That whooshing sound you hear is knowledge escaping your organization. I hear this noise all the time at the University of Hawaii whenever a great lecturer does a one-of-a-kind masterpiece on free electron lasers, undersea observatories, modern art or any of the subjects offered at a modern university. InfoWorld has been using screencasting technology for years (heck one of our editors is even credited with coining the term) However, at around $300 a pop most folks can't really afford to spread this wonderful technology around (especially students). However, all that will change now that Camtasia Relay Server has emerged from the NDA Veil after a well populated beta test.
I lurked in the beta program for a bit, listening to others tinkering, making suggestions and in general diving in with both feet. With academia heavily represented I saw the product morph and shimmer as the beta program folks at TechSmith were informed of what did and didn't work; what folks liked and what they hated. I've been involved with lots of beta programs, but this was by far one of the most vocal groups posting notes about being hip deep in tinkering and finding a glitch.
I'm predicting that Camtasia Relay Server is going to be a paradigm shift because it's dead easy to use, works equally well on PC's or Mac's and shifts the cost from the client to the server. Licensing is being done by how many simultaneous video render jobs it will handle at a time with the single job version starting at $7,995.00 ($4,995 for education). What really makes this scalable is that you can setup a cluster of Relay servers that will load share the rendering function. So for instance, if my IT group decides to adopt this tech (I'm crossing my fingers), they could setup perhaps 3 physical servers, each with a 3 render job at a time license, and be able to handle 9 jobs at a time. Inexpensive enough that clients could be made for faculty, staff and students!
System Requirements and Availability
The Camtasia Relay presenter recorders runs on Windows XP and Vista, and Mac OS X 10.4 and higher. Camtasia Relay server runs on Windows Server 2003. The suggested retail price of Camtasia Relay starts at $7,995.00; the suggested academic price is $4,995.00 for a single server license. The presenter recorders can be installed free of charge. A 30-day trial of Camtasia Relay is available. For additional information visit: www.techsmith.com/camtasiarelay.asp
The key features are:
- Recording profiles that allow you to render your screencast to one or more video formats (camrec, flash, windows media, screencast.com, YouTube, iTunesU)
- LDAP authentication or local user list
- iTunesU does have a small limitation in that you MUST have access to the shared secret...which typically is only one per organization. SO I can't play since my IT group obviously wouldn't give it to me. However, if they decide to adopt this technology, I'm sure hoping they set it up for auto upload.
- LDAP authentication
- FTP/sFTP upload with the ability to have multiple upload locations pre-defined. I've got some of my users uploading to their public_html directory on the campus servers.
- The client is built on the fly during the server configuration, removing a huge number of configuration items and automatically loading the SSL certificate.
- Clients are FREE! The licensing is ALL at the server
- Guest recordings can be used that will send an email notification to a "valid host" user. They then decide which profile to use for that guest video.
- You can also use "Upload and Decide" later if you need to do the recording but perhaps don't have the website quite ready yet.
- Licenses can be added at any time and can be added in increments
The Client icon looks like a green podium and is dead simple to use. After choosing where the audio will come from, you literally just click "record" and click "stop" when you're done. The only gotcha I've found is that the message after you "submit" your video (the choice you get after you click "stop") leads you to believe that the video has already been uploaded to the server. NOT TRUE! I would strongly suggest logging into the web interface to confirm the upload progress. You can disconnect from your network connection and the upload will continue when you next connect. Once fully uploaded the "profile" will control what video formats the server will render your video in (multiple types per job is easy) and where to upload each piece of video.
Here I've shown how to handle the tilde "~" indicator for my public_html folder common on a lot of Linux+Apache systems.
When the render job is done and the video uploaded someplace, it will email you the link to the video. Here's where I got snagged the first time I did a setup. Wherever you upload the video to MUST be able to be gotten to from the web. Once everything is working you could lose or delete the email, you can always login via a web browser to your account and get a list of all your previous jobs and the locations where they've been uploaded. Notice that when you login you always have client download links...so install like crazy since the license isn't in the client, it's at the server! I should also point out that those "Frequently Asked Questions" quite often have links to videos. In fact I've been able to do a fast 15 minute orientation for my users and point them at the FAQs to complete their training. So far I've not been burned and my users are all reporting great successes.
My only hesitation has been the generally poor quality of the microphones commonly found for computers. I'm using a Sennheiser wireless mike rig so that my lecturers can wander around, but the problem has been in getting audience questions. I recently found an amazing mike at the VoiceCon show in San Francisco from Marshall Electronics (MXL) that even in a noisy exhibit hall, was able to do a skype test call of both me and the Mike from Marshall that was as clear as if I were using a headset. That mike isn't quite available to order yet, but it's going to look just like the MX-FR401 but instead of requiring phantom power on an XLR connector, it has a USB interface. I'm expecting a review unit any day now, so stay tuned for that review.