Courtroom Audio, Video, and Control, Part 2
Aug 26, 2010 4:12 PM, With Bennett Liles
Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.
By the time a case gets to the Minnesota Supreme Courts some very important things are being decided and the sound system and video system have to work every time. For its recent upgrade, the court called in MSpace and Tom Larson is back to wrap up his account on how the installation went.
OK, Tom, in part one we were talking about the Minnesota Supreme Court and the complete overhaul. You did on their sound and video system with voice-activated cameras from Vaddio and A-T mics and they have some other intriguing little gadgets on that system—the D’San Limitimer. How does that work?
The D’San Limitimer is literally a very simple timer function the D’San Corporation has. They have a number of different court timers that can be used for different types of events or council meetings or anywhere where you might have somebody that may be presenting arguments but those arguments need to be limited in minutes. It’s a way of indicating to that person presenting that you are free to speak, and in that case, you’ve got a green light, or say you’re within the last minute of your speaking time and the light flashes yellow, now you know you’ve got a minute to wrap up and then the light goes red meaning your time is done. And in some cases you can even tie those timers in to physically cut off a microphone if you wanted to; we didn’t choose to do that, but one of the applications that D’San had done that we saw is they had done some custom panels for, I believe, the U.S. Senate, and when we were researching, I was trying to find a simple timer function because the old system that they had [was] archaic but none the less, a timer system that the chief of justice was able to control. I realized that we needed to replace that functionality and upgrade that. And I was surprised to find that there weren’t that many people in the game. D’San was certainly the prominent player, and I went with them and it turns out they were very willing to work with us and create a custom plate that would not only house their timers but also we could put some custom switches in there for mute functionality and a microphone. [Timestamp: 2:57]
And keeping them somewhat on a timeline anyway. Now, earlier on part one, we were talking about the automated switching and I was thinking about that. Is there any switching delay to avoid seeing the camera’s panning and zooming on the video in reaction to the voice triggering?
I believe there is a transition. There is a little bit of a lag. First of all, we have it set up so that the person needs to be speaking for a certain amount of time to engage that camera so that a sudden cough or percussive pop on someone’s microphone that they forget to mute is not going to suddenly going to activate a camera and you’re going to have cameras all over the place triggering. The cameras may take up to a second to recognize or second and a half to recognize who’s speaking before it actually transitions to that person, but that is, in part, to keep it from having the effect of switching too many times or to the wrong person who wasn’t actually speaking and just happened to make a sound or a cough; there is probably a little bit of a lag time following the camera transitions, but just a bit. [Timestamp: 4:06]
Do the presenters out there before the court have any AV control? Are they just standing in the whole time at a lectern?
Well, the presenter does have a lectern mic. As we mentioned in part one, we used the Audio-Technica MicroLine mics with the MicroLine element and that person’s mic and the microphone is connected to this custom D’San plate, which has the timer in it. Then on the plate, there are the red, yellow, and green lights, but, yeah, they don’t have any control themselves for them. The person presenting the arguments, particularly, they’re not in control of their mic; it’s for the record. The clerk has control of the microphone for the presenter and the chief justice also has control of the mic for the presenter. So if you were to look, the clerk and the chief justice have full timer function buttons from D’San, and they have mute functions that allow them to mute the microphone at the presenter if they choose to do that. All the other Justices have the simple same timer read out that a presenter would have or that the presenter has and their own personal mute function. So it’s really the chief and the clerk that run the room. [Timestamp: 5:22]
OK, so this actually probably varies a little bit from a normal courtroom where maybe the attorneys would be able to be somewhat more mobile. They’re pretty well rooted to a lectern in this situation.
As I was told, at the time that a case gets brought up before the Supreme Court, you’re pretty much at the point where you’re presenting oral arguments. You’re presenting from a fixed podium to the highest judicial body, so it is very much different than a standard courtroom, which is one of the interesting things for me. [Timestamp: 5:58]
Where you don’t have to do any histrionics for the jury or anything.
Yeah, no, and the other thing I found interesting is, at least at this time in history, we didn’t do a lot of AV presentations. There are not computer-graphics-heavy presentations for the justices. There’s not a lot of information at the point of it getting to this point in the argument. It’s back really to the spoken word and presenting oral arguments in front of these folks. [Timestamp: 6:26]
OK, we talked about this a little earlier, but where is the real guts of this thing, the Nexia stuff and all that stuff, located?
As we mentioned in part one, the rack is located probably about 100ft., maybe 150ft. as the crow flies, directly from the courtroom. However, it’s in a building that’s structurally separate from the courtroom and the cabling had to pass through an elaborate conduit system, which the building folks didn’t have any record of so it was some guess work for us to figure it out. So it’s in a separate EQ closet about 100ft. behind the courtroom but probably through about 300ft. of conduit. [Timestamp: 7:09]
Right and that was all the vacuum-bag cable-pulling operation. So does the court have any technical people onsite or how are they fixed for support on this?
Our customer is a moderately technical gentleman, but the courtroom itself was designed to be run by a court administrator, and it’s not meant to be a technical system at all. The most technical piece of the entire operation is really the Vaddio ProductionView, which is sitting in the basement of the building and that’s really controlling the video part of the receiver as it’s going out for press or to a stream. And that can be controlled by an operator if they choose to do that. However, as it’s turned out 95 percent of the time the whole system is running on autopilot. [Timestamp: 7:52]
And in hearing these cases, do they connect with any place outside with the sound and video signals?
As I understand, the state of Minnesota and the court system has partnered with a public television station that’s located nearby in downtown St. Paul. It’s KTCA, and the video stream actually feeds over to them or the video feed feeds over to them and then they handle the streaming functions for the courts and for the state of Minnesota. [Timestamp: 8:19]
How long did it take you to install the system and get everything working the way you wanted it to?
All said and done, we were probably onsite for a couple of weeks, through and through—a two guys, two weeks kind of a thing, if that’s the way it had to go. But then we also provide training, so our trainer was over there for a day working with the court staff to teach them how the daVinci system worked to familiarize them with the Vaddio ProductionView for people the that were going to do that. [Timestamp: 8:47]
It sounds like there probably wasn’t much training involved. I mean it wasn’t necessary.
Certainly not. Again, the biggest training piece might be simply teaching a justice to hit the mute button on the microphone if they have to cough and teaching the chief justice how to work the timer system and that’s really about it. If they don’t choose to worry about the camera system at all, they really don’t have to. [Timestamp: 9:10]
So what’s the feedback been like? Have they given any feedback, one way or the other, about how it’s been?
Everything that I have heard is that they’re very pleased with how things are working. The only issue we have was the issue of the justices not being able to hear themselves and then we installed the small custom Innovox speakers for the Supreme Court that were built right for them and since that point we’ve only heard good things. [Timestamp: 9:36]
All right, Tom Larson from MSpace up there in Minnesota and the Minnesota Supreme Court.
I do thank you for letting me chat. [Timestamp: 10:13]
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