HP Sprout Pro G2

HP visited Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this morning to provide an overview of their Sprout Pro G2. Describing the Sprout is a tricky thing to do considering the unique capabilities of the device. As HP was quick to mention, there really isn’t anything else like Sprout on the market, and until seeing it function, I assumed they were exaggerating… I was wrong.

At the heart of the system is a robust all-in-one Windows 10 computer (i7 processor, advanced graphics, 16GB of RAM, wireless keyboard/mouse, etc.), all the things you’d expect in a higher-end computer. What makes the Sprout unique is that it has built-in dual screens, one consisting of a traditional monitor and the other being a downward facing projector. The projector projects on a touch sensitive pad (HP calls it the Touch Mat) that easily connects to the base of the unit. The device defaults to extended desktop (one on top of the other), which can take a moment for novice users to fully understand. Both screens are touch sensitive, but the Touch Mat can also be used in conjunction with a stylus, and is a joy to use with minimal lag and various levels of pressure sensitivity. It does feel like you are writing on paper. If HP had stopped here with the Sprout, I’d have been impressed. It would have been a nice classroom computer with touch surfaces, annotation, and a document camera built in.

But wait, there is more… in 3D! The Sprout Pro G2 also offers up 3D scanning in two flavors. The first is a “quick scan” mode where you take an object and hold it under the projector. As you run the software and slowly rotate the object, the computer begins to create a 3D model of the item. The scull that HP provided worked very well, but some other items at the TEC didn’t scan as well (perhaps because of their symmetric nature, reflective material, etc). These scans are ideal for simply creating 3D objects for viewing on a computer or virtual environment, and not really for 3D printing.

The second method of scanning is considerably more accurate, using the 14-megapixel camera, but can be a bit more time consuming. In software, you set the level of accuracy you are looking to achieve, and the device scans the item over multiple captures. The level of accuracy was impressive.

No digital media demo would be complete without a few minor hiccups that HP identified as either an issue with a piece of software, our demo unit, or was an update on the near horizon. For example, we weren’t able to share the content from the projector to the TEC monitor. But, HP assured us that this was an issue with our unit.

As with all well-supported technologies, the Sprout Pro G2 receives regular updates, so it will be interesting to see where this device is in 2-6 months. I’d also be interested to see how well this device would perform in a classroom environment. Overall, this is a very interesting piece of technology, especially considering the took place at Duke’s Technology Engagement Center, the de facto hub for all things 3D in the area.

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

Biamp Expands Devio with Ceiling Microphone Option

This past spring, Biamp Systems announced a new collaboration tool for huddle rooms and small meeting spaces called Devio. The system, ideal for “bring your own device” (BYOD) spaces, integrates Biamp’s high quality microphones and acoustic eco cancelation (AEC) technologies with USB webcams and displays. Devio is uniquely suited for integrating small spaces with soft codecs such as Skype, WebEx, and Google Hangouts.
ddmc_devio_mic

Devio originally shipped with a single table-top microphone option. While the mic itself was of a good quality, table-top mics and university environments generally don’t mix (soda: 1 – table-top mic: 0). But, this past week, Biamp added a ceiling microphone option to the Devio lineup.You can also add a second ceiling mic, for large or uniquely shaped rooms.

Learn more about Biamp Deviao at: https://www.biamp.com/devio-unified-communications-collaboration-tool-for-huddle-rooms

Producing Higher Quality Self-Service Recordings

So, you can’t afford to hire a professional videographer to produce your videos. But you still care about quality and want your videos to look and sound as good as they possibly can. There are a few things you can do:

