Guiding The Journey

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) uses "It's the Journey" as a tagline to describe the unique personality of its hall of fame documenting decades of student athletics-the NCAA Hall of Champions. Indeed, the hall is a testament to the dedication required over the course of many years-the journey-to become the type of outstanding student athlete celebrated inside its walls.

But just seeing all of the exhibits in the 25,000-square-foot hall spread over two floors is a journey unto itself for most of the 60,000-plus visitors who annually make the pilgrimage to Indianapolis, IN, home to both the hall and the NCAA headquarters.

For the average visitor, the sheer size of the hall can be daunting, posing a real challenge to those who want to see, either as much of everything as possible, or make a beeline to exhibitions of their favorite sports.

Now, for the first time in the hall's five years of existence, experiencing all that the hall has to offer is much more feasible. A new automated audio tour guide solution, guidePORT by Sennheiser, gives visitors freedom to roam the hall at their leisure while the wireless, radio-frequency-based system delivers descriptive audio files to lightweight headsets as they enter specific zones.

Although guidePORT has been on the market in Europe for several years, the NCAA Hall of Champions marks the first-ever permanent installation of the system in the United States. The guidePORT system was brought to NCAA's attention by Markey's Audio Visual, an Indianapolis-based AV systems integrator. Brad Ehrlich, the NCAA account manager for Markey's who maintains an office on site at the NCAA headquarters, acknowledged guidePORT looked like the ideal answer to the hall's challenge of finding a way to improve the hall visitor's total experience. "We had always talked with NCAA about installing some sort of guided tour system in the hall, and we were on the lookout for products that fit the bill," he said. "We brought guidePORT to the hall's attention and after testing it out, they liked the concept."

For NCAA, guidePORT came at an opportune time. "Over the course of five years we had noticed that many visitors move at their own pace," said George Smith, managing director of the Hall of Champions. "This new system enables them to do that and ensures that we're able to communicate all the information that's important for them to know as they peruse the exhibits."

In total, there are currently 28 separate zones for which unique audio files have been created. The files total about 30 minutes of material stored on a computer. In each of the zones, wireless identifier units sense a visitor's entrance and the receiver is then activated via a multichannel radio frequency wireless transmitter. The appropriate audio file is quickly downloaded into the receiver, where it's stored and transmitted to the headset. Five antennas strategically placed throughout the exhibit area allow the receivers and the cell transmitters to communicate and inter-operate. The antennae are designed to operate indoors on a frequency ideal for digital audio and resistant to outside interference.

NCAA's initial guidePORT setup encompasses a modest complement of 20 receivers. But more than 5,000 NCAA logo-enhanced headsets have been ordered, which will allow NCAA to give many visitors a souvenir.

In addition to giving the visitors an enhanced experience, the system also has given NCAA more opportunities to transmit useful information to visitors and to learn more about how visitors move through the hall. Currently, NCAA has included one audio file that reminds visitors to stop by the gift shop. In addition, the system is configured to include software that tracks the exact paths of visitors as well as time spent at each exhibit. It also utilizes software that allows live announcements to be transmitted to the headsets.

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