How do you learn?

A recent Wall Street Journal article, "The New Workplace Rules: No Video-Watching" written by Bobby White highlights the fact that many people are watching videos at work.  It's even more interesting that the heaviest consumption of those videos takes place during the lunch hours.

I worry about this for a couple of reasons.  First, if the corporate IT departments block all incoming video streams I'll be cut off from you.  No more screencasts.  No interesting videos.  Possibly no webcast replays.

But I worry most because we have pretty grandiose plans.  Everyone on my team has a HD camera.  Some of us are just figuring out how to use them.  We aren't experts like Ben Waggoner so it's taken longer than planned to actually create some content. 

As a creator of content I'm genuinely enthused about the tools and technologies.  What's not to love?  Laptops and desktops are powerful.  HD video cameras are almost affordable.  Software is now powerful and relatively easy to use.  I look at this as a tool for my job, information delivery.

What to create?

I recently developed a test video.  The Windows Server 2008 Overview video is a high definition 720p video I created from scratch.  This is a dress rehearsal for the tools and techniques I'm learning and honing.  This particular video uses several media elements and is just over 60 minutes in length.  The beginning is an introduction shot here at my home office using the Sony HD camera I have.  It also incorporates Powerpoint and demonstration captures using Camtasia 5.

My Criticisms of My Video

micro0572I'm pretty critical of my work, so let me highlight some of the stuff I dislike about the video, then I'll highlight the stuff I like.  Lastly, I want to ask you a few questions that will help me in the direction I am headed.  Pay no attention to the outlaw at right.

In the introduction, you'll notice I start off smiling nicely enough but the tone gets all too serious.  I need to drop 20 pounds.  Don't we all?  I'm obviously over concentrating which becomes apparent with the smirk at the end of the intro.  Have you ever tried to shoot video of yourself and deliver a salient set of remarks.  It isn't easy so as I practice, I'll get better. 

I'm very used to walking around on stage with 30-1000 people in the audience.  Trust me, talking to 1000 people is easier than looking into a camera or recording audio.  Imperfections are highlighted when recorded.  The lighting in the video is a little dark.  It was late in the day and the sun was already almost gone.  I'm thinking of shooting my future intros poolside.  It'll be more fun than the office look.  You'll be especially jealous if you see a perfect top shelf margarita sitting next to me.

This is the first screencast style video where I used Powerpoint.  The main reason I did it was because I wanted to see what recording widescreen 1280x720 slides would look like.  If you look closely on the beginning and ending slides (video bumpers), some of the graphics are slightly stretched but the Powerpoint deck looks killer.  I'll fix graphics issues better in future versions of my work. 

My delivery of the material is ok, not stellar.  I considered recording it again but have decided that I probably won't.  I have way too many subjects to cover.  So I fumble my words here and there on a few of the slides.  This is also true in the demonstrations.  This is primarily because I just snatched the slides and went to work pretty quickly on the test and demos.  I just wanted to slam something out there that would demonstrate the possibilities.  See some of my motivations in the next section.

So basically you have a 60 minute video overview.  The intro video is pretty good for a rookie that is learning.  The slides and demos look amazing.  When you are watching the video, be sure to set Windows Media Player to fit the player on resizes.  Try the video full screen or at other sizes that suite you.  Be sure to try the video at 100% zoom which is 1280x720.  If you are using a large square 4:3 ratio monitor, you'll see black bars on the top and bottom because this is a widescreen video.  Matt Hester didn't like that much.

Feedback I would like from you

I would like to learn a lot from this test, but I need your help.  My intention was to create a 60 minute high definition video that I could use to test the tools, techniques, our platform(s), your ISP connection and thoughts. 

When you are watching video on a subject, what is your pain threshold?  Is 60 minutes too much?  Many of our webcasts are 90 minutes.  Do you prefer shorter bursts of say 10-20 minutes?  I've been doing 5-10 minute screencast demos but when you add powerpoint, it doubles the time easily.

Do you like or dislike Powerpoint mixed with the demos?  Powerpoint is a great tool for providing references, animations and other information.  Would you prefer the information via a conversational video or in text via a blog post like this?  How did the slides look to you?

The demos are typical of what I've been doing the past couple of years with a couple of key differences.  They were shot at 1280x720 resolution instead of 1024x768.  They were shot at 30 frames per second instead of 15.  The bit rate for the video is much higher than any of the work I've created in the past.  This is the reason the demos and slides look killer.  What do you think?