  1. Use better cameras and microphones. Take a step up from the built-in camera and microphone on your laptop. It’s amazing what a difference just using simple USB peripheral devices can make!
    • Cameras: There are lots of great–and inexpensive–USB cameras to choose from. One popular and highly tested option is the Logitech C920, which retails for about $100.00. For a higher quality option, we like the $300.00 Cisco Precision HD, which has a longer focal length that makes faces look more flattering. Like a good quality portrait lens on an SLR, it tends to flatten faces out and has less of a fish-eye effect that makes noses look big. The Precision HD also has great color.  One great thing about external cameras is that you can move them around. Take care in positioning the camera, paying attention to the background. Don’t point the camera directly at a light source, such as a window. It’s best to angle the camera slightly down–i.e., perched on your laptop screen or monitor, instead of up at your face from a table. The image below shows a comparison between the Cisco Precision HD (left) and the built-in iSight camera on a MacBook Pro (right). For both of these shots I used fill light from the LitePanels MicroPro mentioned below.

cam_comparison

  • Microphones: For a room where you might want to record multiple people, the Phoenix Duet (about $150.00 is a great option. For simple one-person narration, one great possibility is the Samson C01U Pro, which retails for about $110.00. You can also consider a low-cost wired lav microphone such as the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 (about $25.00).
    CO1U_Pro_HO-display
  1. Use a light. Lights are getting cheaper and more powerful, and you can find a variety on Amazon for under $150.00, such as the Yongnuo YN-600 600LED, which is currently being used by the production team at Duke  that produces videos for Coursera. Duke OIT has also tested the original LitePanels MicroPro, which is no longer available. It is fantastic, but the followup version, the Litepanels MicroPro 2, is a bit expensive at $349.00 list.
  2. Record in high quality. Spend a little time working with the quality settings in the application you’re using to record. One great option for self-service recordings is DukeCapture Mobile, which uses the the Panopto Windows and Mac recording software. In the Windows Recorder, this setting is a radio button on the main recording screen (see below). We generally recommend using the option that says “High.” (1024×600 pixels at 1000kbps). If you need full 720p video, the “Ultra” setting will produce that.
    Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.49.11 PM
  3. Use a studio. There are many production studios nested in schools and departments across campus, so you should check with your local AV or IT group to see if there is one near you. One great central option is the MPS Video Suite in the OIT Multimedia Project Studio (006 Bostock). It contains tools for recording video such as Camtasia and QuickTime, and has a green screen and black curtain to use as backdrops. For recording just audio, you can book the the MPS Audio Suite in the same location. It provides professional quality microphones to allow up to two people to record audio in a sound controlled environment using Garageband, Audacity, or Logic. Use of the audio suite is available by reservation or walk-in. You can also book the sound booth in the OIT Media Lab at American Tobacco.
    The screenshot below is from a webinar by Panopto staff in which you can see the contrast between quality video and poor quality webcam video (click on the image for a larger version). The video of the presenter was shot in a simple studio, where production values were taken into consideration. The video on the right is shot in an office without concern for quality. As you can see, things like lighting and camera angle make a big difference!
    Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 12.59.05 PM
  4. Practice! While all of these technologies are great, practice is something that doesn’t cost anything but your time, and it will enhance your videos tremendously. You will see that the 5th or 6th video you produce will be much better quality than your first, so be critical of yourself and keep practicing – it will keep getting better!

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

New Panasonic AW-HE2 USB HD Camera

awhe2pjThis new Panasonic AW-HE2 USB HD camera looks interesting.  High list price ($995), but it offers a lot of functionality.  I’m going to reach out to Panasonic to see if we can get a demo and I’ll report back if we do.  Some highlights are below.

  • IP live video image monitoring for remote preview and control
  • IP control via AW-RP50, computer with Browser, or 3rd party controllers (Crestron or AMX)
  • Picture-in-Picture functionality
  • Digital PTZ
  • Stereo microphone
  • HDMI out

Using Pro Cameras in a USB World

Often times we have events, projects or circumstances that require us to use high end cameras with software that is really only designed for USB cams. Professional and Prosumer gear almost always lacks the USB interface so this can be a challenge. Pro’s typically use SDI video connections while Prosumer products usually use the HDMI standard. There are a ton of PCI/PCIe cards and capture devices out there from companies like Blackmagic, AJA and Matrox that bring our video into the computer. Unfortunately, programs like Skype, WebEx, Screenflow and the like don’t often pick up on those devices as a valid input. So what’s a video professional to do, give up on their pro gear and use a $59 Logitech?

