Last week I assisted a client with recording a webinar using Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2005. The subject matter was corporate branding, with detailed attention given to logo design, colors, and graphics. Live Meeting does a nice job of converting PowerPoint slides with fancy graphics and everything looked good during the web conference.
But when we took a look at the recording file, we found it to be unusable. The color palette had been reduced to 256 colors, turning gradients into blocky messes and detailed photographs placed on slides into fuzzy abstract art. Here's an example:
I can think of several technical reasons why Microsoft would want to reduce the color depth on a recording... It makes for smaller file sizes and it is far less data to be streamed and captured during the recording process, making for better performance. But you don't have an option to change settings and sacrifice performance for quality... you simply get an archive of your seminar that does not accurately reflect the materials shown during that event.
I spent some time searching through Live Meeting's online help files and then through the supplementary training and instructional materials on their website, and finally tried several searches through the support knowledge base covering the product. I couldn't find a single mention of color palettes or image quality changes when viewing a recording. This is important information and could significantly impact users relying on detailed imagery to support their presentation. Yet the information is unavailable to a prospect considering the use of the product or to existing customers.
I sent in a bug report to Microsoft on their online system. To their credit, I received a detailed response in one hour that was obviously written specifically for my submission. Unfortunately, they could only suggest two potential workarounds, neither of which is particularly useful. Suggestion #1 was to change all graphics in the presentation to work with 8-bit (256-color) viewing. This begs the point when the use of visuals is to show details that can only be rendered at higher color settings. Suggestion #2 was to place all detailed images on dedicated web pages and show slides that include a hyperlink to the proper web address. Then when someone views the recording, they can click on the link to see what you are talking about. Not very friendly to the audience and not what I expect a high end enterprise web conferencing package to be able to accomplish.
I was told that my issue was being escalated to a higher level of support and that I should expect to be contacted soon with a status update. That communication came in towards the end of the workday on Tuesday. It is now after hours on the following Monday and I haven't heard anything (nor is there an update on their support website). When I am told that a problem has been escalated and I should hear something soon, I expect a courtesy contact within a couple of days at the most -- even if it is just to say that they don't have an answer or fix yet.
I bring this up for two reasons. One is that people should be aware of this recording limitation. I am disclosing it for existing and potential users of the software since there doesn't seem to be any other way to learn about it and you could potentially waste time, money, and effort on a task that doesn't give you what you want. The second reason is that this situation demonstrates something I have said numerous times in other posts. Just because a vendor has a checkmark in a grid column saying that they support a feature or piece of functionality, it doesn't mean that the implementation will necessarily satisfy your needs. You must test each feature that is important to you before signing a contract and make sure that the product will take care of your business requirements in practical use.
By the way, I ended up stripping the audio off the recording, cleaning it up with some digital editing software (I use GoldWave), playing back the audio and running the presentation through Camtasia, where I could re-record the slides at the proper resolution and also transfer the whole thing into a Flash file with better cross-platform compatibility. That's a heck of a lot of work, and I don't recommend it as your standard operating procedure!