A typical classroom at the University of Utah's business school.
Picture this. Salt Lake City. Three feet of snow and wind blowing outside, cold and fever, and to top it off, having a bad hair day. Enough reasons for even the most diligent student to stay in bed! But there is one important class at the David Eccles School of Business that simply can’t be missed. Not to worry, with the new classroom studio enabled by Matrox Monarch HD, all classroom activities, including lectures and white board content are captured and streamed live so students don’t miss a single thing. The classes are made available online on demand as well for future reference.
At the core of the classroom studio is the Matrox Monarch HD streaming and recording appliance. The School of Business was looking for a nice and simple process where they could take the recorded class content and provide it to its video distribution and streaming services with a quick turnaround. Software based applications fell short of expectations. In addition, the school wanted to have high quality recordings that could be edited by non-linear editors and uploaded online as course content that the students could view on demand.
Mark Fowles, AV and technology support specialist at the David Eccles School of Business, summed up the reasons why he homed in on Matrox Monarch HD:
- With software based applications, the computer that the software was running on would lock up in the middle of a recording, and all data was lost. A decision was made to find a product that worked more like an appliance.
- Software based uncompressed video capture produced large sized files – about 500 GB for an hour’s worth of video. With Matrox Monarch HD, a two-hour lecture produced compressed files less than 2 GB in size.
- When compression was available with software based applications, the overall quality of the video suffered. With the Monarch HD’s H.264 encoder, pristine quality recordings were produced.
- Other options considered limited the encoding and streaming to be done at the same bit rate only. Matrox Monarch HD was the only option that provided the flexibility to record videos at a much higher quality, independent from the streaming bit rate. One could record at up to 25 Mbps if required and stream at up to 5 Mbps simultaneously.
“With its video recording and streaming capabilities, stability, and competitive price, I am pleased with the Matrox Monarch HD,”Fowles said. For us, the biggest criteria were reliability and simplicity – and the Matrox Monarch HD fit both of those very nicely.”
An operator controls the recording of a class.
THE SET UP
Classrooms where the courses are recorded are fitted with two remote cameras mounted on the wall and another camera on a tripod, all connected to a production switcher placed on a cart. The input to the Matrox Monarch HD appliance is connected to the output of the production switcher. The video recording settings are pre-configured to capture at 1280 x 720 resolution, 4 Mbps bit rate, and 30 frames per second.
In addition, a simpler, more portable solution is also conceived using a second Monarch HD. The HDMI output of a portable JVC camera is connected to the input of the second Monarch HD. A SATA (laptop) hard drive is used to store the recordings and it easily plugs into the output (USB port) of the Monarch HD appliance.
An AMX control room system is used to remotely control the computer and projectors in the classroom setting. By using the simple Monarch HD Control API, the Monarch HD appliance as well can be controlled by the AMX system.
Within minutes, a facilitator in the class, usually a Teaching Assistant, can be taught to take on the role of a production crew – to switch cameras, and easily control the recording and streaming by pushing the one touch Stream/Record buttons conveniently located on the front of the Monarch HD.
The classroom recordings are captured as MP4 files. At the end of the class, the SATA drive with the captured video files is simply unplugged, taken to the lecturer’s office, reviewed, edited, and processed with quick turnaround times. The NLE (non-linear editor) of choice is Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014. The edited class content files are then uploaded to a video sharing platform called Kaltura which is used to store and stream the video. To build online course content, files from Kaltura are embedded into a course management system called Canvas. The students then get access to the courses through the Canvas system.
A University of Utah student works remotely on classroom materials.
Using the RTMP protocol and Matrox Monarch HD, the School of Business is streaming live through YouTube at 1.2 to 1.5 Mbps, and it is working beautifully, “just gorgeous”, according to Fowles. They do this by creating a profile in YouTube and uploading the XML file into the Matrox Monarch HD appliance.
“Matrox Monarch HD does such a nice job of capturing content at higher compress rates, giving us smaller files, that it really makes our turnaround process for recordings faster, smoother, and that’s why we have gone that way,” Fowles said.
The School of Business has gone from streaming one or two classes a year to two or three classes a week now! Given the increased interest, over the next year, they see the possibility of two or three classes being streamed simultaneously.
Currently providing online courses, the School of Business is looking to expand into providing an online degree.