Installation Profile: Cable Convergence
Apr 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
NCTA’s new media-centric headquarters unites broadcast, AV, and postproduction.
If you want the world to regard you as the ultimate purveyor of media technology, you'd better look and act the part. This is definitely the case with the newly opened headquarters for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). This 53,000-square-foot structure, located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, serves as a quintessential emblem of a world that's rapidly changing as cable companies vie with the telco industry to see who will be the dominant provider of broadband media to American homes. There are four key areas to the NCTA building: a 105-seat, multipurpose multimedia theater; a compact but digitally powerful media command center that serves as a projection booth, signal hub, multiformat repository, and postproduction edit suite; nine media-enabled conference rooms, with the largest of them home to NCTA's board members; and a working “smart house” display — a replica of the demo home environment the NCTA displays at tradeshows such as the International Builders' Show — in which even the oven gets cable, the better to wow consumers and the occasional congressman.
“This is more than a high-end media system install; it's a very media-centric facility,” says Joe Strobel, who shared project management responsibilities with Vince Forcier, both of Washington, D.C.-based systems integrator Communications Engineering (CEI). “It puts corporate media at a new level. Just about wherever you walk you encounter screens and displays, from the smart home to the theater to the front of the auditorium to the conference rooms. You're intensely aware that you're experiencing media.”
Even the hive of offices that surround the two-story interior auditorium have cabled flatscreen televisions. But Forcier says that beyond providing this high level of connection, the media design also conveys a deeper message. “What really defines this project is that it is a convergence of broadcast technology, AV technology, and digital postproduction technology all under a unified AV-based control and serving a corporate mission,” he says. “It's very high-tech and very flexible, but with a very human and familiar GUI.”
The two-story theater is capable of producing original programming, as well as screening programs in various formats, including HD. It is equipped with Sony PTZ cameras and a projection booth with 35mm and 70mm projectors and a Stewart 20'×13' 16:9 aspect ratio perforated screen. Its multi-use mandate calls for it to be as flexible as possible to accommodate corporate presentations, large-scale trainings, and private rentals. The auditorium was literally carved out of office space engineered into the architectural design, with its portion of the main building slab cut and floated on neoprene pucks to create a 1.75in. air gap that extends to the sides and theater ceiling. New York-based Marshall/KMK Acoustics did the acoustical consulting on the project, specifying Novawall fabric wall and ceiling treatments to minimize interior sound reverberations. Although the theater's construction and acoustics were ambitious and shadowed by constant cost vetting, the mandate did include implementing THX specifications, for which the theater can later be certified.
The theater makes good use of the THX specs with two separate sound systems. Five QSC SC423HP speakers powered by QSC Powerlight DCA1222 amplifiers make up an L-LC-C-RC-R array behind the screen, and a dozen JBL 8340A speakers provide surround sound, with four each across the side and rear walls. Three JBL 4645C 1×18in. bass reflex subs powered by two QSC DCA1622 amplifiers are concealed behind the screen mask. The second sound system is dedicated to speech reinforcement and uses nine JBL Control 28 speakers surface-mounted above a perforated acoustic/aesthetic hanging cloud.
The cinema sound system is fed by any and all of the projected formats, as well as by a Peavey MediaMatrix router. The MediaMatrix's main job, though, is to feed the speech system. It's no small responsibility, considering the “smart” podium that is the centerpiece of live presentations. It has its own computer, as well as ports for laptops, an AMX Modero color video tilt touchscreen controller, and a 7in. Marshall V-R70P-HDSDI HD monitor so presenters don't have to turn around to look at the main screen. It also has an iPod dock, as iPods are becoming increasingly common as presentation devices. The MediaMatrix also acts as a hub to route signal inputs at the podium back to the control room. Video is routed via fiber-optic cabling. “With a 20ft. screen, the standard extension solution for video over a Cat-5 cable wouldn't cut it in terms of picture quality,” Strobel says.
As part of the theater's production mission, six broadcast service panels are used for connections for press feeds, telephone hybrids, and other interfaces. Fiber routes the signal to three 40in. NEC LED displays positioned vertically in the lobby outside the auditorium to act as digital signage.
The presentation stage and the projection/control room in the rear of the auditorium are cabled together with copper, most of it running in conduit either between the ceiling and the theater's outer shell (where the sprinkler pipes and HVAC ducting are located) or underneath it.
The fast-tracked nature of the project meant that many electrical and other conduits were installed nearly simultaneously, which required a great deal of coordination, and in some cases compromise, such as when several of the media system conduits had to take 45-degree and even 90-degree turns in close proximity. Where cabling passing underneath the floor crosses the first two unraked rows of seats, the conduit is 1in. pipe that fits into the acoustical air gap under the floated floor.
