Campus overhauls signage with Grass Valley

AUTHOR: Inavate

Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus has implemented an electronic emergency alert system that could be easily updated and added to. The flexible digital signage solution uses flat screen monitors strategically placed across the campus.

It was the Media & Production department at the Laie, Hawaii campus of Brigham Young University (BYU-Hawaii) that was tasked with the project and after testing a few options, purchased the Grass Valley Mediaedge on-demand content delivery system. It now informs students and the faculty using video and text that is instantly updateable.

Russell T. Merrill, director of the school’s Instructional Media and Production department, said the team had also customised the system to get the word out in unique and time-sensitive ways that allow many people on campus to contribute to the system’s programming.

“The great thing about the Mediaedge system is that it provides us with the ability to create messaging quickly and display it around campus with very little effort,” said Merrill. “Once we learned the strengths of the system, we were able to maximise those strengths to accomplish our design and content goals.”

Merrill worked with Travis Cameron, an IT engineer with consultancy firm New Age Media technologies, to program the system interface to suit the school’s individual needs. Together they developed the background architecture—using Java, HTML and other languages—upon which students and faculty can now update the system themselves, from 25 locations. Now, not only can the Media department program the system for the entire campus, but also other department heads and student clubs can enter in their own information and have it instantly displayed across the entire digital signage network.

“We’ve always used IT systems here in unusual ways, so we know how to program software to do what we need it to do,” Merrill said. “But with Mediaedge we've been able to do more things with the system than even Grass Valley thought possible. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you get past the initial hurdles, you can take advantage of the system’s flexibility to create a lot of useful applications.”

He added that Media & Production students new to the system are learning to write code for Mediaedge applications in a matter of hours. “And they are coming up with some pretty cool stuff.”

Some of the applications developed by Merrill and his team include tying the system into several news RSS and JSON feeds that go to student’s cell phones and computers, as well as the creation of an automated web page design that facilitates constant auto-updating on every Mediaedge client (set top box and computer workstation) on campus from a central location.

Multiple Display Options
The Mediaedge system at BYU-Hawaii supports five separate automated feeds posted from five different internet sites displayed on a rotating basis, plus a live cable channel feed (Fox News) or an additional closed circuit TV feed. There’s also lower-third ticker information that is automated from the school’s website home page.

“What we’ve done is divide the real estate on screen and allowed our web team to input all the updating info, without the general population even knowing about it,” Merrill said, “All they care about is that the information is timely, accurate and refreshed on a continual basis.”

He said installing and maintaining the digital signage system has been easy and has fostered new collaboration between school’s Media and IT groups, which resulted in a very smooth integration. It’s now used to display Live event feeds, news, emergency info, a University Bulletin Board, community cable TV channel, new student orientation information, event announcements, branding and even local company sponsorships.

At BYU-Hawaii Mediaedge is also used to display live video programs produced in the school’s HDTV studios with six Apple Final Cut Pro editing workstations. They’re using HTML, video, still images, and Flash media files to create a look that provides news, weather and other school-related information in a visually appealing way. Merrill said that all of the production and post facilities on campus are directly tied via fibre into the Mediaedge platform.

“When we first got the MEDIAEDGE system, we realised that you could only have one video source or one each of the various content types simultaneously onscreen, so we had to think outside the box and come up with our own implementations to make the system do what we needed it to do,” said Cameron. “That’s the power of HTML, and Mediaedge lets you take full advantage of it in a variety of ways. As one example, we found a way to pull the school’s calendar feed from the website and crawl it across the bottom of the screen. This has been very popular with students.”

The crawl was accomplished by writing a code script that takes the static calendar and converts it to a .txt file for display—all while live video and other images appear in different areas of the same screen. It provides not only calendar events, but also weather and breaking news information, which are updated every hour. New information can be displayed in a matter of minutes. Students from the Media & Communications department are learning to update the system themselves with very little effort.

Campus-Wide Messaging
Spread across ten buildings on campus, the school has installed 13 Mediaedge set top box clients and a dozen more software-only clients running on desktop computers. They’ll eventually install some outdoor monitors displaying from the Mediaedge system and put a set top box in every classroom to utilise the Mediaedge system for on-demand content delivery (with unlimited fast forward/play/rewind functionality).

These players are fed by an IBM Blade Center server with 5 TB of storage capacity that enables them to store and serve hundreds of hours of HD video material.

The system is housed at the University Data Center on campus and is tied into the school’s 40 TB editing storage area network (SAN), providing direct access to the Mediaedge display system from multiple locations on campus via and talks with the HD Television Studio control room router and FCP Edit bays.

Merrill said content creation includes the FCP workstations as well as ATTO and Quantum storage arrays that are used in tandem with multiple Linux, Windows and Apple operating systems in a seamless workflow.

The Media department is using a second channel of Mediaedge to feed the school’s local cable TV service. Once a student’s video production is competed, it is digitised into the Mediaedge system and placed in a window on screen for immediate viewing. New programs are produced and displayed every week. At each point, a viewer can switch back and forth between the cable TV channel (full screen video) and the multi-informational screen.

“We were able to take advantage of the Mediaedge’s many features out of the box, but then made it even more useful for our specific purposes,” Merrill said.

Due to the successful implementation at the Hawaii campus, sister school BYU-Idaho has also installed a MEDIAEDGE system and others in Salt Lake City and Provo Utah are considering it as well.