ThingLink Pilot at Duke Has Potential for 360 Video, Images

Duke Learning Innovation recently launched a new pilot of a tool called ThingLink. ThingLink offers the ability to annotate images and videos using other images, videos, and text to create visually compelling, interactive experiences. One  core use case for ThingLink is to start with a graphic (such as a map) or a photograph as a base and place buttons in strategic places that users can click to expose more information. ThingLinks can also link to other ThingLinks to create structured learning experiences.ThingLink Example

The screenshot above is from an example project on ThingLink’s “Featured” page by Encounter Edu. In this example, viewers can click on the “+” signs to reveal more information about each portion of the carbon cycle.

While creation of learning objects like these could have wide value for education, one aspect of ThinkLink we think DDMC-ers might find intriguing is its AR/ VR authoring capabilities. A challenge for 360 video, even with professionally produced material, can be that viewers sometimes feel lost clicking around trying to figure out what to look at next. With a tool like ThingLink’s VR editor, you can curate the experience by creating guideposts, and in doing so provide your users with a potentially more rewarding experience as they engage with 360 videos and images.

OIT Media Technologies production team is going to be reviewing ThingLink’s VR/ AR capabilities and posting their findings to the blog.

If you or others on your team would like to test ThingLink out, you apply to be a part of the pilot here: https://duke.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6R07iAqB2jeXYGh

Links

 

BrightSign Training

One of the best aspects of being a Duke University Digital Media Engineer for the Office of Information and Technology is that I can regularly attend manufacturer-sponsored AV training sessions related to projects where I may not be directly involved. Learning about new platforms is an exciting opportunity to compare and contrast our existing offerings while exploring new or unique features a new platform offers. Duke is no stranger to BrightSign hardware. We’ve been deploying rebadged BrightSign decoders and encoders for our CampusVision (Duke’s Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) offering) for years. But, we’ve never used BrightSign’s hardware and software on a project, until now.

First and foremost, BrightSign makes hardware media players. As of the writing of this post, they offer eight different players with a variety of configurations (some that display 1080p video, others that play 4K… also, audio capabilities differentiate the players). Some of their players have HDMI encoders, which can come in handy in a wide range of environments. Most people like BrightSign hardware as it’s an alternative to installing a computer, where you need to maintain the operating system, application(s), etc. They perform a simple, yet expanding, set of functions, and they do it well.

For the project in question, Duke has installed an 18 display video wall in a 6 x 3 configuration. Currently, it’s capable of displaying the output from either a Windows computer or Linux computer in a “left nine screens, right nine screens” configuration, but more flexibility (and fewer computers) is the desired outcome. The training BrightSign provided went over the setup of the boxes and adding them to the BrightSign Network (a cloud service BrightSign offers). Overall, the setup was easy and we’re looking forward to the next training where we’ll go over uploading content and controlling the devices. Stay tuned!

 

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.

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.

 

 

Quick and Easy Color Correction Using Video Scopes

The color correction tools built into most editing software are obviously useful for fixing glaring problems with variables like exposure and white balance, but spending a few minutes applying simple correction can make even decent looking video pop. Video scopes can be intimidating at first, but, once understood, they make color correction a breeze and eliminate second guessing. There are plenty of introductory primers to what video scopes are and how they work. I like this one, for example.

Checking video scopes is a regular part of my post production process, and I almost always end up making at least minor tweaks. Everyone has their own approach to color correction, but I’ll share my own basic, default workflow here as an example.

I begin by adjusting luminance using the waveform monitor. I first set the white (top line) and black (bottom line) levels. I can then adjust the midtones as needed to get an even spread of points throughout the scope.

Next, I adjust the saturation level if needed to add some vibrance to the image, and, finally, I check the color using the vectorscope. To make this step easier, I zoom in on parts of the image to isolate useful colors for correction (whites, blacks, and skin tones). I can then adjust the color to sit where it belongs on the scope (center for shadows and highlights and the skin tone line for the skin tones).

And that’s it! The process only takes a minute or two and can make a good image look even better.

