Audiovisual Reality -- Real Genius

As promised, the story behind the glory of Ingenious Partners continues from the January issue…
We last left this project with the conclusion of our very first meeting with Lewis Michael, Ingenious Partners' hot shot IT department head. As is so typical, Michael will from this day forward not only be an IT specialist, but he'll also be the AV specialist whether he likes it or not.

During our first meeting, Michael stressed that he wanted the best there was and he wanted us to think "outside the box." John Pellhood, the founder of INET Media, the AV integrator for this project told me specifically that he wanted one kick-butt design. Pellhood said that I shouldn't be afraid to think outside the box as Michael had mentioned in our meeting. These are big words for an AV engineer/consultant/geek! Fortunately this industry is filled with engineers that enjoy jumping all over challenges like this. What a wonderful start to a weekend, but wait... aren't people supposed to take weekends off? Not in the AV industry.

The following Monday, I grabbed one of Charles Salter Associates' younger engineers, Andrew Stanley, and sat down with him outlining some concepts that I had come up with for Ingenious' Boardroom over the weekend. Andrew is my reality engine due to his incredible capacity to draw anything in three dimensions. I mean anything. I had sketched out a concept of a 42-inch plasma panel built into the end of the boardroom table at Ingenious Partners. Stanley took my concept and used AutoCAD to draw it in 3D exactly to scale to see if it was possible. It was.
The next challenge from a design standpoint was creatively developing a display system for the boardroom that was suitable to all viewers. Front projection was ruled out because there was no way in heck the architect was going to let us clutter up the beautiful wood slat ceiling system with a projector or a door for a projector lift. Frankly, when architects tell us AV designers what looks good and what doesn't, I make it a habit to listen. Furthermore, there was no space for rear projection.

So this outside-the-box, architecturally sound design approach led us to a unique product made by Akira Display. At last year's InfoComm show, Akira offered an 84-inch diagonal plasma screen, which is essentially four 42-inch plasma displays, bolted together with a miniscule gap in between each one. It looks like one big display and has a video wall processor built into it. It could drop right into the wall and provide a suitable image size for all viewers. Once we had developed a display system and gotten the blessing of our employer (INET Media in this instance) we settled back, thinking we had overcame all the up-front issues with the boardroom AV design. But that's only one-third of the battle. We also had to design a couple of nifty lobby displays and a full-blown media screening room.
The lobby display system was simple enough to develop. We'd have two 37-inch LCD displays nicely located in Ingenious' lobby to greet their visitors with informative and entertaining graphics. This is all the rage with many corporate installations that have a few extra bucks. Usually I plan on a RGBHV and an S-video input feed from some economical matrix-switching scheme. In fact sometimes I'll piggyback this matrix-switching scheme onto another room.

The media room was a little more involved than any of us had originally thought. After taking one look at the floor plans, which were already more or less set in stone, I noticed a serious problem. You see, as Lewis Michael had told us in our first meeting, Ingenious was intending to use this room to audition new video games and to screen promotional movies, often in surround sound. This created a problem because screening movies and video games in surround sound means high sound pressure levels.

Oh well for the fellow in the adjacent office, huh? We used a combination of walls with double studs, triple layer gyp board, boxed-in recessed lighting fixtures, and all sorts of air duct treatments to minimize sound transmission to all adjacent spaces to the media room. After the acoustical issues were resolved we had to provide a 50-inch plasma screen, surround sound loudspeakers, subwoofers, source decks and a credenza to house not only present, but future sources. Simple enough, right? Wrong. We had an HD digital cable tuner, we had a Nintendo Game Cube, we had a Sony Playstation2, a Microsoft XBox, a VHS and a progressive scan DVD player. This is quite the cadre of video sources and types, and will be a source of problems later on. For the time being though, it seemed simple enough to handle.

The last part of this system that needed to be addressed was tying everything together. You see, Ingenious wanted to be able to view things in the boardroom from the media room and vice-versa. They also wanted to be able to show things in the lobby from either of the aforementioned rooms. This is all very doable if you can have a nice big matrix switcher, which is what we envisioned when we began this whole endeavor. But, alas it was time to meet with Michael to go over what we had come up with and how much money we thought it was going to cost. The result of the meeting was that we were going to have to devise a way to provide all this functionality for less then $350,000. This was news to us, but yet another challenge. Typical. So how would we lose $50,000 but still give Ingenious what they wanted?

The moral of the story this month: Say you've put together a system design that has a slew of capabilities but you have exceeded your client's budget. You can try to save money in the following ways.
Oftentimes consolidating video signal types saves money. Take all of your component video or S-video and scale it to RGBHV. Sometimes the fewer video types you have to switch, the less the switcher you will have to buy, but you can still offer your client the same capabilities. It saves inputs and outputs.

Using video matrix switchers with breakaway audio routing capability can sometimes allow one to limit the size of any DSP-based audio matrices such as the ASPI or ClearOne product. At more than $3,000 for every eight inputs and outputs, saving I/O for a couple hundred extra dollars with a matrix switcher with audio is sometimes worth it.

Evaluate your audio system. It is entirely possible to spend $1,000 per speaker for a high-end surround sound loudspeaker array. Speak with your client, and evaluate their expectations and make a choice based on your experience. In this instance we used QSC's new AD-S82. These speakers were more than capable of handling anything Ingenious could throw at them, and their comparatively low price was exactly right.
Stay tuned next month, when we get our outside-the-box system tamed budget-wise, we complete the engineering process, and we try to fit everything in architecturally. After this next installment, the fun will really begin because that's when the products start arriving, and the installers start trying.

Quick Words To Work By
1. Venture capitalists see an innumerable amount of presentations in their boardrooms every year and our client, Lewis Michael, told us that he wanted a large preview functionality built into the system so presenters wouldn't have to turn their backs on information hungry decision makers. There are number of ways to do this in the AV world with manufacturers such as Crestron and AMX offering video preview capabilities on their touchpanels. In addition to preview on touchpanels, one can make use of clever switching schemes to distribute video to monitors in lecterns or other locations like boardroom tables.

2. When preparing specs for a screen, taking the farthest viewer and dividing that distance by four will give you a good estimate of your needed image size. This figure yields a recommended image width for 12 point fonts. There are a number of other ways to calculate this, but one thing you can't calculate your way out of is ceiling height. Before you recommend a screen size based on the aforementioned technique, take into account your ceiling height. You don't want to spec out a screen with 7.5 feet of drop with an 8-foot ceiling.

3. Use your matrix switching wisely. I've seen people convince clients in this world that they need a 12 x 8 or a 32 x 32 RGBHV matrix switcher so that they can switch a DVD, a Laptop PC and a VCR. I'd call that not using your head to put the switching in your head end.