Infinite Conferencing has finally announced availability of a new product called QuickCast. The software lets you record presentations with slides and narration for viewing on demand over the Internet.
I had a conversation with Joe Buz, the Director of Product Development at Infinite Conferencing, a few weeks ago and got a preview of QuickCast. I haven't seen the formal press release yet, but it may be on the wires by the time you read this. I decided it was ethical to break the news after I received a product announcement email from the company.
QuickCast serves a particular niche in the conferencing market. It is designed for companies that want to create presentations designed from the get-go for later viewing upon request. Many web conferencing technologies will let you record a live meeting and archive it for additional views, but QuickCast gives you several advantages. You can record and edit narration for a single slide at a time. This in itself is a huge benefit when trying to create smooth, professional sounding recordings. It is impossible to record 20-60 minutes of monologue without making a flub somewhere. You can then assemble and reuse slides to form complete presentations. You can also create registration pages and get reports on who has watched your presentation and the answers to registration questions. A unique value-add service mentioned on the website is the ability to hire Infinite Conferencing to arrange for professional narration using your script, or translation and re-dubbing in another language.
You can watch an overview presentation of the product features (hosted by Joe himself) by using this link. The viewer is offered for Windows Media Player and RealPlayer. For some reason, my computer had hiccups in the playback when watching with WMP, but it ran smoothly with Real.
Infinite is offering a free trial of QuickCast from their website. I tried out the software by creating a small recorded presentation from a few slides. Uploading the slides to the QuickCast server was fast. The player does not retain PowerPoint animations or slide transitions. All slides are converted to static images. There are a number of configuration options for your QuickCast presentation. You can upload a logo for your landing page, a picture of the presenter, and documents that you want your audience to be able to download. You can set required and optional registration fields for your viewing audience, contact information for your company (as interactive links), and so forth. I found myself missing a few user conveniences. You can't easily see the images you have uploaded for logo and presenter. There is no indication of the proper scale or pixel size for these images on the screen, although the available PDF instruction manual has this information (it is unusually complete and well written). While your logo is presented on the initial landing page, the QuickCast player prominently displays Onstream logos in two places and leaves yours off. I would think the company would want to offer branding of the player as a paid option if nothing else. By the way, Onstream is the parent company of Infinite Conferencing and makes the underlying conferencing platform.
You record your narration for each slide over the telephone, using a dial-in number and identifier code associated with your slide presentation. Enter this code correctly the first time or else the system hangs up on you without a second chance for re-entry. An automated system steps you through the commands to record, review, or discard narration for each slide. I had several instances where the software did not recognize a pressed number and simply hung up on me. Not the friendliest or most forgiving user interface I've seen for an automated entry system. I would recommend a change to the recording interface as well. When you hit a button signaling that you are ready to begin recording, you hear a message telling you to start after the tone and how to press the # key to end. Then you get that tone whether you are ready for it or not. I would rather push a button when I am ready to start talking. Sometimes during that informational message I find that I'm in the middle of a breath or a swallow when they play the go-tone. And the message gets rather repetitive and annoying after you have recorded a few slides and know the process.
During playback, the audio transitions from one slide recording to the next were very smooth and seamless. It is important to make your recordings over the same telephone in the same location so that differences in microphone response and room acoustics don't vary your sound from one slide to the next. I have a very good headset, but I still found that the sound on my recording was significantly better when I used the phone's handset for recording. Audio purists might appreciate the addition of a feature somewhere down the road that would let them upload a digital audio file to use as the narration for each slide. This would allow an engineer to balance sound levels between slide recordings and would allow the narrator to make the recording in a more professional environment with better equipment than the standard office telephone.
Pricing for the product is $99.95 per month, with no contracted commitment to long term use. This gives you the right to make an unlimited number of QuickCast presentations, with up to 500 audience views per month.
QuickCast addresses a very real need for the business marketplace. Recorded presentations should be viewed as distinct entities from live webinars. QuickCast's extra features for creating, editing, assembling, and tracking usage of your recordings offers serious benefits over trying to get the same functionality out of web conferencing products designed for real-time collaboration. The only other player I know of in this space is BrainShark. I think the competition between the two companies should be positive for both products and certainly for us as users.