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February 20, 2007

Apreso

There has been a growing demand for recording of lectures and class sessions at the School of Information. We've been using software called ProfCast (available only for the Mac) and a combination of off-the-shelf hardware (Mac mini, camera, microphone, monitor) mounted on a cart, which we would move from classroom to classroom, depending on the need. It is not a bad system, but it requires more care than we can devote to it, and it is not quite there yet in terms of features. So we've been looking at various alternatives, trying to locate something that is fairly sophisticated yet easy to use and affordable. (Yes, it's about as fruitful as searching for that one person that is super smart, with stunningly good looks, and madly in love with you. :-)). This morning we had a rep from Anystream demonstrate their Apreso system.

It was fairly impressive, especially on the ease-of-use front: the system hid all of its complexity from the end user, actually to the point of overdoing it by not even giving the user any indication as to when recording started and ended. (This is driven entirely by a scheduling system and there isn't even a big, green "Start" button to press...) That's a tough sell at a university where few things start and end exactly on time, especially since the system provides no editing capability, so the first 10 or 15 minutes of waiting for the latecomers to show up can't be edited out...

Apreso is a hardware/software combination, although there is a software-only product that does not provide the capability to record video of the presenter. It's not quite turn-key, in that in addition to the processing box (a Dell desktop outfitted with a bunch of cards) one also needs a Content Management server (to handle scheduling and store the final product), a streaming server (if streaming of content is desired), and an LMS (in our case it would be CTools) to control access to the recordings.

Also impressive was the range of recording formats, from the "whole nine yards": talking head + live screen capture + close captioning, to an audio-only file on iTunes. The processing of those is done automatically, behind the scenes - again, with the substantial caveat of not being able to edit the recording.

Pricing was not impressive, although, in all fairness, the system is significantly less expensive than comparable products from its competitors: the Apreso appliance (the recording/processing box) costs $2,500. The support contract is $5,000 annually - optional after the first year, but it is still one of few products for which the support costs several times as much as the product itself... ;-) With all the other peripherals we will need (not including the servers), we'd probably be looking at close to $10,000 to equip just one classroom. Ouch! (Presumably, each additional classroom would cost significantly less, but the "ouch!" would in all likelihood still apply.

I wonder if other schools have found the Holy Grail of an "easy-to-use/powerful/inexpensive" recording system, and whether they've just put together something from various components, or went with an Apreso-like appliance?

Posted by wlodek at February 20, 2007 08:28 PM

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