Extron Electronics

Mark Bednarcik & Don Mitchell with Extron Electronics dropped into the DDMC and gave us a run down on some of the powerful tools that Extron has available for Collaboration spaces, Conference Rooms, and Lecture Halls. Also highlighting control and their new Virtual Control platform that will allow control of up to 50 rooms on one box.

Mark and Don pointed out the expansive online and in-person training that Extron offers. Worth checking out! Especially if your are in need of CTS or BICSI continuing education credits.

If you would like to review the meeting please follow this link to the DDMC Panopto to this video!

Panasonic Education Solutions

The DDMC met with our good friends at Panasonic this afternoon. All of us know they provide high quality classroom projectors. We just now discovered is they have a “pimp my projector” option with custom vinyl wraps! Custom Graphic/Logo/Colors. A 5-10 day Business day turnaround will get you stylin n’ profilin before the fall semester!

Also new to the Panasonic line of education products is their entry into wireless microphones with (11) new products that aim to be intuitive to use, lightweight and secure. Designed for lecture halls, auditoriums, the system has the flexibility to deliver excellent quality in spaces small too large.

New and notable is the Panasonic Lecture Capture & Auto – Tracking system. An all-in-one system to automatically track, record and stream video. Delivering a high quality, rich multi-source viewing experience. Co-developed & certified with Seneca and Panaopto for plug and play capabilities that should make for easy integration into existing AV systems. I have requested a (4) camera on site demo! So, stay tuned for further developments.

Check into our Zoom call here

2022 Northwest Managers of Educational Technology Conference Summary

This April I attended the Northwest Managers of Educational Technology conference held this year in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Since there’s nothing quite like this group in the Southeast, it felt well worth it to me to fly across the country to enjoy a little normalcy and connect in person again with fellow A/V professionals focused on education. Of course, I can’t deny that the location for this year’s event on the shores of beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene was an added draw. The conference was well attended (I’m guessing ~100 attendees), and exceptionally well run. NMET is a close organization with a history that spans several decades going all the way back to the beginning of the AV industry as we know it in the era of analog media.

