Montreal Business School HEC Makes Matrox Monarch HD the Nerve Centre of its Lecture Capture Systems
HEC Montreal, University of Montreal’s business school, is recognized across Quebec, Canada, and the world as a leader in teaching and research.
Many activities at the school point to the need for live streaming and recording. Besides daily classes and lectures, HEC regularly hosts and broadcasts events such as discussion forums, conventions, exposés, seminars, eLearning and web conferences. Registration often fills up fast, and eager students are disappointed when they cannot attend. Students are spread across two campuses in separate parts of the city and traveling from one to the other for events was problematic. Travelling faculty teaching in schools overseas provide pre-recorded lectures and translated course materials in advance. Over 4,000 student presentations per year are recorded and made available to the students and lecturers through the school’s ANTILOPE recording application. These recordings are reviewed later on by the lecturers for evaluating the presentations and providing feedback to students.
According to AV support agent Jayson Dénommée, when HEC started searching for a solution that would handle both streaming and recording simultaneously, they realized the only affordable product currently on the market is the Matrox Monarch HD appliance.
Before discovering Monarch HD, HEC was following a traditional approach for streaming and recording. A software solution was implemented to encode using CPU resources. Sony EX3 XDCAM HD cameras were connected to a switcher and to the computer through FireWire. The solution was problematic and flimsy, and there was no way to store the files. At times, the software would crash mid-stream.
Streaming for classes or events outside the HEC infrastructure was done predominantly in SD (640x364) because the bandwidth on the receiving end was unknown. When HEC tried to stream in HD, the burden of software encoding put too much strain on the computer resources so they gave up the idea.
The Matrox Monarch HD Solution
While looking for a more robust solution, the university tested a few software-based approaches but determined they were not practical and reliable enough. When Dénommée tried the Matrox Monarch HD appliance he was thrilled to do away with expensive, dedicated computers. “From the get-go, it was perfect!,” he says.
For streaming large amphitheatre events, three Sony EX3 XDCAM HD cameras are connected to a switcher. The output of the switcher is connected through an SDI-to-HDMI converter to the input of Monarch HD. Audio is sent from the switcher to Monarch HD’s analog audio input. Monarch HD then sends an RTMP stream to HEC’s own dedicated Adobe Flash Media Server, which streams the video live while recording a mastering quality version to an SD card or a USB drive.
Whether streaming or recording, one thing that has to be taken into consideration for the set up is that some presentations (.ppt files) are in low and some are in high resolution. Hence, a common ground between readability and video quality is required. With Monarch HD’s flexibility, HEC is able to adjust and set up a bitrate suitable for the event.
HEC decided to configure their Monarch HD to stream at 1Mbps for viewing within the campuses at 1280x720 HD resolution and to record at 4Mbps when needed for archiving and editing. When streaming to other locations where the bandwidth at the receiver’s end is unknown, resolution varies from 512x280 to 852x480, depending on the client’s requirement. Monarch HD streams using variable bit rate (VBR) making most efficient use of the available bandwidth.
HEC broadcasts a monthly event called Pôle Santé focussing on the management of health centers to Health and Social Services Centres (HSSC) across the province. For this, HEC has a basic setup of one Sony EX3 XDCAM HD camera and a laptop from the presenter. A mixer is used to manage audio and video and its output is fed to Monarch HD for live streaming and recording. Streaming is done at a safe 640x360 resolution 500Kb bandwidth since it is viewed in many remote locations that might not have high enough internet connections. The higher resolution recording is then uploaded for the participants to view on demand.
For web conferencing with schools overseas, in France and Lebanon for example, camera output is fed into the Polycom system, and the output of the Polycom is sent straight to Monarch HD for recording HD MP4 files. Since the quality of the video conference feeds is dubious due to unpredictable internet connections, the higher-quality recorded MP4 files are then edited and sent to the overseas students for future reference.
First Success with Matrox Monarch HD
The first big event HEC broadcast using Monarch HD was the eight-hour-long “Hacking Health” forum about leading a better life – taking care of health, changing eating habits, and managing time. The challenge was that HEC had never tested the Monarch HD before in a closed-circuit situation. The AV specialist set up the equipment two days before the event and was not present at the venue on the day of the forum. The setup was so simple that a first-time user had no difficulty operating it and about 100 attendees viewed the live forum online.
