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Beyond Telestrators & Light Pens

The History of the Pointmaker Video Marker

Pointmaker video markers have come a long way since their use as a telestrator on TV’s “Monday Night Football” in the late 1990s. Like many technical devices, the product evolved in a variety ways, from bulky beginnings that required drawing with a light pen pressed against a monitor screen to using today’s more streamlined wireless tablets and touchscreens. In a single decade, the functions and resolutions of the Pointmaker line continually advanced to serve a wider presentation market that had moved from analog to digital to today’s mobile community, becoming one of today’s leading hardware-based annotation providers.

Did you know …?

Despite the product’s glamor with sports fans, did you know that the first nationally televised use of the Pointmaker video marker was not for Monday Night Football, but for a famous courtroom trial?

Did you know that now, the Pointmaker video marker is used even more widely off the TV screen than on, making the term “telestrator” somewhat antiquated?

And did you know that the drawing capability in the Pointmaker actually evolved from a scientific measuring system that was used with microscopes?

Read on for the details on how the Pointmaker video marker came into being – and how it cleared a path into a multitude markets.

A Famous Trial

On February 6, 1995, Judge Lance Ito approved the Pointmaker video marker for use in his courtroom during the nationally televised O.J. Simpson trial. The product was requested by attorneys when they found that they needed an easy way to focus judge and jury attention on video evidence. This evidence was displayed simultaneously on four monitors, one video projector -- and, with Judge Ito’s approval -- to the news media for television broadcast. “In this trial, video evidence was generated in a variety of ways,” says Pointmaker President Pat Brey, who helped with the installation. “It could be presented as a videotape of the crime scene replayed by a VCR; as documents, photographs, sketches and maps captured by a document camera; or as other images retrieved from a laser disk player or computer. Because of the extensive use of video and multimedia in this trial, there’s a need for a video marker.” Using colorful drawing lines and pointers generated by the Pointmaker, attorneys drew and pointed on the video image being discussed. “While the concept itself is not new, Pointmaker recently made the technology simple and inexpensive enough to use in smaller presentation arenas, including classrooms, distance learning centers and boardrooms,” Brey says. “The legal community has caught on to it.” “We never expected to leap right into a nationally-televised trial,” Brey admits. “We had just placed a Pointmaker in a showcase installation here in Tucson -- the Courtroom of the Future at the University of Arizona Law School -- in hopes of helping Professor Winton Woods educate future attorneys about the technology available to them. It’s great to see that today’s attorneys are interested.” Indeed, since that trial, the Pointmaker video marker has been installed in many federal, state and educational courtrooms and across the country, including The Courtroom 21 Project installed at the William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va., in 1993 in cooperation with the National Center for State Courts. Now known as The Center for Legal and Court Technology, the courtroom is heavily involved in judicial and lawyer educational training, as well as providing courtroom designs and needs assessments. Other courtrooms you can find the Pointmaker on hand are the 9th Judicial Court of Florida; the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Los Angeles; the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York; the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. among many others all across the U.S. With the wide variety of visual evidence being presented these days in court via digital media, Larry Heilman, president and key designer of Smith Audio Visual says the heart of a digital courtroom systems he’s worked on include the Pointmaker. In 2011, he began integrating the Pointmaker CPN model that had recently been upgraded to be compliant with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protected (HDCP) video. This model also features a capture, print and TCP/IP networking, and is a highly flexible scaler, capable of receiving video input in composite, Y/C, VGA, DVI-I and digital video formats. The Pointmaker CPN model also scales the output in high-resolution formats up to 1280 x 1024, 1440 x 900 and 1080p. “That’s why we got the Pointmaker,” Heilman says. “It allows us to annotate from all four of the 22-inch touchscreens. This is something that no other annotation unit will allow. The outputs and control from the CPN make distribution simple.” In addition, “it just took a few minutes to figure out how to use Pointmaker,” says Osage County Attorney Brandon L. Jones. “It was extremely easy. I just used my finger on the screen. It really helped witnesses be able to draw the jury’s attention to specific areas of the exhibits in my recent capital murder case.”  