Lake Coeur d'Alene

TOPICS

  • Responses to the pandemic and various school’s efforts to work toward a “new normal” 
  • The CARES Act as a catalyst for A/V classroom upgrades: UNLV launched a huge new program during COVID called RebelFlex using CARES funds that is seen as largely successful that would likely not have been possible otherwise. (Duke, along with several other top private universities such as Harvard and Princeton chose not accept CARES act funding.)
  • COVID as a driver for A/V initiatives and standardization: Many schools saw decision-making for A/V and IT-related projects shift to the provost level and higher as schools developed alternative teaching strategies such “emergency”, “HyFlex,” “hybrid,” “co-mingled,” and remote teaching as pandemic responses. In most cases timelines for implementing major A/V projects sped up significantly as well.
  • COVID as a driver for A/V standardization: Oregon State University described how COVID helped their campus standardize on an enterprise A/V strategy that centered on Kaltura, Canvas, and Zoom, and quieted demand for competing tools. Interestingly, OSU does not use a dedicated recording tool such as Panopto but instead utilizes Zoom for all recording and pushes this content to Kaltura within Canvas course sites. 
  • Faculty support models for hybrid teaching: UNLV’s RebelFlex program experimented with hiring students who were assigned to in-person classes as tech support. While overall this seemed successful, there were challenges, such as the diminishment of the need for tech support as the semester went on and faculty became familiar with the new technologies involved. Additionally it was observed that faculty members tended to morph the roles of their student help into roles resembling TAs and research assistants over time, including using these helpers as moderators for their Zoom chats.
  • Building a Networking Group like NMET: Some of the conference attendees were surprised I came all the way from North Carolina to attend the conference. “You mean the Duke?” several asked. I explained there’s nothing in the southeast comparable to NMET, an education-driven organization focused on the intersection of A/V and IT. That’s sad, but not surprising in a way, since a successful organization like NMET isn’t built overnight. NMET began holding conferences in 1979 and is the result of the hard work and passion of several generations of A/V professionals who have comprised NMET.
  • The A/V Superfriends Podcast (https://www.avsuperfriends.com/): Some of the members of NMET together with other A/V professionals extending beyond that group maintain a very cool podcast for A/V professionals focused on the intersection of A/V and pedagogy in higher ed. They were actually recording new episodes of the podcast live in the exhibit area. Members of this group led several interesting conference sessions focused primarily on the impact of COVID for classroom technology. Recent topics of their podcast include: 
    • Managing PO’s and supply chain issues
    • Campus support structures
    • Auto-framing and auto-tracking cameras
    • Cabling infrastructure and TIA standards
    • The intersection of A/V and IT in hiring new staff
    • AV replacement cycles–do we set arbitrary schedules of 5, 7, 10 years or tie AV refresh projects to capital projects?
    • Bootstrapping light video production switchers into classroom systems
  • AV over IP: It was argued by some that the NDI (Network Device Interface) protocol represents the wave of the future, and that we should future-proof our classrooms by purchasing NDI-capable cameras
  • Benefits and drawbacks of Zoom certification: It was discussed this may be OK as long as not mandated or exploited for commercial benefit (cross reference Tandberg)
  • “Hybrid” (instructor-driven) vs. “HyFlex” (student-centered) classrooms
  • USB as the “common language of hybrid learning spaces”
  • Elevating sound quality in the rush to add A/V infrastructure to classrooms 
  • Keeping classroom AV UI’s simple and standard even in classrooms where there is great complexity under the hood
  • ePTZ (auto-tracking) cameras: Importance of good lighting, fixed positions are better than continuous tracking
  • Making a virtual lightboard: One presenter showed how he used Procreate and a green screen in front of presenter to make a virtual lightboard 


VENDORS

  • Kaltura: Kaltura was one of three main sponsors of the conference. As mentioned above, Oregon State University, which was the main organizer of the conference, is a Kaltura customer. It was noted that Kaltura, unlike most other vendors, still offers an unlimited storage and bandwidth licensing tier, although it was mentioned it is “expensive.”
  • Panasonic: Panasonic was another major sponsor of the conference. Their projectors and displays were used in conference venues.
  • Elmo was showcasing its wide array of document cameras from a $200.00 USB to similarly portable wireless options starting at ~$800.00 to its flagship 4K, 12x optical zoom version designed for fixed classroom installations, the PX-30E (MSRP $3700.00). Interestingly, while WolfVision is the 500lb gorilla in the doc cam space, Elmo actually invented the document camera, and is the older company.
  • Epiphan was showcasing its well-known Pearl live encoder lineup along with its cool new device, the LiveScrypt. The LiveScrypt connects to Epiphan Cloud to add live ASR-based captions to your live production. These captions can be embedded with your live streams or sent out to monitors in the room for display for in person or hybrid events. There is a charge of $10.00/ hr to use the cloud-based ASR service in addition to the $1,500.00 cost of the device itself.
  • Alfatron had its wide range of PTZ cameras on display, ranging from a MSRP of $700.00 to $2150.00.
  • Shure had a booth showcasing equipment by Stem, a company they recently acquired. Stem offers complete solutions for outfitting conference and meeting rooms with a range of mics, including tabletop, wall, and ceiling mounted ones, together with a hub and an integrated control system for managing the individual elements.
  • Smart was demoing its latest lineup of interactive displays
  • Legrand AV showcased a wide range of products focused on physical classroom infrastructure, including displays, display mounts, projectors, PTZ cameras, speakers, device controllers, and network switches. Legrand is a large company that owns Vaddio, Chief, Da-Lite, and Middle Atlantic Products.
  • Cleardigital featured its modular display wall called Vue featuring very smooth touch surfaces and replaceable panels as well as other products such as a PTZ cam, the RL400, a portable doc cam and an all-in-one conference camera.
  • Newline Interactive was featuring its newest interactive and non-interactive displays ranging from 27” to 98”
  • AVer gave a conference session demo-ing its new autotracking PTZ camera, the TR333V2. The TR333V2 offers:
    • 30x optical zoom
    • Sophisticated pre-set configuration, including the ability to move in and out of continuous tracking and fixed position mode based on how an instructor moves in the classroom
    • 4k
    • 3G-SDI, HDMI, IP, and USB output 
    • Full or half body tracking

