Today all the major manufacturers say they have a ‘digital’ or a ‘just software’ solution. However, in many cases they still rely on proprietary networks or expensive sound cards to successfully deliver their media. There are very few truly software only solutions that just rely on installing designated language lab software onto a network and then directing just the original network to manage the media between teacher and student, student and student or student back to teacher. In the past the quality of school, or university networks may have meant that the speed that the media could be delivered on ‘software only’ labs would have meant a ‘lag’ in the audio feed. These days all professionally run networks are able to work with these ‘software only’ language lab solutions and deliver media synchronously.
Software only systems can be easily installed onto an existing PC based network, making them both multi locational in their access and much more feature rich in how and what media they manage.The content that is now used in the new language labs is much richer and self authored or free: now not just audio, but video, flash based games, internet etc. and the speed and variety of the delivery of media from teacher to student, student to teacher, is much quicker and therefore much more engaging for both teacher and student.
Further developments in language labs are now apparent as access moves from a fixed network and related Microsoft operating systems to online and browsers. Students can now access and work from these new 'cloud' labs from their own devices at any time and anywhere. Students can interrogate and record audio and video files and be marked and assessed by their teachers remotely.