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Millar lab, web conferencing details

Web conferencing is cheap, relatively easy to set up, and works quite well enough for scientific interactions. We use different software and hardware depending on the requirements. Both software packages work on Mac, PC, Linux.

Software

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Polycom PVX - H.323 standard videoconferencing over IP rather than web conferencing, but helpful for linking to locations that have not established web conferencing.

 

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Marratech Pro v6.1 (www.marratech.com; N.B.  site will close July 2009) - good software from an academic spin-out of a Swedish university. Google bought their IP so Marratech can no longer update or support their own software (and Google won't either). Free client allows point-to-point conferencing, server license is required to have more participants. Great whiteboard for sketching data, discussing details of experiments and models. Some support for application sharing (you both work on the same document). Only one video feed per location (i.e. per computer; one location could use several computers). We use Marratech all the time for lab meetings with collaborators at remote locations, where network issues prevented them from setting up AccessGrid in their labs, for interviewing candidates remotely, etc.

We are now considering Adobe Connect Pro as an alternative.

 

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AccessGrid v3.1 (www-unix.mcs.anl.gov/fl/research/accessgrid/software/download.html) - free. Designed for group-to-group meetings. Multiple video and audio feeds, multiple cameras at each location, etc. We use AccessGrid for advisory committee meetings of GARNet: participants at 6-10 other sites, typically in their university's dedicated AG room. Occasional Powerpoint presentations but no detailed discussion of data or graphics.

 

Warnings: test all your meeting locations simultaneously and well before the meeting, as all the providers recommend. With any system, your meeting depends upon the quality of network connections to each participant. The probability of having one poor connection increases with the number of sites. If you find a persistent offender, they may wish to travel to the nearest site with a better network (e.g. all GARNet committee members in Scotland might come to Edinburgh).

 

Other useful URLs:

    www.agsc.ja.net - hosts AccessGrid virtual venues for the UK community, with unicast bridge, etc. We typically use the "Gardener's Arms" venue. JANET also has a videoconferencing service, hardware and software reviews, etc.

    www.accessgrid.org - startup guides, hardware reviews, user and developer forums.

Office hardware setup, for single person on standard desktop PC (2-3 people at a pinch)

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Camera: Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000, USB (or most recent model). Our supplier is Equanet, e.g. http://www.equanet.co.uk/catalogue/item/A0435998. Cost ~GBP40 + VAT for a standard model but the full price range is as low as GBP15, and as high as ~GBP90. There is a range of different monitor clips, etc... http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/webcam_communications/webcams/&cl=gb,en

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Monitor: I use Dell 2407 at 1920 x 1200 pixels. A screen of 1280 x 1024 is possible e.g. for a Marratech meeting, but gets very crowded using AccessGrid if you have more than 3-4 participants.

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Speakers/Microphone: headphones with microphone for one person (e.g. Logitech Clear Chat Pro USB, ~GBP30-40 + VAT, http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/webcam_communications/internet_headsets_phones/devices/3622&cl=gb,en; from Equanet: http://www.equanet.co.uk/catalogue/item/A0277734),
or speakers (e.g. in monitor) and a desktop echo-cancelling microphone - convenient for one person, essential for more than one (e.g.
Phoenix Duet: ~GBP150 + VAT, http://www.phnxaudio.com/Default.aspx?tabid=59; our supplier was OneVideo: http://www.onevideo.co.uk/duet-pcs-p-283.html?osCsid=159ceb134004bf27d8d994a78b5d621d).

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Pointing/drawing: Pen tablet (e.g. Wacom Graphire3), useful for drawing on interactive whiteboard.

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Graphics, Sound, Processor, Memory, OS, Network: see minimum recommendations for the relevant software.

Lab hardware setup, for more people (or blackboard camera, etc.)

As above, but requires better quality hardware to give good images and sound from people further from camera/mic.

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Camera: Two Sony EVI-D70P Colour Video Camera (Pan, Zoom, high quality)

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Video Capture: Two Osprey 210 cards <http://www.viewcast.com/products/osprey/>

    Both available from http://www.teamsolutions.co.uk.  

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Graphics: ATI Radeon X600 Pro 128MB was fine, now outdated - just need a multi-monitor card.

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Monitors: Two generic 19" flat screen monitors, 1280x1024, for up to 4 people, or equivalent data projector(s) for larger groups. It is possible to run a meeting with 6-8 video feeds on a 1280 x 1024 projector but far from ideal.

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Microphone: the desktop echo-cancelling mic above, or for a larger group we use ClearOne Chat 150VC, ~GBP299.95 + VAT, http://www.clearone.com/video-conference-speakerphone.html,  ordered from Nimans: https://secure.nimans.net/product_info.aspx?product_id=ddb23125-0d7a-42e4-8ec1-33a0ec968389
 

Last edited: 10/02/2009

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