Sennheiser

The DDMC hosted Sennheiser’s Steve Wingo who spoke about two very interesting technologies that might serve our community.

Team Connect 2

The TeamConnect Ceiling 2, with its patented automatic dynamic beamforming technology, was already a leader in conference room audio technology. Now, with the addition of TruVoicelift and advanced zone control, TeamConnect Ceiling 2 combines the advantages of a boundary microphone and a microphone array. Therefore, it is the best solution for both (video) conferencing and in-room audio, for example in classrooms, lecture halls and boardrooms. TeamConnect Ceiling 2 now offers our customers unparalleled levels of control with the addition of a priority zone (allowing a single area in the room to be highlighted), 5 advanced exclusion zones (for pinpoint targeting and removal of unwanted noise sources) and more. All of these new features are activatable and configurable via the latest firmware update for the TeamConnect Ceiling 2 and via the latest version of Sennheiser Control Cockpit. Easy to install and, due to a flexible microphone ceiling mount system, easy to integrate. Let us help you understand the difference TeamConnect Ceiling 2 can make for you and your business.

MobileConnect

MobileConnect consists of three main components: The MobileConnect Station is the “audio-to-network bridge” that picks up the audio signal in the room and streams it to any preferred streaming network. Using the pre-existing WiFi access points, the signal is provided to up to 100 smartphones per Station, using the MobileConnect App as a receiver. When using multiple Stations, the MobileConnect Manager can be used as the single point of administration for all MobileConnect Stations. If not needed, MobileConnect can also be operated in the so-called Standalone Mode, where single MobileConnect Stations can be run and administered using a local web interface.

 

Take a look at our Zoom Call for more information: https://duke.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=66a9a1eb-f4cc-498e-99ac-ae6100fed53c

neat.

The DDMC hosted a new comer just 2 years old to the Zoom/Teams appliance world of approved products called neat.

” Neat designs simple and elegant pioneering video devices for Microsoft and Zoom, helping make the meeting space experience the best it can be.

Continuously pushing boundaries, Neat devices are incredibly easy to install, set up and use and have unique features to support a safer, more enhanced and engaging hybrid working and learning environment going forward.

Advanced smart room sensor technology enables you to monitor air quality and people counting for healthier, lower-cost rooms. At the same time, crystal clear audio and video mean you can always precisely see and hear everyone, no matter where or how they position themselves in the room.

Bringing you the future of video today, Neat bridges the gap between in-room and remote participants like never before by individually auto framing each person in the room and presenting them equally up close on remote participants screens. This capability gives you, your colleagues or students the truest sense yet of being physically all together in the same room.”

One of the stand out features is what they call double-talk.

“All Neat devices have an excellent echo canceller that suppresses echo and not someone’s speech. As for the other echo cancellers out there, even though many do a great job of suppressing echo, they unintentionally squash speech too, which typically happens if people talk over each other – a phenomenon known as ‘double-talk.’

When ‘double-talk’ performance is poor, people may not always hear what you’re saying. Or worse, they probably won’t even realize you’re saying anything at all. It means that you can’t just quickly jump into a conversation without most devices dampening out your voice. Neat devices enable you to share in lively debates without that worry.”

 

 

POLY.com

As follow up to the ZOOM meeting from January, 28th. We just finished a product preview of the new POLY X70. That can leverage the ZOOM ability to share multiple screens simultaneously and be that “all-in-one” videoconference solution. The X70 combines (2) 4k video cameras with a stereo sound sound bar promising a conference room solution at a reasonable price.

