Cisco Visits Duke – Meeting Recap

Last week, Cisco visited Duke University’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) to offer an update on their WebEx/codec offerings. Greg Schalmo, a Senior Collaboration Architect at Cisco, detailed the transformation WebEx has undergone over the past six months. First, WebEx is now “video first,” (as compared to “content first”) mirroring the general trend in online conferencing. Second, the WebEx application has undergone a major facelift, bringing a refreshingly clean interface that simplifies the process of starting an online meeting (thank you Cisco!). Third, Cisco has ended some of their naming madness by folding Spark into Webex as Webex Teams, the Cisco Spark Board is now the Webex Board, and Spark Assistant is now Webex Assistant (R.I.P. Spark!).  This finally puts to rest the nagging question of, “So, what’s the difference between Spark and WebEx again?” Now, it’s ALL WebEx, but there are some nice enhancements, if you need them, in WebEx Teams. Eventually, both WebEx and WebEx Teams will be a single application where you can toggle between the two modes, but that’s a big undertaking, possibly coming in late 2019.

Cisco also detailed a few new hardware codec offerings (check out their Collaboration Device Product Matrix and their Cisco Webex Room Series for specifics). The highlights of the hardware overview were the Cisco Webex Codec Pro, a replacement to the SX80 (used in larger and/or more advanced teaching spaces) which adds additional digital inputs, additional mic options, and a range of advanced features such as voice control, automatic noise suppression, face recognition. For smaller spaces, Cisco offers the Webex Room Kit and Cisco Webex Room Kit Plus, which would work nicely in huddle rooms or small meeting spaces. The one device that made me nearly fall out of my seat was the Webex Room Kit Mini. The Mini offers all the usual niceties from a Cisco codec, but also allows the ability to connect the camera, mic, and speakers to an external device. So, it’s now possible to connect a 3rd party lecture capture device or even an alternative conferencing platform to a room. In our highly flexible teaching spaces, this is a significant enhancement worthy of note.

Logitech Rally – Sneak Peek

Logitech offered a sneak peek at their soon-to-be-released Rally USB-connected video conferencing solution. While Logitech has had somewhat similar offerings in the past (ie. Logitech Group), the Rally is a bit of a game changer as it competes more directly with the likes of Cisco, Extron, and Crestron in the mid-sized conference room AV hardware environment.

Out of the box, the $1999 Logitech Rally kit has two hubs, one that would sit behind the display(s) and one that would be mounted under a table or in a rack. The two hubs are connected by a single Cat 6 cable that can be ~50 meters long. The table hub sports two HDMI inputs, a USB connection for a laptop/desktop, and a connection for the mic pod (you can have up to seven mic pods connected to the system). The display hub has a connection for the pan/tilt/zoom camera, one (or two speakers, depending upon your configuration) and two HDMI outputs for the displays. So, for under $2K, you have all the AV hardware, minus the displays and computers, you need for a reasonably large conference room or teaching space. Combine the Rally with WebEx, Skype for Business, Zoom Rooms, and you have an impressive turnkey AV solution for under ~$7K.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Rally overcomes a significant limitation of USB. Most “slower” USB devices have a length limitation of 5 meters (just shy of 16.5′) and for high-speed devices (ie, the PTZ camera in this configuration), it’s 3 meters (or under 10′). Once you factor in the table and monitor height, that doesn’t give you much to work with. But, the Rally uses a Cat 6 cable between the pods, so you have a considerably more flexible system, while still using standard USB.

Here is a quick sketch of what a dual-screen Logitech Rally Zoom Room might look like.

Again, this was a pre-release Logitech Rally, so we look forward to getting our hands on a shipping unit in the coming months, but we will be keeping an eye on the platform.

October 2018 Adobe Creative Cloud Update Part 1: Adobe Premiere Pro

It’s fall, pumpkin spice is in the air, the holidays are Christmas decorations are going up, and software giant has just released updates to their entire Creative Cloud suite of applications.  Because the updates are so extensive, I’ve decided to do a multi-part series of DDMC entries that focuses on the new changes in detail for Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop/Lightroom, and a new app Premiere Rush.  I just downloaded Rush today to my phone to put it through it’s paces so I’m saving that application for last but my first rundown of Premiere Pro’s new features is ready to go!

