What technology should I use?

In the last Virtual Excursion Australia meeting we were discussing what type of system or technology should I use to deliver virtual excursions? The answers were varied and depend on what was being delivered, talking head presentation or multiple camera production. Where the audience was also a consideration as it determined what technology the content was able to be received on.


We have 3 different Virtual Excursion Australia content providers sharing their ideas.

Ben Newsome from Fizzics Education uses H.323 Polycom or Tandberg codex for video conferencing either direct IP to IP call or through a bridge like DART Connections, Electroboard or CILC. A H.323 for video conferencing codex is required at the other end to receive this content.

An alternative used by Fizzics Education is connecting by Polycom Realpresence or Zoom for web conferencing. Web conferencing is a software based option that is contained entirely in a web browser making is cheaper and easier to access for casual use.

Fizzics Education also uses an iPad connected via an A/V cord as a document camera.

Anne Doran from the Australian National Maritime Museum uses a H.323 for video conferencing codex for their interactive sessions. Youtube live streaming has been used for big events. Live streaming extends the life and reach of the presentations as they were hosted on the Department of Education You tube channel for a period of time after. A twitter back channel and email was available for questions.

The Australian National Maritime Museum will continue to use YouTube live for offering selected programs as a resource to high school students and teachers as it is a difficult audience to schedule programs with. YouTube offers flexibility for teachers to view the program either live with the twitter/social media back channels or at a time suitable for them.

Karen Player from the Australian Museum also uses a H.323 video conferencing codex for their interactive sessions. This allows them to set up different camera angles and to send PowerPoint presentations to the far end. The Australian Museum has recently run a successful session with Sydney Distance Education through Zoom and they will be exploring more web base technologies in the future to provide schools with more flexibility

The Virtual Excursion Australia conference in 2015 was a great example of how to integrate these technologies. We were able to have the Australian Museum in Sydney and AMCI in Melbourne connect using H.323 video conferencing codex’s though the AARNET bridge and live stream the combined output using a link embedded on the Virtual Excursion Australia website.

What is a Tricaster ?

Put simply a Tricaster is a TV studio in a computer designed and built by Newtek. If used properly it has the power to transform your basic video conferencing event into an all singing and all dancing, high quality broadcast event.. Combining a Tricaster into what would otherwise be a standard v/c event enables you incorporate things like, seamless switching between presentation images, video and third party video feeds. Use the Tricaster with a professional audio mixing desk, high quality cameras and microphones and the viewer at the other end would be hard pressed to tell the difference between what you are producing and what they see on TV.

Most cultural institutions would need either the Tricaster 460 or the Tricaster Mini. These would allow you to mix up to 4 digital/analogue camera sources, 2 laptops, and mix video or audio directly from the Tricaster. The Tricaster will allow you to mix, record & stream your v/c events via the web or via traditions H.323 equipment.

But why hear if from me ? Take a listen to the people that use it for real.


Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

Zoom Video Conferencing


Recently there has been a bit of excitement in our community regarding using Zoom Video Conferencing as a gateway to reach potential audience that may not have invested in a full suite of Standard Based (H.323) v/c kit. Think of Zoom as Skype on steroids! You can set up a meeting, invite guests, and have them connect simply through their browser. There is no complicated software to install and everything works through the browser without having to install additional software, which is great for companies which have restrictions on such things.

On of the most exciting things for us is that Zoom is free, so anybody you invite to a meeting can use it. And the fact that they provide what they call a H.323 Room Connector. This optional extra can be purchased for a small price of $US49/mo and enables H.323 video conferencing units to join the meeting. Which finally means that we can connect all our v/c units and users together in one big conference!

This all sounds fantastic but there are a few caveats that you should be aware of. Firstly you need to know that DART has (for the moment) put a ban on using Zoom to dial directly into their system. The main reason for this is that the connection that Zoom creates is forced to a connection speed of 6 megabits per second. This is far to fast for DARTs front end points and causes congestion and high usage, resulting in poor experience for other users on the network. To work around this you will need to dial directly into Zoom using your H.323 device so as a result means that it is unusable with DET schools as you need to use DART to connect to them. However as you will read I have been able to work around this using two H.323 devices.

Secondly, unless your guest using the H.323 room connector and a standards based v/c unit, then they will be using their computer which mean they will also be using the webcam and microphone which is included. Generally these built in devices are fairly cheap and are designed to work with just a single person not an entire room of people, so depending on your application the results not be acceptable.

If you really want to take full advantage of what Zoom has to offer you can configure a set up in which you use two H.323 units and a video switcher such as a Tricaster. To do this you would dial the first H.323 unit into DART as you normally would and the second unit would dial into Zoom. In this scenario any schools you need to engage would be connected at the DART end and any ‘special guests’ could be connected to Zoom. Exactly who sees what is controlled by the vision switcher. However, doing this requires quit a bit of technical know how! I have personally done this with a video conference at The Powerhouse Museum and the results where similar to that of a TV broadcast. You can see for yourself HERE.

