Digitizing Justice At Court TV

More than a decade ago, Courtroom Television Network 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. faces several competing channels, whose programming also includes coverage of high-profile court cases as well as an abundance of fictional courtroom dramas.

To keep ahead, 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 make up a large portion of its programming content. There are many benefits to digitization. One, says Court TV senior engineer Paul Kelly, is that it will allow the delivery of high-quality content to viewers with high definition televisions. “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,” said Kelly.

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 Thomson Grass Valley Profile XP Media Platform.

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,” said Kelly. 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.