Benchmarking Tools for Testing Your Computer’s Performance

Our team is due to get some new computers this month and we have narrowed our choices into an equivalently specced PC and iMac. To best decide between these options, I’ve found a few free-to-use tools that have helped me gather some data on which computer would best fit our needs. Though benchmarking was a new experience for me, I found these tools to be intuitive and straightforward.

AJA Systems Test – This tool, which works on both Mac and PC, allows the user to test the read/write speed of the hard drive or any connected drives. Most of our video projects are edited directly off of network attached storage so ensuring that our R/W speed off network is correct was the first step in accurately evaluating the computers’ performance. The Blackmagic Disk Speed Test also works for the purpose, but is only available on Mac.

GeekBench – For our work, single-core processing performance was the most important comparison. This cross-platform tool was perfect for testing the performance of the CPU, generating separate scores for performance on single-core and multi-core. There’s also more granular data for specific scenarios such as adding a Gaussian Blur, Speech Recognition, PDF rendering, etc. The scores may vary slightly if you run the test multiple times but they’re helpful for determining relative differences between machines. The GeekBench website also provides comparative data from tests that other users have run.

NovaBench – This tool provides a more well-rounded assessment, providing scores for RAM, GPU, Disk as well as CPU. It was good to get a second opinion of sorts on the CPU, but the scores between this and GeekBench aren’t directly comparable. And though editing in Premiere Pro is mostly reliant on processor speed, it can also use GPU acceleration for certain tasks, so it was helpful to have a point of comparison on that level as well.

FurMark – Speaking of the GPU, this GPU stress test was helpful though it’s only available for the PC. Additionally, it includes a CPU burner tool that essentially runs the CPU up to 100% of it’s capacity. In both cases, FurMark pushes your system to it’s limits – if the screen starts blinking or your machine shuts down, you’ll know there’s a problem. Better to find out now than in the middle of an intensive project.

Performance Monitor and Activity Monitor – On Windows 10, the Performance Monitor, amongst other things, generates a real-time graph of the percentage of processor time. When exporting a video from Premiere, or playing that video back in a video player, it was helpful to see how intensive these tasks were on the system. The built-in Activity Monitor application on Mac provides a similar overview.

New Machine Caption Options Look Interesting

We wrote in April of last year about the impact of new AI and machine learning advances in the video world, and specifically around captioning. A little less than a year later, we’re starting to see the first packaged services being offered that leverage these technologies and make them available to end users. We’ve recently evaluated a couple options that merit a look:

Syncwords

Syncwords offers machine transcriptions/ captions for $0.60/per minute, and $1.35/ minute for human corrected transcriptions. We tested this service recently and the quality was impressive. Only a handful of words needed adjustment on the 5 minute test file we used, and none of them seemed likely to significantly interfere with comprehension. The recording quality of our test file was fairly high (low noise, words clearly audible, enunciated clearly).

Turnaround time for machine transcriptions is about 1/3 of the media run time on average. For human corrected transcriptions, the advertised turnaround time is 3-4 business days, but the company says the average is less than 2 days. Rush human transcription option is $1.95 with a guaranteed turnaround of 2 business days and, according to the company, average delivery within a day.

Syncwords also notes edu and quantity discounts are available for all of these services, so please inquire with them if interested.

Sonix.ai

Sonix is a subscription-based service with three tiers: single-User ($11.25 per month and $6.00 per recorded hour/ $0.10/minute), Multi-User ($16.50 per user/month and $5.00 per recorded hour) , and Enterprise ($49.50 per user/month, pricing available upon request).  You can find information about the differences among the tiers here: https://sonix.ai/pricing

The videos in the folder below show the results of our testing of these two services together with the built in speech-to-text engine currently utilized by Panopto. To be fair, the service currently integrated with Panopto is free with our Panopto license, and for Panopto to license the more current technology would likely increase their and our costs. We do wonder, however, whether it is simply a matter of time before the currently state-of-the art services such as featured here become more of a commodity:

https://oit.capture.duke.edu/Panopto/Pages/Sessions/List.aspx?folderID=4bd18f0c-e33a-4ab7-b2c9-100d4b33a254

 

Zoom Room TV Control – A CEC Story

One energy-saving feature of Zoom Room is Zoom Rooms Operation Time. This feature allows the room administrator to schedule business hours for an organization, say 8am to 5pm. During regular hours, the Zoom Room display(s), control interface, and scheduling panel will operate as normal. But, when the business (or university in our case) is outside the operational hours, the control device (usually an iPad or Android device) and scheduling display will dim to conserve energy and expand device longevity. Also, the display(s) will turn off during this period. The one catch is that the computer and monitors must support CEC (Consumer Electronic Control), and not all do. In fact, Macs don’t support CEC control over HDMI.

