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Accordent Capture Station and Media Management System: Review
Jan Ozer goes deep with Accordent's live and on-demand webcast products. If you're still not sure what Accordent does, this comprehensive review will tell you everything you never knew.
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Accordent is one of those companies that you respect and kind of know what it does (stream live enterprise presentations? video-centric content management?), but you’re not really sure. At least I didn’t know what it does, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Whatever it does, though, it must have been doing it well, since it just recently was acquired by Polycom, Inc. for about $50 million in cash (and is now called Polycom Video Content Management, though the products are still Accordent- branded). Drinks were definitely on Accordent at Streaming Media East in May.

To help clear up the confusion for all of us, I spent 2 weeks or so working with an Accordent system. In this review, I’ll describe what functions the company’s products perform and discuss key elements and features. As an overview, let’s start with the high-level marketing mumbo-jumbo, directly off the Accordent (now Polycom) website.

The Accordent enterprise video management platform streamlines the processes, devices and technology required to produce and distribute media effectively over existing IT infrastructures. It is the industry’s only automated, end-to-end platform to support the complete content lifecycle of all video assets regardless of source or format—from the point of enterprise video capture, to portal-based viewer access, to video content management and administration, to controlling the delivery and expiration of rich media across the network.

That’s pretty descriptive, but let’s break it down to the product level. Polycom sells two products for producing live or on-demand webcasts: the high-end PresenterPRO and the more streamlined Capture Station. It also provides the Accordent Media Management System (AMMS) and associated technical services.

You can buy either capture product and AMMS separately, but for complete functionality, you’ll need both. Here’s why: When operating as a stand- alone product, both capture solutions integrate video and other content into polished webcasts, typically available at a specific URL. You can distribute that URL using your existing infrastructure, but you’re in charge of making the webcast available to your viewers, securing the content, and producing relevant reports and analytics.

On the other hand, if you also buy the management system, you can create custom portals for viewing these webcasts and content input from other sources, including videos that you’ve previously produced. The portal makes all this content available to your viewers, controls access to the content, and provides reports that help you track video usage and system performance and determine the ROI of your video-related efforts. You can control the distribution of your videos over multiple servers and CDNs, integrate permissions from existing LDAP databases, and make the video available over SharePoint, rather than as a separate portal.

The obvious price of all this integration is complexity. I looked at the Accordent Capture Station and AMMS and found that both were expensive, highly technical products designed for comprehensive functionality and deep integration into your existing systems, not ease of use. You can make them exceptionally easy for nontechnical users to operate, but if you scratch the surface, you’ll see lots of options that only an IT professional can configure.

What about the dollars? The Capture Station starts at about $15,000, while AMMS Express model starts at $35,000. This doesn’t include installation services, which cost $1,500 for the Capture Station and $5,000 for AMMS. Unless you’re supremely confident in your technical networking capabilities, I recommend that you get the service. For the record, a Polycom tech did come and install the system in my office, with about 8 hours of on-site training and plenty of phone support thereafter.

With that behind us, first I’ll tell you about the Capture Station; then I’ll review AMMS.

Accordent Capture Station

The Accordent Capture Station captures audio, video, and VGA screen input and converts it into a polished, synchronized presentation that can be viewed live during the event and later on demand. The Capture Station is available as a turnkey system, which is how I tested it, but you can also buy the software and build your own.

The system contains two capture cards: a Datapath VisionRGB-E1 for capturing screen- based input from the presenter’s laptop and the ViewCast Osprey-2x0 AVStream card that captures audio and video from your video source. Operationally, you plug the VGA port from the presenter’s notebook into the Datapath card. You’ll need a splitter of some kind to also feed the VGA signal to your on-site projector.

The Osprey in the system I tested captured SD video via a composite or S-Video connector, with either balanced audio captured via XLR or unbalanced audio via RCA cables. HD capture options are available, but they’re probably not necessary given that most videos will be shown alongside a PowerPoint slide in a discrete presentation window.

Once you configure your first presentation, you can produce subsequent presentations in just a few moments by completing the fields shown in Figure 1. Then, you can either click Start to start the presentation or Pre-Publish to publish a launch page and create a link to the webcast that viewers can use to watch the presentation when it goes live.

Figure 1To explain, if I were hosting the presentation shown in Figure 1, I would prepublish the event a couple of weeks beforehand by completing the fields and clicking Pre-Publish. The system would then create a URL for the event that I could distribute to potential viewers. When the time came, I would click Pre-Publish List, select my presentation, and then go live. Once the live presentation was over, the system would convert it to an on-demand presentation accessed at the same URL.

If you don’t own the AMMS, you have to send the URL to all potential viewers and otherwise control access to the webcast. With AMMS, all users who have been granted access will see a link to the presentation in the Upcoming Events section of their portal.

With AMMS, you can also schedule events, so the Capture Station goes live and starts recording at the start of the scheduled broadcast. This is similar to prepublishing, but with AMMS, the broadcast starts without user intervention. To make that broadcast go live with just the Capture Station, you have to manually access the Pre-Publish List and manually start the presentation. It’s not hard, but AMMS lets you automatically start recording with no user interaction at all.

In fact, if you have AMMS, you won’t see Figure 1 at all; you’ll schedule your events using a similar screen within the AMMS scheduling interface. You still have to set up the encoding options and configure the user interface in the Capture Station, however, so let’s see how that’s done.

Basic Configuration Options

Most streams captured by the Accordent Capture Station are Windows Media or RealVideo streams, though most users will default to the former. There’s also a Flash version available, but Windows Media is more widely used, so I tested that version.

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