IPTV pilot,Take 2

February 3, 2006

Library and Technology Services (LTS) is launching another pilot this semester for Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), according to LTS officials.

The IPTV system has two purposes: first, to allow viewers on campus to watch streaming video on PCs and Macs like a cable TV system, and second, to give professors an additional instructional resource for classes.

The channels available on IPTV include four genres: sports, news, local programming, and entertainment. Additionally, there is a channel for classroom content and one for BTV programming.

Currently, the system offers ESPN, NECN, the local FOX station, and Cartoon Network. The local channels may [be switched] in order to be fair for local broadcasts, noted Tim ONeil, Media and Technology Services Manager.

This weekend one such change is being made, as FOX will be replaced with ABC for viewing of the Super Bowl. Only four channels can be offered right now, but based on feedback and how successful the trial is, an expansion may occur.

Success itself will be determined based on the feedback LTS gathers and by tracking how many hits the webpage receives. Tomecka stated, Well try to send some announcement to the community at some date and that they definitely want peoples experiences to be reported to the staff. The IPTV webpage presently has a button to send feedback, which is received and tabulated in the LTS office.

Last year there were several concerns raised by students about this service in terms of video quality and ability, including interruptions.

This semester the cable connection from off-campus was changed from an analog to digital connection, which is supposed to be of a higher quality. Aaron Gaynor 07, Director of Union Affairs, noted that it does look a little sharper after a recent test.
LTS will be working through some potential issues this semester and has attended to a majority of all the issues we knew of last time we ran the pilot [sic], said Anna Tomecka, Chief Technology Officer of LTS. The staff believes that it should be successful in terms of quality and technical issues.

Technical issues that could arise may be caused by each computers abilities. ONeil explained that the users are going to have to know that the whole viewing experience, the feed, is pretty cleanA lot of the experience will be determined by the quality of their video card and speed of their computer. Gaynor remarked, I dont think that, in terms of quality, selection, watching it on your computer that its ready yet for full launch, but its getting there.

LTS stated that they are not looking to make a total switch right now or in the very immediate future. Last year it was seriously considered because of contractual issues with the cable TV provider. IPTV was explored, but it soon became clear that it would not a viable option at that time.

The Hoot reported last semester that IPTV caused significant problems with the old Cisco phones used by students. Upon discovering this problem, ITS discontinued the pilot and soon after the old phones were replaced with new, two-line phones. It is unclear as to how the replacement phones were financed. It is believed that Cisco gave Brandeis a significant discount due to a flaw the old ones.

Currently, the plan for the project is to provide this system in addition to cable TV for some time and later determine if the university can stay with one or the other. Tomecka clarified that this is just testing to viability and how it will be received by the users, what are going to be the pluses and minuses which will lead to further discussion. Discussions relating to set-top boxes and viewing on a regular television are to happen at a later date.

ONeil noted that if it does become an issue, it can be run parallel for quite a long time or they [technology advancements] are coming up with converter boxes that would go between the computer output and downgrade it to the level of a TV receptor, but such possibilities are not yet even in the planning stage.

An additional issue concerning the programming relates to recording television shows, as there is no way currently to record on a PC in a software-based way.

Eventually, users may be able to connect their computers to VCRs for recording, but there is no IPTV directed method of doing this.

John Turner, technical consultant for the project and Associate Director for Networks and Systems, stated, It is not going to be replacing the cable TV next year, for sure. More feedback will be gathered in the coming weeks as the pilot is run for the duration of the semester so that potential problems can be solved.

Gaynor stated that communication between the Student Union and LTS is excellent [] Anna is really receptive to student feedback. Tomecka is noted as being very good at executing things she says will be done. Despite Gaynors praises of Tomecka and Tuner, For full launch, [we are] expecting to see something extremely comparable to what we have now on the current cable system.

Currently there is a page dedicated to viewing IPTV on the Brandeis Library and Technology Services website. The LTS staff will be soliciting feedback during the pilot. Tomecka comments that this is for you guys to play with and enjoy and tell us how you like it.

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