So, what do you do when your computer connection doesn’t support CEC? Simple, you buy some dongles! Zoom details this process (with details regarding the hardware setup) on their website, but in essence, you’ll need to configure the display (or displays… as Zoom Room can accommodate up to 3 screens) as seen below using a USB – HDMI-CEC Adapter by Pulse-Eight and a Lindy HDMI CEC Less Adapter by Lindy.

While this does add to the overall cost of the hardware design, it will more than pay for itself over the life of the install.

 

Crestron NVX Training

Duke is considering deploying Crestron’s NVX network-based AV solution in a unique active learning/gaming environment, so we sent a few members of Duke’s AV community to attend Crestron’s NVX Design and Application (DM-NVX) and DigitalMedia Networking Certification (DM-NVX-N) classes. This was a unique class as it was highly compressed to accommodate our group’s schedule and needs.

Why NVX?
Crestron’s NVX platform is an AV over IP solution that replaces the need for more traditional 8×8, 16×16, 32×32, 64×64 and 128×128 DM switchers. NVX is more flexible, scalable, and brings AV into parity with modern IT practices. In essence, it’s the future of hardware-based AV.

The class started as many Crestron classes do with general introductions, some background on the devices, where to start when researching help (psss, it’s Crestron’s website)… and from that point on, we were thrown head first into the deep end of networking. Yes, very little of the class had to do with traditional audio or video. We covered the OSI model, IP addressing, subnet masks, port numbers, IP transport protocols, hubs, switches, routers, and DNS. For those that have a networking background, this was a nice refresher course. But, for more traditional AV folks, networking can sound like a foreign language. I won’t bore you with the details, but the first slide deck was over 180 slides, and the information was dense. After being bombarded with all of the information for roughly six hours, we took our first test. Most everyone passed on the first try… even if it was by a single question.

After the test and a bit of time to recover, we started a hands-on exploration of the hardware. We started off by connecting one NVX directly to another NVX, setting one as a transmitter and the other as a receiver. After a few minutes, we had a very basic AV system! The next phase was to connect the two NVX units to a local switch. That took a bit of switch configuring/setup, but again, it was easy. As we started the second day, we connected our local switches to a core switch, so we could share any of our NVX transmitters to any of the receivers. While more complicated, it wasn’t that difficult to configure. During the final hours of the last day, we chatted about programming for the NVX and how and why you may want to consider a DigitalMedia XiO Director, a Virtual Switching Appliance Crestron offers to simplify programming for more complex NVX setups. We had another test, and the class was over.

A few takeaways:

  • NVX, or AV over IP, is here to stay and AV groups should get comfortable with the future
  • While AV folks don’t need to throw away their old skills, networking is a core part of the future of AV
  • Start befriending your networking folks… today
  • IP over AV has a range of network security concerns, so you should also befriend your networking security folks
  • The future is exciting and complicated. Lean into the new way of doing things (or at least understand them)

 

 

NewTek Connect Spark Review

The good folks at NewTek were nice enough to send Duke’s Office of Information Technology a demo unit of their new Connect Spark. The Connect Spark is a difficult device to explain to someone that has never produced or recorded a multi-camera live event. In the past, you’d need to run at least one cable from each camera to feed video and audio to the switcher before capturing and streaming that content out. Those cables had length limitations (~15 meters for HDMI and ~100 meters for SDI), not to mention being rather inconvenient. With the Connect Spark, instead of running AV cables throughout the event space, this unit leverages the local wired or wireless network to stream content either directly to a computer or an NDI capable video switcher (more on that in a bit).

Out of the box, the device is rather simple to setup and configure from the perspective of an AV professional with reasonable networking chops. I downloaded the accompanying app and was communicating with the device within minutes, able to make adjustments and confirm settings as needed. I was then able to stream that content to a local computer for importing into Telestream Wirecast (and a number of other streaming applications). Beyond that, the device could also be streamed to a Network Device Interface (NDI) capable video switcher.

In academic environments, this device could easily be deployed in large event spaces to simplify the cabling necessary to support a large multi-camera event. Also, due to the flexible/modular nature of the hardware, this same equipment could quickly be redeployed in a different location with different cameras and minimal technician involvement. Beyond that, it frees up the production team to work anywhere with a connection to the network backbone. So, in theory, you could have videographers in one building filming an event, and the director and production team in another building working their magic.

Network Device Interface (NDI)
I mentioned NDI above. NDI is a royalty-free standard developed by NewTek to enable video-compatible products to communicate, deliver, and receive broadcast quality video in a high quality, low latency manner that is frame-accurate and suitable for switching in a live production environment, or so says Wikipedia. So, this device works wonderfully with NewTek’s very popular TriCaster… but it also works with other NDI switchers such as Panasonic’s new switchers or web based virtual switches.

