This post continues the journey to figure out how to get videoconferencing in the 21st century classrooms in our county. I’ve been learning about Vidyo over the last several months. Here are some early posts: first learning about Vidyo, and Craig’s comments about the future of VC in schools, and the results of the fall experiment with Vidyo hosted by Craig.
- Quality. Everytime I see Vidyo I am amazed at the quality. I’ve seen it under a variety of conditions, including the pretty low quality of conference bandwidth at our MACUL workshop and it has been excellent.
- Easy Link. More like a webinar, when you want to participate, the host sends you a link to click and after a little download you are up & running. It’s really easy. Imagine sending this link to an author or expert to talk to your students.
- Mac and PC. It works on both the Mac and the PC, which is an essential feature for our use.
- H323 connectivity through a gateway. This is both a pro and a con, but at least it includes H323 connectivity! That is also a must for us!
- CPU intensive. It requires a newer computer and in some cases you may have to close all the other applications in order for Vidyo to run well.
- Echo-cancellation. The echo-cancellation isn’t totally there yet, but I know they are working on it and it keeps getting better.
- Cost structure. The more I learn about other server based videoconference tools, the less I’m excited about Vidyo. If you have your own server, there is an annual license for the software, as well as the cost per download. However, you could also access Vidyo through a reseller and depending on their plans, just pay for the use you have. However, this scenario seems to be designed for much less frequent use of VC than we have.
- H323 connectivity through a gateway. This is also a con because the gateway is limited in the number of connections it can do. It’s really designed for you to use for mostly Vidyo to Vidyo calls, with a few calls to H323 here and there. Whereas 95% of our calls are off our network via H323. So this solution would drastically limit the number of calls we can do at at time. In addition, a “Hollywood squares” layout within Vidyo doesn’t connect well to a “Hollywood squares” layout on an H323 bridge (the same problem you have with connecting this layout between two H323 bridges).
- Pet Peeve: Legacy. I do have one little pet peeve about how Vidyo refers to H323. They call anything that is H323 “legacy”. Legacy is a term used in the videoconferencing industry to mean a videoconference system that is no longer supported. For example, our Polycom Viewstations are legacy because there are no more software updates coming out for them. But to call ALL H323 legacy is offensive to me. As if no one else is making anything new in H323. Which obviously isn’t true at all. Calling all H323 stuff legacy is really annoying to me! Just my little quirk I guess!
Conclusion. For our area at least, Vidyo does not seem to be the ideal solution. We do too many calls off our network. However, for meetings or professional development or scenarios where most calls are within a district or region, it may be a potential solution. I just prefer to invest in VC that we can use for all applications: content providers, student projects and collaborations, meetings, professional development, classes, etc.
A Couple Places to Get a Demo
If you want to try it out, you could contact one of these places. I’m sure there are more, so feel free to comment if you want to add to this list.
So what do YOU think? Please comment if you have any additional insights or comments on using Vidyo in K12 education.
If you’ve been following the discussion/investigation on here about desktop videoconferencing, you might be interested in some additional reading:
- “Desktop Videoconferencing Will Challenge the Network“. Note that this is from 2008. Still interesting reading. Be sure to read the comments. What I found most interesting was the comment from Stefan Karapetkov that normal use is about 10% of the users/devices. Even though sometimes I feel like my schools are keeping me too busy, when I think about a really busy hour with 4-7 VCs at the same time; that is still about 10% of our 70 units. This number is useful in planning for capacity with server based desktop videoconferencing.
- Get Out of the Videoconferencing Rooms Already! This article is from just over a week ago; and argues that we shouldn’t have to go to a “room” to communicate. It should be available where we are. It fits in nicely with the concept that instructional tools are most easily used by the teacher when they are available IN the classroom (i.e. computers, videoconferencing, etc.).
As you know, I’ve been on a journey to figure out how to get videoconferencing in the 21st century classrooms in our county. Last fall, on a recommendation from a blog commenter, I started experimenting with Mirial Softphone; a desktop VC tool.
