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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Multi-person podcasts

I have been looking for a simple solution to podcasting multiple people in a room. This has been a problem for my RSS club meetings.

I have tried borrowing microphones and a mixer from Drexel's Instructional Media Services and feeding that into the mic port of my Tablet PC but the sound quality was horrible. IMS told me there was an impedance mismatch so I went to various audio stores tried all kinds of microphones and mixers. I could not find anything that I could use without doing post recording audio amplification.

Finally what I settled on is using the built-in microphone of my Toshiba Portege and amplifying the audio for other speakers through Camtasia. You must first import the AVI file into Camtasia and add it to the timeline with a right-click. Under the Edit Menu, click on Adjust Audio, highlight the flat parts of the audio graph and click the UpVolume icon until every speaker's voice has roughly the same volume. For people who are far, like audience members asking questions, the quality is not great but the questions are usually intelligible.

I have done this now for my last RSS club meeting and the podcasting/screencasting/blog panel I ran at Villanova. Let me know what you think.

I am sure audio recording purists will have issues with this but here are the advantages that I value:
1) No additional equipment (mics, mixers) to carry around. As long as I have my TabletPC I can record meetings. The internal microphones of the recent laptops and tabletPCs are really very good.
2) I think of my main audience as being online so I want to stay in front of the TabletPC to use the mouse pointer during screencasts instead of a laser pointer. That's why I don't recommend using a wireless mic.
3) Scalability and ubiquity. I like having a solution that does not require purchasing and stocking equipment when any faculty in our college wants to record a screencast with any number of people. Then can simply sign out a TabletPC.

One problem with this approach is that the AVI files can become considerably larger after audio editing using Camtasia. For example, a 220 Meg AVI of a 1 hour screencast bloated to 300 Meg after editing. Conversion to Flash using Camtasia generated a 120 Meg file, which is not great if you want to fast forward to the end. Watching from the start is probably still ok for most people since it is streaming.

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