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World-Renowned Heriot-Watt University Teams with Vaddio to Expand Global Classroom

October 3, 2014

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN OLD AND NEW
Just on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland lays the historic main campus of the prestigious Heriot-Watt University. Since its founding in 1821, the university has built a reputation for world-class undergraduate and graduate programs in business, engineering and science.
The university was an early adopter of web technologies to enhance classroom learning and to extend the reach of its programs beyond campus limits and even across international borders. Today, Heriot-Watt University boasts one of the world’s largest distance-learning MBA programs offered through its Edinburgh Business School.

More than 7,500 graduate students on campuses in Scotland, Dubai, and Malaysia now participate in accredited and highly regarded business and international business curriculums. Supporting a growing and increasingly diverse student body with limited resources is challenging for the IT and audio/video staff. Students around the world have access to different computing platforms and individually prefer a number of productivity apps and tools to fit their unique learning styles.

The university needed a cost-effective, efficient way to bridge the burgeoning gap between the capabilities of its existing videoconferencing solution and the evolving needs of a globally dispersed student body. To accomplish this, it installed a Vaddio ClearVIEW HD-USB PTZ camera, Vaddio EasyUSB Mixer/Amplifier, and Vaddio EasyMic MicPODs in its primary meeting room on the Edinburgh campus to create an accessible and easily supported collaboration environment.

“With a geographically dispersed and diverse student body like ours, it’s important for students to be able to use whichever collaboration tools they feel are most valuable,” says Douglas Marsland, manager of AV services at Heriot-Watt University. “Vaddio systems transcend the
capabilities of traditional conferencing systems to produce a high-quality, interactive meeting experience without technical limitations.”

USING ANY APP, ANY TIME, FROM ANYWHERE
According to Marsland, it wasn’t uncommon in the past for faculty members and graduate students eager to squeeze collaboration sessions into their busy schedules to take set-up matters into their own hands. Many used store-bought webcams and free videoconferencing
services along with their devices in order to use desktop apps in an online session.

“Using a free service, consumer-grade webcam, and built-in microphone is fine for two people just having a chat,” Marsland says. “But implementing that setup into a professional or academic group meeting environment yields fuzzy video and very low-quality sound that detracts from the experience.”

Instead, a blended environment leveraging Vaddio components and a videoconferencing system lets Heriot-Watt community members everywhere use any application without having to worry about compatibility or interoperability issues, because their computer is the host
station.

“We wanted to be able to adequately handle the full spectrum of software likely to be used in a meeting,” Marsland says. “The Vaddio camera and mixer are essential for enabling students to use Skype, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and other popular applications without sacrificing meeting quality or having to buy their own equipment.“

VADDIO ENABLES HIGH QUALITY, MAINTENANCE FREE COLLABORATION
Heriot-Watt students, faculty, and corporate partners around the world had been accustomed to relying on an industry-standard videoconferencing system to facilitate meetings and class sessions online. While the quality of meeting audio and video were excellent, the telepresence system on campus required dedicated installation of expensive hardware components that required frequent maintenance by the university’s limited staff.

The team set out to find freestanding components that could deliver high definition video and ultra high-quality audio when used in conjunction with emerging collaboration technologies. More importantly, the new devices needed to work seamlessly with and alongside the existing infrastructure to deliver unified communications and traditional videoconferencing capabilities in a single room.

“We evaluated a number of solutions with a variety of features and benefits,” Marsland says. “We turned to Vaddio because their products are affordable, simple to set up, and don’t require any special software to control them.”
 
Unlike the other systems, the Vaddio ClearVIEW HD-USB camera and EasyUSB Mixer/Amplifier products are USB-enabled computer peripheral components that greatly expand the capabilities and value of the school’s existing legacy system. Using only HDMI and USB cables, faculty and students can plug their PC, laptop, or tablet device into the Vaddio devices and transform it into a conferencing hub. Now, any Linux, iOS, or Windows-based device can produce a rich, highly interactive environment complete with high-definition video on a large screen TV and high-fidelity audio through available speakers.

“Conventional videoconferences require a specific host station, preset configuration, and occasional help from staff to get a meeting going,” Marsland says. “With the Vaddio camera and mixer, anyone can just plug in their laptop or tablet, choose the apps they want to use, and begin sharing instantly.”

A platform-agnostic setup is the perfect environment for the Vaddio ClearVIEW HD-USB Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera, which helps faculty bring engagement and collaboration to whole new levels. The high-powered wall-mounted camera features a motorized zoom lens for super-smooth pan/tilt control that makes remote attendees feel like they’re at the meeting in person. Meanwhile, the integrated Sony Exmor sensor and 19x optical zoom combine to create images containing more detail than ever before and broadcasts them in crystal-clear 1080p, 1080i, and 720p high-definition.

No collaboration session is complete without high-fidelity audio. Regardless of the video quality, poor sound can dampen enthusiasm for even the most productive meetings. The Vaddio EasyUSB Mixer/Amp is specifically designed for use with videoconferencing software and produces a rich, full-range sound environment uncommon to other audio components. Used with tabletop Vaddio EasyMic MicPOD or other speakers, the EasyUSB Mixer Amp connects directly to any PC or mobile device and features an I/O interface allow for seamless integration with external AV equipment such as videoconferencing codecs, externalamplifiers or LCD displays.

“The combination of Vaddio HD cameras and audio components makes it easier than ever to produce a high-quality meeting experience without any of the hassle or cost of other systems,” Marsland says. “Other systems could compete on outputs or on price, but few could match the performance and value of the Vaddio products.”

DEPLOYING A TIME-SAVING, MODERN SYSTEM
Working under a tight timeline, Marsland and his team were able to fully outfit one of the university’s 16-person meeting rooms with a robust and student-friendly conferencing environment in just 12 weeks.During the renovation and repurposing of the meeting room, the team installed a new 72” LCD display with touchscreen control system and the Vaddio USB Camera, Mixer/Amp, and MicPODs to work in parallel with the videoconferencing system.

“We wanted to encourage our faculty and leaders to adopt modern tools by removing the challenges and frustrations that can come with new services,” Marsland says. “The Vaddio-based system accomplished both of those goals with an easy-to-use and completely transparent set up for faculty, administrators, and students alike.”

While faculty members are enjoying a streamlined and simplified collaboration system the audio/video department is also benefitting from the dramatic reduction in support and setup requests. Supporting meeting room operations previously meant dispatching a staff member to the room directly for setup and troubleshooting, taking him or her away from other important responsibilities.

“With the success we’ve had in our initial installation of the Vaddio ClearView HD camera, EasyUSB Mixer/Amp and EasyMic MicPODs, we’re excited to include these components in future projects,” Marsland says. “Vaddio technologies have been the missing pieces to bringing truly integrated unified communications and videoconferencing capabilities to our campus. This is going to be huge for our students and the university.”

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