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

Help Us Test Sonix.ai

OIT has been following what’s happening in the evolving world of captioning over the years, and in particular monitoring the field for high quality, affordable services we think would be useful to members of the Duke community. When Rev.com came along, offering guaranteed 99% accurate human-generated captions for a flat $1.00 a minute (whereas some comparable services were well over $3.00/minute), we took note and have facilitated a collaboration with them that has been very productive for Duke. A recent review of our usage shows that a lot of you are using Rev, with a huge uptick in usage over the last couple years, and we’ve heard few if any complaints about the service.

While in general there has been a dismissive attitude toward machine (automatic) transcription, the newest generation technology, based on IBM Watson, has become so good that we can no longer (literally) afford to ignore it. With good quality audio to work from, this speech-to-text engine claims to deliver accuracy as high as 95% or more. IBM Watson isn’t a consumer-facing service, but we’ve been on the lookout for vendors building on this platform, and have found one we feel is worth exploring called Sonix. If cost is a significant factor for you, you might consider giving it a try.

Sonix captioning is a little over 8 cents per minute, and has waived the monthly subscription requirement and offered 30 free minutes of captioning for anyone with a duke.edu email address who sets up their account through this page: https://sonix.ai/academic-program/duke-university.

We are not recommending Sonix at this time, but are interested to hear what your experiences with them are. And we would caution that with any machine transcription technology, a review of your captions via the company’s online editor is required if you want to use this as closed captions (vs just a transcription). In our initial testing Sonix’s online editor looks fairly quick and easy to use.

If you set up an account and try Sonix, please reach out to oit-mt-info@duke.edu to let us know what your experiences are and what specific use cases it supports.

 

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

 

Evertz AV Visits the Technology Engagement Center

Evertz AV is best known for its high-quality broadcast AV switching offerings, in fact, if you’ve ever watched a division one basketball game on TV, you’ve probably seen their handiwork. But, while Evertz is well recognized in broadcast, it has slowly been offering up less expensive solutions for educational spaces using the same high-quality design and construction.

AV over IP is the future of classroom AV technology, but it’s still somewhat cost prohibitive for smaller spaces. At some point, the price of IP based AV systems will demand that most systems be IP based, and Evertz’s price point is very attractive. Here are the general Pros and Cons of the platform:

Pros:

  • Simple to configure: We had the demo unit up and running in under 8 minutes.
  • Cost: The competition has a similar price point but doesn’t provide decoding and encoding simultaneously, that’s big
  • 1GbE: This all runs on 1-gigabit networking, so you most likely won’t need an expensive switch

Cons:

  • Evertz doesn’t provide a control environment, so you’ll still need a Crestron or Extron interface
  • Sorry “vintage” AV folks, no RS232 or relay control with this system
  • Evertz has a range of products, but not nearly as many as many of the large integrated AV manufacturers… but does that matter?

Overall, I was impressed with their offerings and I look forward to seeing how they might fit in at Duke University.

 

 

Sony PTZ Cameras

Sony visited Duke University’s Technology Engagement Center this past week to review their pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera offerings. Starting at the entry level, Sony showcased the SRG120, ideal for small conference rooms or classrooms on a budget. The optics held up well compared to Sony’s more expensive offerings, but one limitation of the SRG120 is that it can’t be mounted upside down, not a primary concern but something to consider. The SRG360SHE is a mid-tier camera ideally suited for larger event spaces where flexibility is key. The SRG360SHE can send content over an IP network connection, 3G-SDI and HDMI at the same time. The image quality was very clear and the movements were smooth. Rounding out Sony’s top-of-the-line offering, the BRCX1000 is a 4K studio quality PTZ camera ideally suited for production environments where image quality is king. While the $9000+ price tag may scare off many AV folks, when comparing it to the cost of hiring an outside group to film events or a second videographer for multi-cam events, the return on investment can be measured in months.

What PTZ camera review would be complete without control interfaces. Sony demonstrated their new PTZ camera remote controller, the RMIP500. It’s clear Sony has learned from their previous controllers as the PMIP500 has a number of features, such as the ability to lock out areas of the control, that will make controlling your cameras a real joy. It can connect to 100 PTZ cameras and is incredibly customizable. The RMIP10 is Sony’s entry-level control device.

Finally, Sony demonstrated two of their 4K professional monitor. Yes, these are the displays true videographers use when filming their next movie for their legendary clarity and color accuracy. It’s hard to think of a use case at the University side of things, but this is the type of display I’d expect to see in a medical environment where image quality is literally a life or death situation.