Crestron

We had great turnout for our July 27th DDMC presentation with the kind folks at Crestron Electronics. Representatives Ryan Bernt and Greg Coddington showed up with a wealth of information. New and improved online and in person training, camera tracking, BYOD product updates, and cloud based control platforms.

 

Be sure to check out the recording for more details!

Crestron at the DDMC

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

Dynamic Video Group Overview – Production Studio in Durham

I had the pleasure of checking out a local production studio called Dynamic Video Group. For the Academic Media Production Team, this will be a great resource to point folks towards who don’t fall under our typical purview or availability.

Their “studio | space” model allows clients to book by the hour. Selecting from a variety of backgrounds (green screen, white, brick, etc), the client can show up with a script and/or slides in hand and work with a studio manager to record on one or more 4K cameras. The studio is equipped with a teleprompter, screen capture options, and soon a lightboard. They can also facilitate live-streaming for recording high quality remote interviews over Zoom etc. The studio can bring on freelance editors if needed, but most of their clients prefer to get the raw recorded files and handle on their end. Similarly, they’re in touch with graphic designers,  and make-up folks should the need arise. Overall, seemed pretty flexible and adaptable to whatever you could throw at them.

With the pandemic, they’re shifting a lot of focus to virtual events, which is reflected in their virtual event studio model. Essentially, it’s an upscale zoom room where they can bring up the grid of participants, display the chat, spotlight guests on a dedicated monitor, etc. This all runs into a control room on site where they can moderate the stream, live switch between cameras, and provide technical support. Their new HybridLink model will even allow them to bring up to 4 cameras on location and send the signal back to their studio control room, bypassing the need for a mobile control room setup.

If you have any questions or plan to work with Dynamic, please get in touch with us at oit-mt-info@duke.edu.

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.

Ultra-Cheap HDMI to USB Capture Device

In the golden age of AV, when confronted with the joyous task of converting an HDMI signal to something a local computer could easily ingest, you would simply fork out $2,500+ on a proper 1U device that would elegantly make that digital transition with ease, and call it a day. The single-purpose device was robust, came with dozens of features and capabilities (many of which weren’t utilized in the higher education market), and would work well for five to seven years with minimal issues (except for the faculty and staff that would tinker with the settings – which I’ve been guilty of!). This is during an era when HDMI to USB conversion was a luxury, reserved for those with deep pockets.

But, during the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen the rise of HDMI to USB dongles. Generally speaking, these dongles were much less expensive (usually in the $500 to $300 range), offered fewer features, and generally worked well. But, they were still $300+ and not something most technicians felt comfortable simply handing to a faculty, staff, or student in fear of the device going missing.

Enter 2020… and Amazon seems to be awash with this very inexpensive HDMI to USB thumb-drive style devices, listed under multiple manufacturers (usually not a good sign). Willing to roll the dice on a $32 purchase, my supervisor gave me permission to test the device. To my surprise, IT WORKED! I plugged it in, and the device was immediately recognized as “USB Camera” in Quicktime, Zoom, etc. by using the universal UVC (USB video device class) driver that ships with all modern Mac and PC computers, no driver software needed!

To check compatibility, I threw some oddball hardware at it to see how it would respond. First, I connected my aging Canon 5D MkIII DSLR at it, and it performed well. This is how good a proper DSLR can look in Zoom.

I then connected a game console to the device, and sure enough, it worked! I kept the connection alive for a few hours, and the image never dropped.

Conclusion:
So, do I completely trust this device? Maybe… it hasn’t failed me yet, but it was only $32, and it should cost $300! It’s hard to wrap your mind around such a device when the cost is so low. “There must be something wrong with it!” I keep thinking to myself. That said, I’m probably not going to recommend it as a complete replacement for our more reputable dongles for the foreseeable future. That said, this does make a nice device for testing or possibly handing out to faculty/staff/students to try in unique setups.

Here is my shortlist of Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • It works!
  • The video quality looks great
  • It’s incredibly flexible for situations where you would like to capture a higher-end video camera, document camera, etc. Anything with an HDMI out!
  • Audio also seems to work (but honestly, I’d like to spend some additional time testing how robust the audio capabilities are).
  • It is C-H-E-A-P!!!

Cons:

  • My main beef with the device is that I don’t like “hard” dongles connected to my desktop. AKA, I wish it had a flexible USB connector between the device and my laptop to allow for some flex. It acts as a perfect lever and could damage your computer if directly connected and someone pulls on the HDMI cable. This wasn’t an issue as I was using my MacBook Pro dongle to connect the device
  • It’s “only” 1080p – 30 fps or 720p/60fps (no 4K here!)
  • The latency is surprisingly good for $32, but it’s not amazing
  • If you are buying this to stream games… you may want to spend the extra money
  • The HDMI to USB processing happens on your computer (some more expensive dongles perform the processing on the dongle, freeing up those extra processing cycles for your computer. This WAS a big deal, but modern computers have the extra bandwidth)
  • It’s USB 2.0, so the image quality is somewhat limited to USB 2.0 speeds, but it also works with older devices, so perhaps this is a pro?

Purchase Location: Amazon

Cisco Visits Duke

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.

Blue Yeti X

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!