Digitizing Justice - InformationWeek

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11/14/2003
12:20 PM
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Digitizing Justice

Court TV uses Sun server to turn analog tapes into digital content that can be served up automatically

In the early days, more than a decade ago, Courtroom Television Network LLC was one of the few outlets available to feed the public's insatiable appetite for real-life courtroom drama. Today, the joint venture between Time Warner and Liberty Media Corp. is feeling pressure from competing channels with programming that includes coverage of high-profile court cases as well as an abundance of fictional courtroom dramas.

To remain competitive, Court TV in March began digitizing its library of 15,000 commercials and episodic programs, which include Profiler and NYPD Blue. Over the next year, it will start to digitize content from its archive of videotaped courtroom proceedings, which makes up a large portion of its programming content. Digitization will be important to delivering high-quality content to viewers with high-definition televisions, for example, says senior engineer Paul Kelly. "In this way, you're seeing a merger between IT and traditional broadcasting environments."

Digital video archives serve the dual purpose of providing a sharper picture and creating business-process efficiencies. Once a tape is digitized and archived, its content never has to be touched again. The network's combination of IT and broadcasting systems can automatically retrieve tapes from the archives according to a schedule. "You do the scheduling and the quality control once," Kelly says.

Court TV chose a Sun Microsystems V880 eight-processor server running Solaris 8 as the linchpin in a system that delivers stored digital content to its viewers. The Unix-based server is connected with a Scalar 10K robotic archive from Advanced Digital Information Corp. on the back end. Once the V880 calls digitized content, images in the form of MPEG 2 video files flow from the archive through the Sun server and out to a Grass Valley Profile XP Media Platform. The Grass Valley unit sends the files to a transmitter, which generates a signal that viewers' TV sets receive.

The eight-way server provides the processing power needed to automate the movement of large files between the archive and Grass Valley system. "We wanted to entirely automate the process, to take tapes off their analog medium and make the content digital," Kelly says. Before, the level of automation had been limited to a Microsoft SQL database that did little more than point engineers to a location in the Court TV library when they needed to pull a tape.

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