Panopto: Review

Friday, October 29th, 2010 0 comments

panopto-thumbWhat is Panopto?

Panopto is a piece of software that manages the recording and sharing of presentations, without the need to hire or purchase costly equipment. There are four sections to Panopto’s offerings: recording, editing, viewing, and managing. Streams are captured and recorded within Panopto, and then edited via the program through your Internet browser. Resulting videos are then uploaded online to a personal storage space hosted by Panopto, where they can be viewed by those to whom access is granted through any Internet browser. The presentations can then be managed by presenters and administrators for your storage space.

Watch this video for an example of Panopto in action.

Usability

The user can set up a recording with just a few clicks. The software is very straightforward, and it automatically picks up any devices connected to the computer. And by simply checking a box, the user can capture screen activity, or PowerPoint slides when in Slideshow mode.

There is an extensive support section on the website, including a lot of useful ‘How to’ videos. Unfortunately, some of these are for previous versions of the software, and would be more useful if updated.

Core Functionality

The great thing about Panopto is that everything can be run from one program. Automatically recorded, uploaded and shared, your presentations practically manage themselves. Anyone, with or without the software, can view a presentation online if they have been permitted access. The presentation will open up in the Panopto viewer within the Internet browser, which is easily run by those with no technical experience.

From enabling recording from more than one computer, to broadcasting your presentation live complete with questions and viewer notes, Panopto offers a wide range of services, for a variety of uses.

Recording

panopto-1Panopto automatically picks up any video or audio recording devices connected to the computer. The user can select from these, or record from multiple devices at the same time. There is also the option to record from PowerPoint – which only starts when the presentation is in Slideshow mode – or to capture the screen, which is very useful for things such as software demonstrates.

You can even record from two computers simultaneously, if you want to record different streams from the same presentation. Panopto could record multiple video streams, attached audio, screen capture and PowerPoint – all from the same presentation.

Editing

panopto-2The Panopto editor allows the user to play around with content, and cut out sections of the recording as wished. The editing is handled in a simple controller, which whilst only offering the basics, could still be more straightforward to use. Some instructions or an updated tutorial would be useful here.

However, there is some very useful functionality. Panopto automatically marks every slide transition as a chapter. These chapters can then be renamed, or even adjusted to allow for different chapters to be set. This makes it even easier for viewers to find and review relevant content.

Probably the best feature of the Panopto editor is the easy realignment of audio and visual. Often when recording two streams simultaneously, the two end up being slightly out of sync, making the presentation difficult to follow. The adjuster allows the user to simply drag the timescale down a second or two, until audio and visual are perfectly aligned.

Viewing

panopto-3The Panopto viewer is accessed via a url specific to the presentation. The viewer opens automatically in any Internet browser, and the presentation will start playing automatically. Audiences can zoom in on slides or screen captures, or even make a selected stream full screen – although playback options are not available from this mode.

Those viewing a presentation can make notes as they watch, and save them on the system to read at a later date. These notes can either be private – protected by a unique username – or public, enabling all those who view the presentation to read if they wish. Notes can also be organised into channels, and thus shared within a group. This can be particularly useful for students discussing a lecture or seminar, or for teams within an organisation.

Audiences watching a live presentation have the option of typing in questions as they watch. These can then be viewed and answered by the presenter, providing a real opportunity for interaction with audiences.

Perhaps even more useful is the ability to search presentation content. Remote audience members can type a keyword in the search box of Panopto viewer, and a list will appear that highlights any occurrence of the term in presentation chapters, slide content, or notes. This becomes particularly beneficial when viewers use the note function to tag points of the video, perhaps by labelling parts of a lecture they don’t fully understand as ‘confusing’ – enabling them to search for ‘confusing’ at a later date, and be taken to the points in the lecture that they wanted to take a second look at.

Managing

Presentations aren’t just published online and left there. Panopto features an entire section of storage, where users can manage presentations and administrate viewers. There are different levels of access available, and presenters can see who has viewed what content, and even how much of it was viewed – which could prove extremely useful.

For example, if most views have trailed off halfway through, you know to make your next presentation shorter – either more concise, or split into two parts. Looking at overall trends would give you an idea of what kind of length of presentation works, as well as which of your presentation content is the most popular.

How could it be improved?

The PowerPoint capture does not record animations – only static builds. Anything other than a simple ‘appear’ animation will not display. This could cause great problems for presenters, particularly when presenting online, as animation is extremely useful when engaging a remote audience.

A workaround for this problem is possible by using the screen capture function instead. However, in order to fully capture all movements, the recording settings need to be adjusted so that a sufficient number of frames per second are captured. This option can prove a real burden on bandwidth and CPU load, so testing is a real must before you attempt to record PowerPoint in this way.

The Panopto viewer cannot be embedded within another web page, meaning that you could not insert a presentation into, for example, a blog post. Presentations can be downloaded to view offline, but they are saved as an offline web page, and not as a video file. Merging the resulting files into something that could be uploaded to a personal site would be time-consuming and fiddly. Allowing embedding of presentations onto personal sites would provide a wider range of options for users.

Is it worth it?

Panopto started out as a base for university lecturers to share their content with students and other members of staff, and is now an all-encompassing system that allows organisations to communicate both internally and externally, at any time, any place.

While its few customisation options and lack of embedding possibilities may not be suitable for all client-facing communication, Panopto is useful for sharing content within a team. Examples of uses could include sharing ideas on projects, or viewing training content uploaded by a supervisor.

The software saves time, as well as the cost of purchasing or hiring expensive recording equipment, or of using an external company’s services to manage it all. The pricing plans in particular favours larger organisations, as cost per person decreases rapidly as more viewers are added to an account.

If you are interested in simply recording PowerPoint or screen capture, then you may prefer to consider other free or competitively-priced options for sharing content online. Panopto is better suited to those recording video streams, rather than just PowerPoint. The software’s strengths come from being able to record from multiple sources at the same time, and handling all aspects of editing and sharing in one solution. Panopto sets out to make sharing multiple streams of content from one presentation easier for those with little technical capability – and this it does well.

For more information about Panopto, read our interview with Ryan Jennings, Commercial Director at Panopto.

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