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One of the most common refrains in any institution’s academic technology department is “What should we use for lecture capture?” The answer to this question, unfortunately, is not at all clear cut, mostly because it’s hard to compare solutions. Features vary wildly from one manufacturer to the next, and implementation of those features can be nuanced (i.e. “Yes, of course my product can do that*” *with considerable development resources and professional services).
You’d think that all we need to do is rack mount an appliance and plug in a HDMI source. But just as important as “What can this device record?” is the question of “Where does this device upload?” Maybe you want to record to a USB thumbdrive, or are you looking to FTP/SFTP to a server? Are you delivering files to Google Drive or Box? Or maybe you’re looking to deliver video to a managed system like Opencast Matterhorn or Kaltura? Does the instructor need to press a button to start recording their lecture or does it start on a schedule? If it’s scheduled, what if there’s a midterm today, or the instructor doesn’t want to record their announcements at the beginning of class? Is there any manual intervention in delivering the videos to the intended audience? And how can those videos be edited, managed, and archived?
Lecture capture was once the domain of companies that offered complete A-to-Z solutions. But it was hard to make these solutions scale. Costs grew dramatically with every new installation, compounded by necessary annual service contracts required for support and software updates. As storage moved from on campus servers to cloud services, and companies started offering online video platforms that were agnostic of how your video was recorded, we started seeing companies that manufactured devices that were equally agnostic in terms of where you uploaded your video, devices that could be purchased without any strings attached and could be swapped out at a moment’s notice, easily and affordably.
The economies of scale drove prices of these stand-alone devices from the high four-figures to the low four-figures. And the agnostic nature of these devices meant that you could mix and match the equipment. So long as the front end (“start button”) and back end (“play button”) were ubiquitous to the user, what device was used to record your video didn’t matter.
But we’re now looking at a horizon where even the hardware isn’t a factor. Desktop recording software is becoming more common and while the variability of a user’s computer settings can add to the complexity of support, this is offset by cheaper deployment costs.
An academic institution’s video ecosystem encompasses all elements of video, from creation to delivery, with management and storage in the middle. A holistic solution addresses all types of video, from user-generated content (UGC) from students (such as assignments) to professional productions (such as keynote speakers at a conference). But lecture recordings are likely to make up a large chunk of the video managed in your ecosystem.
No lecture capture solution is complete without exploring video management and delivery solutions. A uniform campus-wide Online Video Platform (OVP) is necessary today and is as important – and often times as expensive – as a university’s Learning Management System (LMS). A good OVP means that students and instructors don’t have to wonder what was used to record a video in order to determine how they can watch that video.
Agnostic and ubiquitous are the key words here. The moment your users have to think about the technology they’re using, you’ve failed. Transparency are what all manufacturers should be aiming for.
The following survey is by no means complete. It likely never will be as the landscape is constantly evolving. Even for the products currently listed, the details are incomplete, and the information listed is based on my experiences as well as what is listed in the manufacturer’s literature.
I understand that features are always being added, and new versions are always being released. One data point I have actively avoided is the price of any of these products. The truth is that the price of almost everything listed is variable, oftentimes depending on the size of an institution, and the volume of a purchase.
I was fortunate enough to undertake a lengthy evaluation of a number of lecture capture devices back in 2015-2016, which resulted in the following report. Even that was incomplete, despite having a number of these appliances on-hand for testing. Ultimately, it can prove to be impossible to compare certain aspects of these appliances, feature-for-feature. But we did try to keep it “apples-to-apples”. The industry has evolved mightily in just the last few years. Sadly, some of these manufacturers are no longer in business, but there’s many more that have stepped up to take their place.
I welcome all feedback and any corrections sent my way. The survey is a living document that will be updated regularly.
The survey consists of three different categories:
Last updated: September 4, 2019