Pa. Distance Learning Network Incorporates Video Presentation Stands

The distance learning network recently installed in the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Pittsburgh, Pa., g'es far beyond simply having a camera and monitor at each station.

Even more flexible than having a zoomable camera, they have integrated the VID-P100 video presentation stand from Sony Business and Professional Products Group (Montvale, N.J.) into all five of their interactive distance learning sites. This allows unprecedented flexibility when conducting teleconferences, remote lectures and even standard classroom lectures.

Seamless Integration

The Sony presentation stand is just one piece of Allegheny's "Learning Community Network," although quite an important one. At each distance learning site, there are built-in monitors for instructor usage, along with identical VCRs, videodisc players and traditional cameras.

"When people rotate from site to site, either training or lecturing, we want them to be familiar with all of the equipment," says Jim Hoke, director of Media & Technology Services for Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

The system is controlled by touchscreen and images are distributed on fiber optic cable via a media distribution system from Dallas-based AMX Corp. Instructors use the built-in monitors to set up and preview presentations, lectures or conferences, eliminating the need to utilize a separate room for preview work.

Favorite Features

The Sony VID-P100 units incorporate all of the standard features one would expect in a top-quality presentation stand, with some additional interesting and powerful features designed to accommodate many different and unique uses.

For example, there are fluorescent lamps on both sides of the stand to reduce reflection and provide correct illumination of images regardless of light levels in the room. And a backlight function allows transparent data sheets, slides and negative or positive film to be incorporated into a presentation or lecture while the automatic white balance function maintains an appropriate color balance of displayed images. Hoke says instructors have been very impressed with the powerful lamp and clear images the camera projects, outperforming similar units in brightly lit rooms.

The video stand's camera also features a high-speed auto focus function that allows fast and accurate subject representation at any range and allows users to capture the minute detail of close-up objects. A suggestion was made to put a small insect on the stand's stage and let auto focus maintain a clear view while the insect crawled around. Although an inventive way of testing the camera's features, cooler heads prevailed and there were no bug-based experiments.

The stand's 10x power zoom enables instructors to smoothly capture images ranging in size from 35mm slides to standard letter-sized paper. Hoke says the powerful zoom is one of the features that most immediately impresses potential users. To demonstrate Hoke zoomed in on one of the new $100 bills, clearly revealing its new security properties.

Art Instructor's Dream

The video presentation stand has already been used for training sessions and some science courses. While the science instructors appreciate its ability to project high-quality images of muscle, bone and tissue models, Hoke says that art instructors are the most excited about the unit's powerful zoom function. They finally can show extreme close-ups of paintings, and more, without any loss of picture quality. This lets art teachers show students the details, while at any time being able to quickly zoom out to ensure that students don't lose focus of the big picture.

The advantages of using video communication were emphasized to instructors when, during installation of the system, the network's audio capabilities were briefly lost. Instructors at different sites were able to communicate with each other by writing messages and showing them on the document camera.

Extremely useful in lab and conferencing applications, the VID-P100 has flip-up and pan-tilt capabilities that permit 90-degree movement of the camera head so people and objects in the room can be captured as easily as materials on the presentation stand itself.

The unit also features an RS-232C interface so instructors can control it from a personal computer, adding even greater flexibility and professionalism to presentations and lectures.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.