Early Telestrators & Sports Today

The history of the telestrator began well before the Pointmaker came on board. According to Popular Mechanics, in its Oct. 1, 2001 issue, the telestrator was invented by physicist Leonard Reiffel who used it to draw illustrations on a series of science shows for public television’s WTTW-ch11 in Chicago in the late 1950s. He also approached Chicago’s CBS affiliate WBBM-ch2 suggesting it be used in sports and weather. Bears football player-turned-sportscaster Johnny Morris, who worked on the channel, picked it up began to use it, as did the station’s weatherman. According to Mr. Reiffle, “After that, New York began to hear about it, and it went on from there.” Early telestrators required the user to draw on a TV screen with a light pen, and both the drawing and video would then be output for broadcast. NFL color commentator John Madden famously used a telestrator during football games for many years, boosting the device’s popularity. In 1999, four years after the Pointmaker annotations were used during the O.J. Simpson trial, ABC Monday Night Football entered its 30th season, and color analyst Boomer Esiason got a new “telestrator” to use. The Boeckeler Pointmaker PVI-64 broadcast video marker was installed and used in the sports announcer’s booth, giving his comments additional impact while drawing over replays during the Green Bay Packers vs. Denver Broncos game. In the booth, the Pointmaker was connected to another new technology -- the SMART Matisse touchscreen on a 42” plasma display. In this set-up, the Pointmaker allowed Boomer to draw either with his fingertips on the touch screen or with a stylus. Since then, the Pointmaker has been used in many broadcast sports games ranging from basketball and hockey to golf, swimming, and even the Olympic Games. With the Pointmaker’s newer HDCP compatibility, scaling capabilities and capture & print features, the Pointmaker jumped off the screen and into the hands of sports coaches everywhere. In 1999, Florida-based XOS Digital Inc., integrated the Pointmaker in their digital coaching technologies for collegiate and professional sports organizations across the country, including the San Francisco 49ers where it continues to be used today for effective training sessions. Although annotation software for computers developed over the next 10 years, the stand-alone Pointmaker is still preferred in installations that require annotation on a variety of video inputs and outputs. It’s also preferred in collaborative environments where users want multiple touch screens that are all connected to one Pointmaker, giving them the ability for full interactivity with the video shared in the room or over VTC.  