The Gotchas:
It wouldn’t be a DDMC article if it was all positive. Most, if not all, of the “gotchas” with the NewTek are outside of NewTek’s control. First, if you have a complicated network topology, you may experience issues. For example, in some situations, I wasn’t able to communicate with the device as it was on a different subnet or vlan. Again, not a problem if you understand your network… but for a technician that has no idea what a subnet or vlan is… it could be a show stopper. I was quickly able to quickly work around this issue, but you may need to work with your networking folks to get this all to work seamlessly. Second, if you don’t have a robust network, you may experience dropout issues, specifically when using somewhat inexpensive switches. While the device worked perfectly on our enterprise network, I experienced minor issues with my (admittedly old) home network. Infrequently, I’d see a dropped frame or hesitation. Again, I don’t blame this on the Connect Spark, but be aware that you may want to upgrade to a more modern router/switch if you are on older equipment.

Overall, I really enjoyed the device, and it underlines the coming “AV on IP” reality for AV folks.

 

 

HP Sprout Pro G2

HP visited Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this morning to provide an overview of their Sprout Pro G2. Describing the Sprout is a tricky thing to do considering the unique capabilities of the device. As HP was quick to mention, there really isn’t anything else like Sprout on the market, and until seeing it function, I assumed they were exaggerating… I was wrong.

At the heart of the system is a robust all-in-one Windows 10 computer (i7 processor, advanced graphics, 16GB of RAM, wireless keyboard/mouse, etc.), all the things you’d expect in a higher-end computer. What makes the Sprout unique is that it has built-in dual screens, one consisting of a traditional monitor and the other being a downward facing projector. The projector projects on a touch sensitive pad (HP calls it the Touch Mat) that easily connects to the base of the unit. The device defaults to extended desktop (one on top of the other), which can take a moment for novice users to fully understand. Both screens are touch sensitive, but the Touch Mat can also be used in conjunction with a stylus, and is a joy to use with minimal lag and various levels of pressure sensitivity. It does feel like you are writing on paper. If HP had stopped here with the Sprout, I’d have been impressed. It would have been a nice classroom computer with touch surfaces, annotation, and a document camera built in.

But wait, there is more… in 3D! The Sprout Pro G2 also offers up 3D scanning in two flavors. The first is a “quick scan” mode where you take an object and hold it under the projector. As you run the software and slowly rotate the object, the computer begins to create a 3D model of the item. The scull that HP provided worked very well, but some other items at the TEC didn’t scan as well (perhaps because of their symmetric nature, reflective material, etc). These scans are ideal for simply creating 3D objects for viewing on a computer or virtual environment, and not really for 3D printing.

The second method of scanning is considerably more accurate, using the 14-megapixel camera, but can be a bit more time consuming. In software, you set the level of accuracy you are looking to achieve, and the device scans the item over multiple captures. The level of accuracy was impressive.

No digital media demo would be complete without a few minor hiccups that HP identified as either an issue with a piece of software, our demo unit, or was an update on the near horizon. For example, we weren’t able to share the content from the projector to the TEC monitor. But, HP assured us that this was an issue with our unit.

As with all well-supported technologies, the Sprout Pro G2 receives regular updates, so it will be interesting to see where this device is in 2-6 months. I’d also be interested to see how well this device would perform in a classroom environment. Overall, this is a very interesting piece of technology, especially considering the took place at Duke’s Technology Engagement Center, the de facto hub for all things 3D in the area.

Wolfvision Cynap


First announced at InfoComm 2015, the Wolfvision Cynap continues to add and enhance core features to the device to adapt to the changing wireless connectivity landscape. To categorize the Cynap as a wireless presentation and collaboration device is a disservice to the robust capabilities of what Wolfvision has created. The Cynap can also acts as a media player, provide web conferencing for Skype for Business, provides app-free, dongle-free mirroring, it can also stream mixed content to services like YouTube and Facebook, and offers robust recording capabilities. Also, it has basic whiteboard and annotation functionality. Finally, the Cynap can receive content from two HDMI inputs or you can stream content to the device as additional inputs (think digital signage), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg… literally.

It would take five DDMC posts to cover the core features of the Cynap. Unfortunately, that brings me to the core “gotcha” of the system. With such an advanced piece of hardware, comes complexity (aka feature fatigue) and cost. The device is outside the budget of a small/medium sized huddle room upgrade. Also, the device would need to exist in an environment where the user base is willing to self-train on the functionality of the Cynap, or offer an on-site trainer to train and evangelize the product. That said, if you found the right group of users that could take advantage of the vast capabilities of the Cynap, it could be an incredibly powerful tool.

