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Lecture capture: software and hardware collaboration

Previously we looked at how lecture capture technology has been embraced by students and lecturers to become an essential part of the learning experience. Here Steve Montgomery considers the increase in co-operation between software and hardware manufacturers to provide complete solutions.

A lower-cost solution can be provided by software that is installed on equipment already available within the lecture room. Most lecture rooms will have a podium PC, although in some cases lecturers will use their own laptops. Panopto’s third generation capture tools record from virtually any video or audio device that can be plugged into a laptop and can capture and play multiple simultaneous video feeds, slides, images and screen recordings.

However, the choice of lecture capture software is affected by the selection of hardware, and this can be a problem. As Dean Offord, European sales engineer for Panasonic Business, points out: “At the moment compatibility between software and hardware is not as universal as vendors of either would like. Simple integration is incredibly important within AV. That is why Panasonic ProAV has recently developed the new Virtual USB driver to configure the Panasonic PTZ line-up with popular lecture capture systems over IP with a single Cat5e or Cat6 for high-definition capture. This will significantly reduce the number of cables and adaptors required for lecture capture content, saving a great amount of time and cost. As well as this, it is now possible to add auto tracking server software to a camera installation to turn a PTZ camera into an automated camera, complete with facial recognition for completely accurate tracking.”

Many suppliers are working together to provide complete solutions to educational facilities. Rob Lipps, executive vice president of Sonic Foundry, believes: “Single organisations are not able to deliver all components of the complete solution. Partnerships provide a way to deliver overall higher quality by combining best-of-breed devices that are integrated together to work in a complementary way. The additional benefit to manufacturers is that it helps them to extend their exposure to a wider customer base through co-selling opportunities.”

This is a point with which Offord agrees: “Collaborations between lecture capture hardware and software companies are a great way to offer a full systems package to educational institutions, giving peace of mind of a reliable and high quality system. Panasonic has collaborated with a number of third-party partners to ensure that our remote camera, switcher and laser projection technology work seamlessly together in a lecture environment.”

The benefit to users lies in simplicity of operation. Phil Waterhouse, business development manager for education at Crestron UK, says: “Some of the partnerships are working very well; it means installing and programming is not as difficult. Crestron and Panopto, for example, have a partnership that means a simple-to-use interface is readily available. In situations in which hundreds of rooms are being used for capture, this could save a lot of money in the long run.”

Expanded capabilities
Collaboration between companies provides radical expansion in the capability of complete solutions and consequent performance that benefits users. An example is given by Lipps: “Collaboration enables solutions in which the sum greatly exceeds the parts. Universities and colleges of higher education are obliged to provide text transcripts of videos for hearing-impaired students. Automated search features are also essential, allowing students to quickly access specific parts of a lecture. Students will only use a small section of a lecture during revision so it is essential that they can reach the relevant part quickly, without having to scan the whole video. Traditionally, preparation of captions involves people listening to the soundtrack and typing. Advanced speech-to-text software automates this process, reducing the cost of production massively – from around $1 per minute to less than two cents.”

High-quality audio capture and storage is another essential element, for both direct listening and caption transcription. It is another area in which partnerships provide benefit. For instance audio, streaming and collaboration specialist ClearOne provides technology that helps remove background noise, such as the shuffling of papers, making the recording more intelligible.

There is huge potential for the technology to be able to offer collaborative learning in a way that currently can’t be done due to video transmission latency and limited bandwidth. At the moment universities have successfully deployed lecture capture, storage and playback systems but in the future they are likely to move more towards distributed classrooms, huddle spaces, cross-campus collaboration and more interactivity between remote groups of students and teachers.

New techniques for learning are emerging and more platforms are being used to create and absorb content. At the same time, video codecs are becoming more efficient and the use of IP technology linked to cloud distribution and off-site processing is becoming more common. The broadcast industry is at an early stage of adopting IP-based technology, and as this settles it will undoubtedly filter down to other sectors, like education, which will be able to benefit enormously – allowing them to continue to improve on the delivery of high-quality education to future generations.