END TO END VR 180

Premiere Pro supports full native video editing for 180 VR content with the addition of a virtual screening room for collaboration.  Specific focal points can be tagged and identified in the same way you would in your boring 2D content.  Before you had to remove your headset to do any tagging but now you can keep your HMD (Head Mounted Display) on and keep cutting.  I’m just wetting my feet with VR but I can see how this could revolutionize the workflow for production houses integrating VR into their production workflow.  Combined with the robust networking features in Premiere Pro and symbiotic nature of the Adobe suite of applications this seems like a nice way to work on VR projects with a larger collaborative scope.

DISPLAY COLOR MANAGEMENT

Adobe has integrated a smart new feature that takes some of the guesswork out of setting your editing station color space.  Premiere Pro can now establish the color space of your particular monitor and adjust itself accordingly to compensate for color irregularities across the suite.  Red stays red no matter if it’s displayed in Premiere Pro, After Effects, or Photoshop!

INTELLIGENT AUDIO CLEANUP

Premiere Pro can now scan your audio and clean it up using two new sliders in the Essential Sound panel.  DeNoise and DeReverb allow you to remove background audio and reverb from your sound respectively.  Is it a replacement for quality sound capture on site?  No.  But it does add an extra level of simplicity that I’ve only experienced in Final Cut Pro so I’m happy about this feature.

PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENTS

Premiere Pro is faster all around but if you’re cutting on a Mac you should experience a notable boost due to the new hardware based endcoding and decoding for H.264 and HEVC codecs.  Less rendering time is better rendering time.

SELECTIVE COLOR GRADING

Lumetri Color tools and grades are becoming more fine tuned.  This is a welcome addition as Adobe discontinued Speedgrade and folded it into Premiere Pro a while ago.  All your favorite Lumetri looks still remain but video can be adjusted to fit the color space of any still photo or swatch you like.  Colors can also be isolated and targeted for adjustment which is cool if you want to change a jacket, eye, or sky color.

EXPANDED FORMAT SUPPORT

Adobe Premiere now supports ARRI Alexa LF, Sony Venice V2, and the HEIF (HEIC) capture format used by iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

DATA DRIVEN INFOGRAPHICS

Because of the nature of my work as a videographer for an institution of higher education this feature actually has me the most excited.  Instrutional designers are constantly looking for ways to “jazz up” their boring tables into something visually engaging.  Now there is a whole slew of visual options with data driven infographic.  All you have to provide is the data in spreadsheet form then you can drag and drop in on one of the many elegant templates to build lower thirds, animated pie charts, and more.  It’s a really cool feature I plan to put through it’s paces on a few projects in place of floating prefabricated pie charts.

All these new additions make Adobe Premiere Pro a solid one stop editing platform but combined with the rest of the Adobe suite, one can easily see the endless pool of creative options that make it an industry standard!

Stay tuned for Part II:  Adobe Rush!

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.

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.

Vaddio Visits the TEC

Earlier this month, Vaddio (now a division of Milestone AV Technologies as of April 2016) visited the TEC to provide an in-depth technical overview of their new RoboTRAK camera tracking system. The system, used in combination with many existing Vaddio cameras, functions by tracking a lanyard worn by the subject. When worn, the camera pans and tilts to follow the subject based on a wide range of technician configurable variables. Setup seemed straightforward, and the Vaddio team was able to have a functioning demo unit configured in under thirty minutes. The base tracking configuration seemed smooth and consistent. Beyond the standard system the RoboTRAK also allows classroom AV integration to further expand the in-room user-serviceable configuration. For example, with a bit of code added to your classroom AV system, the tracking could easily be disabled by default, requiring the guest to turn the tracking on for their sessions. Also, the technician could add “scenes” to the AV system to provide unique tracking capabilities, or to interface directly with the room. Needless to say, it’s very configurable.

Vaddio also showcased their ConferenceSHOT AV, a comprehensive camera, speaker, and microphone huddle-room AV package. The system has the ability to add two mic inputs, good video quality and a surprisingly high quality speaker that could be used in combination with a monitor or TV.

Finally, Vaddio provided a deep dive on the streaming capabilities of many of these devices and how they can be configured to meet a wide range of needs.

