Students at work in Pennfield's broadcast studio.

Students at work in Pennfield's broadcast studio.

Though parting may still be sweet sorrow, no one at Michigan’s new Pennfield High School misses the days when they had to search for an AV cart to show Romeo and Juliet.  Whether it’s film or television in the classroom, or daily announcements in the cafeteria, everything travels in digital format over a single IP network.  Gone are the days of tangled cables, damaged tapes, and precious class time wasted wondering why there’s no sound coming from the system.

“Now teachers simply log in from their classroom computer with their user name and password and do whatever they want to do,” says Instructional Technology Coordinator Tammy Maginity. “They can go into the digital library and search for what they want to watch or go directly to TV and pick a channel.”

What may seem simple from the end user’s point of view is actually the result of a successful collaboration between an innovative Michigan software development firm and California manufacturer.

Keeping it simple

Jeff Ingle, President of Optimal Solutions, Inc. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, first began working on developing digital management software in the early 1990s, drawing on his background as a teacher and school information systems software trainer.

“The problem back then was that there really weren’t any elegant tools available for an IP-based video system,” says Ingle. “We had to wait for technology to catch up with our ideas–which it has.” He is referring specifically to the IPTV encoders from Visionary Solutions (VSI), which have streamlined the process of digitizing analog signals for use on Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The encoders provide full screen, full resolution, real-time video over IP from almost any source.

At Pennfield, a cable TV feed is split into 16 channels at the network head end using standard cable boxes provided by the cable TV company. Optimal Solutions splits out each channel using a DVD/VCR tuner, then digitizes it with an AVN series encoder from VSI, which puts the digitized video onto the IP network.

The 16 TV channels are available to network users together with the school’s digital phone service, security cameras and video-on-demand library.  “What attracted me to the VSI encoder was that it offers a much lower-cost MPEG2 solution in comparison to other products out there,” says Ingle. “And it wasn’t a proprietary solution. Our eVideon application fits nicely with their technology.”

The digitized video can be accessed through eVideon software anywhere there is a networked computer or a TV. Whether a teacher needs live streaming video, broadcast television or a stored digital media, eVideon provides an easy user interface that simplifies his or her task.

At Pennfield High School, each classroom is equipped with a trio of desktop computers, a ceiling mounted Epson LCD projector, a wall screen, teacher tablet, and document camera. Librarians are systematically digitizing all of the school’s DVDs and VHS tapes and storing them in files on the eVideon VoD server.

“Digitizing older videos is not difficult to do, but it’s time consuming,” says Maginity. “Once you put the video into the front end, however, life becomes pretty easy. You don’t have to worry about teachers checking things out and not turning them back in. And they will always be there when someone else wants them.”

The IPTV system is capable of encoding live video from cameras in the auditorium or from cameras on a portable distance learning cart that can stream or record a variety of events, from basketball games to visiting speakers. An new encoder in the high school’s broadcast studio now allows live student newscasts throughout the building’s network and on the web.  In addition, the 16 TV channels on the IP network can easily be extended to other district schools.


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