ProAVmag

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 10/17/2007 6:56 AM Eastern

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.

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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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.

The VBrick enables Temple to connect with the students by offering entertainment resources, Hinkle says. “We have found that students enjoy having the ability to view the television stream while working on assignments,” he says. “Most students have become accustomed to multitasking by studying and writing papers while viewing live television and listening to the latest on the pop charts.”

Students can watch videos, practice presentations, or meet with study groups in the multimedia breakout rooms.

Students can watch videos, practice presentations, or meet with study groups in the multimedia breakout rooms.

While Temple installed the VBrick primarily to offer entertainment to its students, the TECH Center staff is aware of the its other capabilities and is currently investigating their potential, Hinkle says. For example, other universities stream video of classroom lectures over the network.

Fostering Collaboration

Because Temple is a public research university with an urban campus and a growing residential population, the university made it easier for students to work on team projects by building 13 multimedia breakout rooms within the TECH Center. Each room features flat-panel displays, white-boards, surround sound, and AV racks including VCR, DVD, and mini-DV units.

The TECH Center also features specialized labs for video editing, graphic design, software development, and music composition. The video editing lab is equipped with Dell computers running Avid video editing software and Macs running Apple's FinalCut editing software with Sony HD DV decks. The Macs in the music lab run such programs as ProTools and Digital Performer and offer DigiDesign Mboxes and MIDI keyboards. Temple is also installing two WhisperRoom sound isolation booths, which will allow students to create audio recordings and vocal narrations.

The TECH Center is open 24 hours a day, and students come to the center to not only work on academics, but also to socialize with others.

“Students come here all hours of the night to do work,” Hinkle says. “If you come here at three or four in the morning during peak times in the semester, you'll see 300 or 400 students working.”

Designing the TECH Center

Temple renovated a former regional data center, which was used by a company with facilities on the campus. The raised floors worked well for the wiring, but because the mainframe computers were generating heat, the university had to retrofit the HVAC and do other physical alterations, Hinkle says.

Temple set aside more than $3 million just for the technology, which includes a $650,000 budget for AV, Hinkle says. The university installed 31 wall-mounted plasma and LCD displays throughout the facility to display information and entertainment for students including cable TV, PowerPoint presentations, and real-time displays of computer usage. The TECH Center linked these displays together at a head-end using AMX control systems.

Temple's technology budget also covered the cost of the wired coffee tables, 100 loaner laptops, and 600 desktop computers. The center added 25 percent more PCs on campus without increasing IT staffing by consolidating the other campus computer labs into the TECH Center.

Recruitment Tool

The TECH Center is the first stop on Temple's campus tour. In addition to the breakout rooms, lounge areas, and music and video editing labs, the facility also features a student lounge on its second floor, a student-run radio station, and a faculty wing.

Many prospective students have made the decision to attend Temple University after visiting the TECH Center, Hinkle says. “It blows them away,” he says. “When they see that they can watch MTV and do work on their computers, they get excited.”

Amy Fischbach is an Overland Park, Kan.–based freelance writer and can be reached at amyfischbach@gmail.com.



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