Is Zoom worth the investment ? Probably….. for $US49/mo I think it’s worth at least trying out, you may find that you have no use for it or your organisation does not have the technical ability for it, but you would not have lost much in doing so. But you may also find that your audience reach has been massively extended and the return will be far greater than the small investment.

Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.


Dialling H.323 from a mobile device.

Ever wanted to join in a video conference (H.323) from a your phone or tablet? Well it is possible. Start by installing the Polycom RealPresence application for Android or iPhone. Start the application and you should be greeted with a screen similar to this. I am using Android 4.4.4 so your screen may look a little different.

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At this point just enter your email address and click next. Now you will get the following screen.

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At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that you need to sign into some sort of Polycom server or infrastructure, but you don’t need to, just click ‘Skip Sign In’ and you will get this screen.

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Now your in business, you can enter a H.323 IP and dial directly. Test it out your self by dialling one of the VTCTEST numbers.

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Enjoy !


Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

MARS ONE – A One Way Ticket To Mars


Meet Some Australian Mars One Candidates

HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT MARS ONE — the ambitious project that is under way to send the first humans to Mars? The plan is to send 4 people (2 women and 2 men) in 2024 — and it’s one way! They won’t be coming back. They will be Martians.

Some 200,000 people from all over the world applied for the chance to be one of the first humans on Mars. That number has been narrowed down to about 750, including some 25 Australians. Eventually the number ill be reduced to a total of 24. These candidates will undergo many years of extensive training and eventually 4 will be chosen by a TV audience as part of a reality style TV show to be the first to go.

So, what kind of people are these Australians? What would you ask them if you had the chance? What makes them want to go to Mars and give up life on Earth? What about their families and friends? Why do they think they should be chosen? What training will they need? How will they survive and cope in the tiny habitation modules? What if something goes wrong? What characteristics would they look for in team-mates? How is all of this affecting their daily life now?

This video conference gives students the opportunity to meet and ask questions of a number of these ordinary (or, some might say, extraordinary) Australians who have made it to the second round of the Mars One selection process.

This is a free video conference event
hosted by the Powerhouse Museum
10:30 – 11.30 am (EST) Thursday 27th Novemeber 2014
Bookings Close 24th November 2014
BOOK NOW at dartconnections.org.au

Video Conference Checklist

We’ve all been there, you nervously start a video conference hoping that all your equipment works, praying that no one has snuck in and played around with your Tandberg settings in the dead of the night while you weren’t there. You dial the VMR number and ask the magic question… ‘Can you hear me ?!?!’, you hold your breath and never get a response….. booh…. you find yourself on the phone with the remote end for the next twenty minutes trying remove the gremlins that have crawled into your system rather than delivering the fantastic educational experience that you had so meticulously planned.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”center” width=”30%”]…you can always have a v/c without the picture, but you can’t have one without the sound![/pullquote]

Wouldn’t it be better if you could just start the video conference and everything just worked straight out of the gate ? There is a way to achieve this, and it can apply to setups of any size and any type and any organisation. I call it a ‘pre-flight check’.

The basic idea of a pre-flight check is to do technical checks on everything BEFORE you start the video conference. Granted most of us delivering video conferencing are not technical and very few of us have the luxury of having a technical person on standby to help with the set up. So it will pay you greatly to spend a few minutes before an event doing some basic checks on your equipment. Even if you know the state of your gear or your gear has not moved it is still a good idea to check everything is working just so you can eliminate your end as being the problem if an issue does crop up it’s ugly head during your event. Following is a checklist that has been implemented at the Powerhouse Museum, since we have started this process we have had very few technical problems and we have also found that our staff are more confident and know the equipment better as a result.


1. Check Your Network

Check that you have an IP address. On a Polycom unity The IP address is shown at the bottom of the display when the unit first boots up. On a Tandberg you will see the IP on the top left. An IP address has the form nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn, If you do not have or cannot see an IP address try switching to another network port or talk to your network administrator.



2. Check Your Primary Camera

Check that the primary camera is plugged into the correct port and you are getting a loopback image on the screen.



3. Check Your Secondary Camera

If you are using a secondary camera, switch over to it and check that you are getting a loopback image.



4. Check Your PC

If you are planning to use content sharing from an external PC, then you MUST check that it is working beforehand. There are several things that can go wrong here! Make sure you are familiar with the ins and outs of switching your computer from mirrored or extended display modes and check that you have all the right sort of connectors available to connect to your v/c codec. Exactly how this done is something that I can save for another article….