How is the streaming?  I've been experimenting with the various delivery platforms and I'm nowhere near done yet.  I have at least two more content delivery platforms to test.  This particular test is pure streaming.  I've also been testing Silverlight progressive download playback and it's promising as well.  This video should stream pretty well for most of you here in the US that have a 3meg or better ISP connection.  It's a variable bit rate stream with a peak of 3meg.  My FIOS 15/2 connection plays the video smooth as glass.

What tools do I use?

I used a variety of tools.  Camtasia 5, Expression Encoder v2 Beta, Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum Edition, and Windows Media Encoder were all actually used at various points to create the final video result.  On the hardware side, my Sony HDR-HC7 video camera, and a Dell XPS 420 was used for the final encoding.  I'll get into the details of capturing, editing and final production in a future blog post.

Call To Action

Be critical.  Tell me what you dislike.  Tell me what you like.  Tell me how you learn.  Tell me what subjects we aren't covering effectively.

[UPDATE]  Here's the Silverlight version of the video.  This Silverlight player is going to playback the exact stream from the link above.  You have two viewing options with this player.  The small version that is embedded below, and full screen.  You can go full screen two ways.  Either double click the player, or click the button on the far left of the player controls. 


Comments (8)

  1. Andy says:

    The main issue I had was that we don’t have enough bandwidth to keep such a large video running.  Especially at lunch time.  😛

    I’d much rather have a download, or if it could be buffered so that we can start playing it, pause until it’s all loaded, then watch it.

    Waiting for the whole video isn’t as immediately gratifying, but in my case, it would save a lot of frustration with not having to wait for buffering every 45 seconds.


  2. ryan says:

    I have yet to watch it (I hope to later), but I have to say 10-20 minutes is much, much better than a 60 minute video.  I’ll probably never have time to watch the 60 minute video, unless it’s like a course or something.  But in that case, I’m much more likely to go to reference materials than a video.  

    One thing I like about Windows Media Player is the ability to play the video at a faster speed (like 2x).  Not sure if that’s available in Silverlight streaming yet or not, so if not, the ability to download and watch is nice.  

  3. Stephen Edgar says:

    Being out with the ‘Roos you already have my take to a point on this one Keith.

    I am not even going to attempt to click on a 60 Minute 720p direct download link :P. So sadly whatever the great job you have done and what you are trying to ‘learn me’ I won’t get to see it just yet.

    For a while a couple of years ago C9 videos were ~200Mb and I could download those and watch them off-line. Now most C9 videos are now in HD also and come in around ~6-700Mb per hour and this is too big a download for me and to slow.

    I do get MP3’s when they are available and download the PPTX Slidedeck separately for links and references and listen to ‘audio only’ (Which is great in the car or on the bike) and this is probably one of the most common ways I grab MSFT Technical content other than my ~300 RSS feeds of reading.

    The Mix08 Keynote this year also used Silverlight and watching here at ~5am in the morning all was good at the 100kbps stream until some extra traffic on the network started taking up bandwidth and I was out of Ray’s keynote for around 10 minutes whilst I went madly pulling patch leads from my switch to get my QoS on the desktop.

    Last years Mix08 conference I think had 56/150/300kbps streams and MSFT have now gone to 100/300/750kbs event streams which is all good if the bandwidth is available and I am all for higher HD content so we can read the actual lines of code on the screencast/videos clearly just sadly broadband is in a sad state here in Australia and we all suffer for that here. With ‘fingers crossed’ by the end of this year I will have (It is looking good) affordable high-speed DSL available (8Mbps min.) available at my exchange and this problem will disappear to some point and it will just be a matter of seeing what the actual per GB data charges will come in at to see how much content I can consume.

    If you can use the new Silverlight 2 Progressive Streaming with various encoded streams of 100/750/3000 that would suit the high-speed users and those of us that don’t have it yet. It also gives us the option to ‘fast forward’ and skip to that 37 minute mark from the timeline notes (.i.e keyframes) that you encoded into the video index of the stream (or in the post attached) so that we can at least get to see those great bits that we want to see without at times having to sit through 35 minutes to see a couple of minutes footage (Think TiVo for that one little thing you wanted to see in an hour long TV documentary).

