The TSU Media Officer and Manager, IT & Media Services travelled to Sydney on 8 May 2003 to visit the CeBIT IT Trade Show in the Darling Harbour Exhibition halls. The main task was looking into the Videoconferencing options available, but also took the opportunity to look at wireless networking products, video streaming, flat panel displays and generally at what is available.
Polycom is the dominant supplier in the H.320 and H.323 Videoconferencing market. Polycom bought out its main rival, PictureTel, about a year ago and has subsumed PictureTel's products into its own lines. The only other serious supplier in the market seems to be Sony, although its products aren't due for release for another few months.
H.320 is the (proprietary) standard for sharing video, audio and data over ISDN (digital telephone lines) for videoconferencing. H.323 is another (again proprietary) standard for videoconferencing using the Internet rather than ISDN. The University has two PictureTel systems that can be used with either standard, as can most commercially available "appliance" (as opposed to computer-based) videoconferencing systems.
Executive will be involved in a demonstration videoconference using the facilities of the University during the next Executive meeting. More precise pricing details from the two major suppliers by that time.
From discussion so far it appears that videoconferencing with China will be better done using the H.323 IP standard rather than ISDN, since the IP infrastructure in China appears to be better than ISDN. IP is cheaper than ISDN, but quality can suffer. We will be doing some testing to check the reality of using the two standards.
With the release by Intel of Centrino (its technology to integrate wireless networking with portable computers), there is growing interest in wireless. As always with new systems there are differing standards and competing systems, but there is some consensus emerging to support the 802.11b and 802.11g standards. These two standards differ only in the speed of the connection: b limits the connection to 11MBits/sec, g to 54MBits/sec. By comparison, most network ports to the desktops in the University operate theoretically at 100MBits/sec. In practice, network speed is determined by a number of factors like the amount of traffic on the network and the number of intersections (hubs, routers, switches) between the desktop and the source or destination of the data. 802.11b and 802.11g are interoperable, which means computers with 802.11b connectivity can connect to 802.11g access points, and vice versa.
TSU is currently trialling 802.11b for 9C26, and will be trialling 802.11g soon. The trial network is now available reliably in 9C26, and is also accessible from 9A2, 9C25, and the offices along the eastern corridor of Building 9. From initial testing it should be possible to cover the entire building with four wireless access points, at a cost of around $1,600.
People must register their wireless access card with the TSU before they can join the network. The network is "hidden", in the sense that users must know the name of the network before they can log on. There is a (common) password needed as well, and the wireless signal is encrypted so that the signal can't easily be intercepted.
Wireless networking is on the agenda for the next Network & IT Services Co-ordination Committee (NITSCC), and on the agenda for the next ICT Productivity group meeting.
Flat Panel Displays
These displays are coming down in price, up in size, and more popular that the older-style CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors. Most electronics manufacturers are offering flat panel displays, with Samsung being the standout supplier at the show in terms of quality of the image.
Flat panel displays have no flicker, use only 40% or less of the power used by CRTs, emit no radiation, take up far less desk space than CRTs for the same screen size, are brighter, and are technically simpler which in theory means less can go wrong with them. The downside is that flat panel displays are not quite so capable as CRTs in displaying the full range of colours, making then less attractive for high-end graphics work. They are also more expensive to buy than CRTs, but the advantages outweigh the price difference.
Another part of the system required to stream directly from the Television Studio to the Internet will be put in place as a result of seeing the solution demonstrated at CeBIT by TechMedia, the distributors of the GlobeCaster system in place in the Television Control Room. We should then be able to feed the signal to Client Services Division for streaming in Windows Media Player format alongside the Lecture Recording Service, and also through our servers in QuickTime format.
Apart from the coffee-table plasma display (a flat panel video screen about a metre long and half a metre wide, lying on its back with a piece of thick glass over it), the coolest thing at the show was a small video camera that can be used with a single computer for videoconferencing that followed you about as you moved, panning and tilting to keep your face framed properly. Great possibility for Category A spaces where there is video of the lecturer streaming along with the audio, but no operator to keep the lecturer in frame.