Court adds video via phones

Court adds video via phones

One switch lets modems share bandwidth to deliver video and sound

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The U.S. District Court for New Hampshire has brought video into its courtrooms without adding a lot of infrastructure.


The VidPhone system from Video Network Communications connects to 14 end points in the courthouse. The system cuts 20 percent off the time of most trials, an offical says.


A video switch from Video Network Communications Inc. of Portsmouth, N.H., acts as a multimedia private branch exchange. The company's video modems make telephone jacks into multimedia end points capable of delivering uncompressed full-motion video and stereo sound.

'If there is a phone [at the jack], it shares the bandwidth with the phone,' said court clerk Jim Starr in Concord, N.H. 'You don't have to have a separate phone line.'

Ever since the system became operational in early spring, judges have been able to videoconference with each other and with the outside world through an H.320 gateway. The video system, now being integrated into the courtroom computer system, soon will allow remote testimony and hearings.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts began advocating courtroom video four years ago, primarily as a way to streamline hearings for courts that supervise large prisoner populations. The New Hampshire court has a small prisoner population, so officials did not consider video until a new courthouse was in the works about three years ago.

'We spent some money and energy on technology in the courtroom,' Starr said.

Telamon Corp. of Carmel, Ind., integrated a public display system in two courtrooms with PCs on the bench and on each attorney's desk, plus monitors for the jury box. Trial management software keeps track of exhibits, letting the judge and attorneys exchange documents and jurors examine the evidence on-screen.

'We found our public display system probably cuts 20 percent off the time in most trials,' Starr said.

As the Administrative Office pushed to expand use of video, the New Hampshire court became a good candidate.

'We don't have a federal prison in New Hampshire,' Starr said, and prisoners must be transported from surrounding states for hearings at Concord. Many federal and state prisons in the area already had video capability, making video an attractive alternative to transportation for some hearings.

Meet at home

In addition, the New Hampshire district judges attend quite a few judicial conference meetings in Washington. If they had a link at their end, they could videoconference instead of spending so much time on the road, Starr said.

He began working with the Administrative Office on specifications for a video system in 1998.

'I liked the idea of a centralized codec and hub that could connect to multiple points,' he said, 'so we specified that kind of technology.'

Video Network Communications won the contract with its VidPhone system, which now connects to 14 end points in the Concord courthouse.

The core of the system is the Enterprise VidPhone Switch 50, a 64-port switch that connects to a PBX, Centrex or key system. Five-port cards in the switch's 13 slots can connect to outside networks; to internal video sources such as servers, tapes, or satellite or broadcast services; and to end points on the internal phone system. On the client side, the company's VidModems plug into phone jacks, and end points such as PCs or room monitors plug into the modems.

The VidModem supports full-duplex audio and video. An end point equipped with a camera and microphone can do conferencing, as well as receive video. If a telephone also is plugged in, the modem separates the voice and video signals.

The Enterprise VidPhone Switch50 uses proprietary frequency modulation technology for up to 20 MHz of bandwidth on Category 3 or 5 copper wire. Two 6-MHz channels provide uncompressed, full-duplex audio and video at up to 30 frames per second without interfering with the 1-MHz channel used for switched voice communication on the same lines.

Each PC has a PCI video card with connections for a camera and speakers. The card powers the VidModem and handles audio and video processing, said Terry Rybolt, director of channel marketing for Video Network Communications.

'Because it takes no processing power, this will run on a 386,' Rybolt said.

VidPhone desktop software under Microsoft Windows 95 sets up connections with the switch.

The New Hampshire court has VidModems for eight desktop PCs and for four rooms that accommodate roll-about video monitors, as well as in the two courtrooms for remote hearings and testimony. A gateway connects to three Integrated Services Digital Network lines for outside video links.

Because there is only one outside link, the desktop software includes a scheduling application for outside videoconferences. But the switch can handle multiple inside users, so internal conferences can be set up simply by requesting a connection to any other end point. If the called terminal is available, the switch makes the connection, much like a PBX connecting two internal phone stations when a four-digit extension is dialed.

The video quality is good and has little motion blur, Starr said. Quality depends on the outside connection more than on the copper phone wire that carries the signal inside the court.

'The internal [quality] is better than when you have to go outside on the ISDN lines,' Starr said.

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