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Digitization and DRM at Ball State

A years-long project at Ball State University to digitize a huge range of content is using advanced encoding technology and digital rights management (DRM) to help manage and make available thousands of hours of content stored in its libraries. The university has also recently expanded its digital offerings to include high-definition TV.

The original project, begun in 2004, created a "Digital Media Repository" at the university that combined various existing digital collections, as well as creating new digital files from video and audio tapes, photos, handwritten documents, newspapers, academic journals, and many other items. The repository now offers students, faculty, researchers, and the community a single, convenient access point--the Internet--to vast amounts of content.

Called Digital Middletown Project, the venture began several years ago with a grant to test the value, impact, educational and social potential of high bandwidth wireless technology in the local Indiana region around Ball State. The resulting research project included the installation of a wireless high-bandwidth network to two local elementary schools and a number of surrounding homes. It was based on the idea that deploying a high-bandwidth wireless network would allow distribution of rich media to a wider geographic area then might be possible through dialup or cable.

Now, Ball State is expanding the project to include high-definition TV as part of the digital content it is storing and managing. The university is using a sophisticated system in which content is digitized and compressed, then stored with searchable keywords for ease of access. Eventually, the university hopes to digitize--and thus forever preserve and make accessible--virtually all of its video content.

Production Manager Alan Gordon and Ball State's University Teleplex team worked to digitize all campus video, including instructional footage and campus television broadcasts previously stored on tapes. The digitized video content is being archived and became viewable in streaming format on the university's library Web server late last year.

The project is using encoding technology called Fathom, from Inlet Technologies. The solution saves encoding time, processing power, and resources by allowing Gordon's team to quickly and efficiently convert and store source files, he said. It's a significant saving because Ball State plans to encode and make available thousands of hours of content, including the new high-definition TV content, and needs to do so without unmanageable time and resource investments.

One way in which Fathom increases productivity, for example, is by allowing content to be compressed in real time. With Fathom, an hour of high definition content can be encoded in about 20 minutes; standard definition content takes even less time.

In addition, through the library's database, the system is set up to use Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme to address security issues. Using the library's database and DRM, Ball State will be able to allow or deny access as needed. That means controls can be set so that the general public can access some video, and students and faculty alone, for example, can access other content.

Even more granular DRM controls are possible. For example, if a faculty member wants to show portions of a copyrighted video in class, Gordon's department can encode the content and make it available only to that professor for use in that class. "It's not for public consumption; it's just for [the instructor] to call up during his PowerPoint presentation in class," Gordon explained. Clicking on the link jumps to the on-campus video servers when the encoded content is stored; permissions are recognized, and the content plays.

That kind of rights management simply isn't possible when physical copies of tapes are made and released.

Ball State currently has hundreds of hours of video content archived, and Gordon is in the process of adding thousands more. He plans to launch a campus-wide high-definition TV infrastructure at the university within the next two to six months and to move to a completely tape-free video infrastructure within the next five to ten years.

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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