We have been using the Crestron Capture HD products at Bates College for several years. However, we have always had various problems with the devices. On occasion, they will stop taking the video input from the camera in the room. Other times, they will stop recording the audio. These are the worst type of problems for two reasons. First, they are completely random so it is impossible to track down a cause or try to understand why they are doing this. Second, the person doing the recording may not know that this has happened (particularly with audio). So, they record an entire session with no sound. This has happened to us on several occasions.
We decided to start looking for alternatives to the Capture HD product, because we don’t find these occurrences to be acceptable for our users. Crestron would take the devices back, but send them back to us saying nothing was wrong. It became time to move on.
We starting talking with Extron about its SMP 351. The device seemed similar in features to what we were using, so we thought it may be a good fit. We are still running some tests and demos to see if it will do everything we need (so far it looks very promising).
However, what struck me immediately was the web interface for the product. It was amazingly easy to use and navigate. It was clear that the Extron engineers had put a lot of thought and effort into it. In fact, I think it is likely that they brought on people familiar with User Interface design to help them. I think the reason this struck me as so amazing is due to the amount of time I have spent working with Crestron products. Crestron does a lot of things well. Designing user interfaces is NOT one of them. From their VT Pro-e interface to Toolbox and particularly RoomView, they have a track record of bad to downright unusable interfaces. Crestron’s RoomView SE product is so bad that only one of the people in my department will even log onto it when something needs to be done. Everyone else refuses.
Back to Extron. The SMP 351 interface is so nice, I like just poking around it and seeing what I can do. It looks, feel and operates like any other standard computer interface. It makes sense. The other thing I really appreciate about the interface is that Extron continues to deliver products that are useful as standalone items. This product does not require a control system and a touch panel. You can do all the configuration for the device directly from this web page. Additionally, they have several buttons on the front of the device to change PIP presets, start and stop recordings and choose the input you want. The device is also packed with great features. One of my favorite is the ability to import calendar files to set up recordings. Other vendors want you to use a proprietary server in order to schedule recordings. Exron makes it easy by allowing you to use this very common format.
The SMP 351 is not a brand new product from Extron. The company has been selling them for a while, but I am just getting around to look at one for the first time. If you are doing some investigating of new capture products for your institution, make sure you take a look at this product. You could easily set this in a room and in a few minutes be capturing your first recordings.