“We had three directives in creating these AV systems: They had to be high definition, 100 percent bulletproof and they had to be easy to use.”
That’s how Kirk Griffes, Systems Engineer and Programmer for Bluewater Technologies, describes the AV systems at the new headquarters of Global Forex Trading (GFT) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
GFT is a currency trading or “foreign exchange” (forex) provider. Unlike trading in stocks and bonds, there are no central exchanges for currency. GFT facilitates direct client to client trades through their DealBook online trading platform. With the pressure and stress of operating in a business like this, GFT staff need to know that their AV systems will work the first time and every time.
“We built these systems for anyone in the company to use,” says Eric Johns, IT Facilities Coordinator for GFT. “We have a wide variety of technical abilities, and we don’t want a meeting with a high value client to crash because the person leading it is not a computer genius.”
- “With our software, space on the display is at a premium,” says Johns. “There’s a lot of information that has to be visible all the time to make effective trades.” That’s the main reason GFT needs high definition systems, and all of the large screen monitors and projectors at GFT offer 1900 x 1200 resolution. “We wanted to be able to handle any kind of media in high definition: satellite news, HD videoconferencing, Blu-ray, and even entertainment media down in our cafe area,” Johns explains.
- Griffes says that, because of the client’s requirements, he decided to design an all-digital signal path, using HDMI cables in the smaller conference rooms and offices and Crestron DigitalMedia for the larger and more complex systems. DigitalMedia keeps the audio and video signals in the HDMI format, but transports them over super high-bandwidth ethernet cable, allowing for longer transmission distances and faster, more reliable installation and setup. BlueWater was one of the first AV integrators to use this new technology, and it offered major benefits to GFT.
- One problem with traditional analog high-definition systems, which use component and VGA video connections, is that they will run afoul of the “analog sunset.” Last December, a group of high-profile hardware manufacturers, including Intel, announced that they will begin phasing out support of VGA. As of January 1, movie and video providers who choose to may begin protecting their HD content from unauthorized copying by automatically detecting analog equipment and either reducing its output resolution or eliminating its ability to display over component connections. By using an all-digital signal path, Griffes ensured that GFT would avoid these issues and be ready for new digital devices (as well as older analog systems).
As its name implies, Global Forex Trading has a worldwide customer base, and they are heavy users of video conferencing systems. BlueWater installed the latest high-definition Tandberg systems in four conference rooms and offices. They also supplied four cart-mounted systems which can add HD video conferencing on-the-fly to smaller conference rooms or even offices with or without additional AV equipment.
The system in the GFT boardroom is especially impressive. Here BlueWater installed a 65-inch LCD monitor at each end of the conference table, each with a Tandberg pan-tilt-zoom camera mounted below it. Users can control the videoconferencing system with a 5.7-inch Crestron wireless touch panel, or they can switch to any of seven additional sources, showing the same or separate sources on each monitor. These sources include two built-in PCs, a laptop input, two Blu-ray players, and two HD satellite TV receivers. BlueWater also installed an 8-channel wireless microphone system and a sound system with digital signal processor and ceiling speakers for audio conferencing and sound reinforcement.
Griffes says he spent a great deal of time with Johns in designing a control system for this boardroom that would work intuitively.
“Controlling a videoconferencing system is always complicated, but we wanted to create a series of screens that would make the process simple for novice users,” Griffes explains.
“When you click ‘video conference’ on the control panel, the first thing anyone sees is an address book. If you select an address and hit ‘dial,’ the system connects the call and the touch panel automatically brings you to an in-call control page. That’s where you can move the camera and bring an image from your PC into the conference.” Users see only what they need to see at the appropriate time, and there’s little chance for confusion.
Not every room has a touch panel. Some are so simple they need only a hand-held remote. In one marketing department conference room, Griffes designed a system that is completely automated. “All they need to do is plug in a laptop or another device. The projector turns on automatically and switches to the correct input,” he explains. “The system also senses when there is no longer a signal and turns the components off.”
Should he or she ever feel the need, a user can call the IT help desk and a technician can bring up the room’s control screen using Crestron RoomView software. At that point the technician can either walk him through the process of controlling the room or simply correct the problem. Griffes also set up RoomView to power the videowall on and off during working hours and to power off any AV systems left on by mistake. RoomView also keeps track of individual sound and video components and notifies IT when they need maintenance.
Johns reports that the systems, once a couple of initial glitches were straightened out, have met the directives for extreme stability and ease of use. “We had two rooms where we had some issues, but BlueWater dealt with them promptly,” he says. “Since those were fixed, they’ve stayed fixed.”
“It was very helpful to be able to run only one set of wires in some places,” he explains. “It made it possible to use the space we had without having to make architectural changes.”
It’s also true, Johns says, that “time is of the essence in this business. You will make it or break it based on how quickly you can make decisions. Our systems have to work every time, and they do.”