Videoconference Units of Virtuosi

The net communication department of the International Centre of Chamber Music - Virtuosi in Kuhmo, Finland focuses on real-time communication. Research and development efforts are mainly dedicated to enhancing netcasting, video and data conferencing for music education use. This is a brief description of the Center's videoconferencing base equipment, which is being used for various music pedagogy purposes.

Videoconference desk at Virtuosi

The videoconference desk of Virtuosi was set up in the autumn 2001. Two Tandberg 800 VC central units were purchased for the regional development project of Virtuosi and the Kuopio Department of the Sibelius Academy. One set was placed in Kuhmo and the other one in Kuopio.

The VC central unit

The Tandberg 800 unit is situated at the top price range of VC equipment currently available on the market. The equipment chosen has, however, excellent I/O, bridging, encoding, presentation and net administration capabilities. Finnish information society strategies are calling for a better balance in providing educational services. The unit's support of both IP and ISDN videoconferencing schemes, as well as intelligent call management add to the use value in communication with rural and remote areas.

In addition to the Audio-Technica electret microphone, the unit has an easily accessible audio input/output system which is well suited for music productions. Sound inputs and outputs can be switched and faded individually. A wide range of automatically switched and user selectable audio compression algorithms are being supported. In addition, the echo cancellation system offers various room size and motion schemes.

High resolution VGA output, suitable for presentation of music staff notation, playing techniques and detailed text output can be produced with standard snapshot techniques. The Tandberg 800 unit also supports Microsoft NetMeeting data conferencing, VNC and the proprietary Duo Video. These techniques enrich standard videoconferencing with other communication modes.

Moreover, it should be noted that the sub-systems of the Tandberg units are carefully documented. This provides a sound base for the research and development oriented profile of Virtuosi, where software development is a primary tool of providing new services. It should also be added that the local importer, Xenex Telecom has proven to be ambitious in supporting the Norwegian product and its virtual university clients.

Computer workstation, peripherals and other accessories

While the Tandberg 800 VC unit is a costly piece of equipment, the accessories have been assembled from low budget components. The Windows XP support workstation of the videoconference desk is a consumer product, but the machine is equipped with some extra peripherals. They are being used for special purposes of educational content production:

In addition, a changing number of other accessories are being utilized:

Enhancing videoconferences to suit music education needs

The Centre has deponated its Disclavier piano at Kuhmo Music Institute, where it is being used for piano distance education and automated accompaniment. Xenex Telecom has developed an application for distance piano education, utilizing Yamaha Disklavier or PianoDisc. Transmission takes place with the help of MIDI-automation, a delay mechanism for synchronization and a ISDN connection.

Virtuosi also has a NetMeeting product which enables ensemble playing over ISDN. The MIDI Combo application can also be used in the IP setting for one-way demonstrations with piano or synthesizer keyboards. Xenex and Virtuosi have agreed upon joint development of these two products. The partners aim at improving the usability of the product and at enhancing the user interface.

Mirja Ruuskanen in a kantele VC session

Distance education pilots are being carried out in a number of other instruments, including saxophone and kantele, which until present have been considered unsuitable for VC reproduction. This is possible by amplifying sound reproduction of standard videoconference equipment.

Another project aims at replacing G.722 and G.711 mono telephone audio with stereophonic high fidelity sound. The 'HiFi Conference' can be used for net concerts, as well as music rehearsals in a synchronized mode.

Videoconferencing as a municipal service

Kuhmo Arts Centre is not only the festival site of the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, but it is also a very active cultural and conference center throughout the whole year. Since the beginning of 2005 Virtuosi and the Arts Centre have jointly developed a videoconference service, which adds to the rich palette of facilities that the Centre can offer its clients.

The videoconference system includes a Tandberg 6000 Codec, two wide plasma screens, three automated cameras, sophisticated audio tools and Yamaha Disklavier MIDI piano. The service is offered not only in the newly built videoconference room, but also in the meeting and concert halls of the house. This puts Kuhmo Arts Centre in the forefront among information society enabled cultural centers in Finland.

Videoconference room at Kuhmo Arts Centre