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Stretching AV Budgets

May 11, 2011 8:35 AM, by Bennett Liles

How to help clients make the most of tight funding.

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Software can provide a quick summary of equipment use in each classroom for maintenance and upgrade planning.

Software can provide a quick summary of equipment use in each classroom for maintenance and upgrade planning.

Scheduled Lamp Replacement

The academic environment is uniquely hard on projector lamps. They are burning six days a week, turned on and off a dozen or more times a day, and a school with 100 projector-equipped classrooms will have at least $50,000 invested in lamps at any one time. Various projector models can be expected to have differing lamp time expectancy, often less than what is published by the lamp manufacturer. Experience with the individual projectors provides the most accurate lamp life expectancy and an effective lamp replacement strategy can provide substantial savings. Do you replace them at an hour-count threshold, wait for a dim lamp call from instructors, or just risk letting it break as was frequently the case in the days before AV networking? This is a progressive balance between AV expense and the expense of lost classroom instruction time. Changing lamps on an hour count usually allows replacements to be done during room down time and on a scheduled basis for minimal staff. If a primary goal of the AV support team is to minimize lost class time due to hardware malfunctions, scheduled lamp replacement should be one of the very last things sacrificed to budget cuts.

700Mhz Wireless

One of the more recent seismic events in the area of sound equipment for performance venues, churches, and universities was the official FCC closure of the 700Mhz band to RF wireless microphone use last June. While RF microphones are not the ideal sound reinforcement solution for a campus with high classroom density, those mics are widely used and the required upgrades are hitting higher education at a particularly bad budget time. AV people saw the 700Mhz shutoff coming, but RF upgrades have tended to be put on the back burner compared to more immediate issues.

The RF versus IR question itself is certainly not new. Do you upgrade the present RF system and stay with the problem of having multiple instructor access to one specific microphone per classroom, or do you pay to switch multiple classrooms over to infrared (which includes the installation of IR sensors and coax cabling)? The advantage of having any mic work in any room allows a stretched AV staff the convenience of assigning a specific mic to any instructor to use wherever they teach. The RF advantage is that an external classroom antenna system is rarely needed. Again we have a cost vs. flexibility situation. Not every instructor will need a microphone, and those who do will be assigned different rooms from time to time. One solution that combines the advantages of both wireless technologies is the use of ENG RF microphone systems. The instructor takes both the transmitter and receiver with them and connects the receiver's audio output to a classroom sound system cable. So both the RF transmitter and receiver are assigned to the instructor. The fiscal advantage is that only those instructors needing mics have to be accommodated rather than equipping every classroom. The only technical challenge this arrangement normally presents is volume and feedback control. It works best if all the rooms used with wireless mics have the same sound system configuration.

Classroom Capture

A primary effect of shrinking budgets is increased class size. One of the best new tech solutions to offset this effect has been classroom capture systems. The systems currently available range from complex, high-dollar gear down to some very simple hardware items. Does the class require video camera capture sound from multiple sources or will it suffice to have only the instructor's voice and whiteboard marking captured? This basic question can help begin the selection process. The end result is that students in large classes can download and replay the lecture, preferably from time-stamped points, and conveniently review the material. This unique capability makes classroom capture one of the best bargains in instructional technology.

These are a few specific tips for campus AV planners in dealing with present and future budget challenges. Overall, it is important to have a good understanding of the needs of students and faculty along with a solid ongoing picture of what is happening in the classrooms. Plotting trends on this information will provide the best road map for the budget ride ahead.

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