24 Hours with the Apple AirPods

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.

“Senses of Venice” – A Collaborative Technology Exhibition

“Senses of Venice” launches today at the Chappell Family Gallery which is located at the intersection of the Perkins and Rubenstein Libraries on Duke’s West Campus. My team’s second major collaboration with the brilliant folks at Duke’s Art, Art History & Visual Studies@Duke with the addition on this project including the Duke University Libraries, our Trinity School’s AV Engineering Team and a very special collaborator, Brad Lewis, a gentleman from my past trade, the producer of Ratatouille and “How To Train Your Dragon 3”

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a “dual” display consisting of an interactive screen that is synchronized with a projector on the wall behind it creating an incredible immersive experience as well as an experience that can be shared by the guest using the display as well as those gathered around. This was developed in partnership with folks at the University of Padua as well as CamerAnebbia in Italy.

Another wonderful touch added by CamerAnebbia is the use of a “multi-plane” effect in the exhibit’s other interactive screen. This effect that was originally used by Walt Disney in his early films by painting animation on different layers of glass and moving them independently.

The exhibit will be in place through December so please stop by and experience this unique look at this vibrant and historically important city!

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Insta360 GO

Insta360 is coming out with another camera — this time, the Go Stabilized camera. It’s a super small camera you can connect to your clothes or hang up to take quick shots of the place around you. It’s water resistant and can be used in a ton of ways. It’s available for Androids and iPhones.

The resolution is nice, and the camera comes with tools to help you edit on your phone. And if this stabilization on this camera is really like what they’re advertising, I’m very intrigued.

Thanks to the short record time for clips (it will turn off after 30 seconds for real-time clips) I’m not sure if it has extremely practical application for a lot of teaching, but I definitely love the idea of this thing a lot. The battery life is also somewhat low, and the price point a little high at $199, but it’ll be cool to see if this can be more than a novelty item like a lot of these cameras can be.

Kuando Busylight

Many businesses and universities have transitioned to open floorplans for staff. It’s efficient, flexible, and saves a considerable amount of money. But, for the employees, having unscheduled disruptions can be distracting, causing loss of work or worse, general fatigue. The Kuando Busylight hopes to resolve that issue by integrating a simple light to your daily workflow. It works in a few different ways. First, you can run the light in a manual process (self-selecting your color) to alert those around you of your availability. Perhaps green for available, red for “leave me alone,” and yellow for when you are on a break, and purple for “NO, REALLY, leave me alone!” Because the light inside is an RGB light, the device can create thousands of different color combinations. It runs off of a standard USB plug, no no extra power is needed. Simple and clean.

But, if you want to, you can integrate the device into a range of platforms. For example, the light also integrates with Microsoft Teams so it will automatically change color based on your availability. Also, in a call center, this might be a good way to keep tabs on your employees. As long as the office agrees to use the lights, it can work well.

During our testing, we found the device to be simple enough to get working in just a few minutes for basic availability sharing, yet sophisticated enough to properly integrate with Microsoft Teams and Zoom (both are Windows only).

But wait, there’s more!
The Kuando Busylight can also work with a Panopto appliance to show the status of the device. In our install, we’re testing a Matrox Maevex 6020 with Panopto. We plugged in the Busylight and to the Matrox box, and when a recording started, the light turned green. Literally, you just plug it into the USB port and it worked. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but it’s nice to have that confirmation that the recorder is working. Well worth the very low price of the Busylight.

The Busylight comes in two different sizes, and both worked very well during our testing. My only input… make a Mac driver for Teams and Zoom 🙂

Epson

Face it, the form factor of most projectors hasn’t changed much over the past few decades. Most projectors subscribe to the “rectangular box” design, sometimes spicing it up with white AND black options, oh my! Enter the Epson EV-105… If you think it looks more like a track lighting fixture, you aren’t wrong. This projector is designed to seamlessly blend into retail, hospitality and event spaces, showrooms and museums, adding a high-quality accent image where needed. The key to this device is that it’s discreet… and doesn’t look like a clunky projector, when aesthetics matter.