“The first time we tried it, it was for eight hours in a row and it didn’t budge,” says Dénommée. “It worked. It performed flawlessly”.
Another big event HEC covers repeatedly is a cyber exposé in the Cyber-justice Hall of the University of Montreal where law students practice international business law procedures in a mock courtroom. Each student takes about five minutes to present their case in a courtroom with a full set up of HD, motorized, and robot cameras.
The previous workflow was daunting, as they needed to use a computer with a video card, capture the feed, save it to the computer, and lug an extra magnetic tape recorder (DV CAM SONY recorder) to record it as a back up. Magnetic tapes were also hard to find. Now, the AV specialist walks in with laptops, the lightweight Monarch HD, and a SDI-to-HDMI mini converter. That’s it; nothing else. The recordings are sent straight to a 64GB SanDisk Pro Class 10 SD Card. With the Monarch’s plug and play procedures, they simply unplug the SD Card from the Monarch HD appliance and plug it to a computer for viewing. There is no need to transcode the video file. Participants can have copies of their presentations in minutes, which was not possible with the earlier workflow.
“I’ve been covering this event for a number of years, and this is the first time I’m actually looking forward to it!,” exclaims Dénommée.
For forums and conferences that overflow capacity, attendees declined registration don’t miss a thing now as HEC streams these events live as well as records them simultaneously at high quality using Monarch HD. They are able to view these events live online (with a three second delay) or on demand at their convenience, without having to be present in crowded halls. With Monarch HD, HEC is able to stream the event as well as send the recorded files over to a server to be rebroadcast for VOD consumption.
Better Quality, Reliability, Flexibility
Recording is sturdy. The feed is clean with no dropped frames, and HEC has the flexibility to encode at low bitrates in SD resolution or at higher bitrates in HD if desired, with the confidence that it will work.
Once the quality of the stream and recording is set up, HEC is able to save it as a profile and load it for every new event without having to reconfigure anything. They just power up the Monarch HD device and push the button to start streaming. It has reduced the workflow and changed it for the better.
Smaller File Sizes
HEC used to record web conferencing files to a Sony XDCAM mag and then reconvert them. This took a lot of processing time, and it also produced large file sizes (about 35GB per hour) which needed to be heavily compressed to go on the web site. Now, with Monarch HD, the file sizes are a lot smaller (about 10GB per hour). The computer also deals with the MP4 files way better at a lower bitrate. For HEC, it is a time and storage space saver.
HEC has envisioned several plans for the school’s future using the Matrox Monarch HD device.
To start with, HEC intends to go beyond events by integrating Monarch HD into their day-to-day operations. They would like to use Monarch HD to stream and record classes in the near future so they have been testing Monarch HD in classroom situations. They find that it can easily replace their cart recorders because it is small and light. Also, with Monarch HD, they will have the flexibility to record live or record video only and put it on their server.
HEC proposes to expand the usage of its ANTILOPE application by making more recordings using Monarch HD. In 2014 there were 4608 student presentations captured, with the length varying from two to thirty minutes each. These were put online for the lecturers to evaluate them and for the students to review and learn from their own presentations. Students get access to only their own presentations and lecturers get access to all the students’ presentations. Guest lecturer presentations in classrooms are also recorded and made available using this application. Videos of these presentations are currently encoded using software in Windows Media format. Going forward, HEC would like to encode them in H.264 instead using Monarch HD.
HEC plans to make the set up and workflow even more convenient and user friendly so that student employees can record the sessions when the teacher is absent. They hope to achieve this by integrating Monarch HD with their File Management system that stores the names of students along with their IDs, with the help of the Monarch HD Control API.
HEC now considers Monarch HD as important as their cameras. It has become their nerve centre. “I think the possibilities with this machine are limitless,” Dénommée says enthusiastically.
About Monarch HD
Matrox Monarch HD takes an HDMI input from a source such as a camera and generates an encoded stream compliant with IP protocols (RTSP or RTMP). While encoding the video at bitrates suitable for live streaming, it can simultaneously record a high-quality file (MP4 or MOV) to an SD card, a USB drive, or a network-mapped drive.