 

Poly X70 Cut Sheet:

https://www.poly.com/content/dam/www/products/video/studio/studio-x70/doc/poly-studio-x70-ds-en.pdf

Along with the similarly featured (1) camera X50 all in one conference solution that brings small to medium conference rooms into reach as far as ease and simplicity is concerned.

Poly X50 Cut Sheet:

https://www.poly.com/content/dam/www/products/video/studio/studio-x50/doc/poly-studio-x50-ds-en.pdf

Some interesting audio features that may help with noisy environments are the Acoustic Fence and NOISEBLOCKAI features which allow user to set up an “audio exclusion zone” and reduce unwanted room noise.

https://blogs.poly.com/the-most-of-poly-acoustic-fence/

https://www.poly.com/us/en/innovations/noiseblock

Take a look at our ZOOM meeting for yourself!

https://duke.is/85juq

 

 

 

 

Logitech Spotlight – 4 Years Later

Four years later, I still really like the Logitech Spotlight and enjoy utilizing it during my presentations. When I do, I usually get at least one or two “How did you do that?” type comments. The Logitech Spotlight, a “laser pointer” without a laser, highlights information on a PowerPoint, Keynote, PDF, etc. in an elegant way by “spotlighting” the information (see above graphic) via software (note, you can also have the “spotlight” act as a magnifying glass or to act as a red “dot” similar to how a laser pointer would look on a display). In 2017, this was a bit of a novelty as most of my presentations were in person, and a traditional $19.95 laser pointer would have done most of what the Spotlight can do (if not more)… THEN… COVID-19 hit, and things changed a bit. Traditional laser pointers don’t work well with Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc. and while a mouse works well in some of those situations, there are other (specifically hybrid teaching) environments where the faculty may not have easy access to the mouse. The Logitech Spotlight solves a specific issue where the in-room participants can see where the faculty member is pointing, but more importantly, the remote participants (via Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc.) see the same highlight. Also, the in-room lecture capture system captures the information being highlighted. Best of all, it just works.

[Quick Logitech Spotlight video]

What’s changed over the years? Originally, the Logitech Spotlight software used to generate the highlights was a bit clunky and installation was a bit of a pain. Over time, as I’ve installed the software on a few devices, Logitech seems to have cleaned up that process a good bit (or, perhaps Apple has streamlined the peripherals platform access). You still need to enable a good number of OS-level security items, but it’s easier in 2021. Also, in 2017, I was a little perplexed as to why Logitech selected USB-C as the charging connector (I wanted my USB-A!). But, the USB-C port has proven to be useful now that just about everyone has a USB-C charger or open port to charge the device. Lastly, I still enjoy the flexibility of the device. The remote can communicate by either a dongle (that tucks away nicely in the base of the unit when not in use) or via Bluetooth. There are pros and cons to the two communication methods, but having flexibility is nice. Overall, the ROI of the Logitech Spotlight has been great, and I don’t see it losing space in my backpack anytime soon.

Middle Atlantic RackLink 9 Outlet Select PDU – RLNK-915R

WAIT!!! Before you let out an audible groan and skip to the next Duke Digital Media Community (DDMC) post… hear me out. This isn’t your grandfather’s power strip or sequencer. This RackLink PDU is somewhat unique, and that difference can be significant when managing anywhere between 1 and 1,000 conference rooms or learning spaces.

The background:
With most AV deployments, there is a range of boxes that are required to complete a modern AV system. All these boxes require power, including a control processor, matrix switch, DSP, lecture capture appliance, Bluray player, network switch, VHS cassette player, and reel-to-reel tape recorders (OK, those last two were a joke), etc. Basically, you need a bunch of available outlets, and the two or four that are behind your rack simply won’t cut it. You could easily run to your local Walmart and pick up a $14.97  power strip and call it a day (many people do – sigh) and that may work… but you may be limiting the control you have over your AV for the life of the system.