One cool solution is to use Wirecast. Yes, this is a piece of software for streaming but it has one extremely valuable and almost unknown feature, “The Virtual Camera Driver”. Wirecast, which takes virtually any popular input device and typically streams to a streaming server or live streaming service will also easily convert that same stream to be a “USB’ish” output. This will allow you to take your professional and prosumer video gear and leverage it against popular soft conferencing services like WebEx and Skype or rapid E-learning software like Screenflow or Camtasia. You get the added benefit of using Wirecast to add effects to video like lower thirds, multiple cameras and other enhancements if you so choose. To see how this is setup, take a look at our demo video shot in the self-service, open-to the-campus MPS Recodring Studio!

If your browser doesn’t embed the video, check it out here:  http://vimeo.com/87130283

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/87130283[/vimeo]

Simple Lighting Tweaks For Video

In our MPS recording studio I set out to improve the lighting quality with a low budget. I thought I would share my strategies and results in hopes other might benefit. Cameras do a bad job of reproducing what the eye can see. Our eyes easily filter out a broad spectrum of light to produce a pleasing image. Cameras aren’t that smart, one of the ways we can help them out is to control the temperature and power of the light they receive.

Like most rooms, our recording space has a simple office style suspended lighting and bulbs. The generic contractor grade bulbs are about $5 a piece and the room holds 8 of them. While common florescent are notoriously horrible for video work, fluorescent technology itself has been used in studios for years to great effect. The trick is to use good bulbs, the right temperatures and the right power. In most situations contractors will just stuff whatever is cheapest into a fixture so taking a few minutes and a few dollars to correct this can yield great results.

I did a mock up with a visualizer but that’s more than what most people would need. From past experience I know that in most situations 3200K “warm” temperatures look the best on a variety of skin tones. I also know you need slightly more wattage the further away the fixtures are from the subject. The front lights are about 8 feet away while the ones behind me are about 4 feet so I made the closer ones about 25% less powerful. I replaced the front 40 watt, 4100K bulbs with 32 watt, 3500K bulbs. I replaced the same 40 watt, 4100K bulbs in the back of the room with 20 watt 3500K bulbs as well.

As far as the result, here’s a before and after. While it didn’t make a radical difference the improvement is definitely noticeable. You’ll see the glare on my receding hairline is much small in the after photos. You’ll also notice my skin tone is much richer and more vivid, as is the colors on my clothing. The black color is also better, the muslin behind me now barely shows up indicating a correct black point. All in all the cost to upgrade the room was about $80 and took only a few minutes.

I would easily say that the improvement to the quality of the video is at least 10% and it was as easy as changing a light bulb.

Logitech AV business devices

 

oa-glamor-imagesDuke’s Logitech rep, Warren Widener stopped by today to show us some of Logitech’s business line products (listed below).  Two of the highlights were the BCC950 ConferenceCam and the Logitech Mobile p710eSpeakerphone P710e.

The BCC950 webcam features 1080P video, PTZ operation w/remote, and a built-in speakerphone with echo canceling.  This webcam could be a great solution for folks in small meeting rooms that would like to participate in a video call using apps like Cisco Jabber, WebEx, Skype, etc.  It does not require any software or drivers to be installed.  Warren left one of these for us to test and I’ll write more up about it once we’ve had a chance to use it.  If anyone would like to borrow it let us know.

The P710E speakerphone can be used either wired (USB) or wirelessely (bluetooth).  It features 15 hours of talk time between battery charges.  It even has an adjustable stand for holding a mobile phone or tablet device for video calling.

 

Webcams

Logitech Webcam C930e

Logitech C920-C Webcam

Logitech B525 HD Webcam

Logitech B910 HD Webcam

Audio Devices

Logitech USB Headset Stereo H650e

Logitech Wireless Headset Mono H820e

Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e

Keyboard, mouse, and webcam solution

Logitech UC Solution for Cisco 725-C