Hardware and Software Tools

By partnering with instructors in the ELF,  we are able to continually test and review specific software tools, hardware devices, and different room configurations. In all cases, we are looking for the best balance of cost, ease of use, and portability; ideally we will eventually identify a “classroom in a box” where instructors might take to any existing classroom and immediately replicate the ELF’s capabilities. Below, we review some of our successes and failures on this journey.

Please note that any links provided for the hardware is for informational use only and is not meant as a vendor recommendation.

Audio –

Audio capture continues to be the most difficult technical aspect.  The challenges with audio include not only accurately and cleanly recording the classroom, but also mitigating environmental or other transient sounds.   We are purposely not interested in wiring the room, but instead are looking for a more mobile solution.  Note that while in some cases you can use the below devices to capture and playback audio,  we often simply use the room monitor as the preferred audio playback device.

Audio capture continues to be the most difficult technical aspect.  The challenges with audio include not only accurately and cleanly recording the classroom, but also mitigating environmental or other transient sounds.   We are purposely not interested in wiring the room, but instead are looking for a more mobile solution.


 

Jabra Wireless Bluetooth SpeakerJabra Speak510 Wireless Bluetooth Spearer for Softphone and Mobile Phone (https://www.amazon.com/Jabra-Speak510-Wireless-Bluetooth-Softphone/dp/B00AQUO5RI/), <$100.   At first glance this looked like an ideal product; small, wireless, battery powered, and inexpensive. In truth it is exactly that – it works great as intended, for a small group huddled around a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, but in groups larger than 6 people it quickly proved less than ideal.


MXL AC404 USB Conference MicrophoneMXL AC404 USB Conference Microphone (https://www.amazon.com/MXL-AC404-USB-Conference-Microphone/dp/B001TGTDFM/), <$100.  This style of microphone has evolved to be our baseline (default) configuration against which we measure other devices. Connected via a wired (USB) cable to the computer, it does a good job of capturing the classroom and the instructor when placed on the seminar table.


Logitech Conference Cam BCC950Logitech Conference Cam BCC950 Video Conference Webcam, HD 1080p Camera with Built-In Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Conference-BCC950-Webcam-Speakerphone/dp/B0083I7Y8W/), <$300.   This device has evolved as our default video capture device (see below), but in the audio area, it works very well with a small group, but was not preferable for the classroom capture. It is also a wired design (not desirable for our purposes).


Logitech ConferenceCam C3000eLogitech ConferenceCam CC3000e All-In-One HD Video and Audio Conferencing System, 1080p Camera and Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-ConferenceCam-CC3000e-Conferencing-Speakerphone/dp/B00I0F78DO/), <$1500. This is an excellent system, the audio capture is good for a fairly large group (12-16) in the right space, and is really only limited by its price and its complete lack of mobility. The latter is due to the number of different connections required, and connection type – repeated movement will result in cable failure.


Logitech ConferenceCam ConnectLogitech ConferenceCam Connect Video Conference Webcam for Small Groups, HD 1080p Camera with Built-in Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-ConferenceCam-Connect-Conference-Speakerphone/dp/B00SQG16MG/) <$500. The portability of this device was an immediate appeal, bluetooth, HDMI out, battery powered, HD camera. We are still undergoing testing on this device.


Sennheiser TC-WSennheiser TC-W Set Case US | 24 Participants Bluetooth 4.2 USB 3.5mm Jack Connection Wireless Audio Conference Set (https://www.amazon.com/Sennheiser-TC-W-Set-Case-Participants/dp/B01CRGKSA6/), <$4,000.  This expensive set of speaker/microphones comes in a charging case, and can last up to 8 hours on a charge. They are scaleable, in that you can use from one to four depending on the room layout and coverage needs. We are still undergoing testing on this set, but surprisingly the initial feedback has been mixed.


Computing Hardware –


Mac Mini (http://www.apple.com/mac-mini/), <$1500. We have settled on a fairly high powered mac mini (3.0ghz, 16gb) because it is silent, mountable,  and low maintenance.  The higher powered machine is important as the cpu load can affect the conferencing/meeting software quality, and builds some forward capability.


Apple iPad (http://www.apple.com/ipad-air-2/), <$600.  A basic tablet is all that is needed in conjunction with a stylus –  this allows the instructor to annotate and teach directly in the conferencing/meeting software.


Software 


Conferencing/Meeting Software – Zoom (https://zoom.us/), $contract.  Zoom teleconferencing software is our core element for instruction in the ELF. We use the software not only to connect the local class to remote students, but also as a screen sharing tool, lecture capture tool, and virtual whiteboard (visible to all participants).


Video –


 

Logitech Conference Cam BCC950Logitech Conference Cam BCC950 Video Conference Webcam, HD 1080p Camera with Built-In Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Conference-BCC950-Webcam-Speakerphone/dp/B0083I7Y8W/), <$300.   Despite limitations in its audio capture, this device has evolved as our default video capture tool. The camera is excellent, and the remote tilt, pan, and zoom controls are very useful. We use this with the audio routed through other devices.

 


Logitech ConferenceCam C3000eLogitech ConferenceCam CC3000e All-In-One HD Video and Audio Conferencing System, 1080p Camera and Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-ConferenceCam-CC3000e-Conferencing-Speakerphone/dp/B00I0F78DO/), <$1500. This is an excellent system, the video capture is excellent (Zeiss optics) and really makes a difference in a large room.  It is really only limited by its price and its complete lack of mobility. The latter is due to the number of different connections required, and connection type – repeated movement will result in cable failure. If you are interested in this for a fixed location camera, the camera is available individually.

 


Logitech ConferenceCam ConnectLogitech ConferenceCam Connect Video Conference Webcam for Small Groups, HD 1080p Camera with Built-in Speakerphone (https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-ConferenceCam-Connect-Conference-Speakerphone/dp/B00SQG16MG/) <$500. The portability of this device was an immediate appeal, bluetooth, HDMI out, battery powered, HD camera. We are still undergoing testing on this device.