Video to the Desktop and Classrooms: The IUPUI IMDS Project


At first, the concept was very simple. The new IUPUI library information system should have "multimedia capability." More specifically, the new information system should be capable of receiving video on every Macintosh and PC computer in the building. The concept and system design got more complex after additional functional and technical requirements were envisioned: including campus-wide access, interactivity, random access, random search, multimedia authoring, cross platform, Web environment, media digitizing and more.

A system with all the envisioned requirements could not be found on the market; therefore, it was quickly concluded that the "multimedia system" must be totally invented, developed and designed in-house. This is how the Interactive Multimedia Distribution System (IMDS) project started at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

Network to Spur Multimedia Use

In spring of 1994, the Information Technologies Laboratory at IUPUI teamed up a group of computer engineers, computer programmers and multimedia experts to research, develop and design the IMDS system. In the summer of 1995, the project was completed &emdash; after more than a year of intensive work by over seven full-time multimedia experts and completion of about 100,000 lines of original computer codes.

The IMDS hardware included an integration of state-of-the-art video storage systems, a fiber optics network, a distributed multimedia controller system and a variety of client workstation platforms. Since August 22, 1995, the IMDS has been in operation on all Macintosh and PC scholar workstations in the new IUPUI library and most classrooms across the IUPUI campus.

The IMDS project holds a record of being the first interactive multimedia distribution system ever designed and deployed to fully support the university-wide interactive delivery, retrievals and authoring of multimedia resources for teaching and learning.

The educational applications of the IMDS system may be divided into four major types: video-on-demand, multimedia papers, advanced multimedia and classroom teaching applications.

Application: Video on Demand

The concept behind the video-on-demand capability is very simple. Students are able to select any archived video materials or television broadcast channel to view on their computer monitor. All videos are stored in a central location on campus, from which they are electronically distributed across the campus.

This concept provides similar functional capabilities as those of word processing provides in terms of display, search and navigation through a file. For instance, if a student would like to view a tape as part of his/her class assignment, he/she first clicks on the IMDS icon on the library information system's home page ( Second, he/she narrows down the selection to the archive video home page by clicking on the video tape and videodisc category. This selection links to the IMDS' videotape and videodisc holdings home page where the student finds his/her final selection (

Currently about 400 full-length video titles are available online. Once a title is selected by a mouse click, the IMDS launches the player program that automatically loads and links the video to the workstation. It takes about 30 seconds before a student is able to view and control the media by clicking on control icons (displayed in Figure 1).

Special attention has been given to the human-computer interface design to simplify system operation. Besides basic control functions, a user can search any given location on the tape/videodisc; for instance, 1:20:05, or one hour, twenty minutes and five seconds into the videotape. Upon dragging the slider bar to this location, the IMDS automatically searches and starts video viewing at this exact location.

Every operation is transparent without human operator involvement behind the scene. The IMDS uses two robotics videotape management systems (see Figure 2) and a videodisc juke box to archive and retrieve video materials. Digital video servers will be used in the next phase of the project.

Besides providing the capability to interactively view archived video materials, the IMDS system can make available several live broadcast television channels. Students may view a distance learning channel originating live from other educational institutions in Indiana or down-linked via satellite.

The chancellor's State of the Campus address, for instance, was broadcast live on the IMDS network on December 7, 1995. Students, while surfing the Web, could watch the chancellor speak, live, in a window on their computer monitor.

Selected commercial educational channels are also available online including CNN, CSPAN, SCOLA, CBNC, PBS and the like (

Application: The Multimedia Paper

The second, and most interesting application of the IMDS is multimedia authoring &emdash; the multimedia "paper."

IMDS provides a very simple-to-use environment to write papers and reports in multimedia format: a paper that includes sound and motion picture. This could be accomplished by running a word processor while a video or television channel is being viewed on the same computer monitor using the IMDS.

For instance, if a student would like to write a term paper, he/she may run a word processor of choice such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect by clicking on the application's icon shown on the IMDS Control Panel. This places on his/her computer screen both the IMDS player software's window and the word processor window (as shown in Figure 3). Then one simply copies and pastes the movie clips or pictures being viewed in the IMDS window into the word processor window. This is accomplished by clicking on the multimedia Authoring icons in the IMDS Control Panel before clicking on the Paste icon or using the Insert option of the word processor program.

