AV Technology Meets Its Match

NEWINGTON, VA-Looking for a headquarters that would provide more space as well as closer proximity to downtown Washington, D.C., the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) recently moved into a new location near Capitol Hill. The showcase facility features a 105-seat high-definition theater, an integrated boardroom, and an executive conference room and seven other conference rooms with the latest in audio- and videoconferencing technology.

"The members are all cable operators, so there are some pretty tech-friendly people that are coming in and out of that building, not to mention all of the government folks that are stopping by," said Joe Strobel, senior project manager for CEI, the firm that served as systems integrator on the project. "It was obviously important to them that they have something impressive both technologically and aesthetically."

The two-story theater was developed to provide space for events, and thus was built to THX specifications and designed to handle film and video projection, but the venue can also serve as lecture hall, or as a small television studio. It is equipped with Sony pan/tilt/zoom cameras and a projection booth with 35mm and 70mm projectors. The theater features a large "smart" podium that can control all audio and video functions through custom-programmed AMX touchpanels. The touchpanels are user-friendly and were designed so that all users, whether highly-technical or not, will have no problem with the system. "We were encouraged by our main client contact and his consultant to not get too complex, because at the end of the day the room needed to embrace the lowest level of operator," Strobel explained. "But we extended the handles that we present to the operators so that the more in-depth, technically savvy people dig deeper in specialized menus and fine tune some of the things that the handles exist on."

The projection booth for the theater is also the equipment room and the main switching area that manages the main operations for the theater, the boardroom, and the executive conference room. The seven other conference rooms in the building each stands alone, each with its own rack.

Because the boardroom is just off the theater, it provides extra space for overflow of combined events in the theater. Though is has extensive interconnectivity with the theater, the boardroom also has its own rack, and it can run independently as well. Serving a 34-member board of directors, it includes two native HD projectors and screens, a 60-inch plasma display, DVD, and another smart podium that allows full control of routers and conferencing functions. A Bosch audioconferencing system is vital to the space, which was designed with the sensitive nature of the conversations in mind.

"The control and mitigation of sound elements as far as the video/teleconferencing situation was definitely discussed," Strobel said. This was a concern across the spectrum, for the additional conference rooms also have similar systems. "We put handles on the control system that would allow them to have some faith in what was going out of the room and what was not going out of the room. You want to be able to mute the sound, to have an offline discussion, and things like that. Those were some of their concerns, especially from a perspective of the high-level activities that would be going on in those rooms."

The executive conference room is the space devoted to any videoconferencing that the members of the NCTA may require. The room is tied to the main facilities router and switching so any signal distributed around the facility is accessible to those in the executive conference room. The Tandberg system being used was brought over from the previous facility.
As with so many projects, the budget can often undermine the initial lofty goals. Fortunately in the case of the NCTA, future-proofing was a main concern. "They were very proactive and realistic about making the tough decisions when it came down to what is embraced and what isn't embraced because they couldn't afford it," Strobel said. Though they wanted to do a lot in the beginning, they had to scale back some of their vision for the future, but in that they preserved the funds to build physical pathways between some of the areas. "A lot of work was put in this process to create cable pathways and signal paths for future implementation," he concluded.

Mary Bakija is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of storytelling experience. Bakija is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Library and Information Science to help others find and tell important stories that might otherwise be lost, and to ensure those stories are preserved for future generations to see.