    I also think that overall the main amount of content should come out around 1/2 hour per episode so that during our one hour lunch break we can do a couple of things and see the whole video. If and many things will deserve much more than half an hour and this would give us our own mini-series to watch during lunch for the week.

    I also understand your own personal issues regarding yourself on camera/audio and compared to public speaking it is a different kettle of fish that is for sure. I am not even a big fan of jumping into a podcast so add some moving pictures to that and I know exactly what you mean and thus far you do a pretty good job IMHO and practice will only make it better. 😛

    Also as of last November I am no longer in the front-line trenches of IT support which is great and gives me more time to study and start to blog more though I am looking at doing more training for the the other IT people around such as Windows Server 2008 Core/GUI, Exchange 2007, CRM, Sharepoint, Hyper-V and to deliver this to my clients will be better with video/audio/slides and as you state at the start of your post that you are worried that IT bandwidth will get shutdown whilst people are at lunch and I whole heartily agree with you on that. This shouldn’t happen and these are the windows of opportunities that you can get to your customers and I can also to my clients the same kinds of experience.

    The tools we have for learning today delivered by internet technologies are fantastic & innovative and targeted learning should not be stifled one little bit and once the new Australian Government here get our ‘information super highway’ back on track we will be diving head on into this content that you are creating Keith.


    Stephen Edgar

  4. Byron Adams says:

    I only watch videos I can schedule for download at night. Then during my lunch/break times I watch them at 1.9 x speed.

  5. Hi Keith,

    I was unable to download the video at all. Directly in Windows Media Player the stream is not played very smoothly, so I tried to download the whole video with SDP Downloader. But also this was after three times not possible.

    I would lovely see what you did, but sorry, I have no chance to download/view it at all.

    Peter Forster

    MVP Virtual Machine


  6. Hi again,

    right now I was able to download the video with my UMTS card 🙂

    It took me the whole day (during phone calls, IMs, and E-Mails) too look the video in full lenght.

    Wow, I’m really impressed in the quality. From my point of view I like such videos and the quality.

    I like your voice, it’s easy to follow (for non native english speakers) and you are doing your job well!

    I found only two technical points which I want to mention:

    You told a few thigs about Windows Server Core and after or before this topic you discussed PowerShell. What you did not mention was, that Windows PowerShell is not supported on Server Core…

    And the next thing: You spoke about the installation of Virtual Server 2005 R2 on XP, Vista and Windows Server 2008. While Virtual Server 2005 R2 with SP1 will install and run on Windows Server 2008, this is not going to be a supported configuration. Just keep that in mind…

    The presentation itself I found very useful (even if there are no news for me) but I would like to see more of this in the future.

    One suggestion is, as others already mentioned, it should be shorter. A maximum of 20 minutes is from my perspective OK to look into it without interruption.

    Conclusion: Go on, do such things, I really like them and if I have more time, I would lovely do something similar in my native language "German" for our DACH customers… 🙂

    Best wishes from Austria, Peter Forster,

    MVP Virtual Machine

  7. Gary Watson says:

    I thought the webinar looked great and I respectfully disagree with those who thought it was too long or at too high a resolution.  There was a lot of material to cover and I personally hate it when I encounter a superficial webinar — I keep watching hoping things will become useful but of course often times the show ends with nothing useful being said.  Furthermore, it’s frustrating to have a GUI demo where all the screen text is illegible, so I’m glad you increased the resolution.  

    I agree that it would have been MUCH better if we could have downloaded the video instead of having to stream it.  It was very challenging to prevent RealPlayer from playing the stream which it’s incompatible with anyway.  

    You didn’t mention Windows Storage Server 2008 which is based on the WS2008 code.  Are you going to cover this someday?

  8. Keith Combs says:

    Gary and all,

    Thanks for the feedback.  It is very much appreciated and we have learned a lot with the past couple of Silverlight videos.  I will summarize some of those key learnings in a blog post for everyone to read soon.  

    As for the question of available download versions of the videos, we know that is important to you so I’ll be sure to supply them.  I think that is important but have neglected to do it for all of my work.

    As for the question on Windows Storage Server 2008, I’ll probably just take a peice of it and use it for a clustering demo I want to do.  I’ll grab the iSCSI Target and install it so we can see how to setup a cluster.

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