Beyond Courts & Sports

Today’s markets for the Pointmaker are no longer bound to instantly diagramming sports plays and are more widely accepted in just about every presentation venue that’s out there including healthcare AV, distance learning, corporate training, higher education, military war rooms, video conferencing, courtroom trial presentations, disaster planning and more. In fact, the applications are so broad that in 2014, the Pointmaker line spun off into its own company, Pointmaker LLC.The following are just a sample of some of our more well-known applications taking us from 1997 to the present. Military and government centers use the Pointmaker to diagram emergency strategies or important details in training and collaboration. In 1997, the New York Police Department Command & Control Center integrated a Pointmaker in their AV system to focus attention and draw over projected maps of major accidents, crimes, and security routes. Command Center technicians - who are also police officers - call up various computer and video images needed. These are then displayed on three large projection screens so that up to 40 police and city officials can collectively develop a plan of action and track progress using one of four drawing tablets. According to then Commanding Officer, Lt. Al Casella, the interaction of several officials annotating over the same large image creates highly effective and efficient meetings. “It’s now much easier to focus everyone’s attention,” he says. Similar results have been experienced by the Brenham Fire Department in Brenham, Tex., the City Council Chambers for the City of Corpus Christi. In July, 2011, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami found a new way to show the potential path of a storm on high-definition satellite images and graphics by using a Pointmaker video marker’s latest model. Now, even complex weather patterns could be interpreted simply and plainly for TV stations that wanted to broadcast the official NHC report. The forecaster can see the image and annotations he draws on a built-in preview monitor, while the same image is displayed behind him for the camera on a 50” plasma display. According to Supervisory IT Specialist Salim Leyva, the NHC has been using Pointmaker products for over a decade. “Pointmaker is reliable, flexible, and the units have outstanding longevity,” he says. “They continually improve their products to keep up with new technology, and their tech support is wonderful.” Video conferencing uses of the Pointmaker include both corporate and government users. Willbros Engineers Inc., a multi-office engineering firm that specializes in the design of pipeline and fuel storage solutions, set up a video conferencing system in 1997 as an efficient means to plan and review major designs with their remote office and with fuel clients as large as Exxon. Bill Faulkner, manager of design applications for the Tulsa-based company, said his company needed the ability to annotate engineering designs and review computer spreadsheets that play a major role in the design process. The detailed nature of these types of graphic images included everything from CAD drawings to informal sketches on paper. For the annotation solution, a Pointmaker multiple-sync video marker was selected and installed in 1998. Using the RS-232 port, the video marker was connected to the data port of the codec at both the local and remote sites. Using the video marker’s drawing tablet, each side could draw, point, or write over details of the shared image, and site would use a unique color. Faulkner said that the video marker has greatly increased the communication level and teamwork between offices, and engineers are also able to have very productive meetings with their clients. Distance Learning applications of the Pointmaker include Social Security Administration’s Interactive Video Teletraining (IVT) program. This system, installed in 1996, is a live one-way video, two-way audio, satellite-based training delivery system that uses a viewer response system for student interaction with the instructors. The program is currently used to train employees in over 200 sites nationwide on changes in policies, procedures, and systems applications. In addition, employees are taught how to fill out the numerous input screens needed to pay benefits to millions of retired and disabled beneficiaries. Managerial and new hire training is also included in the IVT sessions. According to SSA Distance Learning Manager Ward Bechtel, the administration shaved 20 to 50% off training delivery time, depending on the course. In addition, the use of a video marker added further efficiency by focusing student attention. Telemedicine applications with the Pointmaker allow annotation of teleconferenced medical images such as during surgeries to educate students outside the OR. Participants in tumor boards that are continents apart can more easily confer with each other, both ends drawing over tumor details if each end is installed with a Pointmaker. As of 2011, using codecs from Tandberg/Cisco, allows both ends to change marker layouts or downsize a window while accurately retaining the markings to scale, creating a more complete interactive collaborative environment. In 2012, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the developer of a multi-national medical research tele-collaboration system, said that when the Pointmaker video markers were installed, the annotation technology fully unlocked the collaborative experience. Today, the video markers are still used on a consistent basis. Higher Education applications for the Pointmaker include installations in many teaching auditoriums across the country, including those at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, University of Illinois at Chicago and Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2012, the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning integrated the latest Pointmaker model in a diverse AV setup for the department’s most popular 200-seat auditorium. Faculty and graduates can now display a variety of images, everything from a 4 x 6 printed photograph or a Blu-ray video segment on an historical piece of architecture, to the teacher’s personal laptop displaying the latest graphic arts software. Besides outputting the annotated video to a widescreen LCD touch screen monitor and a high resolution projector, the Pointmaker image is also sent to a capture device that records the annotated video for a podcast that is uploaded later on the Internet for students. Dan Dugan, the University’s equipment applications specialist says, “Boeckeler was excellent in working with, and the Pointmaker annotation system is very simple. A few days ago, I was going to show someone how to use it, but by the time I got to them, they were already using it on their own.” The device is being so well received by instructors and students that it’s being requested for use in other auditoriums at the university.  

The Future of Annotation Leadership

What’s in the future for video annotation? A Pointmaker spokesperson says there will always be developments in new signal compatibilities and controllers that offer even more ease of use. Whatever the future holds, the company's goal is to remain a leader in hardware-based annotation systems, while exploring new horizons, such as apps for the new mobile age. Although we are continually evolving, we’re an established company that always offers lifetime support for every product we introduce, we still get calls for older models that are doing well out there. Another goal is to continue to offer affordable products that can be used in any installation and to collaborate on installation ideas with AV integrators, above and beyond the point where the Pointmaker is installed. We’ve learned that above all, tech manufacturing is a people business. We have a big family out there and changes are taking place faster and faster. What we want to do is remain on the cutting edge while being there to support each generation to come.

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