Wirecast 10 Adds Live Captions

Wirecast recently announced a new cloud-based service that supports live captions based on ASR (automatic speech recognition) and an rtmp re-streaming service. Both work in conjunction with Wirecast 10. This means that if you are using Wirecast 10, you can automatically caption your videos and simultaneously push them to another provider like YouTube or Facebook live. This is an interesting development because we are seeing the entrance of new ASR platforms like IBM Watson that claim to offer much greater accuracy than has been possible with earlier generation ASR technologies. I’m not sure what platform Wirecast is leveraging, but we’d love to hear from anyone at Duke using Wirecast 10 who is willing to give their 100 minute free trial a go.

New Wirecast Cloud Services

It’s a subscription-based service with monthly fees starting at $25.00/month for re-streaming and $60.00/month for live captions. Detailed information and a link to set up an account and get started can be found here:

https://www.telestream.net/wirecast/webservices/

Kaptivo

Let’s face it… humans like articulating concepts by drawing on a wall. This behavior dates back over 64,000 years with some of the first cave paintings. While we’ve improved on the concept over the years, transitioning to clay tablets, and eventually blackboards and whiteboards, the basic idea has remained the same. Why do people like chalkboard/whiteboards? Simple, it’s a system you don’t need to learn (or you learned when you were a child), you can quickly add, adjust, and erase content, it’s multi-user, it doesn’t require power, never needs a firmware or operating system update, and it lasts for years. While I’ll avoid the grand “chalkboard vs. whiteboard” debate, we can all agree that the two communication systems are nearly identical, and are very effective in teaching environments. But, as classrooms transition from traditional learning environments (one professor teaching to a small to a medium number of students in a single classroom) to distance education and active learning environments, compounded by our rapid transition to digital platforms… the whiteboard has had a difficult time making the transition. There have been many (failed) attempts at digitizing the whiteboards, just check eBay. Most failed for a few key reasons. They were expensive, they required the user to learn a new system, they didn’t interface well with other technologies… oh, and did I mention that they were expensive?

Enter Kaptivo, a “short throw” webcam based platform for capturing and sharing whiteboard content. During our testing (Panopto sample), we found that the device was capable of capturing the whiteboard image, cleaning up the image with a bit of Kaptivo processing magic, and convert the content into an HDMI friendly format. The power of Kaptivo is in its simplicity. From a faculty/staff/student perspective, you don’t need to learn anything new… just write on the wall. But, that image can now be shared with our lecture capture system or any AV system you can think of (WebEx, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). It’s also worth noting that Kaptivo is also capable of sharing the above content with their own Kaptivo software. While we didn’t specifically test this product, it looked to be an elegant solution for organizations with limited resources.

The gotchas: Every new or interesting technology has a few gotchas. First, Kaptivo currently works with whiteboards (sorry chalkboard fans). Also, there isn’t any way to daisy chain Kaptivo or “stitch” multiple Kaptivo units together for longer whiteboards (not to mention how you would share such content). Finally, the maximum whiteboard size is currently 6′ x 4′, so that’s not all that big in a classroom environment.

At the end of the day, I could see this unit working well in a number of small collaborative learning environments, flipped classrooms and active learning spaces. We received a pre-production unit, so I’m anxious to see what the final product looks like and if some of the above-mentioned limitations can be overcomed. Overall, it’s a very slick device.

DISH Network SlingStudio DDMC Visit

DISH Network visited the Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this past week to showcase their SlingStudio offering. The best way to describe the SlingStudio, in terms of the environment, is a disruptive multi-camera video production ecosystem focused on entry-level to mid-sized productions, the sweet spot of higher education. Historically, producing and streaming a multi-camera event was expensive (as in $10,000 plus expensive), complicated on both a hardware and software level and usually required 2-3 people to pull off even the most rudimentary event. The SlingStudio re-norms those expectations.

The $999 SlingStudio Hub acts as the heart of the system, allowing a user to hard connect one HDMI input and a range of mobile devices (such as an iPhone) to act as alternative inputs. If you’re interested in adding higher-end cameras (DSLR or consumer/prosumer/pro video cameras) you’ll need a $349 SlingStudio CameraLink per camera to connect to the system. Up to ten devices can be added to the platform for a multi-camera event. And, if you’re interested in going mobile, a $149 battery is available.

The software is incredibly easy to use. Having only seen YouTube demos of the interface, I was able to start switching content within minutes… more like seconds. You can simply drag the content you see to the live window, and boom… it switches. The best part is, the SlingStudio Console App walks a fine line between offering a simple user interface and an interface professionals will appreciate. SlingStudio elegantly hides advanced features away… but they are still a part of the platform. Groups that film multi-camera events, where they edit the footage in post-production, can look at this system as a means of significantly reducing the time necessary to get their content to the public, a key advantage in our SEO world, not to mention being “done” with an event.

With such an expansive ecosystem, it’s impossible to detail every aspect of the platform. That said, DISH Network indicated that they would be happy to offer up a demo unit for further testing. If we find the right event, we’ll make sure to post our findings. It’s an exciting time to be AV and marketing fields.

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.

 

 

AV in a Box – The Sub $25K Classroom

As the expectations of classroom and meeting space AV changes over time, so too must the approach of delivering advanced AV systems for teaching and learning environments.

The Sanford School of Public Policy (SSPP), in collaboration with Duke Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Trinity Technology Services (TTS), was able to take a tentative list of desired outcomes for a scheduled AV update to four classrooms, and translate that into a cost-effective and robust classroom AV design. The process started with the Sanford School approaching my group (Media Technologies) at OIT and informing us that they were looking to upgrade a few classroom environments and if we could provide some general guidance to ensure they were maximizing their available funds. Based on the initial wants and needs assessment, OIT sketched a base AV design and reviewed the design with TTS to ensure the feasibility of the design and to obtain pricing. From that point, TTS finalized the design with a few minor modifications and provided pricing. Ultimately, TTS was selected as the AV integrator due to their cost-effective pricing and solid track record (roughly a 35%+ cost savings).

About the spaces:

  • Laser Projectors (5,000 lumens at 1920×1080, rated for 20,000 hours – no bulb replacements!)
  • Front and Back Cameras (no pan or tilt)
  • Built-in VoIP Calling
  • Integrated Lecture Capture (Panopto)
  • 7″ Touch Panel for Control
  • AV Bridge Standard (for WebEx, Skype, Google Hangout, YouTube, Facebook, etc.)

The system recycled the previous AV rack, speakers, and projector mount, so this was far from new construction. The Sanford School of Public Policy has indicated that they had a very smooth install, and minor issues since install ~4 months ago. So, it survived a full semester.

The pros and cons of such a system are difficult to quantify, but I’ll give it a shot.
Pros:

  • significant reduction in overall cost (~35%)
  • simplified install (TTS has a robust understanding Duke’s network, VoIP systems, scheduling, etc. and it really helps)
  • good support, especially if you have tier one local support.
  • a unified graphical user interface (faculty moving from one of the 170+ TTS room to a Sanford School of Public Policy room will experience a similar user interface)
  • they understand the unique AV needs of an academic teaching environment.
  • did I mention the price?

Equally difficult would be to list the cons of using TTS. Instead of listing cons, I’ll list a few considerations when working with TTS.

  • TTS may not be an ideal fit for advanced rooms (“Advanced” is a relative term… they have done some impressively complex work and they continue to surprise, but there is a limit).
  • TTS may not be the perfect fit for new construction (Have they done new construction? Yes! Can they do all new construction? Probably not.)
  • There are limitations to their programming (TTS has a range of solid classroom designs, good programmers, and a dedication to clean design, but it’s best to “borrow” their best designs vs. reinventing the wheel.)

This was a wonderful project, and I look forward to reviewing this project in a few years to see how happy the Sanford School of Public Policy is with the overall project. Only time will tell.

 

Logitech DDMC Session

On November 30th, Warren Widener of Logitech visited the Technology Engagement Center on Duke’s campus to showcase three pieces of technology ideal for small and medium-sized conference rooms.

We all know Logitech for their webcams, keyboards, and mice, but over the past few years, they have expanded into small, and not so small, business environments as more organizations move toward small bring your own device (BYOD) meeting spaces. Logitech has achieved this by integrating their various devices into flexible and cost-effective offerings highlighted below. While they may be careful not to take on “the trons” of the industry, it’s clear they are looking to move up the food chain.

