By Carolyn Heinze On March 25, 2011
As conferencing technologies have become a standard feature of facility design, the focus on seamless integration of AV systems is no longer secondary. Coupled with this is the demand, in many cases, to implement systems in rooms designed for multiple applications—space and budgetary restrictions have put real estate at a premium, dictating the need for flexibility. And then there’s the ever-present issues concerning network infrastructure: As AV goes IT, its technology competes for bandwidth.
“Space restrictions pose some challenges—especially when it comes to rear projection,” said Don Parenta, director of sales in the North American professional and commercial products division at display manufacturer Stewart Filmscreen. In many cases, rear projection is required, however, to cut down on noise. “As the projectors get larger, they grow louder.” This is not to criticize projection technology, he adds; it’s just how it works. The brighter the projector, the more energy that’s required—which translates into a noisier unit.
Parenta notes that many conferencing and presentation spaces display systems must also be well-lit, demanding screen technologies to perform in more challenging environments. LEED and energy-efficient building design initiatives have placed an emphasis on daylight harvesting—another factor that affects displays. Demand for higher resolution and—for some environments—multi-image cluster wall technologies, is also on the rise.
“There are higher resolution requirements and the spaces are becoming brighter and brighter, so the dark-screen, black-screen and high contrast technologies are what we are working with,” Parenta said. Stewart Filmscreen’s StarGlas 60 and CrystalView products address these needs for rear projection applications; for front projection, the manufacturer offers its gray-based GrayHawk and FireHawk displays. Parenta adds that while 3D technologies are starting to come into play, they have still not made their way into that many traditional boardroom, conferencing and training spaces. Higher resolution is expected
Joe Brennan, director of media and classroom services at Pomona College ITS in Claremont, California, notes that one reason tech managers are driven to provide higher resolution is because users have access to it in their homes. “One of the larger issues with the management of our infrastructure has to do with HD versus SD screen formats and resolution conversion,” he said. “We have been feeling the pressures of the ‘magic’ of HD from our faculty who regularly watch HD in their home theatres.” He explains that there are over 140 smart classrooms on Pomona’s campus – most of which are designed for standard definition with 4:3 screens. “In the upcoming years we will have to start systematically considering major wiring changes and upgrades, HD projectors with adequate brightness and the changing of screen formats from 4:3 to 16:10.”
Right now, Brennan recounts that his department has addressed the campus’s most immediate high resolution needs in several spaces, including Pomona’s theater. “We have a 720p 13k lumen projector which is used to show both DVD and Blu-ray films every weekend,” he explained. The college’s art and art history classrooms have been redesigned to accommodate LCoS projection, computers with better video cards and DVI/HDMI cabling. “We have also added this type of setup to our museum of art for forensic examination.”
|Crestron control allows for a simplified instructor interface, centralized help-desk support, remote troubleshooting, and a unified system for monitoring and reporting on the status of more than 80 classrooms in the new Liberal Arts Building at Baltimore’s Towson University.|
In the conferencing environment, one issue that both integrators and tech managers must consider is that not all videoconferencing participants are comfortable with being filmed. Stewart Filmscreen has addressed this with its StarCam, which enables the discreet integration of camera technology—basically keeping cameras out of the participants’ sight. “You can install a piece of StarGlas material for projection, but inset into it is a camera that would go behind the actual glass material,” Parenta explained. “It’s hidden from view, and you don’t hear any sound coming from the camera—it’s seamlessly integrated into the glass.”
Don Cicchetti, assistant designer at DJL AV Specialists, an integration firm in San Dimas, California, notes that the cameras themselves have become increasingly easier to operate. “Most of our clients simply cannot staff a video camera crew, with three or four operators—no one has the money for that,” he said. “The PTZ – pan/tilt/zoom—cameras with a central control, presets, the ability to capture video to the hard disk easily, and the ability to put it up on the Web easily is revolutionary, because it is making video accessible to users in universities, churches and the corporate world.” And, like everything else, these systems are software-based. “Because of the ubiquity of cameras, microphones, laptops and high-speed connections, this is becoming almost entirely dominated by computer-based products rather than dedicated hardware products for tele-conferencing.”
In the audio realm, companies such as QSC offer network audio systems designed to provide sound facility-wide. “We have systems that ride on the standard Ethernet backbone, so we are also doing system-wide paging,” said Scott Kalarchik, director, engineered systems at QSC Audio Products. “The backbone is already there, so no additional infrastructure is required.” He adds that these systems are particularly popular with universities. “Part of it is just because of the times that we are living in, where facilities must be concerned with evacuating people quickly.” ADA compliance
Facilities must also concern themselves with America Disability Act (ADA) compliance, Cicchetti notes. “ADA systems are usually in-ear audio monitoring systems,” he said. “If you have someone on your staff that has a hearing disability, you must have these systems because they are required.”
Michael Braithwaite, senior vice president of ClearOne, notes that in general, when it comes to audio, it’s truly ‘facility-wide’ these days. “There are more speakers in more locations—you’re seeing them not only in hallways and lobbies, but also in restrooms and even outdoors,” he observed. “In professional offices—such as dentists and doctors—they have started to do zoning, where the audio becomes a way to keep patients occupied.” He adds that this trend is akin to those we are seeing in digital signage.
Braithwaite points out that one of the challenges corporations are facing is related to mobile devices. “If you are employing people in the younger generation, it’s almost as if they feel like they have the right to listen to their iPods while they are working,” he said. While in theory this shouldn’t pose much of a problem, in practice it can wreak havoc with the network—especially since most of the sources are Web-based. “The reason that it’s a mess for enterprise is that everybody is using bandwidth. Every one of these streams—depending on the quality that you select—start to add up.” If 1,000 employees are streaming from different Web-based sources at the same time, the IT department will start to notice.
“You can try to police that by blocking everything, but people get around that, or they get frustrated,” Braithwaite continued. He explains that automobile manufacturer Daimler has gotten around this problem by incorporating a number of different music channels into one stream for its employees. “The benefit is that they only have one big stream coming in with all of these genres folded into it, so they can manage their bandwidth utilization.” This stream can also be interrupted for mass notifications and emergency alerts.
While Daimler’s solution has helped to reduce bandwidth issues, Braithwaite points out that unless companies adopt policies associated with volume control, ambient music can be disruptive. “There is sound masking to deal with—the idea of isolating and controlling audio, and keeping the volume at levels where employees aren’t disturbing one another,” he said. “You need to have some kind of control in place.”
While an investment in AV technology usually leads to decreased corporate travel expenses, Parenta underlines that careful planning and design contribute to a better return on that investment. “Whether it’s a basic training room or a corporate boardroom, there is money (in the form of employees) sitting around that table,” he said. “If the communications are poor, and it’s difficult for people to retain the information that is presented via these systems, it’s not going to be effective.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor who has covered the AV and IT industries for more than 12 years.