I was initially interested in Mirial over Polycom PVX as a desktop stand alone tool for these reasons:
- I didn’t have to make any network or firewall changes and it worked. So easy!!
- It works on the Mac (Polycom PVX is PC only).
- It registered to my GK, and can do H.239.
- It connected fine to my Polycom endpoints and Tandberg bridge.
Cons / Issues
- One of the first issues I ran into was how to buy Mirial. With a school account it would be hard to buy something online from Europe that was in euros! I did, however, find a reseller in Michigan. I also found out that you have to buy it in packs of 3; and that it would be 3 Mac licenses or 3 PC licenses; but not a mix. This complicates things a bit.
- I tried this out on three of our school networks. On two of them it worked great; no configuration needed for the firewall. On the third network we were stuck. Could not get it to work on the network without going through the hoops that we’d do for a full videoconference system (NAT, etc.).
I like Mirial for schools that are Mac based and are “on their own” – i.e. no regional videoconference support. I have connected to several schools who have a Polycom PVX “cart” with a laptop and projector, varying qualitys of web cam/PTZ camera, and a microphone. Mirial seems to be the best way that I’ve seen for doing this type of installation with a Mac.
Server Based Desktop VC
I’m just starting to learn about the advantages of server based desktop videoconferencing. The more I read; the more I realize that the cost is a huge factor. If we were to install standalone desktop VC (Polycom PVX or Mirial) in all the 21st century classrooms, the cost would climb very quickly. However, with server based desktop videoconferencing, many of the cost models are set up by concurrent videoconferences; NOT by the number of computers with the software installed. In places with regional videoconference support (like my area and my schools), it seems much more cost effective to go the server route. More on additional options (i.e. Vidyo and Polycom CMA Desktop) in future posts.
For now, though, one last tidbit from my email today: a Wainhouse Research Bulletin quote:
Milan-based Mirial released ClearSea, a new client-server desktop videoconferencing solution supporting both PC and Mac users as well as H.323 room systems. Features include a centralized directory, user group management, integration with Active Directory/LDAP, full remote configuration and upgrade of desktop clients. The port-based licensing and the possibility to download unlimited copies of the client makes the product extremely scalable without the need to worry about unused accounts. ClearSea provides the ability to connect the local (on-LAN) and remote (off-LAN) desktop users across their firewalls and to their SIP or H.323 legacy conferencing room systems, without the need of any external gateway or bridge. The product also embeds a video IVR to call users by extensions and an “autoscan” feature for finding existing room systems.
So, it seems clear that there are very interesting and promising developments in H323 desktop videoconferencing. Stay tuned for more reflections in future posts.
Last Wednesday Craig Mollerstuen from GCI Alaska hosted another experimentation session for desktop videoconferencing options. We keep talking about ways these tools can be used to bring VC to the classroom and to bring outside experts to the classroom.
I’m a little slow writing this up, but the need continues. I had a small private school call me on Friday with a request to get VC. They had a donation for $500. For now we are seeing if Polycom PVX will run on the older computers that the school has.
So on Wednesday, we had a group of people connected on the Vidyo side:
And another set of people connected on the H323 side:
Just like hooking two bridges together, it’s not possible to have all the sides in all the squares.
Notice the great quality of the picture on both sides of the VC (from the Region 12 perspective).
The Vidyo sites are connected through a Vidyo H323 router which was connected to a Polycom MGC which connected the H323 sites.
Audio & Video Gear
One of the things we talked about was different types of mics and video cameras that work well for making desktop VC work in the classroom:
- Clearone Chat 50: Some liked it, some didn’t. The audio was a little low.
- Phoenix Duet: This had more recommendations from the people attending; the Phoenix Quattro also was recommended but is in the $500 range.
- The Logitech 9000 also had high recommendations, but isn’t easily mounted for classroom use. It’s designed for the laptop of course.
