The Veteran's Administration's Department of Veterans Affairs has recently implemented a network equipped with an Amnis VS-ProT live streaming video system. The department is using this system to link its three Washington, DC-based TV production studios with its video broadcast center/satellite uplink facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Using inexpensive T1 lines, MPEG-2 video is streamed to the St. Louis site, where the video is uplinked to a satellite. The satellite then distributes this video content to 300 Veterans Administration hospitals throughout the U.S., including sites in Alaska and Hawaii. Prior to this, the VA had to pay lots of money for dedicated high-bandwidth terrestrial lines.
"The Amnis MPEG-based streaming video system offered a solution providing the high-quality signal we wanted with an affordable T1 connection," says Don Saunders, a senior engineer with the Veterans Affairs' Employee Education System. "The VA knows the value of distance learning and in the last year upgraded and expanded the VA's capability to bring training and information to the employee. We are in the process of expanding the capability of the VA Knowledge Network, which will bring live and on-demand programs to the employee's desktop. Time away from the workplace, travel concerns, and smaller budgets have made this communication network more valuable than ever. The link between Washington, DC and the VA Satellite Uplink Center is vital for that success," says Saunders.
Because medical knowledge advances daily, it is imperative that doctors and nurses at VA hospitals get the latest information and training. This responsibility falls to the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Education System. Much of the VA Employee Education System training is done through live instructional video programs that are produced in one or more of the VA's three Washington, DC TV production studios. There's one at the VA central office, one at the Benefits Center, and one in the VA Medical Center. The programs are done as multi-camera, news-style productions, running from a half-hour to two hours. They usually feature a panel of doctors discussing a new medical treatment procedure or new medicine. The programs are also recorded on videotape for the benefit of employees who can't alter their schedules to attend the live broadcast events. The VA usually shoots at least one program a week, says Hugh Graham, a staff engineer at the St. Louis VA office, but they've been shooting "more and more" since the installation of the Amnis system, he adds.
During a typical VA distance learning event, live video flows from the cameras into the switcher and then into the Amnis system where it is encoded in real time to MPEG-2 (at about 3MB/sec, according to Graham). Then it is streamed to St. Louis using pairs of multiplexed T1 lines. Altogether, six T1 lines are used to deliver three video channels. Once the video stream arrives in St. Louis, it is uplinked to a satellite and from there downloaded to awaiting satellite dishes and receivers at 300 VA hospitals throughout the country.
Graham also reports that the Veterans Administration uses this system for internal communications as well as for training. For example, the VA's director, Secretary Anthony Principi, frequently uses the system to broadcast messages to VA employees. According to Graham, pressure from the top for a completely reliable system was one of the reasons the VA chose Amnis equipment.
"A full-time reliable video stream from Washington is important," says Graham, "because if the secretary gets on, he wants to be confident that his message is getting through."
The VA seems to be quite happy with their Amnis system and is planning to implement more equipment and more links. "The Veterans Administration distance training project is a great example of how high-quality, networked video can improve employee productivity and lower costs," says Rich Falcone, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Amnis Systems. "We look forward to supporting the future expansion of this networked video training application and have already received additional orders."
According to Hugh Graham, the VA is also currently considering beefing up its video streaming services even more by rolling out a Cisco IPTV system, capable of delivering video on-demand directly to employee desktops.