General Functionality
Overall, we found the device to be designed from the ground up for an easy ceiling install, with all the necessary security features. The 2,000-lumen image was crisp and easily configurable. The built-in media player was easy enough to install media and test (after some initial head-scratching), and the expansive connectivity options (wired and wireless networking, HDMI and SD card inputs) put us at ease. During testing, the device delivered on what it was designed to do.

Where the Epson EV-105 shines is with creative folks. Want to project a face on a mannequin for a retail install? Interested in simulating water on the floor of a museum install? Curious if you can create the sensation of fall leaves? This is your device if the form fits your needs.

The Epson EV-105 makes less sense when your project has the space for a traditional projector or doesn’t need the unique form factor. You can purchase a 5,000-lumen projector for roughly the same price. Sure, it won’t easily mount on a ceiling without a good bit of work, it doesn’t blend seamlessly with the surroundings, and also doesn’t have a built-in media player… but sometimes you don’t need those features. Also, the resolution of the Epson EV-105 1280 x 800, which is fine for artistic projects, but maybe somewhat lackluster when it comes to spreadsheets and PowerPoint. Overall, it’s a very cool product and fits a very specific niche.

Benchmarking the Dell XPS Tower vs the Apple iMac (2019)

Overview

In July of 2019, the Duke Media Productions team was due for an upgrade on our computers. Through a mix of research, budgeting, and consultation (the fine folks at Adobe were incredibly helpful) , we arrived at two candidates with nearly equivalent specifications: the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition and the 27″ Apple iMac (2019).  Both machines are summarized below:

Premiere Pro Recommended Specs Dell XPS Tower Special Edition Apple iMac (2019)
Processor Intel 7th Gen or newer Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core) Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core)
RAM 32GB for 4K media or higher 64GB 64GB
GPU 4GB of GPU VRAM NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB VRAM Radeon Pro 580X 8GB VRAM
Storage Fast SSD 1TB SSD 1TB SSD
Price $3,564.72* $4,480.60**

(More…)

Biamp DDMC Session Summer 2019

It’s always nice to have a visit from Biamp in the summer. For those that aren’t in “the know,” Biamp is “a leading provider of professional AV equipment well-suited for a variety of applications, including conferencing, paging, and video,” or so says their website. In higher education, you’ll usually see their hardware tirelessly working away in a rack enclosure receiving, processing, and outputting audio for various of applications. For example, Biamp can take audio, process out some of the noises we generally don’t want to hear (HVAC hum or lighting buzz) and feed it out to a wide range of devices from Panopto to Zoom and beyond. It also applies advanced acoustic echo cancelation (AEC) to the various outputs to prevent that really annoying squeal you sometimes hear when you place a live mic too close to a speaker.

The session covered all of their new offerings, and they have a few. The highlights are:

  • SageVue 2.0 – This software will allow you to monitor your Biamp devices for uptime and to deploy firmware updates. The cost (free) is also perfect for higher education. In 2019, if you aren’t monitoring your AV hardware centrally, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Parlé microphones – Biamp has enhanced their microphone offering, after listening to feedback, and now offers a flatter mic with a considerably lower profile (architects will love them). For those places where hanging mics just aren’t going to work, Biamp has a solution… and it required some audio magic (additional mics) to make that happen.
  • Crowd Mics – If you’ve ever been in a 100+ auditorium where you have “mic runners” racing around to capture audience questions, Crowd Mics may be for you. This device allows guests to take advantage of their mobile phones to respond to questions. It also has an interesting queuing system that looks to make it a breeze to deploy. We’ll be keeping an eye on this as it rolls out.
  • TesiraXEL is an asymmetric power amplifiers from Biamp… and only Biamp could make amp exciting in 2019. It has an interesting universal approach to deployment that may make sense for schools where “hot swap-ability” is key. I’m no audio expert, but it sounded interesting.

Biamp was also kind enough to spend a little time reviewing some of our currently deployed audio programs, offering some game changing tips and tricks to eke out better audio in our classrooms and beyond.

 

Anime Expo 2019

I attended Anime Expo 2019 this past weekend and saw a few things that may be of interest to our community.

WACOM has been so dominant in the drawing tablet industry, it was interesting to see a different manufacturer, XP-Pen, showing some innovation in hardware design. They have a number of small tablets that start under $30, that can even work with phones, and display tablets starting at under $200 for a 12” to less than $400 for a 22” display tablet.

