Friday, December 10, 2004

Webcast-in-a-box

We saw a demo of Sonic Foundry's Mediasite yesterday. Mediasite is a conferencing appliance. It allows you to capture a presentation with multiple video sources, most typically a camera trained on the speaker synchronized with screenshots of his Powerpoint slides or document camera. Without any post-processing (a.k.a. "Editing"), you can immediately send that canned presentation to the web for streaming or to a CD.

I'm not going to do a review of product features here. If you're in the market for a conferencing appliance, you'll find reviews at PC Magazine, Network Computing, and ProAV Magazine. My overall impression is that this is a very elegant, easy-to-use system if you have a need to record classes and presentations in this way. It does seem to really ease much of the technical and support complexity of creating webcasted content.

There are some drawbacks and limitations, though.For starters, your output is totally locked into Windows Media. The meta-data scheme that synchronizes video cues to images from the laptop is internal to the Windows Media architecture. (Don't expect to run your stuff through Cleaner to make a QuickTime version, for instance.) Furthermore, you're reliant on use of a specialized player/viewer, so you have that obstacle to clear every time you try to get new users to make use of your webcasts (live or on-demand). Finally, while the output doesn't require post-processing, it also doesn't really allow it either. If you recorded an hour of video but only want to use fifteen minutes of it, you have a problem. On top of all the other possible objections, the device doesn't come cheaply.

Of course, I only really care about the device's utility in higher education. There are a couple scenarios where I can envision that a Mediasite or one of its competitors would be highly useful. One is obviously distance education, but if you're at a distance education shop, your institution already has systems for collecting and delivering course content. There are many other situations where professors have large lecture courses where they wish to deliver the lecture and supporting materials for on-demand use outside of class. Another is to create supplemental presentations on topics that will not be covered in class, such as remedial or preparatory material, lab instructions, etc. If this last scenario is your primary need, I can imagine Mediasite being quite useful. You have to decide whether the use of the appliance will be sufficient to justify its price. We small, residential schools might have a difficult time drumming up enough use to make the case for purchase, but my assumption is based only on our current lack of demand locally. We have a growing demand for streaming video, but it generally hasn't come from the curricular realm.

I haven't even gotten into the whole issue of whether it is educationally appropriate for instructional technologists to endorse the use of a technology tool that largely serves to preserve and deliver Powerpoint content. That's an argument for (actually from) another day.

3 Comments:

Blogger EB said...

Recently I've become aware of an actual product, also a webcasting appliance that is called "Webcast in a Box." I didn't intend such confusion, but I'm not inclined to change the title of the post so late in the game. If you've searched your way to the entry please note that this post has nothing to do with the product bearing that name.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anna said...

This seems little different from other video instruction sites. I definitely wanna want to try it ..Not sure of its trial if available...Currently I am using www.rhubcom.com for biz purposes and there's no security issue till now.... But after reading your review ..I think its worth trying..

5:26 AM  
Blogger jimmy jam said...

If you recorded an hour of video but only want to use fifteen minutes of it, you have a problem. On top of all the other possible objections, the device doesn't come cheaply. INXPO webcasting

3:27 AM  

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