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Tech Center Transformation

While many college students still cram for exams by sitting quietly in a corner of the library, more students are studying while sitting in front of the television or listening to music. Philadelphia's Temple University designed its new Teaching, Education, Collaboration, and Help (TECH) Center with these students in mind.

CHALLENGE: Personalize the TV viewing experience for Temple University students using the university's TECH Center while minimizing the cost of hardwiring televisions.

SOLUTION: The university streamed 12 cable television stations to computer workstations using VBrick technology.

The 75,000-square-foot TECH Center has become a hub for students at Temple University in Philadelphia. Students can watch TV at one of the 600 fixed workstations in the computer lab.

The 75,000-square-foot TECH Center has become a hub for students at Temple University in Philadelphia. Students can watch TV at one of the 600 fixed workstations in the computer lab.

While many college students still cram for exams by sitting quietly in a corner of the library, more students are studying while sitting in front of the television or listening to music. Philadelphia's Temple University designed its new Teaching, Education, Collaboration, and Help (TECH) Center with these students in mind. Students working in the 75,000-square-foot, $17-million TECH Center can watch 12 different cable TV channels on desktop computers. The nation's largest university computer lab, which opened in January 2006, had 1 million visitors in its first year and now averages 6,000 visitors daily, the university says.

“When you used to go into a computer lab, you would see one student working,” says Jerry Hinkle, director of the center. “Today, students sit down and cluster around computers. Our center is a place for socialization, collaboration, and individual work. It's become the hub of campus.”

Implementing the Technology

Temple's TECH Center staff visited several East Coast universities to explore different AV technologies. After touring one university's student center — where students could watch their favorite TV shows on TVs mounted to the walls but had to listen to the audio on headsets — Temple began pursuing similar plans to personalize its students' television viewing experience by hard-wiring the TVs and installing jacks in the ceiling in its TECH Center.

A visit with VBrick, a Wallingford, Conn.–based IPTV manufacturer and Visual Sound, a Philadelphia-based AV integrator, however, changed the TECH Center staffs' minds. By partnering with VBrick, Temple can stream video directly to the workstations. The process of installing the VBrick consisted of six main components —designing the system, installing the VBrick, configuring the network, setting up the portal server, configuring the encoder/decoder, and fine tuning the workstation and PC disk images.

While it didn't take long for the TECH Center employees to get up to speed on the VBrick technology, they faced two key challenges during the project. Hinkle and Joseph Williams, senior tech specialist and computer lab supervisor, were tasked with figuring out how to most efficiently multicast on a particular network subnet and confine the streams to one building. They also had to work with contractors and Temple's telecom staff to ensure that the university's multicast streams were optimized on the network. As a result, students could pick up the stream with minimal lag time (see sidebar).

Temple simplified installation by investing in VBrick's EtherneTV, also known as enterprise IP TV. The platform records, streams, and manages digital video across IP networks. As a result, the TECH Center can provide video within the facility without installing additional wiring, monitors, hardware, and other infrastructure used in a standard AV installation. The cost of analog cable for a building the size of Temple's TECH Center would have been around $30,000, says Mike Savic, director of marketing for VBrick.

“The high-tech video technology allows them to transmit cable TV easily and economically,” Savic says. “Temple saved money by not running two different networks. If you have to install a data network for all your computers, why spend thousands of dollars to install an analog video network? You can instead run video signals over the data network.”

Connecting with Students

Students can now watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN, ESPN, and other news and entertainment stations on the TECH Center's computers. If TVs had been placed in fixed locations, students would not have as much flexibility in selecting the shows they wanted to watch and when they wanted to watch. Instead, they would have to watch whatever program happened to be on near their study area.



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