First, Warren provided a demonstration of the Logitech Smartdock. The Smartdock is essentially a dock for a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with expanded I/O, designed to interface with Skype for Business and in-room Logitech hardware (cameras/mics) to simplify the process of launching an audio or video conference to the push of a button. The device is intended to live in the meeting space and act as the meeting scheduler and AV bridge. While not a perfect fit for Duke due to our deep enterprise WebEx integration, for businesses that rely on Skype for Business, this device makes one-touch video conferencing one step closer to reality.

Also highlighted at the session was the Logitech Meetup. The Meetup is an $899 MSRP wide-angle webcam, three-element mic array and tuned speakers, with build in acoustic echo cancelation, that ticks a number of boxes in small huddle room design. Unlike some of Logitech’s previous all-in-one designs, the Meetup is designed to be permanently mounted above or below a monitor and comes with a wall-mount bracket. The super-wide 120-degree field of view from the camera ensures everyone in a small conference room will be in the shot.

Finally, the session briefly touched on Logitec’s GROUP offering. We’ve seen previous iterations of this device, but Logitech promises that they continue to improve upon the overall audio quality and features from this device. Ideal for larger BYOD spaces with a pan tilt zoom camera, high-quality mics and speaker and open nature (it works with WebEx, Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, etc. etc.), the lack of integrated voice over IP (VoIP) makes it a more difficult sell in some of our more robust and demanding spaces.

Duke Panopto Upgrade, Tuesday, December 19, 2017

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be upgrading our current v. 5.3 installation of Panopto to version 5.5 on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017. Some of the headline features we’ll be gaining include:

  • Webcasts are now delivered via HTML5 in both the interactive viewer and the embed viewer. One of final steps in our move away from proprietary plug-in based technology (Flash, Silverlight) toward a completely browser-based playback architecture.
  • Added the capability to embed a Youtube video within a Panopto session.
  • Added welcome tours to orient new users logging into Panopto.
  • Added Playlists. Playlists allow sessions from any folder within a Panopto site to be presented together in a single, ordered list.

Panopto

As per usual, we expect the system to be offline during business hours on this day. If you have questions, you can contact your Panopto Site Administrator or the OIT Service Desk

  • 5.4 Full release notes: https://support.panopto.com/articles/Documentation/Panopto-5-4-Release-Notes
  • 5.5 Full release Notes: https://support.panopto.com/articles/Documentation/Panopto-5-5-Release-Notes

Elgato Link Cam

I’m always a little surprised when an inexpensive piece of AV that I’ve been secretly lusting after actually delivers on the audio and video goodness I seek. Elgato was nice enough to send us a demo unit of their Cam Link that I mentioned in a previous post. The Elgato Cam Link has one core function, and if you understand what it’s designed to do, it performs that function exceptionally well. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap!

Every AV technician has been asked, “Why can’t I use my fancy new [insert $500+ camcorder or DLSR (with HDMI output)] with WebEx, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.? Simple… because you need an HDMI to USB converter… and it’s not as simple as adding a $4 cable from Monoprice (for now). Until the Cam Link arrived on the market, that conversion process was either rather expensive at $300+ or complicated by the requirement of special drivers or software. The Cam Link is considerably more consumer focused in both price and ease of use.

So, what does Elgato’s device do?
In essence, the Cam Link takes an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) signal and converts it to a UVC (USB Video Class) friendly output. So, you can connect an HDMI output from a higher end video camera, AV system, gaming system, laptop, etc. to this device, and the Cam Link will output the video and audio over USB to a computer. And because the Cam Link is UVC compliant, it functions without additional drivers with Windows, Mac, and Linux. Now, this functionality has been around for some time, but at a price… both financial and technical.

There have been a number of articles written about this device from a consumer electronics and gaming perspective, so I’ll focus on how the Cam Link could be used in higher education. I see this device being ideal for:

  • Improving your WebEx, Facebook Live, YouTube, Skype Sessions
    If you are looking to upgrade from a webcam, this is your device. You’ll be able to connect many consumer and professional cameras to the Elgato Cam Link (anything from a GoPro to a $5K+ Sony camera should work wonderfully). You will immediately notice an image quality improvement. Also, depending upon your camera, it may improve and/or simplify your audio capture options (I’ll leave that for another post).
  • Simple Video Conversion
    Yep, occasionally AV techs are asked to make backups (with permission) of VHS cassettes for use in a classroom. If you can find a VHS cassette player with HDMI out (a few now have 1080p upscaling built in). You may be able to throw away that old clunky capture device for good!
  • Content Capture
    I actually used the Cam Link to capture an iPad and iPhone signal for demo purposes, using a dongle, to my MacBook Pro. While not the primary reason to buy the device, it was nice that it had a number of alternative uses. But the Cam Link could also capture connect from a document camera, microscope, gaming system, etc.
  • AV Testing
    Many AV technicians regularly find themselves needing to connect an AV system for testing (“Are we receiving a signal?”). Lugging around a monitor and looking for power isn’t awesome. So, a technician could simply use the Cam Link, connected to their laptop, to check an HDMI output.

