Computer Help: SCA ONLINE!

As we move into the 2020 Fall Term with redeveloped, now online course content, a computer – either a laptop or a desktop – will be a crucial part of everyone’s education experience at the SCA and across SFU. Here’s some advice from Stefan Smulovitz, the SCA’s Manager, Technology & Resources, about computer tech-specs, buying options, and useful peripherals.

Computing needs for SCA students

While our phones have become incredibly powerful tools, we recommend that all SCA students purchase a proper computer for their school work. Not only is much of the software that is taught and used in SCA classes simply not available for iOS or Android, but Zoom, which for now is the main way you will be attending and interacting in your classes, also has limited functionality on a phone. Until we can welcome students back in person to the SCA and provide access to our computer labs, a proper computer will be necessary.

If you are unsure what kind of computer you might need or are unable to secure one for financial or other reasons, please reach out to Stefan Smulovitz at ssmulovi@sfu.ca as soon as possible, so that we can talk about any possible help that the SCA can offer.

Computers

The School for the Contemporary Arts has Mac labs only and all the software we teach and use at the SCA will always run on Macs. There are even a few software packages we teach and use that do not work on PC computers, but we try to offer alternatives. Still, at this point we recommend the Mac platform over the PC platform for your time at SCA.

Purchasing a new Mac

Please note: Apple recently announced that they are changing the chips they use on all of their computers. While they say existing Mac computers will be supported for the foreseeable future, it’s also probably a good idea to wait as long as possible before purchasing a new one to see if their new models will be available by the fall. Generally, Apple tends to release new models before September to catch the “back to school” rush.

Apple offers educational discounts for Mac computers. You can find the “education” link at the bottom of their webpage or ask for it directly at an Apple Store by showing your ID. You cannot receive this discount from Apple dealers, however: it needs to be direct from Apple. For more information, click HERE.

A MacBook Air is a solid buy at $1,169 and a 13" MacBook Pro is definitely more power for your money at $1,569 (entry). If you can afford the $2,269 MacBook Pro with the newer 10th generation chip, however, this is an amazing computer that will last you many, many years. If you do not need your computer to be portable, an iMac is also a great deal, and you tend to get more computing power for your money and a nice, large screen. I highly recommend that you go the iMac route if you will be doing film editing and if you do not need to be portable.

Purchasing a Used Mac

To use Apple's upcoming Big Sur operating system and to be able to use your Mac for a few years, I recommend purchasing a model no older than: a MacBook Air from 2013, a MacBook Pro from late 2013, and an iMac from 2014. Regardless of model, 8GB of Ram is highly recommend and a minimum hard drive of 256GB is suggested.

Purchasing a non-Mac computer

At this time we do not recommend chrome books, because they do not have sufficient power for video and audio editing. A Windows 10 computer would be a better option, instead, but make sure that it is not a Windows 10S computer, which will block you from installing applications you will need at the SCA. If you only need a PC for Zoom and Microsoft Office, please make sure it has a 1GHz Single Core or 2Ghz Dual Core (or better) processor, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of drive space. If you get a desktop PC, we recommend purchasing a web camera, so that you can have the best interaction with faculty and other students in your classes. If you are planning to do any in-depth audio or video editing, you will need at least a 2GHz Dual Core (or better) processor, an nVidia GeForce GTZ 1050 graphics card (or better), and preferably 8GB of RAM and 256GB of drive space, which will also allow for the basic operation of Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Premiere, etc.). Getting a refurbished or used PC can be a good deal, too, as you can get a better computer for cheaper.

Software

Zoom

As most classes in the 2020 fall term will use Zoom, you should be familiar with the upload and download speeds and bandwidth needed for this program.

  • For group video calling: 800kbps/1.0Mbps (up/down)
  • For gallery view and/or 720p HD video: 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps (up/down)
  • Receiving 1080p HD video requires 2.5mbps (up/down)
  • Sending 1080p HD video requires 3.0 Mbps (up/down)

For more information, please see this Zoom support page.

A good, fast Internet connection makes the Zoom experience much smoother. If you have more than one member of the household with simultaneous intensive Internet use and encounter any problems or issues, you might consider increasing your Internet speed, if only for the duration of your studies. Please contact your Internet provider to see what options are available to you.

Here is a LINK to Zoom etiquette that you should check out, as well. Remember: when your web camera is on, this is a window into your private space. Please make sure to take a moment to consider what you are sharing with other people.

Zoom peripherals

You will also need a webcam – nothing fancy, just functional ­– to interact with your professors via Zoom. If you cannot afford one or cannot find one, it is possible to connect to a Zoom meeting using two devices: you can use a phone as the connection with a camera and a computer for chatting and engaging with breakout rooms. Please make sure to let your professor know if you are using two accounts to do this.

A USB microphone will also greatly improve the audio quality of your Zoom calls, and not to mention help to create better sounding podcasts and live streams. I highly recommend the Rode NT USB-MINI Studio Condenser USB Microphone. If you have more available funds and want to have greater versatility, purchasing an audio interface and a separate microphone is an even better option, such as this package set from Focusrite.

Other Software

SFU Provides some software for student use. At this time students have free access to Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite. Use this LINK and look at options in the Remote Study section.

Faculty may require other software for their classes, which they will provide download links for. Faculty are doing everything they can to use open source or free software, if available.

Technical Help

If you have technical issues with any SFU system or with any software downloaded from SFU’s IT services website, please use their online Client Services – Desktop Support Ticket Form, which requires your SFU login information. Note: please use NA for any questions on the form that aren’t relevant to your problem or that you do not have an answer for.

If you have other SCA-related computer questions that SFU’s IT Services cannot answer, please feel free to email Stefan Smulovitz at ssmulovi@sfu.ca.

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