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Video-conferencing hardware fine-tunes music academy's virtual classrooms

Video-conferencing hardware has helped the Iconic Music Academy connect virtual classrooms worldwide with affordable technology.

In an increasingly software-centric market like unified communications, hardware has started to play second fiddle. But a classroom electronics provider and a music academy have teamed up to compose a harmonious duet.

When the online Iconic Music Academy launched several years ago, the concept seemed daunting: Use the Internet to offer music instruction to students worldwide -- and at an affordable price. Leveraging different layers of technology -- spanning hardware and software -- the academy created virtual classrooms to connect instructors and students across the globe.

For enhanced video and audio, instead of just using a laptop's camera and speakers, the music academy turned to IPEVO, a manufacturer of affordable classroom technology tools. To teach students worldwide via virtual classrooms, music academy instructors leverage the Internet; laptops; VoIP software, like Skype, Google Hangouts or Fuze; and IPEVO hardware.

One music instructor, Norbert Stachel, uses IPEVO's X1-N6 Internet Conference Station and Ziggi HD USB Document Camera with his MacBook Pro, as well as Fuze software. The conference station serves as his audio input and output, while the HD video camera with aim and zoom functions is on a stand.

We want to mimic the feeling that the person on the other end of the line is in the same room.
Royce HongCEO and head of design, IPEVO

For the music academy, the emphasis on affordable real-time audio and video was instrumental. With the IPEVO setup, Stachel, who teaches saxophone, clarinet and flute, can show students how to blow into instruments properly and use correct finger positioning.

"The equipment for the price is working pretty good," Stachel said, citing in particular the products' ease of use, mobility and compatibility. The audio conference station sells for $139 and the camera for $94 on the IPEVO website.

"The price is right," Stachel said. "There's better stuff where you can spend three times or 10 times as much money, but why? We're musicians. We're not the movers and shakers of the world."

Amplifying audio and education

By using the same modules and chipsets found in conventional cell phones and smartphones, IPEVO can develop products at 10% the cost of prevailing industry components, according to the company's website. This strategy keeps the company's technology affordable and ensures it can deliver equipment with the audio fidelity that a client like Iconic Music Academy demands.

Digital audio, like voice over the Internet, has a much higher bit rate than traditional landlines, so the voice quality is much clearer, said Royce Hong, IPEVO's CEO and head of design. With real-time audio, glitches like latency and jitter are handled by the VoIP software, but the hardware still needs to work in harmony. Hong said IPEVO's audio hardware products focus heavily on crosstalk elimination, beamforming and echo cancellation, and were specifically designed for Internet conferencing.

"We're trying to improve the sound quality and reception -- the microphone-receiving quality -- on the hardware end," Hong said. "We want to mimic the feeling that the person on the other end of the line is in the same room."

Music, technology transcend borders

Iconic Music Academy's next step, said academy founder and instructor Branislav Bubalo, is to use video-conferencing technology as a stepping stone to expand its virtual classrooms to Third World countries.

Additionally, the academy has partnered with music schools across the country and plans to expand its master class program, where teachers provide musical instruction via video conference to groups as large as 98 students.

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