Buying into the all-digital system

Because the expectation is rising that Web sites include video, photo and sound files, it is important to look at the requirements for going "all digital" in your work and Web environment.

In the past two Dot-Gov Thursday features, I detailed my experiences in integrating images and sound for a video presentation. In this third installment, I offer some buying recommendations for continued information expansion on the Web.

With the proliferation of video cameras, digital cameras and digitally created sound, Webmasters are increasingly integrating files created by those devices. The most dramatic side effects are huge increases in file size and the resulting need for more disk storage and processing speeds.

Large Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint files with graphics are only a jumping-off point to the file size and processing requirements the all-digital environment requires.

A good rule of thumb is that 1 minute of music equals 10M in WAV format. Video is even larger. One video file I created that ran 15 seconds with reduced frame size was more than 5M. One 45-minute music CD I created by recording from my keyboard synthesizer requires 500M to store the WAV, MP3 and other production files.

I am finding that a 750M CD-ROM is to music as a 1.44M diskette is for text. A 350 MHz PC is barely acceptable, and 500 MHz is only OK in this all-digital environment.

For desktop hardware, I recommend getting a CD-ROM drive for off-line storage of at least 750M. Also, your CD drive must support read/write capabilities. For handling video, you will need to purchase even larger off-line storage, such as 2G and 20G drives, and if you're doing volume production, a fast processor such as 1 GHz will be needed.

For Web servers, there must be similar dramatic increases in disk storage, backup capabilities and processor speed. I would recommend increasing disk storage and processing speed by factors of 100 to 1,000 times greater than what was purchased one to three years ago. Fortunately, the prices for both keep coming down.

High-speed interfaces should be a key consideration in the configuration of your next desktop PC and server purchases. USB has proven to be very fast, but having just two USB ports on a desktop PC will not be adequate for the future. I recommend at least four to accommodate the devices that produce the digital files.

I was disappointed in the quality of sound produced by using a desktop computer to record files. So I bought an additional "stereo-like" component for recording digital audio onto a CD-RW. I then used the CD to create the WAV and MP3 files on the desktop computer.

I found that a 4.1 megapixel camera takes photographs that can be shown on auditorium-size screens, and the quality is very good. I am still working on understanding my options regarding digital video.

Robust software is needed to combine the all-digital environment into presentations. This software is expensive relative to other commonly available office automation software. The software that came with the hardware components provides a good starting point, but I soon found that I needed something more sophisticated for integrating the various file types into a single, coherent presentation.

For vendors: I recommend offering desktop PC packages that combine digital video, digital photography and digital sound, including supporting application software. I found it quite difficult to create this environment on my own, but I worked through it. It would be much cleaner if prepackaged configurations of desktop computers were available and graded to the level of quality needed, such as personal viewing or auditorium viewing.

For readers: Click on the links below for a music file and image you can freely use on government Web sites. (Musical arrangement and photograph created by Rich Kellett.)

* "The Star Spangled Banner" (MP3 sound file)

* Vietnam Veterans Memorial statues (JPEG image)

Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the federal WebMasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.


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