I played around a bit and they had a good feel with an interesting ergonomic design. If your school or department needs tablets, this might be worth a test.



While there was a panel on VR, there was only one booth demonstrating any content on VR. As you can imagine the line was pretty long as there were only a handful of headsets and people were commenting on the contamination of sharing headsets with such a large crowd.

Disney has licensed their brand to a company called Life Is Tech that has created an online platform called Disney Technologim School Of Magic that teaches coding, even topics such as shading, while simultaneously allowing the learned to play the game they are creating as they are creating it. This has been launched successfuly in Japan and will soon be available in the US. The idea seems similar to how Apple is producing learning content for their language with the exception that this offering is platform agnostic for both platform and content and… costs $1900. This fee is lifetime but they couldn’t tell me if more topics will be added in the future.

The LA Convention center was packed for 4 straight days demonstrating the love of this art form (and related) is truly vast.

 

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.

Comparing Machine Transcription Options from Rev and Sonix

As part of our continuing exploration of new options for transcription and captioning, two members of our media production team tested the automated services offered by both Rev and Sonix. We submitted the same audio and video files to each service and compared the results. Overall, both services were surprisingly accurate and easy to use. Sonix, in particular, offers some unique exporting options that could be especially useful to media producers. Below is an outline of our experience and some thoughts on potential uses.

Accuracy

The quality and accuracy of the transcription seemed comparable. Both produced transcripts with about the same number of errors. Though errors occurred at similar rates, they interestingly almost always occurred in different places. All of the transcripts would need cleaning up for official use but would work just fine for editing or review purposes. The slight edge might go to Rev here. It did a noticeably better job at distinguishing and identifying unique speakers, punctuating, and in general (but not always) recognizing names and acronyms.  

Interface

When it came time to share and edit the transcripts, both services offered similar web-based collaborative tools. The tools feature basic word processing functions and allow multiple users to highlight, strikethrough, and attach notes to sections of text. After it’s recent updates, the Rev interface is slightly cleaner and more streamlined. Again, the services are pretty much even in this category.

Export Options

This is where things get interesting. Both services allow users to export transcripts as documents (Microsoft Word, Text File, and, for Sonix, PDF) and captions (SubRip and WebVTT). However, Sonix offers some unique export options. When exporting captions, Rev automatically formats the length and line breaks of the subtitles and produces reliable results. Sonix, on the other hand, provides several options for formatting captions including character length, time duration, number of lines, and whether or not to include speaker names. The downside was that using the default settings for caption exporting in Sonix led to cluttered, clunky results, but the additional options would be useful for those looking for more control of how their captions are displayed.

Sonix also allows two completely different export options. First, users can export audio or video files that include only highlighted sections of the transcript or exclude strikethroughs. Basically, you can produce a very basic audio or video edit by editing the transcript text. It unfortunately does not allow users to move or rearrange sections of media and the edits are all hard cuts so it’s a rather blunt instrument, but it could be useful for rough cuts or those with minimal editing skills.

Sonix also provides the option of exporting XML files that are compatible with Adobe Audition, Adobe Premiere, and Final Cut Pro. When imported into the editing software these work like edit decision lists that automatically cut and label media in a timeline. We tried this with two different audio files intended for a podcast, and it worked great. This has the potential to be useful for more complicated and collaborative post-production workflows, an online equivalent of an old school “paper edit”. Again, the big drawback here is the inability to rearrange the text. It could save time when cutting down raw footage, but a true paper edit would still require editing the transcript with timecode in a word processing program.

And the winner is…

Everyone. Both Rev and Sonix offer viable and cost-effective alternatives to traditional human transcription. Though the obvious compromise in accuracy exists, it is much less severe than you might expect. Official transcripts or captions could be produced with some light editing, and, from a media production perspective, quick and cheap transcripts can be an extremely useful tool in the post-production process. Those looking to try a new service or stick with the one they’re familiar with can be confident that they’re getting the highest quality machine transcription available with either company. As more features get added and improved, like those offered by Sonix, this could become a helpful tool throughout the production process.