Video Communication Soon to be Possible Throughout Harvard
A complex network of cables designed to transmit and receive television signals throughout the University will probably be ready for more widespread use by the Harvard community-including students-next fall.
The Harvard Information Transfer System (HITS) could function as a two-way closed-circuit television system capable of carrying ten channels of video information and two channels of digital information to various installations at Harvard. Potentially, the transmissions could serve academic, cultural, political and special interest groups.
The system, which has been in limited use since its installation in 1965, will technically be open for more widespread use next year, although so far no administrative procedures to give access to HITS have been developed or are being considered.
According to Alfred A. Pandiscio, Assistant Director for Communications Sources in Harvard's Office of Information Technology the future of HITS "depends on the results of tests it is now undergoing. It ?? has great potential-we're not clear how much. The thing we're trying to find out is how much it would cost to achieve that potential."
The system, which was installed six years ago at the cost of over $120,000 and with a maintenance cost of over $600 a month, has been largely unused since its installation, including the first three years when the system was completely unused. It is only recently that HITS has been used for instruction with computers in Nat Sel 110, "Automatic Computing."
According to Pandisci?? the system has been neglected simply because so few people know about it. "I don't think [the failure to use HITS] can be attributed to anybody," he said.
Exactly how the system can best be used and how it actually will be used are complicated questions which involve such factors as Pandiscio's tests, the amount of money available, and the directives of the Harvard bureaucracy.
HITS has 12 channels-10 for transmitting video and 2 for digital data-which can carry information to various places throughout the University. Potentially, HITS could transmit and receive from countless outlets throughout the University.
It can be hooked up with a micro wave transmission system at M.I.T.; with WGBH, and ultimately with a larger Boston-Cambridge community antenna television system. Community events could be televised live. Visual study projects, lectures, seminars, and films could be taped and transmitted.
Special interest groups could use HITS to convey information through a medium that is much more effective than leafleting or bullhorns. And with 12 channels running 24 hours a day there should be plenty of room for a wide variety of groups to have airtime.
Pandiscio's tests will play a large role in determining just how much of this can be done. Each transmission and reception installation is costly both in terms of installation and equipment.
Because of cost alone. not everything that can be done with the system will materialize. But it is clear that the system is not being used to anywhere pear its capacity-even as it now stands. Transmission and reception points have been in operating order with little use at Larsen Hall, Pierce Hall, and the Computation Labs.
According to Pandiscio, nine or ten other reception points could be installed at a cast in the neighborhood of $1000 to $2000 per installation. It appears that Harvard, if it expects to get any return of its original $12,000 investment, will have to put up more money.
Another major obstacle to full use of HITS is the Harvard bureaucracy. According to John E. Bishop. a member of the Deans Committee on Information Technology which administers HITS, the University has not acted upon potions for access to HITS because "we're in an interim stage and it is too early to determine access procedures."
The question of access procedure first came up last November when Martin Perlmutter '68, a student at the Divinity School and president of Ghostdance, Inc., a Cambridge-based software (video programming) corporation, asked for access to the system.
Perlmutter offered to televise, using HITS, a Ghostdance-produced tape which he said would "demonstrate the medium: where it is, how it operates, and its potential."
Perhaps the real issue that divides Harvard and Ghostdance is the fact that so far Harvard's interest in HITS has been in terms of HITS's capabilities as hardware-that is, as a piece of technology capable of carrying electronic information. Perlmutter says he is more interested in what information video tapes can carry rather than how much video tape can come over the system at a given time.
Ghostdance is still petitioning for access to HITS.