Justice has been served in the Bronx, where New York asked for-and got-a facility that makes the courts work more efficiently than ever before. In the new Bronx Court System building, 54 courtrooms spread over nine floors and two sublevels go about their business with a total commitment to highly organized AV presentations, videoconferencing, video networking and more.
Engineered and implemented by Long Island, NY-based systems integrator, Artel Communications, the building's AV capabilities dismisses all the antiquated notions you may have gleaned of courtroom operations from your last stint of jury duty. "The traditional court has always been kind of stuffy without people being able to use technology," said Jim Smith, systems engineer for Polycom, which supplied multiple systems for the building. "In this court, everyone is supplied with display panels that show a common source, and that information is brought in through a well-planned AV infrastructure in the room. The lawyers themselves are using technology as a part of their documentation process and case preparation. In the past, key evidence would have to be displayed on microfiche. Today, it's a scanable PDF file."
Originally designed 10 years ago before waiting out the typical budgetary holdups inherent with many government projects, the technology available to the Bronx Court System evolved drastically in the time that it took to be put into motion. As Artel president Claude Ruimy pointed out, the redesign for the building presented AV implementation challenges on many different levels. One of the primary obstacles was dealing with the multiple "clients" within the structure, then converting their extremely varied needs into a modular plan that would streamline all processes before, during and after construction. "We dealt with security, the clerks, the judges, the attorneys, and, of course, the technical support staff," he explained. "There were different departments that had to be designed for and taken into consideration every step of the way.
"When we looked at the original design for the project, it had four or five different courtroom scenarios. We decided that we wanted a flexible system that could be implemented for any courtroom, so we would not be stuck with equipment that only works with one courtroom. One system means that users can take a touchpanel from one courtroom, plug it into a courtroom with different applications, and they could use it there as well. It's also easier to maintain."
Working closely alongside system consultant, Shen Milson & Wilke, Artel specified over 100 Polycom Vortex matrix mixers to manage the extensive audio needs for the three basic types of rooms in the facility: arraignment rooms, hearing rooms and trial courts. "The configuration in these rooms is for live sound reinforcement locally," Smith noted. "The live audio serves court reporters, court translators, remote access to holding cells, overflow capabilities for anterooms where people are listening, the ability to send a feed off to a press room, and the ability to bring in external participants via audioconferencing or videoconferencing."
No matter what the location, the needs of the judges were given prime consideration in terms of both the audio and control systems, which are managed by Crestron TCP 4000 touchpanels. "What we've learned," Smith observed, "is that the judges are very specific about how their rooms are set up and how they act: They can't appear to have lost control of the courtroom or have the technology fail them. The requirement for each judge was to have a mute button, sidebar mics, recording or no recording, control of the speakers, control of what's being told to the guards and more. The Crestron panel can be plugged into the judge's positions, but can also be operated by the clerk who sits right next to them."
Smith pointed out that a system's audio clarity is of crucial importance in the courtroom, where a person's future can literally hang in the balance. "Jurors can't struggle to understand the message-they have to listen without effort. The easiest way to do that is to make sure the audio is as clear as possible and at a level that's like normal conversation, so the system needs to reproduce human speech as accurately as possible."
As a result, specific audio hierarchies must be established. "There is multiple-zone sound reinforcement in these courtrooms," Smith explained. "You've got judge, witness and lead counsel being presented to the entire court and the jury at the primary level. Then it is a secondary counsel at a lower level, followed by mics that are just for the court's benefit. For listening, you're not trying to kill people (with volume) but reduce acoustic distance. In the jury well, for example, there's a local PA, and, of course, the court stenographer needs an absolutely clear feed of everything going on.
"There are multiple microphones, and these separate pieces can't interfere with each other, they have to be effectively isolated. So a system has to be multitask-capable, and the way to do that is with a matrix-type mixer so you've got multiple inputs that can go to multiple outputs simultaneously, with different mixes on each."
Ruimy added, "What we have to be concerned with is that the end-user is not a technical person. That means giving them an interface through the Crestron control panels that will give them control over anything that they need to work with quickly. Teleconferencing can be pretty complicated to operate, but we designed the system to be user-friendly, making sure that it's working, reliable and easy to maintain."
With VGA monitors everywhere, video management had potential to be a nightmare. Artel took one look at the proposed sea of RGB cables and knew there had to be a better way. "We thought that was going to be very complicated and difficult to maintain," Ruimy said. "So we proposed a video-over-Cat-5 solution using equipment from Magenta Research. Instead of running a multitude of heavy, bulky RGBHV and audio cables throughout all those 25 locations in every courtroom, we just had to run a single Cat-5 cable and put in the electronics to allow video distribution over that cable. That solution is another way to make things easy to maintain, since now you just have a single Cat-5 jack to change, maintain or test-that's very easy as opposed to a VGA cable which has 15 connections and has to be soldered at each location."
Shen Milson & Wilke...www.smwinc.com
Designing For Vortex
Setup for systems like the highly flexible Polycom Vortex is aided by increasingly easy-to-use software that benefits both the end-user and the backend designer. "Polycom's Instant Designer is a Q&A wizard that guides people through a mixer setup," said Polycom's Jim Smith. "It allows them to specify how many mics and their type-boundary, podium, ceiling-the number of input and output channels, and create a functional system with about five minutes worth of input keystrokes. So without having to go through complicated matrix setups, you can complete a fully functional system upon startup. I built every one of these systems using Instant Designer as a basis, then customized it afterwards to make it application-specific."