Shown back in Figure 1, the camera and camcorder icons in the VCR Control Panel digitize and copy images and video clips respectively. Each time the user attempts to copy an image or video clip, a copyright warning message pops up on the screen alerting them to possible copyright infringement.

After the paper is written and images or video clips are copied, the multimedia paper may be saved into a personal disk space facility called BookBag ( toolbox/ apps/bookbag.1). The multimedia paper may then be retrieved for further editing, presented in the classroom or delivered to the instructor via the Internet and a file transfer program.

While the IMDS system is very new and unknown to many on the IUPUI campus, some faculty members have already requested that students prepare their term papers in multimedia format using the IMDS and the BookBag resources.

Application: Advanced Multimedia

The third type of IMDS application is for advanced multimedia applications. The IMDS utilizes a series of powerful and well-defined communication protocols to search, retrieve and control media over the Internet.

Using the IMDS' communication protocol, faculty and students can produce advanced multimedia presentations or instructional packages by using off-the-shelf multimedia authoring software like ToolBook, Director or even HTML language to produce presentations or home pages that include online interactive full-motion video.

This advanced feature of IMDS enables both production and playback of multimedia packages that, in turn, can automatically launch a variety of multimedia resources simply by clicking on a word.

Application: Special Classroom Needs

In addition to Mac and PC computers, television receivers can also be used to supply video-on-demand applications to classrooms (see Figure 4). This provides a cost-effective method of distributing video around campus, especially to those rooms where a computer or computer projection system may not be available. The user interface for television configuration is the familiar infrared remote control, supplying easy interactive control capability from any location in the classroom.

Operating the television interface is simple, easily learned in less than five minutes. Press the power button on the remote control to power the TV set and the IMDS Modem, then select a service from a menu screen, and finally, select an archived video or a live education TV channel.

This three-step operation offers an easy-to-use environment while providing many advanced interactive control features, including searching to a specific location on a video in addition to basic play, pause and frame advance. And to place a video title on reserve for future playback, both computers and television receiver systems' onscreen menus may be used.

IMDS System Design

Primary design objectives were to architect a system that is easy to use, highly reliable and an extremely useful tool to support teaching, learning and research functions at the university.

From an architectural point of view, the system was designed to adapt easily to emerging digital technologies as they become available. From an application point of view, it was assumed that users would not have more than five minutes to learn how to run the system and thus it should be very easy to use. From an operational point of view, the IMDS was designed as a fully automated online system with 24-hours availability and to be easy to maintain.

IMDS design began with a conceptual design, followed by system design, schematic design, research and development, software engineering, technology specification, and final review and correction of its system architecture.

A conventional design model was used to design the IMDS system, whereby a single "system architect" or a "design engineer" was responsible and accountable for design of the entire system, rather than a school committee or several independent groups or technology vendors. The system architect, therefore, developed and maintained the vision of the system and identified and delegated sub-problems and sub-system design to members of the design team.

Design was based on a set of functional and technical requirements that resulted from a series of brainstorming discussions with groups of faculty, students and staff. One system requirement, defended by the Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean of Faculties, simply suggested that the system should "work." In order to design such a "working" system, the project architect defined the overall system requirement as being easy-to-use, highly reliable and supporting useful applications to facilitate teaching, learning and research.

The main difference between our IMDS system and other, similar merging systems on the market is the fact that IMDS was fully conceptualized, designed and developed by educators for educators, and its designers fully understood the applications, the technology and the future direction of information systems.

IMDS is not just a new technology gadget to show off technology's wonders; it was designed to "work" as a multimedia tool for better and easier learning, teaching and research.

Four Parts to IMDS

The design of the IMDS system consists of four main parts: client workstation and the user interface, the distributed multimedia controller system, the media storage and playback system, and multimedia networks. The design and architecture of each of these components are discussed below.

Client Workstation & User Interface

The current IMDS software development provides full support for both Macintosh and PC platforms, in addition to future client applications development for Sun or other high-end workstations. For the computer platform, a graphical user interface facilitates human-computer interaction. A mouse was the primary communication interface to the computer. For television receivers in classrooms, a wireless remote control was the primary communication link to the IMDS system.

