests Bluetooth access. So, that Vudu app may have been using my Bluetooth signal for years without my knowledge. I give Apple credit for making this a mandatory feature in an attempt to provide better transparency and privacy.
How to Check Your Bluetooth Usage
Visit Settings -> Privacy -> Bluetooth on your iPhone and you’ll see a list of all of the applications that have requested Bluetooth access. The moral of the story is, you really want to trust the companies to whom you provide Bluetooth access.
With the release of a new audio plugin on FX Factory called De-Clipper, we decided to compare our previous audio cleanup tools and see what came out on top.
De-Clipper ($59) by Accusonous is billed as “the world’s first entirely automatic De-Clipper.”
SoundSoap 5 ($150) by Antares is a suite of audio cleaning tools that includes denoise, declicking, and hum removal in addition to the declipper feature.
RX Elements ($129) by iZotope is a basic suite of audio cleaning tools, featuring de-click, de-clip, de-hum and de-noise.
We ran each tool over a couple samples of clipped audio in Final Cut Pro X, the results of which you can find here:
Overall, we found the RX Elements tool to be the most effective by a large margin. Further, within the interface of each tool, Accusonous’s De-Clipper and SoundSoap offer rather binary options. In SoundSoap, this is literally an on/off switch for the effect. RX Elements, meanwhile, offers more in the way of fine-tuning the various thresholds and gains. This flexibility is perhaps best demonstrated by comparing the interfaces for the various tools:
RX Elements Interface
An important consideration is that while Accusonous’s De-Clipper is a standalone tool, both Soundsoap and RX Elements include a suite of other features and are thus priced accordingly. In particular, we’ve found the noise reduction abilities to be quite effective in both plug-ins and well worth the additional cost.
In March, Apple announced the 2nd generation of AirPods. At $159, I was a bit hesitant to purchase them as I didn’t really need yet another thing to keep charged. Sure, the addition of “hey Siri” control, 50% more talk time on a charge, and wireless charging are a nice bump… but those were really “nice to have” features. Also, my $20 set of Bluetooth headphones were working just fine and allowed me to say “Yah, but mine were $20!”
Fast forward six months and my cheaper headphones had gone missing and I had become somewhat frustrated with the way the cheaper headphones connected with my iPhone, Apple laptop, and Apple TV (it was just clunky and time-consuming to switch between my devices). With $145 dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I splurged on a new toy. I assumed I’d have immediate buyers remorse.
It’s only been 24 hours with the AirPods, but my initial reaction has been incredibly positive. The AirPods act as an extension of my iPhone, MacBook Pro, and Apple TV with seamless transitions between the devices. The human interface (removing an AirPod pauses the current song or movie) is simply brilliant and it’s clear Apple has painstakingly woven the AirPods into their entire hardware ecosystem. So far, the few minor “complaints” would be that the mics aren’t as good as my standard iPhone mic. The AirPod mics aren’t bad… I had an hour-long conversation with a family member and they indicated that the audio was good. They just aren’t great, which was a little surprising… but not really when you realize the mic is basically next to my ear. I guess my other complaint is that there is a $145 hole in my wallet where money once lived.
Overall, I’m excited to see how I’m able to use the AirPods for WebEx, Zoom, Skype, etc. meetings and how they hold up over the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years.
Since 2009, Blue Yeti USB microphones have dominated the YouTube, podcast, and vocal production world. With each update, the Yeti has adjusted to the demands of the users, and the new Yeti X is no different. The newly added LED metering will allow users to directly monitor their levels to prevent over or under driven audio. Also, the mechanical switch on the back of the Yeti (to adjust the 4 mic pickup pattern) has been redesigned to make a transition from, say, cardioid to omnidirectional, less “clicky.” The device also allows more control from the multi-functional control wheel in the front, enabling quick access to mute and headset volume.
While the hardware has received a nice bump in terms of specifications, the most interesting update in the new Yeti X isn’t hardware related. Yeti X now ships with Blue’s VO!CE software which enables professional vocal effects and presets. Yes, you can also use the simplified Sherpa app for those that want good quality, yet simplistic, recording software. The device should be out next month!