Even the most technologically inclined people find streaming-media content creation tricky; there are compression algorithms, data-rate optimization procedures and challenges in posting and integrating content and video from different systems on the viewer's desktop display.Sonic Foundry's\u00a0goal with its MediaSite Live appliance is to make producing live or on-demand rich media as easy as possible for presenters and for network or content managers - with or without a professional video producer nearby. When a producer is available, he can focus on the video composition, not the technology processing, assembly or delivery of components.How we did itNetResultsArchive of Network World reviewsSubscribe to the Product Review newsletterMediaSite Live 2.0b is exceptionally well-designed - it is presenter-friendly and suitable for corporate networks. By virtue of smart technology in the "capture workstation," the finished content it produces meets (and in some cases exceeds) expectations of the most demanding Web-based business audiences. For these reasons, the product receives a World Class Award.Simple setupThe MediaSite Live system includes a capture workstation (an appliance with a 1.8-GHz Advanced Micro Devices processor and 512M bytes of RAM running Windows XP Professional), an end-user application and administration software. The appliance is full of video and audio capture, image capture and output interfaces. The customer adds one or more video and audio sources (cameras and microphones) and one or more content sources (DVD player, S-VHS VCR, LCD projector, desktop computer or laptop) via a scan converter, the built-in VGA capture interface or the auxiliary S-video or composite capture card. A professional video camera, camcorder or a video-mixing switch with multiple cameras will work as long as the device has an S-video or composite (standard RCA) interface. USB and FireWire interfaces are not supported in Version 2.0b, but Sonic Foundry says these would be included in future releases.It took us about 15 minutes to install the MediaSite Live box in a meeting room and get a presenter to begin capturing and streaming an event to audiences. This installation time is possible only if you have a Web server, FTP server local to the Web server, a directory for storing captured images,\u00a0Windows Media Services\u00a0(as a part of Windows 2000 Server or Advanced Server with Service Pack 2 or later), and that you have installed Sonic Foundry's Auto-Registration Service on the video server. Because MediaSite Live also has these components built in, presenters can operate it as a stand-alone, archiving device. And by using the administration tools, the presenter or content manager can publish to the enterprise or service provider network later.In the unit we tested, the administration tools were on the capture appliance. In a production environment, the administration tools are installed on a Windows 2000 Server running the Internet Information Server services. Because the tools use XML-based field formatting, one instance of the tool set manages one or more workstations. Via a Web browser, a content manager or presenter can fill in presentation-specific details, choose the level of interactivity and pick the presentation mode - live broadcast, archived local content or download for on-demand playback later. For live presentations, the audience can provide feedback, send questions or respond to a preconfigured poll. You can also build new streaming profiles or load prebuilt profiles via the administration interface.Sonic Foundry's Navigator application is a proprietary viewer that lets Internet Explorer 5.0 or later, start, stop, decode and display video and synchronized slides in fixed positions on an attendee's screen. It also permits a viewer of a rich media archive to use a mouse to advance through the session and to link to supporting resources. A default Navigator template comes with the administration tools, but you can customize components (banner images, speaker images, links and logos) in the Web interface by changing the URL to these pages or graphic elements in the default Navigator or starting with a blank template. Although more than adequate for basic business presentations, we quickly found limitations, including a fixed Navigator video window size (240 by 180 pixels) and the layout of graphic elements. A user can, by right-clicking in the video window (or on the Navigator window button labeled "full size"), make a video window full-screen. Sonic Foundry says it will add more Navigator customization options in future releases.Once powered, the MediaSite Live system can obtain an IP address from the\u00a0Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol\u00a0server or be manually configured. On the network, MediaSite Live automatically initiates the Auto-Registration service on the locally configured Windows Media Server. By building on Windows XP Professional's media-savvy components, Sonic Foundry's complete integration spares users and managers compatibility issues commonly found in home-grown solutions or even other pre-integrated solutions (such as Pinnacle Systems' StreamGenie Presenter with SoftTV software or ViewCast's Niagra Max with Accordent software, which used earlier Windows operating systems).Capturing the presentationWhen the presenter is ready, the capture application can be launched on the workstation. After authentication and selection of a presentation, the application opens the capture-monitoring interface; detects the video, audio and images sources; and displays previews. Because the image synchronized with the video and audio in the Navigator window is captured directly from the presenter's local display, there are virtually no restrictions on what the presenter can do during a streaming session. In contrast to other slide and media synchronization tools, there is no need to preload a presentation in the capture workstation or on a server. Whatever the presenter does on the display system is what will be streamed and archived.To minimize the complexity to the presenter and maximize the audience experience, MediaSite Live's architects went beyond their peers and surpassed our expectations. Without any involvement by the presenter or a local operator, Sonic Foundry's capture application analyzes the presenter's images and makes sure that the image quality captured and streamed (live or to disk) is the highest possible quality in all of the many circumstances the presenter might choose. When using a desktop application or surfing the Web, the presenter's screen content can change very rapidly. When creating a PowerPoint presentation, a user typically narrates and the screen does not change until the next slide is requested. The MediaSite Live capture application automatically senses the content changes. By\u00a0 capturing images only when necessary, MediaSite Live saves in bandwidth and processing power. As the source content changes the application automatically adjusts the image capture rate and handles all synchronization. Presenters also can adjust the settings in the capture application to enhance image contrast, clarity (sharpness) and pixel depth before beginning a capture session.Image quality is important, but the presenter's voice must also be clear. Our tests with videoconferencing systems from Polycom and VCON using a table-top microphone resulted in a slightly "tinny" voice quality when compared with a clip-on lapel microphone used when testing with a Panasonic miniDV camcorder. Where a stationary microphone is the audio source, MediaSite Live's Automatic gain control continuously optimizes the input. If the speaker moves relative to the microphone or if any other audio input conditions change, the system adjusts the input volume and provides a constant audio output to the Navigator.DocumentationThe MediaSite Live 2.0b server guide is an exemplary document. The documentation and the companion "user guide" devote an optimal amount of space explaining topics such as capture and publishing workflow - and screen shots complement the text.The proof that the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" is at the point where the media meets the audience - this is what earns MediaSite Live our World Class Award.MediaSite Live 2.0b with built-in image capture hardware4.5RatingCompany: Sonic Foundry (Media Systems division), (877) 783-7987, Cost: $21,950 for full starter system with administration tools license; $19,950 for subsequent systems. Pros: Easy to set up; easy for presenter to use; suitable for live or on-demand applications; easy to manage on network; produces high-quality results easy for audience to experience and, in the case of archives, to navigate. Cons: Needs more customizable Navigator templates, support for formats beyond Windows Media.\u00a0MediaSite LiveFeatures 50%\u00a0 4 \u00a0Management\/administration 20%\u00a0 5 Installation 20%\u00a0 5Documentation 10%\u00a0 5TOTAL SCORE 4.5Individual category scores are based on a scale of 1 to 5. Percentages are the weight given each category in determining the total score. Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional showing in this category. Defines the standard of excellence; 4: Very good showing. Although there may be room for improvement, this product was much better than the average; 3: Average showing in this category. Product was neither especially good nor exceptionally bad; 2: Below average. Lacked some features or lower performance than other products or than expected; 1: Consistently subpar, or lacking features being reviewed.