Way, way, before COVID-19, UCC saw explosive growth. Because of it, “collaboration” was not only the buzzword of InfoComm 2019 but also completely dominated ISE 2020 — the last great AV event of 2020.
But, UCC doesn’t mean meeting room or huddle room, by the way. If you read the spec sheets of the plethora of “collaboration” products from companies like Logitech, Poly, QSC, Biamp, Sennheiser, Shure and the half-dozen or so display companies targeting UCC with collaboration boards and projectors, you’d think that the term was exclusively interchangeable only with a meeting space/room.
By the end of April, Zoom’s usage had grown from 11 million daily video calls to over 250 million, and the GIANT majority of these came from colleges and universities. Yep, the .EDU. Nearly every college student was rushed off campus by an overabundance of local government orders to either “shelter in place” or stop gathering in groups larger than 10. Classes were being taught, primarily, by a two-dimensional 640 x 360 resolution professor staring at their computer’s built-in webcam being broadcast via Zoom. Eventually, Microsoft Teams caught up and offered the same service but, Zoom had already eaten the market up. Teams integration into the virtual classroom is so small, in fact, that it’s nearly immeasurable.
In April, we all thought that we’d be crawling back to normal by summer — not falling into more stay-at-home orders. But, on the bright side, since the students all around the world were at home, college lecture halls and classrooms were empty, available and ready for a UCC refurb. And, the best part about it, even with a terrible economy, thanks to a surfeit of government subsidies from nearly every European and North American government entity, some of the UCC-based classroom upgrades would be a gimme. But, for those that weren’t, the universities of the world realized that they needed to invest in integrating UCC appliances into the classrooms so that in the fall, the professors could deliver — at a minimum — hybrid lectures and, best-case scenario, HyFlex-based instruction.
Enter Almost NOTHING.
Short of the Nureva HDL300 and a small handful of simple auto-tracking PTZ cameras, there’s nothing UCC made for the classroom. Seriously, nothing. And, by the way, when you do integrate a classroom with a PTZ camera — if you can find one without an awful user interface for its so-called auto-tracking feature — you have to install two of them. So, Question: How does the “average” professor manage that switching? Answer: They can’t. Plus, if a manufacturer claims to have a user interface that’s so simple, a professor can manage it seamlessly while lecturing, that is a lie.
Look, UCC doesn’t stand for universal conference room collaboration. And, oh, by the way, UCC is no longer relegated to meeting rooms. As nearly every college IT or AV department will tell you — short of spending tens of thousands of dollars upon some over-engineered UCC-based control system — adding UCC to classrooms is an awful experience. Awful.
What’s missing? Well, I am not going to give away all that intellectual property in this column, but here’s an abbreviated list:
- UCC-based cameras for classrooms need to be connected from farther than 30 feet away without spending a fortune on active USB extension cables. In most cases these days, believe it or not, the extensions systems for UCC cameras are MORE EXPENSIVE than the cameras — especially if you don’t need a PTZ one.
- You can’t do HyFlex for under $50,000 in a room unless you are using Zoom. But, when you do that, you LITERALLY have to have two different computers connected to the same Zoom session so that the remote students can see the professor and the professor can see them. This is NOT a useful UI for a teacher to follow. By the way, when you do that, you have to remember to “pin” the second source for the students, too.
- Not every projected image needs to be 16:9. Geez. When you’re doing HyFlex in a classroom, we need displays more like 32:9 aspect ratio; otherwise, the remote students go to the floor. Professors want to see their faces.
- No, a ceiling-tile based mic won’t work in a classroom. Just no.
- Closed caption — don’t even get me started on how these integrations likely violate ADA.
- Ah, yes. Point the camera at the professor who — by the way — is standing in front of a projector-lit projection screen? Students don’t want to see just a shadow lecturing at them.
- The “raise your hand” inside all the UCC applications is made for small meeting usage. This does NOT work when a professor lectures to a screen filled with 40 2D students while in a room with 10 3D students. It’s not noticeable.
- Switching inputs to anything other than what’s on the connected PC or laptop the professor is using is impossible to do — even if you spec an HDMI to USB converted. Or, and if the content is HDCP, good luck.
I could go on and on. The UCC manufacturers have the opportunity of a lifetime to up the ante in .EDU spaces. I hope they’re listening, as I know 5,000+ integrators worldwide who’d love to integrate a plethora of new .EDU-based UCC gear!