Firms lead feds into Web video

Of all the types of data that will be part of the future Internet, video holds the most promise as an application medium but also poses the most problems. While video can be run over the Internet, there's no way to browse and search it in the same way as text.

A company called Virage Inc., based in San Mateo, Calif., aims to change that. Using its Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based VideoLogger system, volumes of video can be turned into an indexed, searchable resource that would make it easy for anyone with a desktop PC to find a piece of video on the Internet.

Acting on the video stream - whether from a satellite, tape or digital video - VideoLogger, along with Virage's Audio-Logger extension, uses image and audio analysis tools to identify important changes in video scenes. Pans or zooms are identified, and a "storyboard" of key frame images is produced, along with important audio information such as spoken words, the speaker's name and audio type. The software also can simultaneously extract text, such as closed captions, in the video signal.

The end result is a time-synchronized metadata file that can be published directly into a Oracle Corp. or Informix Software Inc. database, which can be searched using normal search criteria. For example, the query, "Clinton talking about Kosovo" would bring up all video clips in which the president made remarks about the recent Kosovo conflict. Finer parameter searches would bring up more defined clips.

The government is ahead of the mass market in the use of these products, said Carlos Montalvo, Virage's vice president of marketing, and the company is having the biggest success in agencies that have to listen to and analyze video in real time, such as that from foreign newscasts. For that reason, the military and intelligence communities were the first to show interest in the technology.

Another growing area of interest is online training, he said.

"The technology allows people to navigate video directly through the desktop instead of from reels of tape," he said. "We're increasingly seeing the use of the video and audio logging applications for indexing video, and then people using keyword searches to get items of specific interest for use in training modules."

Montalvo said he believes use of the technology will be further driven by the congressional mandate for agencies to make information available to the public over the World Wide Web. So far, that information has been limited to text and still images, but it is being pushed into the realm of video and audio, "and this [indexing] technology is essential for that," Montalvo said.

Other companies involved in the fledgling video and audio search-and-retrieval market include MediaSite Inc., Pittsburgh, and Excalibur Technologies International Inc., Vienna, Va.

NASA bought the Virage system in the spring. Before then, people from outside and within NASA who wanted a particular piece of video would have to manually search through the archives to find it.

The Virage system will enable NASA to put the search process onto the Web and make broadcast-quality streaming video available on the desktop.

"Theoretically, there could be a BBC video on what the space race was all about, and people could go to the NASA digital media assets Web site to find it," said Sheri Beam, executive producer of the Video Applications group at NASA Langley Research Center, Beam said.

"On their desktop system, they could then have key frames [of the BBC video] matched with key words streamed to their desktop and decide from that viewing whether they wanted particular pieces of video," Beam said. If they did, they could "print" the file along with the associated metadata.

Bean said she hopes that exactly such a Web site will be made available to agency personnel NASA-wide by the end of the year, with later global access to the public also for nonclassified material.

This video index-and-search capability is still in an immature stage, according to Duane Sugars, chief executive of Digital Solutions & Multimedia Concepts Inc., an integrator of multimedia systems.

"It's analogous to the Internet when it first started," he said. "We've been spending time educating a lot of agencies about the medium of video and about auto-logging systems such as those from Virage. I wouldn't say that government agencies are really dealing with multimedia right now, so education is definitely needed."

Sugars said most agencies have huge archives of video they can make available for such things as training, even if they don't realize it yet, so one of the easiest ways to sell them on Virage and similar systems is the control it can provide to agency archivists. Sugars said, however, that archiving such data entails a big storage requirement, and most agencies are still working through the cost benefits of the investment required.

Sugars expects more agencies to buy into video archiving systems during the new fiscal year once they finish their evaluations.

Robinson is a free-lance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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