Distributed Multimedia Controller System

The Distributed Multimedia Controller System (DMCS) is the brain of IMDS, playing the major role in the system's functionality, reliability, ease-of-use and flexibility.

Totally designed and developed at IUPUI, major design features of DMCS includes modularity, client-server architecture, NetWare NLM, off-the-shelf components, intensive computing and control power, and more. DMCS was designed to support the next phases of IMDS development and emerging technological advances in multimedia, distance education, Internet, and digital storage, retrieval and distribution.

Media Storage & Retrieval

Libraries hold video materials that are, for the most part, in VHS format. The IMDS project uses two TiltRac robotics videotape management systems to automatically load tapes and electronically circulate video in the library and around the campus, making it possible to view tapes on televisions or computer workstations.

A videodisc jukebox provides random selection of video programs from among 72 archived videodiscs. The next phase of the IMDS will include digital video servers that will hold video materials not restricted by copyright limitations.

There are two methods of archiving video information: analog, such as videotapes and videodiscs; and digital, such as compressed video on a video server.

While digital format offers unique characteristics, its major limitations include concerns about the copyright and legal issues of converting existing video materials into digital format. Digital storage of video was seriously considered for the first phase of the IMDS project, but because of copyright concerns, cost and lack of established standards, the digital archive solution was not used for this phase.

Instead, the popular VHS/S-VHS tape format and eight-inch videodisc were selected as primary formats for phase one of the IMDS project.

Multimedia Distribution Networks

Intensive analysis and study were conducted during the IMDS design to choose the best networking solution to distribute video across the campus.

After considering the available and established networks on campus, a combination of three were used for the project. This includes the available star configuration of the fiber optic network in the University Library building, the campus-wide bus topology broadband cable network and IUPUI's local Ethernet network. This combination offered cost-effective and reliable high-quality video distribution all over the campus.

At the University Library, fiber optics connected computer workstations to a central video switch. The Ethernet data network provided two-way interactive control to the media players. A sub-split cable network was used to deliver video and redundant control data across the 285 acres of campus. The coax network currently provides 16 simultaneous users with media playback, in addition to 24 TV and teleconferencing channels over a single coax cable.

The IMDS hardware system is centrally located within the server room at the new IUPUI electronic library.

IMDS Usability Study

To improve the overall ease of use and functionality of the IMDS, a usability study was conducted in the summer and fall of 1995. In addition to casual observations and interviews with IMDS users, a selected sample of students, faculty and staff evaluated the IMDS system.

Main purposes of this study were twofold: (1) to test the user's perception of the media control interface and determine the ease of use of the system and, (2) to specifically test the user's perception and ease of use for the system's Copy and Paste functions in producing a multimedia paper. Results of this study helped to further improve the ease-of-use and functionality of the IMDS. Results of the IMDS usability study will be published in an appropriate scholarly journal in the future.

On the Horizon

The current IMDS system was deployed in August of 1995, providing a hardware and software infrastructure to support future campus initiatives in multimedia information technologies.

Already, new R&D projects for the system have been identified. These include remote workstations for faculty offices and student dormitories, interactive videoconferencing via computer, digital video servers to support simultaneous playback of a single video file, distribution of archive video to homes and other campuses using ISDN and ATM networks, and interactive online audio distribution via Internet. These projects are currently in different stages of development. For instance, a test page to demonstrate online audio distribution is on the Internet &emdash; imds/audio/audio.html.

Ali Jafari was the system architect and project leader of the IUPUI Interactive Multimedia Distribution System (IMDS) Project. He is Director of Research and Development and an Associate Professor of Computer Technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). E-mail: [email protected]

For more on IUPUI technology planning & projects, contact Dr. Garland C. Elmore, Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technologies. E-mail: [email protected]

Products & companies mentioned:
ToolBook; Asymetrix Corp., Bellevue, WA, (800) 448-6543
Director; Macromedia, San Francisco, CA, (800) 945-9085
Robotic videotape management system; TiltRac, Inc., Carrollton, TX, (214) 980-6991

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.