Massey Uni to use video alternative in campus link

Massey University plans next year to link its campuses with leading-edge video technology. IT director Gerrit Bahlmann says the university is looking at an electronically linked seminar room, rather than a video-conferencing facility. 'If you call it a video-conference facility then people think of a single camera, and a single screen, maybe sitting on a desktop. It's much more than that.'

Massey University plans next year to link its campuses with leading-edge video technology.

IT director Gerrit Bahlmann says the university is looking at an electronically linked seminar room, rather than a video-conferencing facility.

"If you call it a video-conference facility then people think of a single camera, and a single screen, maybe sitting on a desktop. It's much more than that."

The university put out a request for information for various equipment, including audio-visual equipment, video-conference technology, network access node technology and wide area network services.

A decision on the vendor or consortia is expected within eight weeks.

Bahlmann says the facility will include multiple cameras and microphones.

"You'll have your own [microphone], and when you want to talk it will either track the camera to you because you've said you want to speak next, or it can be set so the camera comes to you the moment you do speak. The sound on the microphone triggers the focus on you."

Bahlmann says that in traditional video-conference facilities, the people on the video screen or computer are often "second-class citizens".

With this system, everyone will have the same experience. "You don't actually talk to the people next to you, you talk through the medium and your face will be on the wall at both ends."

He says it's like splitting a table and putting an interface between the two halves.

"It is so smooth there is no sense of the meeting being in one place rather than the other."

He says it's strategically important for the university to have such a communications channel. It already has two campuses (in Palmerston North and Auckland) and a third planned (if a merger with Wellington Polytechnic proceeds).

"It's about keeping a very large community of people, spread across the country, in touch with each other." Only small numbers of people (about 20 to 25) will use the facility at any one time.

One use will be academic management and administration, such as meetings between dispersed academics putting a programme of study together. The second use will be as a seminar room, for academics working in specialist fields who have post-graduate students throughout the university campuses.

In future, bigger lecture theatre size interaction might be possible.

He says there are no plans to roll it out to extramural students in their homes. "The kind of bandwidth necessary to drive this is significant. It is not an ISDN solution that we're looking at. We're looking at a wide area network, broadband solution."

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