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iPodding InfoComm 06

Orlando was the setting last week for the annual audiovisual confab called InfoComm. Despite high temperatures outside and the show’s emphasis on projectors and traditional audiovisual gear, several cool streaming media and webcasting product enhancements were launched at the show.

Three rich media recording companies, located in different parts of the Orange County Convention Center, introduced podcasting as part of their rich media recording workflows. The three companies—Accordent, Anystream, and Sonic Foundry—all noted high demand from their educational customer base for the addition of podcasting.

"Educational users make up almost half of our established customer base," says Darrin Coulson, senior VP of worldwide operations for Sonic Foundry, "and these educational institutions are embracing podcasting and ‘anywhere learning’ for both traditional and non-traditional students. We see this as a natural extension of our MediaSite recorder and server line."

One example Coulson gave of a customer who was already using podcasting is the University of Pittsburgh.

"To date, we've created podcasts manually from Mediasite captures," says Nick Laudato, associate director of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE) at the University of Pittsburgh. "Sonic Foundry’s new automatic podcasting of Mediasite content will help us to efficiently provide both faculty and students with the convenience of using popular hand-held entertainment systems to enrich their educational experience. Now, they can access audio versions of online course content, anytime, anywhere via their favorite MP3 player."

Accordent also stressed the use of podcasting to help reinforce more traditional learning methods, whether in the classroom or boardroom, and added podcast compatibility to both the Capture Station and PresenterPLUS presentation authoring solutions.

"Our educational customers have definitely requested podcasting," says Jereme Pitts, VP of sales and marketing at Accordent. "But the need for podcasting reaches beyond institutions of higher learning to our corporate training and human resource customers. Many clients want to make presentations available in an easily-accessible audio format, which can be set up as an RSS feed, so podcasting is a natural medium for these customers, too."

While Sonic Foundry and Accordent announced audio-only podcasts that can be used on any MP3 player, Anystream, whose Apreso product line uses the same RGB frame grabber board as the other two companies, also announced an iPod-centrice podcasting capability that utilizes the still image and chapter marking capabilities of the iPod and iTunes.

"Anystream showcased audio podcasting at last year’s InfoComm," says Mark Jones, Anystream VP of education products, "and our customers have shared with us studies that show the measurable impact on student learning outcomes. This year, we’re showing the next step in enterprise podcasting—the inclusion of still image frame grabs at key points in the podcast. This allows students not only to review the audio portion of a lecture but also to see visuals such as formulas or documentation written on a whiteboard. Our customers have asked for this additional feature, which we feel sets our products apart from other products."

I viewed a sample Apreso podcast on a 30GB iPod Video, and the images, while small, were surprisingly legible. Anystream’s Jones notes that the Apreso system used for podcasting doesn’t have an editor like Accordent or Sonic Foundry to remove unwanted images or reposition images to better align them with key points in a lecture, but he feels that the Apreso scene change-detection algorithm compensates for the lack of an editor.

Sonic Foundry and Accordent also provided glimpses into upcoming products.

Accordent showcased a laptop-based version of its upcoming Accordent Capture Station 2.0. Using a PCMCIA card and an outboard PCI card expansion chassis, the mobile rich media capture station was shown recording a rich media session on an HP 2.6GHz P4 system. Accordent noted that a 7200 RPM drive would be required to maintain data throughput when the mobile version is launched in the next few weeks, while adding that customer demands for mobile, self-contained recording systems continue to increase.

Sonic Foundry’s Coulson says that backend server capacity and scalability were key to the upcoming Mediasite 4.0 release.

"We feel comfortable that we’re meeting the needs of our current and potential customers when it comes to rich media recording devices," says Coulson, "so we’re turning our attention to robust scalability. We now have several customers who are outputting 60-100 Mediasite recordings per week, which means the need for scheduling and serving content also increases exponentially. We’ve finally reached a critical mass in the industry, with one recent Mediasite-enabled broadcast reaching almost 150 countries and anticipated to be viewed by 1 million live or on-demand viewers by month’s end."

Accordent’s CEO and co-founder, Mike Newman, agrees that the adoption of rich media presentations has reached the tipping point, and that podcasting compatibility is the next logical step.

"We are seeing rapid adoption of rich media presentations for eLearning, training, and corporate communications," says Newman. "It’s essential that these presentations reach beyond the traditional desktop experience to allow users to access content wherever they are."

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