The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) is an R2 doctoral university recognized for high research activity. In response to demand for more classrooms and lab space, they made plans to build the new 145,000-square-foot Allied Health Veterans Hall, which is nearly twice the size of any other instructional facility on campus. The building would include the first UNCW instructional spaces designed from the ground up as active learning classrooms, as well as state-of-the-art labs for studies such as anatomy and kinesiology. In addition to classrooms, lecture halls, and labs, the building would provide conference and meeting rooms, huddle spaces, and problem-based learning rooms to enhance communication and collaboration among students and faculty. To ensure students had every opportunity to reach their full potential, each room required its own flexible AV system that was easy to operate. Additionally, the AV systems had to tie into the distance education control room for centralized management and lesson recording capabilities.
UNCW had specific goals for the quantity, quality, and functionality of the AV technology in the massive new building, but they also needed to stay within a defined budget. In addition, they wanted a future-ready solution that would be viable for many years to come.
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UNCW turned to consultant Affiliated Engineers, Inc. (AEI) to design the comprehensive installation and KONTEK Systems, Inc. for whole-building integration. The building includes 16 spacious lecture and lab instructional rooms, five active learning classrooms, 29 collaboration and conference spaces, and over 30 digital signage destinations. The installation incorporates multiple AV switching systems, which include PTZ cameras, ceiling mics over student areas, multiple large-screen displays, and more. Classrooms, conference rooms, and collaboration spaces have wireless connectivity to the displays for room arrangement flexibility and ease of use. Wherever possible, AV components are installed behind the displays for a clean look and to avoid the use of AV carts.
After looking at other AV technologies, UNCW specified the Extron NAV Pro AV-over-IP system. NAV is deployed in a variety of spaces that feature video walls and multiple flat panel displays, and it also ties all rooms back to the distance education control room. Testing proved that NAV was stable, robust, and delivered a visually lossless signal. The system was easy for the support staff to administer from the control room, and all control system programming could be performed in house. Also, NAV provided the capability to control or limit bandwidth, if necessary.
“Tying the cameras and mics to each room’s local system and the distance education control room has proven to be a major benefit in this age of COVID,” said Robb Mann, CTS-I, manager, Integrated Educational Technologies at UNCW. “We use the NAV AVoIP system to route lessons anywhere, as well as capture each session, which satisfies all of our social distancing needs and has huge positive implications for the future.”
The pilot AVoIP active learning classroom was installed by in-house staff a year before the building was slated for commissioning. This space served as proof of concept and allowed various equipment to be evaluated in a real-world scenario. The installation included eight network endpoints that linked back to the control room. When the design was approved, the NAV system was scaled up to tie in 200 endpoints located throughout the building. It was also used to develop the gold configuration for the network servers. The pilot room then served as the training space for professors to develop their content and skills in the new active learning environment.
To begin instruction, the professor launches their own Zoom session and runs the class while a control room operator captures content for streaming and archive. Operators are able to monitor all ongoing classes and labs and correct any issues when or even prior to the professor knowing there is a problem. Two of the many remote operation capabilities facilitated over the NAV system are audio mixing and control of the PTZ cameras.
Extron NAV E 101 IG encoders and NAV SD 101 IG scaling decoders were deployed for each room and system with 10G uplinks to central aggregate Cisco Catalyst 9300 Series switches. These NAV 1G models are compatible with 10G endpoints, eliminating the need for additional devices. The system takes full advantage of the efficiency of the Protocol Independent Multicast, or PIM, sparse mode, facilitating overflow between spaces.
Two NAVigator Pro AV-over-IP System Manager devices work together to control the entire NAV system, which encompasses 200 endpoints. They provide configuration, monitoring, and control of the encoders and decoders from the distance education control room. NAVigator uses the SSH (Secure Shell) protocol to encrypt communication between it and each endpoint. The installation stays within UNCW’s standard practices of having control devices on a separate network, with IPv4 routing to the NAV network for control.
In the distance education control room, the NAV components provided an unexpected benefit of substantial space savings. The engineered finesse of NAV technology and the compact size of its components allowed the number of AV racks to be reduced from the planned three fully loaded racks down to a single, partially filled rack.
In accordance with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, KONTEK was unable to go on site for system commissioning. To ensure that each space was ready for distance learning in time for the fall semester, KONTEK and an Extron engineer worked in conjunction to remotely commission UNCW’s state-of-the-art Allied Health Veterans Hall installation.
UNCW is quite pleased with system flexibility and stability. KONTEK efficiently integrated AEI’s design, facilitating high-performance AV switching and distribution over the university network at extremely low latency. The Extron NAV Pro AVoIP system has proven invaluable for distance learning while they wait for a full return to on-campus life. The installation successfully delivers real-time video at resolutions up to 4K60 with 4:4:4 chroma sampling to the complete satisfaction of the professors, staff, and administration.
UNCW also appreciated that NAV is an economical choice. The project’s original AV budget estimate was not fully funded, which left the university with a shortfall. Not only did integration of the Extron NAV Pro AVoIP solution meet all system requirements, but it also realized an approximate 18 percent cost savings. This enabled UNCW to immediately install 17 of the 18 items on their wish list for further system enhancements.