5. Lighting

This seems like an obvious one, but you should keep in mind that a camera does not perceive light exactly as the human eyes does and low light levels can translate into a fuzzy or graining looking image at the remote end. Conversely high light levels can cause the image to look grey or colourless. Critically review the lighting and check via camera loopback that the lighting is not too dark and not washed out. There should be a nice contrast between each half of the face and skin tones should look natural for onscreen talent.



6. Make a Test Call

Once you have tested the above make a test call to another v/c unit, and test everything again from steps 1-5.



7. Test the sound

Finally, while on the test call confirm that there is two way audio. The sound should be loud and clear and not distorted. Remember you can always have a v/c without the picture, but you can’t have one without the sound!


Some v/c setups are easier then others.
Some v/c setups are easier than others.

Another good idea is to use a service like VTC Call Back (http://vtctest.pointsofdata.com/) Using this you can make a test call and it will call you back and check your video and audio is working.

Try to plan the time it takes to do this into your event schedule, I would recommend that you allow yourself at least 15 minutes for the basic checks written above, longer if you have a more complex setup. If you make a good habit of running through this before every event you will save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run.

Keep up the good work !

Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

WORLD SPACE WEEK: Meet the Mars robots

Join the Mars Lab team at the Powerhouse Museum and meet the Mars Lab’s robotic experimental Mars rovers. See these impressive robots in action on the Museum’s re-creation of the surface of Mars and find out why robots are used in space exploration.

Then, have your students try their hand at driving the Mars Lab’s robotic rovers remotely from your classroom over the internet!

This is a free video conference event
hosted by the Powerhouse Museum
9:00 – 10.00 am (EST) Wednesday 8 October 2014
Bookings Close 8 October 2014
BOOK NOW at dartconnections.org.au

WORLD SPACE WEEK: Mars Mission 5



In this exciting 2 PART virtual excursion workshop, your students get the unique opportunity to drive a robotic rover via a web browser from your classroom across the Mars Yard (a re-creation of the surface of Mars) located at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Led by the Mars Lab team via video conference, your students will explore the various landforms and features of the Martian surface to examine Mars’ history, geological evolution and potential evidence of past habitable environments. During the excursion your students will:
– work collaboratively to plan their mission using a mapping application
– practice driving the rover using a virtual simulation
– work collaboratively to drive the rover to sites of interest on the Mars Yard
– take photographs of sites of interest using the rover’s camera

The program focuses on collaboration, planning, observation and scientific investigation.


Part 1| Introduction to Mars exploration and the Mars Lab (45 minutes) – Oct 8 at 9:30AM
Part 2| The mission (90 minutes) – TBD (Please book PART 2 by calling 02 9217 0349)

Part 1| Introduction to Mars exploration and the Mars Lab (45 minutes)

Via video conference, the Mars Lab team in Sydney will introduce your class to Mars exploration and the Mars Mission 5 activity. They will explain how the class will prepare for their Mars Mission.

Part 2| The mission (90 minutes)

The mission is the highlight of the session where mission teams get to drive the real robot rover and to play 5 different operational roles that will contribute to the class’ successful completion of the mission. Students will use the rover to capture images of features and landforms associated with their ‘clues’ for later analysis.

*For a more detailed outline of the program, please visit the Mars Lab website at: http://www.themarslab.org/unit/mars-mission-5/

This is a free video conference event
hosted by the Powerhouse Museum
9:30 – 10.15 am (EST) Wednesday 8 October 2014
Bookings Close 3 October 2014
BOOK NOW at dartconnections.org.au

Meet Jennifer Griffes Shechet

Meet Jennifer Griffes Shechet – Earth and planetary scientist on the Mars Curiosity Rover team. 

Joining California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2008 as a research assistant in planetary geology, Jennifer now works in operations for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. She was previously involved in the analysis of the potential Curiosity landing sites, as well as on the HiRISE team (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). HiRISE is a high-resolution camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) including characterising sedimentary layers in HiRISE images over the global Martian surface.

Since Curiosity landed in August 2012 Jennifer has been working on mission operations as a keeper of the plan “I help build the plan fragments that get sent up to the rover”, characterising the terrains the rover has driven over and “assessing the predictive capabilities of terrain we will drive over in the future, to best protect the rover wheels from future wheel damage.”

Live from the Caltech, Jennifer will talk about her studies and career as a planetary scientist, her current role with the Curiosity mission and what it’s like working in a scientific team at the frontier of human discovery..

This free virtual excursion event is presented to you by The Mars Lab

This event will be held at 9:30 – 10.00 am (EST) Friday 16 May 2014

Jennifer Griffes Shechet

Click HERE to Book your virtual excursion today.