 

Microsoft Surface Event

Microsoft visited the Technology Engagement Center (TEC) on Duke’s campus to showcase their Microsoft Surface line of touch devices. From its humble beginnings in 2012, the touch-focused Surface line of portable computers from Microsoft has matured and expanded to include five unique hardware variations. The Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Laptop are meant to provide three flavors of mobile computing for Windows users. While rather similar, the core differences between the three devices are power consumption, weight, screen size, and keyboard flexibility. If you want an iPad-like tablet that runs the full version of Windows 10 and has a portable keyboard and pen option, you’ll want to look at the Surface Pro. On the other hand, if you simply want a traditional laptop with built-in touch capabilities, keep your eye on the Surface Laptop. The Surface Book falls somewhere in the middle of the three devices in terms of a detachable keyboard, power consumption, etc. From a classroom technology standpoint, these devices are ideal for annotating PowerPoint slides, graphing, and note taking, while connected to the local AV system.

The Microsoft Surface Studio is meant to replace a traditional desktop computer, but adds an articulating 28” touch-screen monitor that is simply a joy to use as both a traditional monitor and as a drawing surface. Sure, it’s still a desktop computer, but it’s clear Microsoft has considered many alternative ways that educators, artists, and designers could use the touch-driven device to convey information. With minimal latency and a top down approach to hardware/operating system/software integration, the drawing capabilities are the best I’ve seen, seeming very natural to use. This is the first device where I’ve thought, “I hardly notice the technology” when annotating on top of a PowerPoint. With a few Schools deploying Surface Studios for the fall semester, I’ll be curious to see how they are received.

The final Surface device, not showcased at the TEC due to size/weight limitations, was the Microsoft Surface Hub. With wall and cart mounting options, the Microsoft Surface Hub comes in two sizes (84” and 55”) and seems to be an even larger version of the Surface Studio, but with a focus on collaborative meeting spaces. The DDMC is planning to take a trip to Microsoft’s offices in Raleigh this summer to see one in action.

New Progressive Download Capability for Warpwire

One of the cool features we rolled out out in our last major Warpwire upgrade is an option for progressive download. This work has grown out of our involvement with Duke global programs, such as our campus at Duke Kunshan University. Specifically, we’ve noted that in situations that combine low bandwidth with high network latency, we can reduce video buffering and significantly improve the end user experience by delivering the files via progressive download rather than the standard HTTP Live delivery method Warpwire currently uses by default.

warpwireSecurity

 

We’ve updated our Warpwire FAQ (https://duke.service-now.com/kb_view.do?sysparm_article=KB0017639) to reflect this new capability as well as to include minimum technical requirements for using Warpwire. I’ve clipped the relevant info below:

What are the minimum technical requirements for using Warpwire?

Network Speed:
  • Viewing videos at 360p requires 1.0 Megabit per second
  • Viewing videos at 480p (SD quality) requires 3.0 Megabits per second
  • Viewing videos at 720p (HD quality) requires 5.0 Megabits per seconds
Latency (sometimes called “ping”):
To stream videos effectively via Warpwire’s default method (currently Apple’s HLS protocol), your network latency (“ping”) should be no greater than 150ms.
Test your network speed and latency (“ping”) here: http://www.speedtest.net/)

My Warpwire videos keep buffering. What can I do to improve performance?

If your videos keep buffering (i.e., showing three moving dots on top of the video), test your network connection for bandwidth and latency via http://www.speedtest.net/). If your bandwidth and/or latency are close to our minimum recommended thresholds, switching the media libraries to Progressive Download may help. To do that, contact the OIT Service Desk (oit.duke.edu/help) if you own the Media Library or Libraries containing the problem files and provide the name and URL of the Libraries in question. If you are not the owner, contact that person (the person who shared the files with you) and request that they contact the OIT Service Desk to switch to Progressive Download or make other arrangements to share the file/s with you.

Please note that if you do not have a bandwidth of at least 1 Megabit per second, your best option may be to request that the owner of your Media Library or Libraries move the files to Duke’s box.com site where you can download the videos and view them on your local hard drive. 

 

 

Google announces a new HDMI stick called Chromebit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yesterday, Google announced its new HDMI stick, Chromebit, which will run Google’s Chrome OS.  Basically, it is a mini computer that plugs into a display’s HDMI input.  The device will be availble this summer, and will be sold for under $100.  It will be interesting to see how this compares to Intel’s Compute Stick.  It will also be interesting to see how these devices could be used in classrooms and meeting rooms.  Specs for the Chromebit are below.

  • Rockchip 3288 SoC (quad-core ARM Cortex-A17 processor and ARM Mali 760 quad-core GPU)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB of eMMC memory
  • USB 2.0 port
  • WiFi 802.11 ac support
  • Bluetooth 4.0