Some issues with Vidyo
Issues with Vidyo that came up during the discussion included:
- You can’t change your audio settings during the call – you have to disconnect and reconnect after changing the audio source/settings.
- Another issue is the regular updates that are required – something that can be problematic for schools that can’t upgrade constantly because of computers locked down. This raised another question for me – do all the sites in a Vidyo call have to be on the same version? That could potentially be an issue doing Vidyo across installations of it like we do with H323 between schools.
- Sharing content (h239) doesn’t cross Vidyo to H323. For me, this doesn’t matter as H239 drives me crazy anyway. I prefer AverMedia QuickPlay to connect the computer to H323 unit; and I don’t expect to have h239 on my desktop/classroom VC rigged setup.
Some ideas we discussed of how to use this included:
- Bringing in remote sites without VC
- Bringing in guest speakers, authors, lawyers, any single person who doesn’t have easy access to full VC
Issues with Rigging Desktop VC for Classroom Use
We also talked about some of the challenges of trying this.
- The web camera doesn’t have pan, tilt, zoom. On the other hand, if we’re competing against Skype and/or trying to bring H323 VC content to schools that are using Skype, they don’t really need pan, tilt, zoom.
- USB cables would be good to extend the length of the mic and webcam so that there is more flexibility to classroom use.
- An appliance is simple and easy for the teacher to use; it is much more complex to get all this working. It potentially could take more tech support and tinkering to make this work for cheaper. Is that totally true? One of my district techs called last week for help – the SVideo cable for the main camera was in the wrong place. Even the appliance still needs VC support. Both would need support, I think.
- Mic quality is definitely an issue. Nothing’s going to work as nice as my favorite Polycom VSX 7000 mic or Viewstation mic. The person speaking has to be right in front of the mic to work.
- Integrated sound on an interactive whiteboard could really cause problems – echo – cancellation is an issue too. Vidyo is supposed to have echo cancellation soon.
- Another issue is having a powerful enough computer in the classroom. Schools tend have older computers.
We talked a wee bit about Creative’s InPerson.
- It’s H323.
- It has a fixed camera.
- Costs about $800 ish.
- People on a browser can connect to it.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Some thoughts from the group….
- It’s possible to do this, but could be challenging to make it work. Could take a lot of tinkering.
- If I missed anything that you found important from the meeting, please add comments below!
By the way, this was a pretty cool little meeting. When does it happen that someone sets up a videoconference to continue a discussion that started on a blog? Thanks Craig for making this possible!
Last Wednesday afternoon, just before the early close for Thanksgiving, I VCed with Craig in Alaska, and Janet & Rachel in New Zealand to experiment with desktop VC.
Rachel beat me to it, with a great write up of our little experiment. I totally agree with her, that the big issue is accessibility with VC. How can we make this accessible to more students & classes?! Take a moment to read Rachel’s review!
If you’re not subscribed to the comments on my blog, then you’re missing out on this invitation from Craig in Alaska in reply to my post on The Shake Up in the VC Market:
You can have good quality VTC with a desktop/laptop computer, high quality web cam and an echo cancelling “speakerphone” today.
I don’t suggest one type of VTC equipment (computer with cam and mic) over the other (VTC appliance). I do believe there is a place for high quality PTZ cameras coupled with appliance codecs and good quality echo cancelling speakers and microphones. Groups attending a video conference merit this type of quality.
Well trained individuals can use a high quality web cam ($100,) an echo cancelling speaker/mic ($200) and their laptop ($???) with “video shim” software (ie. CamTwist or WebcamMax) to make quite a sophisticated presenter station. Couple that with a video service provider (for the bridging) and voilla, “inexpensive” high quality desktop units.
For anyone who is interested, I’ll host a video conference to demonstrate. This will be a hybrid web and H.323 video conference.
