07/01/2021

The New Planet eStream Lecture and Classroom Capture Toolset Including Recommendations on Complimentary Hardware

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Our development team have recently added Lecture and Room Capture tools to the Planet eStream cloud platform, featuring; autonomous recording and streaming, ad-hoc recording, scheduling, transcription and support for simultaneous capture from multiple video and audio inputs. This blog post explores the advantages and features of our new tools in more detail along with some guidance and recommendations on complimentary hardware.


Web Meetings Vs Lecture and Room Capture

A question we are commonly asked when discussing Room Capture with our community is “What’s the difference between lecture capture/room recording and web meetings via services such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet?”

The simple answer is that there are very significant differences between the two, but both formats have their part to play dependent on your scenario.

Web meetings are commonly conducted using a standard webcam and are an ideal format for meetings with relatively small numbers of attendees and suitable for hosting in a similar way to how an ‘in person’ session around a meeting room table etc would typically be approached. In most cases, web meetings are not well suited to delivering remote or hybrid learning to split classes or to host meetings with a large number of participants.

Web Meetings are Perfect for…
  • Huddle groups
  • One to one meetings
  • Round table style meetings
Web Meetings are not the Ideal Choice when…
  • There are large numbers of participants
  • Delivering hybrid learning to split groups of students
  • There is a requirement for high quality output
  • Using the format for reflective learning
  • Integration into a wide range of other learning platforms such as virtual learning environments, websites etc is required

This is where Lecture and Room Capture comes into play, the ability to use a wider range of more professional camera and audio options along with the provision for multiple source capture, provides a perfect solution for all the areas in which web meetings do not offer a satisfactory user experience. We will explore this in more detail in the following sections.

Hybrid Learning…

During the recent pandemic, many of our customers have sought advice on how best to deal with the issue of teaching students in the scenario where half of their students are classroom based as normal and the remainder are learning remotely. My thoughts are that firstly, it is necessary to break down the requirements for both sets of learners to ensure that all students receive a satisfactory and inclusive experience.

The aim would be to teach the classroom-based students as normal whilst delivering the same content directly to the remote learners as if they were in the classroom, retaining as similar an experience as possible and with minimum disruption.

Using a standard webcam in this environment will not deliver a satisfactory experience for the remote learner as they are designed for educators who are sitting directly in front of the camera. Huddle cameras are available, providing a better experience, but still not an ideal one as these are designed to be used on a meeting room table or huddle room environment. To conclude, both webcams and huddle room cameras are designed for Web meetings not for Lecture and Room Capture.


Considerations for Delivering an Equal Experience for Remote Learners


  1. Multiple Video Sources - Modern teaching environments use multiple sources to deliver content for students within the classroom or lecture theatre and it is therefore important that all these sources are also delivered to the remote learner.

  2. Audio – A clear and concise audio experience is also of the utmost importance and discussed in more detail below.

  3. Communication - Providing a method for the remote learners to communicate with the educator without disruption to the class is a key ingredient.

Our Approach to Solutions for the above Requirements


Multiple Video Sources

The Planet eStream Lecture and Room Capture tool can capture multiple, very high-quality sources simultaneously from devices such as the whiteboard/classroom display, multiple cameras, visualisers, microscopes etc. These sources are streamed concurrently, and the remote learner can select which source they would like to focus their attention on at any point.


Example Remote Learner View in Planet eStream Room Capture Interface

Audio

The audio can also be captured from multiple sources such as microphones within the room and the output of the educator’s computer, the remote learner has the option of switching between these sources as required.


Communication

The biggest issue when attempting to simulate a classroom environment remotely is that the remote learners need to be able to communicate with the class, but without causing disruption. The issue with using their own individual microphones to communicate is that it becomes both confusing and disruptive for the educator and for the ‘in class’ students. The solution to this is to use the Planet eStream instant messaging tool, providing the remote learners with a method of sending instant messages to the educator without disrupting the class and enabling the questions raised to be answered in the classroom in the same way as if they had been asked by in-class students.


Planet eStream Lecture and Room Capture at a Glance


With all of the above in mind, we designed our new Lecture and Room Capture tools to be as flexible as possible, offering our customers a powerful delivery mechanism for their hybrid and remote learning requirements. Key features are summarised below followed by my thoughts and recommendations on accompanying hardware considerations:


  • Multi-Source Capture – Simultaneous capture from multiple video and audio sources
  • Centralised Scheduling
  • Ad-Hoc Recording
  • Live Streaming
  • Transcription
  • Built in Communication
  • External Indicator
  • MS O365 Calendar Support
  • Low-Cost Room Capture Hardware


Hardware Considerations

One of the most important considerations when designing our new Lecture and Room Capture tools was to ensure ease of use and delivery of high quality content to enhance user experience whilst keeping associated costs to a minimum.