I should mention that the device is dangerously ultra portable, resembling a oversized USB thumb drive, so the “walk off” factor is high. It has one HDMI input, one USB output, and a single LED light that indicates that it’s receiving power from the USB drive (so no external power needed). Second, the device only works with a few of the most common HDMI resolutions, so not EVERY camera that supports HDMI will work with this device. ‘d say that about 80%+ of all video cameras should be compatible, but may require that you adjust the camera’s HDMI output. Finally, this device won’t capture High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) protected content, so if you think this is the perfect device to copy Blu-ray movies (or even a MacBook Pro in some situations)… think again. You’ll simply get a blank screen.

The Fine Print
The only gotcha I noticed is that the Elgato Cam Link crashed once (technically lost signal) in the 4+ hours of testing (a quick reboot resolved the issue). Not a critical concern, but something to consider.

Insta360 ONE Announced Today

In February we wrote about the Insta360 Nano 360, a then-new-on-the-scenes 360 camera that solved usability challenges many devices in this space were suffering from. Today Insta360 announced the hotly-anticipated release of the successor to the Nano360, the Insta360 ONE.

At about $300.00, it maintains a low price point ($100.00 more than the Nano360), but adds some dazzling new features, such as those listed below. However, perhaps the most interesting thing about this camera is that, in the words of The Verge, this camera “help[s] solve the problem of when, where, and how we should use 360 cameras.”

Features

  • 4K
  • Freecapture: the ability to edit and export 1080p videos from your 360 footage that includes:
    • Bullet Time, via either an optional selfie stick or an included string
    • Auto tracking of a subject you identify in the video
  • Live streaming to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter
  • The selfie stick disappears in your footage
  • 6-axis gyroscopic stabilization
  • Retractable lightning port plugs into your iPhone (Android version of the camera is in the works)
  • Rubber stand you can use as a base for shooting and for protecting the lens when storing
  • 24 megapixel stills, with the ability to capture in RAW format
  • An array of accessories available for purchase separately, including mounts for drones and helmets, underwater housing, a suction cup base, the selfie stick, which also is a bluetooth remote, and a tripod.

Watch Insta360’s promo video for the ONE here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrOmKKSRu8c

For more details about the ONE, check out this helpful review on Engadget: https://www.engadget.com/2017/08/28/insta360-one-4k-360-camera/#/

Also, here’s a cool advance video review of the ONE by a guy who clearly loves the invisible selfie stick feature! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fc1ilgKWwk

If any of you get the ONE, please let us know how it works out for you!

Elgato Cam Link

When it comes to converting an HDMI signal to something a little more computer friendly (USB), there are plenty of good options. Osprey and Magewell both have very compelling offerings with enhanced features, but at a price of roughly $300 – $330. Enter Elgato and their $130 HDMI to USB converter. While we haven’t had an opportunity to test the device, it looks to further lower the barrier of entry for higher quality video streaming and capture. The website is somewhat thin on details, but after digging around a bit it seems the Cam Link uses the UVC driver, so it should be compatible with most modern versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux without the need for a driver.

That said, some key details are missing from the website, specifically, what resolution and frame rate does the HDMI inputs accept. While it mentions 60fps, does it also capture 24, 25, 30 and 50? Also, no word on if or how or if it will handle interlaced video. That said, one interesting feature of this device is that you could theoretically use two Cam Links (one for video and one for content) connected to a laptop (with two USB3 core hubs) and create an ultra portable live teaching rig, assuming you had all the other necessary equipment (camera or video capable dlsr, mics, lights, etc.). Add in WireCast (or OBS if you are on an ultra tight budget), and you could start hosting some rather high quality streaming events (alumni engagement session, “behind the scenes” when high profile guests that come to campus, live Q&A with the admissions folks, etc.) on the cheap-ish.

We’ll be keeping our eye on this device as it enters the market.