So, why should you spend $400+ (usually education folks can get it at a discounted price) on something that seems oddly similar to a $14.97 device?
Where do we begin? First of all, the RLNK-915R is built like a tank with heavy metal construction engineered to endure the harsh higher-education environment (only half-joking). It is designed in a way to allow for easy install in a rack enclosure, giving the installer eight outlets in the back, away from curious hands. The “cord retainer” for the power cable connected to the wall will prevent accidental disconnects, or worse… partial disconnects when the rack is moved for maintenance. Finally, the back also has an Ethernet port for control and monitoring. Moving to the front of the unit, there is an additional power outlet that can come in handy for a laptop charging in a pinch. The eight LEDs on the front of the unit provide a quick reference to the state of all of the back outlets… more on that in a moment.

Now, we get to the meat of why AV professionals purchase such a device. Dumb power distribution devices and basic surge protection (see Walmart above) is OK (but perhaps not recommended), and power sequencing (turning on-off each of the individual power outlets, one at a time with a pre-defined delay) isn’t anything new. The RLNK-915R can turn on/off or toggle each outlet individually from anywhere using the RLNK-915R’s build-in web page. Best of all, it can also be integrated with a control system (Extron, Crestron, etc.) to allow for deep AV integrations.

For example, you could program your AV system to tell the RLNK-915R to power down amps (or any hardware) outside of normal business hours (yet turn them on if someone has a spontaneous 4 am meeting). Also, if you have a piece of hardware that won’t respond (think control processor, DSP, etc.), you can perform a quick power cycle to see if that brings the device back to life. Finally, such a device will also allow you to intelligently power sequence devices in a more meaningful way. Instead of waiting 60 seconds between each outlet, you could spend 2 minutes powering up your amp and DSP, and five seconds for other devices that don’t require as much time (saving a significant amount of time on full system reboots).

Overally, seeing intelligent power devices integrated into modern learning spaces makes perfect sense when considering the limited resources facing AV managers, especially when looking at locations that aren’t easily accessible. Is it worth the additional cost to install such devices in every classroom? Probably not, but having such devices in key locations, especially those that are higher profile or challenging to send technicians to, is the future… or more to the point is here today.

 

Middle Atlantic RLNK-215

Technically, this isn’t an “AV specific” piece of hardware, but the Middle Atlantic RLNK-215 makes its way to AV racks regularly and for good reason. The two-outlet “intelligent power” control device provides basic metal oxide varistor (MOV) surge protection to your AV system, network device, or server. What makes this device unique is that when you connect the RLNK-215 to your network, it offers an easy to use web interface that enables you to independently turn the outlets on and off. While this may not sound like such a modern marvel, consider a scenario where you need to perform a quick hard reboot to your fancy new AV system after a failed firmware update. One quick power cycle should do the trick. Oh, did I forget to mention that the AV system is 100 miles away, on an island, and it’s a Saturday afternoon? Having the ability to remotely hard reboot a system can come in handy in several situations and this device allows you to easily and securely perform that task. The RLNK-215 is also capable of fully integrating into your AV system of choice (Extron, Crestron, etc.) to power devices on or off (amps, lights, fans, etc.).


[Above: Screenshot of the various ways to password protect the Middle Atlantic RLNK-215 for users, admins, and control systems.]

I know what you are thinking, “But didn’t I see something like this for $29.95 online?” Perhaps, but there are reasons you buy such a device. First, it’s not an Internet of Things device, pinging home to a centralized server. This device is fully self-contained and does not require access to the greater Internet. Also, the device is well constructed with a metal outer shell and locking power cable to prevent accidental power disconnects. The device is RoHS and UL listed (60950-1) which is important in many installations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the device is backed by a three-year warranty and a group of people that stand behind the device should you experience issues.

Bottom Line: While these devices may sound like a luxury at times, it allows you to more centrally manage AV systems, especially when you have limited staffing resources or a large AV footprint across a sprawling campus.

mmhmm, Taking Advanced Online Presentations to the Next Level

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.