From a software perspective, this new feature has been made available without additional cost to our cloud platform customers whose subscription includes our Live Streaming Module.

Let’s look at hardware considerations for Lecture and Room Capture in a little more detail


Cameras

I tend to recommend when positioning the camera in your room, that you think of the camera as a student in the classroom. If you do this, the remote learners will have the same view as the students in the classroom. Please see some common examples of typical room layouts below:



There are several different types of camera which can be used for this application, please see some common examples below:



Ceiling or Wall Mounted PTZ Cameras

These cameras are extremely versatile and very high quality - the PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom) offers flexible mounting options and the potential for using pre-set lens positioning.


Fixed Lens Box Cameras

These are ideal for more discreet mounting options, fixed installations, and specific areas such as; interview rooms, medical installations and practical demonstration areas.


Auto-Tracking Cameras

Tracking cameras are great for both traditional classrooms and lecture theatres where the educator presents from the front of the room. Each tracking camera is effectively made up of 1 x wide angle camera and 1 x PTZ camera. The wide angle is used to gather the tracking data of the presenter and this data is sent back to the PTZ camera which follows the educator.


Capture Devices for Presenter’s Desktop or Room Display Content

There are a few methods for capturing the content from the presenter’s screen. This can be achieved by either using a software client or a discreet low-cost hardware device. The advantage of using a hardware device to intercept the content displayed on the presenter’s screen is that it does not require the user to have pre-installed software on either the classroom computer or their laptop. This is particularly useful if you commonly have guest speakers or lecturers using their own equipment. It is also important to note that this method has the added benefit of not requiring the user to be part of the organisation’s domain or connected to their network infrastructure. These devices are particularly versatile as they are self-contained units and do not require a computer to operate, they can be plugged into a network and used to deliver live sources from anywhere.



Of course, a variety of other equipment can also be connected to these devices including Medical equipment, Visualisers, Roving Cameras, Microscopes etc.


Audio

This is one of the most important considerations and is dependent on the room configuration and Presenter/Lecturer position.

This is a key point for consideration, for example, if the camera is trained on the presenter and the microphone is built into the lectern, this would seriously impact the presenter’s ability to move freely away from the lectern whilst presenting.



Microphone Types and Suitability

Tie-Clip Microphones

These offer an extremely high-quality audio option if you wish to capture the audio from the presenter only. The only real downside to this option is that it is open to human error. Examples of this would be that the presenter forgets to remove the microphone altogether and leaves the room wearing the equipment or forgets to turn off the belt pack, which inevitably means a new set of batteries per lecture!


Fixed Boundary Microphones

These microphones are a good option if you wish to capture the audio from a wide area and are usually available in two types:


  1. Unidirectional - pick up sound from a specific side or direction of the microphone
  2. Omnidirectional - pick up sound equally from all directions of the microphone.

The only drawback to this type of microphone is that by their very nature, they will pick up ambient noise. This can be negated slightly by selecting a unidirectional version of the microphone.

Ceiling Microphones

These fall into two basic categories; hanging microphones or boundary microphones. These are good options as they are discreet and do not suffer from being accidently knocked or moved around which can cause an unpleasant experience for the remote viewer.

Conclusion

For most applications, a boundary microphone (ceiling mount or desk) would usually be the best option as they have very good pickup and are quite discreet. I do also recommend considering ceiling mounted hanging microphones as these also have good pickup and are less likely to be knocked or interfered with. These recommendations are for general use and of course there are scenarios where these would not be suitable. Although the above is generally the most practical solution overall, Tie-Clip microphones will always offer the best presenter only audio quality, but are generally not usually the most practical solution due to the points already raised in that section above.


Room Status Indication

When considering hardware, it is also advised that the teaching staff and students are aware of the room status – for instance if a class or lecture is in session and broadcasting/recording. To achieve this, we offer a multi-led external indicator “Busylight” option. This indicator lights up in green when the room is operational and ready to go and red when the recording is in session

From a hardware perspective, we have carried out extensive testing and worked with a range of manufacturers to enable us to offer a selection of validated cost-effective kits and components to compliment the Planet eStream platform and deliver excellent quality results. These kits and components are all available to purchase for the convenience of our customers via our accessories store