Prezi is doubling down on efforts to make online presentations more engaging for teachers and students by introducing hand gesture controls for digital video content. The announcement comes after the pandemic forced thousands of schools and universities around the world to embrace online learning, with results that are often less than captivating.
Founded in Hungary in 2008, Prezi emerged as a next-gen presentation platform promising to save everyone from “death by PowerPoint,” as VentureBeat noted after Prezi’s Accel-led series B funding round nearly a decade ago.
With 100 million users today, Prezi is probably best known for its “zoomable” canvas that enables users to plot and visualize the various components of their presentation. Last year, the company launched Prezi Video, a tool that enables presenters to easily merge video with slides and graphic elements (such as graphs or pictures) on the same screen — like a newscaster might — and either livestream the content or broadcast it later.
The video creator tool, available as a desktop app or Chrome browser extension, is compatible with many of today’s popular social communication tools, meaning users can integrate their video-based presentations with the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Google Meet, YouTube, Slack, and Facebook.
Prezi has been adding more options to the mix, including a recently announced “video-in-video” feature that allows presenters to embed a recorded video on the screen next to them as they speak. This could help a teacher bring their online biology class to life by showing how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, for example.
With gesture controls — now in the pilot phase — Prezi’s software leverages a laptop’s camera and computer vision smarts to recognize the location of a presenter’s hand. It then composites the desired visuals and follows the hand to deposit a visual in the desired spot.
This means a teacher can bring a little magic to a science lesson about mosquitoes, for example.
While schools are an obvious use case for Prezi Video and hand gesture controls, the tools could also find friends in the business realm, whether for corporate training sessions, product demos, webinars, or other functions.
“Teachers piloting creative communication tools is a new path to mainstream, and we’re seeing the ripple effect into business,” Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski told VentureBeat. “We anticipate tech and business professionals using gesture control for meetings, trainings, webinars, product demos, or other use cases where visuals help to provide full context or give depth to a topic being presented.”
Prezi’s latest announcement comes as demand for digital teaching tools reaches an all-time high, something entrepreneurs and investors are keen to capitalize on. Just this week, Palo Alto-based Engageli emerged from stealth with $14.5 million in funding and some notable backers to help universities transition to online learning via a platform that strives to replicate the classroom environment. Zoom also revealed recently that it is expanding into online classes and events. And last month Strigo raised $8 million for a platform designed to help software companies train their customers remotely.
While Prezi couldn’t have anticipated the surge in demand for video communication tools when it launched Prezi Video last November, the company has been well-positioned to benefit from the rapid shift to remote learning during global lockdowns.
“Prezi saw teachers in 175 countries and teachers in more than 10,000 schools across 60% of U.S. school districts giving virtual presentations within the video screen to maintain human connection while also receiving the benefit of being in the same space as their content,” Szafranski added.
The gesture control functionality is currently being tested by some of Prezi’s existing customers, who will provide feedback ahead of a full launch at an undisclosed date. Prezi Video is available to educators through various Prezi pricing plans, starting at basic (free) and going up to Edu Teams, which costs $50 per month.