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.

New Machine Transcription Option from Rev

We recently posted about some exciting new options in the world of captioning spearheaded by a company called Sonix, which offers a page for account set-up for members of the Duke community that waives monthly subscription charges as part of their edu program. Hot on the heels of that announcement, we learned that Rev.com, who has long offered high quality human-generated transcriptions for Duke, now has their own machine transcription option. It’s a bit more expensive than Sonix at ten cents per minute as opposed to around 8 cents per minute for Sonix. We’re working on a detailed comparison of the two services and will share more info here as we have it.

Rev's New Machine Transcription Option

Rev also just announced improvements to their caption editor. We’d love to have your feedback about these changes as well as about your use of Rev’s new machine transcription option. According to Rev, the improvements to the editor include:

  • Text selection toolbar – keep your timestamp, highlight, strikethrough, and comment tools where you need them, contextually accessible next to the text you just selected.
  • White theme – a light, minimal color scheme to bring the Transcript Editor into the same modern styling as the rest of Rev.com.
  • Streamlined transcript body – no more cluttered columns, all speaker names and timestamps are now in-line with the transcript body, so you can focus on the content that matters to you.

For a full, updated walkthrough of all Transcript Editor functionality, see The Rev Transcript Editor, a Guide for First Time Users.

 

 

MacOS Catalina: Sidecar

With the release of MacOS Catalina, a new feature called Sidecar has been added that enables an iPad to be used as an extended desktop for a Mac. Also, when paired with an Apple Pencil, it can be used to draw or write in Mac Apps that support the pencil. Since the Apple Pencil (1st Generation) is now supported with the iPad 6th generation, and an iPad Pro is not needed, its use with Sidecar has opened up many more capabilities at a lesser cost.

I’d previously reported on a 3rd party dongle that provided this functionality, which like many other 3rd party solutions that tried to fill this void, now is no longer needed. (https://sites.duke.edu/ddmc/2017/08/29/luna-display/)

 

 

The Rise and Fall of BYOD

The bring your own device (BYOD) meeting or teaching space has been a popular model for small and medium meeting and teaching spaces. With the rise of inexpensive and ultra-portable laptops and tablets, the traditional “local computer” has slowly lost favor in many spaces. The computer is expensive, requires significant maintenance, and is a prime target for malicious software. Also, users generally prefer using their own device as they know the ins and outs of the hardware and operating system they prefer. The BYOD model worked well when the guest was sharing a presentation or video to a local projector or monitor. But, as AV systems have grown to include unified communication (UC) systems (WebEx, Zoom, Skype, etc.), the pain points of BYOD have been magnified.

First, when hosting a meeting on a BYOD device, connecting your device to a projector or monitor is usually rather straightforward since standardizing on HDMI. Yes, you may still need a dongle, but that’s an easy hurdle in 2019. But, as we add UC, Zoom as an example, to the meeting, things get complicated. First, you need to connect the laptop to a local USB connection (this may require yet another dongle). This USB connection may carry the video feed from the in-room camera and the in-room audio feed. This may not sound complicated, but those feeds may not be obvious. For example, the camera feed could be labeled Vaddio, Magewell, or Crestron. With audio, it can be equally difficult to discover the audio input with labels such as USB Audio, Matrox, or Biamp. Sure, many reading this article may be familiar with what these do… but even as a digital media engineer, these labels can mean multiple things.

But, who cares… we are saving money while giving maximum AV flexibility, right? Errr, not really. Yes, those with the technical understanding of how the AV system works will be able to utilize all of the audiovisual capabilities… but for the rest of the world, there might as well not be an AV system in the space. Even worse, for those that have ever attended a meeting where it takes 10+ minutes to connect the local laptop to the correct mics, speakers, and camera, you may be losing money in the form of time, compounded by every person in attendance.

The Solution?
Soft codecs to the rescue! With the rise of UC soft codecs (Zoom Room, Microsoft Teams Rooms and BluJeans Rooms, etc.) you can integrate an inexpensive device (a less expensive computer) that is capable of performing a wide range of tasks. First, all of the in-room AV connects to the soft codec, so no fumbling for dongles or figuring out which audio, mic, speaker input/output is correct. Second, the soft codec monitors the space to ensure the hardware is functioning normally, breaking local AV groups out of break fix into a managed model. Third, with calendar integration, you can schedule meetings with a physical location. The icing on the cake is that most of these UC soft codecs offer wireless sharing… so you can toss your AppleTV, Solstice Pod, etc. out the window (OK, don’t do that… but it’s one less thing you need to buy during your next refresh). Oh, and don’t even get me started about accessibility and lecture capture!

We have a keen eye on soft codec system as a potential replacement to traditional classroom AV systems in the mid to long term… and so should you.

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

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!