 

Say Hello to Solaborate’s Hello

Oh Kickstarter… how you love to torment us.ddmc_hello_2

 

Most AV technicians know that the world of software based video conferencing is rapidly expanding. Every tech company seems to have some form of home-grown video conferencing. Google has Hangouts and Duo, Microsoft (now) has Skype and Lync… I mean Skype for Business, Facebook has Messenger with video calling, Adobe has Connect, Cisco has WebEx, Apple has Facetime, and that’s the short list of conferencing connections we are asked to support.

Enter Solaborate
Solaborate has launched an interesting Kickstarter project called Hello. Basically, Hello acts as an endpoint for their Solaborate service, providing:

  • Video conferencing
  • Wireless screen sharing
  • Live broadcasting
  • Security surveillance with motion detection and more.

What caught my attention is that Solaborate plans to add Skype, Messenger, Hangouts, and WebEx support if they reach their $300,000 stretch goal. Considering they currently have $225,905 pledged on their original goal of $30,000, with 16 days to go, they may just make it. It’s important to note that this is a Kickstarter project… so take some or most of this with a grain of salt. But, if Hello lives up to the hype, it could be a very interesting device for small meeting spaces.

Follow Solaborate’s Hello Kickstarter at: https://goo.gl/3QwB55

Duke Kunshan University – AV Commissioning Trip Winter 2016

In January 2016 I spent two weeks at Duke Kunshan University for the commissioning of the various AV installations throughout campus.  The AV design for this project started 6 years ago and is finally close to being completed.  IVCI began the AV design work in 2010 and then Verrex was brought on a few years later to handle the AV integration in China.  Throughout the past 6 years, folks from various schools/groups, including Duke’s Office of Information Technology, Trinity Technology Services, Fuqua, and the Nicholas School, have helped with the design and installation of the AV integration at Duke Kunshan University.

 

The campus features AV technologies in team rooms, conference rooms, seminar rooms, dorm rooms, guest rooms, fitness rooms, and other public campus spaces (digital signage and cable TV displays).  These various spaces feature the following AV technologies/functionalities: HD displays and projection, Cisco hardware video conferencing codecs (including a Cisco TX9000 3 screen system), video conferencing carts, software web conferencing and lecture capture (using Vaddio AV Bridges), audio conferencing, content presentation, and in-room translation systems.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the various AV spaces at Duke Kunshan University and the technologies used in them, please contact me directly.

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DDMC Meeting – Duke video conferencing services update / Crestron room scheduling touch panel demo / Solstice Pod demo – 10/30/15 2pm

Next Friday we are having a three part DDMC meeting, which will be co-hosted by OIT and Trinity Technology Services.  We will be meeting on Friday, October 30th at 2pm in the Sociology-Psychology building room 130. Please check below for the meeting agenda.  We look forward to seeing everyone there.

 
Meeting Agenda
1) Duke video conferencing services update – OIT’s Communications team will kick things off with an update on the future of Duke’s video conferencing services.  Some topics to be discussed will be Cisco Jabber,  Cisco Movi, and video conferencing codec support.
 
2) Crestron room scheduling touch panel demo – OIT’s Media Technologies and Trinity Technology Services will demo a few Crestron room scheduling touch panels that are currently working with both Duke’s Exchange and 25Live calendar services.  
 
3) Solstice Pod demo – Trinity Technology Services will be giving a demo of Mersive’s new Solstice Pod.   At last year’s DDMC wireless presentation device shootout meeting, Fuqua showed us Mersive’s Solstice software solution that ran on a Windows PC.  The Solstice Pod is a software-based collaboration solution integrated on an Android hardware platform purpose-built for wireless media streaming. 

Panasonic Fall Tech Tour – 10/27/15 9am-3pm

The Panasonic Fall Tech Tour is underway and will be in Raleigh next Tuesday 10/27 and Atlanta on Wednesday 11/4.  This will be a great opportunity to see some of our newest technology – including laser projectors, video walls, interactive displays and large screen 4K displays.  Please be sure to register by clicking on the link below.  Also – please invite others who you think would like to attend.  The event will run from 9 AM – 3 PM – breakfast and lunch will be provided.  For locations and more details, please click on the Register Now button below.  Hope to see you there!
Register Now
Steve Schwarz
Area Sales Manager-Higher Education
Panasonic System Communications Company of North America
C: 201-423-3778