Video Conferencing & Education

Video Conferencing & Education

This is an area that I have struggled with as both an IT person and a AV person over the years. The industry has changed so much over just the past 10 years. In 2007 everything was H323 or the new coming H264 standard. Video giants like Polycom and Tandberg ruled the hardware space. Installing a video conferencing system was a major undertaking for many schools in terms of knowledge and monetary investment.

Then the iPhone hit, YouTube went huge and video became the next major wave on the internet. Now ten years later the landscape has changed dramatically . Polycom is a shell of what it once was, Tandberg was gobbled up by Cisco, internet browsers began to change things with VP8. Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime began to be the new wave because of a couple of key major things.

One, it just worked. Sure we didn’t have the high quality video and zoom options and scheduling software, but it worked, and that is what folks cared about.

Secondly, it was easy. People were frustrated that they could Skype with their kids in a foreign country but could not get the “video conference room” to actually work.

Lastly, the cost plummeted. Installs went from tens of thousands of dollars down to hundreds. These three things combined to turn the industry on its head in a very short time.

So, let me tell you a bit about our experiences. We never had the funds to jump in the whole h264 codec SIP world until three years ago. Until that time we had been getting by with cameras by Lumens, Vaddio and other PTZ cameras. Microphone’s were always a problem for us although we saw the industry changing and decided to just wait it out. However, we got a donation for doing joint distance classes around the world. The organization we joined used a H264, SIP Cisco system. Our IT folks were against Cisco at the time for many reasons. We made the recommendation to NOT go with a Cisco video conferencing system, only to be overruled for consistency sake. Twenty-seven thousand dollars later we had a system that was cool but was used only a handful of times and the whole distance thing fell apart. We are now trying to sell that system for pennies on the dollar. Recently, in that same room, we replaced the Cisco system with a simple Intel NUC computer and a $100 logitech camera running Zoom. Everyone is happier. It just works.

So, after trying many hardware and software vendors over the past 10 years we have landed on a low cost but amazing solution that we are now rolling out across campus. We use Zoom for all of our video conferencing software. On the hardware side, we really like logitech. They have a number of cameras that can fit any need, are cost effective, easy to use and just work.  We have not tried the new Meetup yet, but really like the Connect and even the older BCC950. We use the Connect for a portable system (even purchased a travel case for it) and it can easily do a room up to 50 people with just the built in mic and camera. Yes, it is really that amazing.

We even like the new Logitech 4k Brio cameras for smaller conference rooms, simple, good quality video and good mic for a room with 8 folks in it.  Sure we have other beam-forming mic’s from Phoenix Audio that we use in a larger rooms, but even then we pair it with a logitech camera. For us, we just keep coming back to what works.

What is your experience with video conferencing? Have you found an amazing product.. let me know.

2 thoughts on “Video Conferencing & Education

  1. You should really come to our district – we need experts like you. In my high school, we have good-looking, likely expensive equipment for video conferencing (which is used for distance ed classes), but it seems not to be very “good working”. It was broken much of last semester, which had a negative impact on quite a few classes. As such, most of us who don’t absolutely need to use the equipment have steered clear of it. I doubt coming to Wisconsin would be much of a pay/prestige raise, though (thanks, Gov. Walker).

    1. Ha, thanks for the positive comment. I really don’t have all the answers but tend to go with what works. I think your story of the video conferencing room is quite typical. Funny that we have all of these expensive systems out there and folks will be like “I’ll just use my phone” (FaceTime or Skype or something) to connect with them. I think this is true of quite a few technologies that are purchased in k-12 (and Higher Ed) because it is the hot thing, or “everybody’s doing it, and so should we” without actually thinking it trough. “Smart Boards” for every classroom anyone?

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