Bobb Sleezer, RBP, FBCA
An Initial Experience with the Mediasite™ Product Line
“Go forward about 2 minutes.”
“No, not there, that’s too far. Back up some. Now a little further forward.”
“That text looks pretty fuzzy. Videotaping the screen didn’t work very well.”
“Guess it wasn’t at this point after all. Go ahead more.”
“I’m not sure, but I thought it was around this point. Stop there!”
“No, I know it wasn’t there, but maybe about here.”
“What is she saying?”
“I can’t tell. It’s too faint. Using the camera mic wasn’t a good choice on their part. Let’s just go back to the beginning and start there. I guess we will have to listen to the whole thing.”
Seem like Déjà vu to you? “Been there, done that” you say? Such a conversation has been a repetitive component in the process of information distribution using videotape recordings, or audio cassettes, or the do-it-themselves end product when folks bring in their home digital video cameras to record a meeting.
With the continued expansion of web-accessible information, and 24/7 availability, distribution of information from meetings has reached new levels of expectation. As major corporations use this technology to reach the general public, more and more of the same information distribution is expected of the higher education and healthcare institutions that our professions are a part of.
There are several products on the market that cater to this particular need in digital communication, and each one has its merits based on features or are price driven. One particular product by Sonic Foundry (www.sonicfoundry.com) out of Madison, Wisconsin has been a part of the education environment for over a decade as a web-based means of distribution of information using the standard .wav file format. The Mediasite™ system can be used as either an independent recording mechanism or, utilizing an Enterprise Server software, provide an extensive range of web-capable services and live broadcasts.
Essentially, the concept behind the Mediasite technology is the ability to do a recording of a digitally presented lecture in a webcast friendly format. Using Windows Media Player™ as the platform it performs on, the Mediasite recording technology provides an easy way to record presentations and quickly place them on-line for access 24/7. The Mediasite device is a Rich Media Recorder containing a versatile multi-channel capture system integrated with a full set of analog and digital interfaces to permit integration with any audio visual environment.
There are three components to the recording – the presentation screen, video, and audio (which can be captured by the video camera or with a separate wireless microphone). The key is the presentation screen. Each screen change is used to mark a point in a timeline signal that is generated during the recording. When a screen is changed, the screen image, the video and the audio are all marked simultaneously at that point in the timeline.
When the presentation is played back, the viewer can see a complete thumbnail listing of all the screen changes. Any individual thumbnail can be selected and the Mediasite software identifies the audio and video tracks for that matching timeline signal, giving the viewer immediate access to that specific point in the lecture. It’s much better than videotape, and could be considered similar to chapters on a DVD.
The device is available in both a portable and rack-mounted unit. The portable unit is approximately the size of an oversized briefcase, and includes space for keyboard, mouse, and cabling. The video camera and wireless microphone are not included in the system. The rack- mounted unit is about the same size, but configured for use in a control room application, or in a turnkey roll-around configuration including the Mediasite recorder and the video and audio hardware.
Either unit can work by itself as a CD publishing source, or can be connected via a network to a server that functions at the enterprise level for access to an archive of presentations. While the presentation component and the audio portion require a minimum of file space to record, the video will potentially comprise a large portion of the final file size. For web-cast purposes and the size of the window allotted normally for the video to be viewed in, a recording resolution of 640 x 480 is adequate. A presentation recorded at this setting requires one megabyte of storage space per minute of recording. So, a single CD could hold approximately ten hours of presentation and a full day of a conference could be stored to a single CD with access to any presentation and any point in a presentation with a few clicks of the mouse.
The RL400 Recorder provides RapidRecord, a feature which starts the recording of audio, video, and visuals from a presentation simultaneously. It requires no training of the presenter, being completely independent of what is being shown. Another feature, called VersaVisual Technology, uses Auto Screen detection and indexing to capture content from any RGB/VGA source. Plug the Mediasite Recorder into your PCs, smart boards, microscopes, diagnostic equipment, etc., to capture the image.
The RL400 allows content to be recorded as the presentation is given, with no pre- or post-production required. The rich media is ready to be shared when the presentation is done. Onboard large storage capacity provides the ability to record a full day’s event at optimal resolution levels. High quality encoding is possible from 56kps up to 2mbps. For initial backup or distribution purposes, the rich media presentation can be burned directly to a CD immediately and still uploaded to a properly configured server later.
Some specifics about the RL400: it uses Intel-Based Processor Technology, AGP Dual-monitor graphics, provides IEEE 1394 and USB interfaces, 10/100/1000 Ethernet interface, and requires Windows XP Professional™ operating system.
The image capture (VGA signal) utilizes an analog component (RGBHV) input, with a HDDB 15 interface. It has multi-sync operation, working with all standard VESA modes. It can handle separate H/V, composite, or synchronization on green modes. Resolution of up to 1600 x 1200x16 bit (SXGA) can be captured.
