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.
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.
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.
Insta360 just launched their latest 360 camera, the ONE R. It’s actually a modular system and not a single, self-contained camera. Only time will tell, but it seems like the ONE R could be an innovative approach to solving the problem of how to pack the burgeoning features we are seeing in the action and 360 camera spaces into a workable form factor. Certainly Insta360 seems to have doubled down their focus on the using 360 as coverage for standard 16:9 action shots.
The ONE R starts with a battery base and a touch screen that sits on top (it can be installed forwards or backwards depending on the use case) next to an empty space that could include one of the following:
A 5.7K 360 camera
A 4K action camera that records at 60fps for 4K and 200fps for 1080p
A 5.3K wide-angle (14.4mm equivalent) mod co-developed with Leica that has a 1-inch sensor (30fps for 5.3K, 60fps for 4K, and 120fps for 1080p) This module was developed with the help of camera company Leica.
Key features include:
Insta360’s FlowState stabilization is a key part of all three modules.
Waterproof to 16 feet, despite the module design
Aerial mod that makes it possible to hide your drone from footage
External mic support
Various remote control options, including Apple Watch, voice, and a GPS enabled smart remote
Motion tracking to lock in on subjects
Tons of software/ post production options like bullet time, time lapse, slo mo, etc.
We’re not seeing a ton of immediate academic use cases for features such as the above, but will certainly keep the ONE R in mind if the right project arises.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what your experiences are and what specific use cases it supports.
We wrote in April of last year aboutthe 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 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 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: