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Center Peels, Paint Rollers and Water Ripples!
The Wonderful World of Character Generation Television!

By Kurt Schmucker, Data Coordinator for University Housing
Rick LaRosa, Associate Director for Residential Life

Seems hard to believe these were mere words a few months ago…. hardly ever used by us in the same sentence. That has all changed now as we have embarked upon the new and exciting possibilities of character generated television!

Center peels, paint rollers and water ripples are just a few of the descriptors associated with transitioning from one color flyer or photograph to the next as seen by our students on three different campus sites on Channel 36, “What’s Up at Temple”. We have learned how to create “crawls” (the writing that moves along the bottom of the television screen) and continue our efforts to perfect the fine art of adding music to each page!

When Temple negotiated its agreement with cable providers it requested a number of channels, which could be used by the University. With the encouragement and support of supervisors the possibilities were explored. We learned that with the use of somewhat inexpensive technology, we could download and/or create flyers and photographs and move them from a desktop computer to a character generator located at the head-end of our cable system. The information is then modulated and sent to the cable provider where it is re-modulated and subsequently sent to every student unit and lounge in each of our residence halls. While that sounds a bit cumbersome, the entire process of transmitting information to actual viewing of information by students takes less than 15 seconds.

This system is similar to what one might find in a hotel or more and more inside a school’s classroom providing closed circuit TV announcements.

Through mostly word of mouth so far, we have solicited plenty of interested users already. Beyond posting housing related information such as room change period, opening and closing information, what to do in an emergency and stressing the importance of their Guide to Residential Life, there has been interest on the part of student leaders to get the word out on programming opportunities. Our Maintenance staff has offered maintenance contact numbers and “winter heating tips” to students. Athletics as well as Recreation Services has sent numerous events and activities sponsored by their areas. Some of our faculty members have begun to post classes with seats still available and the Career Development Center has listed their Career Fairs with us. The Student Activities and Student Assistance Center have contributed many programming opportunities including everything from Homecoming activities to community service opportunities.

Admittedly, we have had a little trouble along the way. We had our share of experiences with getting bumped off the system, which required us to reboot on a fair number of occasions, for a while. Since our head-end is in another building located on a different part of the campus we certainly did get our exercise! We utilized the tech support that came with our system and finally came to the realization that maybe we had received a bad hard drive. We traded it in for a new one and haven’t been bumped off yet! But through all this we learned more and more about how to operate the system.

On a Technical Note

Working with the Video Gizmo (that is the name of the character generator Temple University Housing purchased) doesn’t need to be a difficult task. Looking at this little black box might be a bit confusing if you’ve never worked with something like this before, but if you stick to some of the following basics it becomes less daunting.

Familiarization is the key:

Step 1 - Setting up the box (Video Gizmo / character generator)
Step 2 - Setting up the wires
Step 3 - Setting up the PC (creation station).

Step 1: The Video Gizmo (VG) doesn’t look like your standard PC. It is designed to sit in a server rack and you need to hook up your own monitor, keyboard and mouse. When you initially start up the machine, the demo mode comes up, showing you examples of the different transitions between flyers/pages as well as the multiple available colors to create with. The majority of the manual is dedicated to the development of the material you want to broadcast. In a nutshell, how to create different artistic pages, put them in a folder and place the folder in a schedule. Accessing network settings is done during the demo mode by holding down the “q” key until the standard Windows 95 desktop comes up. From here, it is the standard network TCP/IP properties with a specified IP address setup.

Step 2: The wiring is pretty simple once you get familiar with each port. The main wires are the Ethernet/Cat 5 cable from the wall jack to the network card, the standard RCA stereo plug (not supplied) for the audio input/output ports and the BNC cable upload to the modulator/re-modulator (TV connection). It is stated that you only need a security key on the parallel port at boot up. Technically speaking this is true, but since we installed the new hard-drive we haven’t removed the second security key off the back of the VG. It might just be a coincidence that there haven’t been any problems since (knock on wood!).

1. mouse 2. keyboard 3. USB ports 4. parallel port (license) 5. female serial port 6. male serial port
7. serial port 8. sound output (g) 9. Ethernet card 10. Monitor 11. modem 12. S-cable & Coax cable
13. BNC port (to modulator/re-modulator : TV connection) 14. on/off switch 15. power outlet.

Step 3: The creation station / software installation is quite simple as it’s a straightforward CD-ROM install. Just remember you need to have the license software security key attached to the parallel port on the back of the PC that you have designated as the creation station or you will only be able to open/start the application in demonstration mode. Demonstration mode does not allow you to update the schedule.

The system purchased by Temple comes with two software security keys which are devices that attached to the parallel port on the back of the Video Gizmo as well as the PC designated as the creation station. Should you purchase such a system and are consistently having problems getting the demo schedule to start on the VG or the creation station opens only in demonstration mode, then you most likely have a bad security key. If you find yourself continually rebooting the VG on a regular basis, you could have a bad hard drive as we experienced. Importing ones own music is still troublesome for us. Theoretically, if you use the 8bit stereo format it should work. Prior to purchasing a system, we recommend that you inquire about the level of support you can expect in order to troubleshoot technical issues as they arise.

Future Plans

We have discussed some neat plans we would like to explore with this technology. In addition to continuing and expanding the flyers and crawls we have thought about exploring the idea of partnering with our Tyler School of Art to see if they would like to offer an Annual Art Show on the channel. In addition, we have begun to speak with Music Majors to see if they would like to contribute some of their work once we master the sound capabilities of the system. We envision the ability to showcase students’ work in a variety of ways and give them credit through the use of crawls. We also envision the potential of utilizing the system to generate revenue for the department through paid advertising ventures.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, we have had a positive experience and see a great deal of potential in reaching out to students in this new way. We believe other colleges and universities not currently operating such a system may want to consider this technology for their campus. We would be happy to provide our insight if desired.
Good luck and happy character generating!

About the Authors:

Kurt Schmucker is new to the university housing profession, but comes from a family owned and run bed & breakfast. Currently his is serving as the Data Coordinator for the Temple University Housing Dept. He transitioned from 8 years of experience working for a private investment firm; 4 of which secondary duties consisted of IT support. He received his bachelor’s degree from Trenton State College.

Rick LaRosa is Associate Director for Residential Life at Temple University. He has served in the field of housing and residence life for 23 years.