The video capture is NTSC and PAL format, with a Composite (BNC/RCA) and S-Video (Y/C) connections. Digital video input is via a Firewire (6 pin) or USB interface.
The audio capture is stereo analog, with 2x balanced (XLR), and 2x unbalanced RCA. Secondary audio provides an unbalanced Line In TRS(Stereo), an unbalanced Mic In TS (Mono), and an unbalanced Line Out TRS(Stereo). Embedded digital audio inputs are via USB and IEEE 1394 DV.
There is also the Mediasite Server to supplement the RL400. When used, the Mediasite Server enables the live broadcast of a presentation, or for it to be published to the web. It also provides content management by organizing, cataloging, and archiving content. If a presentation is being live broadcast, real-time polls and questions can be done.
The Server also provides access control by setting permissions for content and system access, a very important component. Since this is a network connected device, distribution of the content can be provided in unicast and multicast modes. Remote location recorders can be auto published for their presentation content, and the system management component allows you to see and manage your recorders from a central location.
This technology clearly has multiple advantages over traditional taping of a presentation, but because of what it was designed to do very well, it generates some issues to be aware of. Remember this product was built to meet the demand of recording presentations in a very simple way, not be a full-scale video production alternative. Let’s take a look at some of the things that both you and your client will need to understand.
First of all, because the system depends on the change of screen in the image capture portion, motion from a video clip or animation is detrimental to the recording. With the video, each screen refresh at whatever rate shown in frames per second is interpreted as a screen change. Same with an animated clipart. A solution to this problem is to use a switchbox or small mixer to redirect the image capture feed into the video capture input, overriding the video camera input at that point in the lecture, then switching back. Multiple cameras can also be handled in this way if different camera views are desired.
Secondly, most classrooms utilize PCs with direct cabling to a ceiling-mounted data projector. This can make it difficult, and time-consuming to get the necessary feed prior to the start of a presentation. One system I tried to connect my portable RL400 Recorder to continued to defeat our attempts repeatedly. Eventually, we had to add a mini-distribution amp at the line out point in the rack mounted system (which took a great deal of persuasion to get the owner’s approval to touch his system, at all). Tapping in where the VGA signal went to the data project and adding a 50-ft VGA cable back to the recorder solved that problem. Presenters can make this easier by providing their presentation for loading on the Recorder in advance, with the recording technician advancing the presentation manually. What we are doing with all new classrooms and classroom upgrades is to have a VGA line out interface included to the system specifically for connection of the Mediasite recorder where it would be set up in the room.
Third, at present there is no video editing capacity. You can trim off excess at the start or at the end, but that’s it. Remember, this was intended as a simple method of a live recording, so editing out a mistake by the presenter or sneeze in the audience can’t be done. Now, there is work being done where a segment could be inserted with a synchronization timeline patch included, so in the future a correction or updated material could be done. The staff at Sonic Foundry are really great at working with the users to improve their product.
So far, those are the primary concerns I have experienced. The Enterprise Server software is almost online, and prospective speakers are being identified to get the recording of presentations rolling. It has been our choice to initiate the recording service within a select group and studio setting so we can learn in a controlled environment, rather than jumping into the Grand Rounds recording circuit and subjecting ourselves to recording difficulties with rooms that are not set for easy access to the presentation image. Classrooms are often scheduled back-to-back, making it impossible to roll in and make connections at that level. Once the rooms are updated with distribution amps, we should be able to roll into a room and be ready to record within 5 minutes.
The investment up front can be substantial. So far, for an RL400 and Enterprise Server, the cost has been approximately $40,000. Sounds like a lot, but for an institution that has never had any video production capacity, it is a bargain compared to the expenses of outfitting a full-scale video production facility. We have also added a roll-around unit that includes the Mediasite RL400 Recorder, a digital video camera mounted on a post, and wireless microphone with receiver, two 9-inch monitors to watch input of image and video capture, and power supply that is all hardwired together in a heavy duty rolling podium-style cart. That was another $35,000.
I fully expect to be recording two to four presentations a day by this time next year. They will consist of instructional presentations, Grand Rounds, special guests speakers, orientation programs for our new residents, and other similar medical education content presentations. With local vendors charging anywhere from $150 an hour up to $8000 for a two-day conference, the system has the potential to pay for itself very quickly.
Fortunately, we found a local authorized dealer who had several years of experience with the product line, and had dedicated technicians to assist solely with Mediasite products. That has been a big help with training, and on-site instruction. Sonic Foundry has also proven to be very good at customer support, and much more information and demo presentations can be viewed at their website. Try some of the online demos, I think you will be amazed at the power of this technology, especially for its ease of playback. Also, the First Annual Mediasite Users Group (MUG) meeting is being tentatively planned for May in Madison, Wisconsin. It should be very interesting to see what different applications and success stories will be shared.
About the Author
2007, The Journal of Biocommunication, All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents for VOLUME 32, NUMBER 3