In the same conference we can/will have H.323 and desktop/laptop devices (bring your choice). I will provide the connection, bridge and URL. You bring your H.323 endpoint, or your webcam and headset. Meeting will be held the week of November 23, 2009. Lets “Negotiate a Time and Date” here: http://www.doodle.com/3pxntg7smk8rs435 😉
Rachel, we’d love to have you in too. Are these times too early?
There are people who will like the desktop/laptop solution for an individual. Some folks will want the same hardware as an inexpensive group solution. And then there are those who will value the higher cost appliance/group system with the PTZ camera(s).
Let’s get together and discuss this. 🙂
Recently, thanks to the Megaconference Listserv, I found another blog with reviews of technology, including videoconferencing tools: TelBitConsulting Technical Blog. This blogger admits a bias to desktop VC, which shows the corporate focus. However, I still want to see a desktop VC system morphed with Promethean or similar interactive whiteboards to bring curriculum videoconferencing to all classrooms.
Polycom has come out with a new CMA product, which I want to look into further when Read Around the Planet calms down a little. TelBitConsulting has done a review of CMA and other new Polycom products. What caught my eye was this quote:
The CMA Desktop is meant to work most efficiently within the corporate environment. Telecommuters connect via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) but can do so from Starbucks if they so wish. The downside is that external people with H.323 endpoints, like myself, are harder to reach, and the CMA Infrstructure may not be for us loners.
I certainly evaluate all these new products on how well they connect to all the H323 anythings out there – like we do for Read Around the Planet. Sounds like CMA might not work well for these types of collaborative connections, but need to investigate further.
The other new desktop product that has caught my interest in Vidyo. I ran across a Google ad one time wandering on the Internet. I’ve requested some datasheets and intend to learn more about this too (after RAP matching is done!). However, in the meantime, TelBitConsulting has done a review on Vidyo too. It seems that these new models are putting the money & effort into the network infrastructure and using the distributed concept like Skype. Vidyo has a gateway that hooks to h323. Not sure if this is a good plan for K12 curriculum videoconferencing or not, but I intend to explore it further.
Here’s an interesting article published in Feb/March. Did you read it?
A Healthy Education
Videoconferencing allows a Florida boy with an immune system deficiency to attend school for the first time.
Kevin O’Connell is a typical third grader at Spring Hill Elementary. He jumps up from his chair and recites the Pledge of Allegiance with his classmates. He huddles with his small reading group and reads a story when it’s his turn. And when he knows an answer, he raises his hand and patiently waits for his teacher to notice him in the back of the classroom. The only difference is, he’s actually attending class at home.
Take a moment to read it. It’s a pretty cool example of using VC to bring full courses to students.
So I’m admittedly biased to H.323 videoconferencing and all the experiences that come with it. However this morning I had my first experience trying out iChat on my new MacBook Pro. I connected with Sue Porter who is on vacation in the Traverse Bay area in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. She’s sitting on the deck outside their little cabin. The quality was great! Cell phone coverage up there is spotty at best, but great wireless Internet access. What a fun conversation!
It seems so easy and so cheap compared to room based systems. But I wonder how the sound works in a classroom and if it’s possible to hook up to a projector for a quality classroom experience. Plus of course you’d have to connect to other Macs only. There really ought to be a way to use iChat to connect to H323. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I wonder if Apple is thinking about that.
Anyway, iChat is pretty cool and another option for videoconferencing with other classrooms and schools that have iChat too.
I was wandering across the Internet recently and found this link to YouTube videos about videoconferencing linked from the AT&T (SBC / Pacbell) Videoconferencing site. These links probably won’t work at school (they don’t for me), so try them at home. (Issues with YouTube include inappropriate comments on the page featuring the clip and that’s an issue with some of these too. Beware!)
Here’s some clips that show the use of videoconferencing outside the school setting:
Video clips that feature school use:
There are many more including Cisco and Tandberg ads (including some funny Russian Tandberg cartoon ads); examples of Cisco’s Telepresence system featured in popular shows, and other odds & ends. If you’re ever looking for some partially work related entertainment, here’s a place to start!