Interactive Video Technologies (IVT) asked if I would like to do a mini review of their IVT Studio webcasting product. I agreed and in short order found myself on a conference with Phillip Whalen, the President and CEO; Greg Pulier, the CTO; and Ysette Witteveen, the VP of Marketing.
I quickly realized that I had to reset my framework for evaluating IVT Studio. While it is technically able to drive live webcasts in real time, those capabilities are very basic and limited by design. The company has a separate product for live webcasting, called MediaPlatform. IVT Studio is not intended for live events and I won't try to gauge it on those terms.
IVT Studio is targeted at business users who want to create, publish, and allow playback of prerecorded presentations without needing to get an IT department involved. As such, it competes with products such as Adobe Presenter, Brainshark, and other software that allows you to record slides, narration, and video for online playback.
To use IVT Studio, you download and install the production software on a Windows-based PC. You can take video inputs from a standard PC webcam or you can hook in a more professional video camera through FireWire or a commercial studio digital feed. The software lets you view your recorded video image next to the slides you are displaying, so that during your recording process you can see exactly what your eventual audience will see. For some people this feels awkward and intimidating, but it's a good way to make sure you are staying in frame and in focus during your presentation!
As part of your production process, you can add audience polling questions, video clips at the beginning or end of your presentation, rolling credits, a Table of Contents to allow direct access to various parts of your recording, and you can create screen captures to display things such as software demonstrations from your desktop. There are also design templates that let you create custom playback frames with your company name, colors, and logo.
You can choose which formats you want to publish in, including Windows Media (WMV) or QuickTime in high or low bandwidths as well as audio only, Flash, or podcast-friendly mp3 or mp4.
IVT advertises "one click publishing" to their streaming media servers, which avoids the problems of setting up your own hosting area and planning for potentially heavy load on your servers. You have to be online during the entire production/conversion and publishing process - there is not an option to publish to your computer and upload later. Of course if you choose not to use IVT's servers, you can configure your publishing button to use your site as a destination. One advantage of using IVT's servers is that they automatically capture registration information and statistics on viewing usage for your videos.
There are some limitations and a few features I wish were more fully developed. Slide shows do not support PowerPoint animations or transition effects between slides. Admittedly, you could pre-produce your slide show as a Flash video and use that, but it seems like a lot of extra work. The video player does not support a "thumb scroll" bar to move back and forth to any desired time point in the video. Instead it uses skip forward and backward buttons that jump in 30-second increments. Polling only supports single-answer questions rather than allowing "select all that apply" kinds of questions. And while you can designate a "correct answer" for a quiz, the user cannot see any feedback based on his or her choice. The results are only available in reports for the administrator.
When watching the company's introductory overview video of the software using their own tool, I found that the screen capture content was rather fuzzy and that there was a strange transition effect when moving from a screen capture segment back to "talking head" video. The video would briefly display in full screen and then shrink back down to its proper position in the player frame. The WMV version played very cleanly on my Windows XP computer, but the Quicktime version of the same recording was fuzzier and had significant audio dropouts. This could easily be an artifact of my player configuration... I don't use Quicktime much.
There is also no way to export viewing statistics to a local file in IVT Studio. That functionality is reserved for the larger events package in MediaPlatform. Studio statistics are only available for viewing online.
The software seems like a good way to do basic video, slide, and audio production of recorded content. Controls are built to be very simple and easy to use for nontechnical presenters. I like the ability to add a customized playback frame and table of contents, as well as easily offering several playback formats. The biggest advantage of course is the use of IVT's media servers, which handle high load situations so that many users can view your content simultaneously without degrading performance.
I'm looking forward to seeing the IVT MediaPlatform next, so that I can report on their ability to support live large-audience events.