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Gimme Five: Rich Media Presentation Systems for Education and the Enterprise

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With all of the advances in learning and education in the last 100 years, the lecture still reigns supreme. Sure, today’s lectures have been gussied up with video projectors showing bullet points and snazzy graphics. But at the end of the day you still have a lecture. And if your job is in elearning, whether in higher education or in the enterprise, odds are that you’re going to have to record some lectures.

Make that a LOT of lectures.

I don’t mean to be cynical. Lectures don’t have to be boring or torturous. The best teachers and presenters can make them exciting and fun. Likewise, those of us whose task it is to record those lectures and to deliver them online can make the video experience compelling and enjoyable.

We’re past the days when panning the camcorder back and forth between the presenter and the projection screen is acceptable. In fact, with the tools now available to make presentation capture easier and better looking, I’d say there’s really no excuse for the point-the-cam-at-the-screen trick.

So if you’re going to record presentations for internet delivery, you owe it to the presenter and the viewers to retain the quality of the experience—audio, video, visuals, and all, synchronized together into a single multimedia package in your browser.

At one end of the spectrum are narrated screen capture utilities, such as TechSmith’s Camtasia, which combine a lecturer’s audio with video of everything on his or her computer screen. At the other end we have full-featured, enterprise-level capture systems, such as Echo 360, which automate the process of capturing the computer screen, video, and audio from multiple sources, synchronizing them together, and then publishing the final product to web and streaming servers.

If all you really need to do is capture something along the lines of a so-called enhanced podcast with screenshots and audio, you don’t need something as sophisticated as Accordent’s Capture Station. Products such as Camtasia and Adobe’s Captivate offer relatively inexpensive ways to get your feet wet and to start producing content quickly (see reviews of each in the December 2007/January 2008 issue of Streaming Media). But those software-only solutions don’t offer the functionality of full-featured, automated presentation systems.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick to enterprise-level lecture capture systems. Significant emphasis is placed on making it easy for nontechnical users—such as teachers, instructors, managers, and executives—to capture and publish their presentations with minimal assistance from production staff. But beyond capture, these enterprise-level systems also provide the IT staff with stable storage, management, and delivery features.

Before products like Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite came on the scene, capturing the presenter’s screen and voice along with full-motion video of the presenter, required a small production crew equipped with scan converters and video switchers. Now most systems simply need either a capture appliance to ingest camera video, the presenter’s voice, and VGA video from the presenter’s computer or software running on the presenter’s machine connected to a camera or a webcam and a microphone.

All of the products profiled in this article differ from one another enough that it is nearly impossible to declare any one better than the others. The choice of a lecture capture system is highly dependent on an organization’s needs and resources. Some systems are best suited for large-scale installations, while others are actually quite portable and can be used equally at home, on the road, or in the home office.

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