Another challenge arose when the seats failed to arrive in the prescribed time frame. “We had to install the junction boxes for the [Berkline] Buttkicker seat-motion devices based on the measurements we took, without having the actual seats to check positioning against,” Strobel says.
Cabling comes to a cable tray in the projection/control booth. Forcier stresses that this 1,400-square-foot seating space, tightly packed with two film projectors and one video projector; tape decks; media storage devices; amplifiers; AMX controllers; and an Apple Final Cut Pro system used for recording, editing, and postproduction, is not a stepchild, but rather is designed to be fully integrated with the theater. “It's small not because it's not important,” he says. “It's simply a function of the cost of real estate in Washington, D.C.” Systems and controllers for Sony BRC-300 robotic cameras and a specialized GUI on the AMX controller for audio mixing are nestled into a 7ft. console custom designed by CEI.
All of the technology can be controlled from either the control room or from the podium.
The facility includes eight conference rooms, which seat 12 to 80 people, and are nearly as connected as the theater space itself. All have Samsung and LG LCD displays, DVD players, and cable input sources. Several have Sony DVW-A500 Digibeta J-decks. Six of the rooms have ceiling-mounted Sony VPLCX80 projectors and dropdown Draper Ultimate/V screens. All are controlled with AMX touchscreen or IR controllers, programmed, as Forcier puts it, from the granular to the macro level. “Some programming allows for highly individual control of each component; others are set to run a presentation with a single button,” he says.
But the piéce de resistance is the boardroom/multipurpose room. Thirty-four seats around a U-shaped rectangular table come equipped with individual Bosch DCN next-generation audioconference stations each with a speaker and microphone, with a master control at the chairman's position. Up to 80 people can be seated in a gallery behind the conference table. Larger audiences are able to watch on two Draper Ultimate/VINT106 106in. dropdown screens, one at each end of the room, fed by a pair of Christie DW3Kc projectors, and a 63in. LG plasma display. Audio is supplied via 24 JBL Control 26A recessed ceiling speakers. A room technician can control the whole setup wirelessly with two AMX NXT-CV10 touchscreen controllers from any seat at the table. The setup can also be controlled from the room's podium. This room has its own broadcast input panel and is also linked to the MediaMatrix system via copper due to its proximity to the projection booth where the MediaMatrix is housed. “We also ran a lot of empty conduit overhead for future AV requirements,” Forcier says.
More intimate presentations can use the executive conference center, which is fitted with a Tandberg 6000 teleconferencing processor, a Smart Technologies 680 interactive 77in. whiteboard, and two Sony 40in. plasma displays that NCTA brought from its previous facility.
Each conference room is designed to be fully self-sufficient with regard to media. With the exception of the boardroom, there is no connectivity between rooms now, but Strobel says that raceways and conduit were installed to be used as a future upgrade path, if desired. “The conduit will also allow the rooms to connect to the main control and switching systems so that the conference rooms can act as a shared resource or even as overflow from the theater for presentations,” Forcier says.
The NCTA headquarters move to the literal center of Washington is an embodiment of the idea that cable and other media we've come to associate with very specific applications are now converging into an information/entertainment universe. And, in a sense, the smart home display the NCTA staff created inside the new structure nestles humanity inside a connected cocoon of media.
But the headquarters also demonstrates how carefully planned and installed media technology can make a corporate environment more effective and efficient. “The client had outgrown its previous space and made a quantum leap of both the number of conference rooms and the technology used in them,” Forcier says. “Everything moves faster these days — technology and business. The corporate facility has to reflect that reality.”
Between the Pillars
The theater in the new NCTA headquarters was built between the pillars in an existing office building. For this reason, the conduit paths included many turns and often required alternating use of flexible conduit in cases where hard conduit would not work. In addition, some of the turns were what Vince Forcier of systems integrator Communications Engineering (CEI) describes as “compound nineties” — two or more 90-degree turns within a few feet of each other.
Once the pattern of the pillars had been analyzed, it became clear that standard conduit would not be the best choice. “All of the broadcast service panels would normally have been connected to 1in. conduit,” Forcier says. “But because of the turns they had to make, we specified 2in. pipe instead, to make the pulls easier. Even with that, there were a few that we needed simple brute force to get around. But the oversized conduit made a tricky task easier.”
Doubling the conduit diameter was one way the integrator stayed close to schedule. CEI specializes in broadcast facilities, which usually have the majority of their construction completed before systems integration comes into play. But the tight timeline of the NCTA project meant moments of slippage as other construction trades jockeyed to stay on their own schedules. “This compressed timeline also presented many challenges toward the end of the job, as the entire system was controlled by custom programming on AMX and MediaMatrix,” Forcier says. “There were many long days as we finalized all of the programming.”
The only solution was to stay on the job longer each day — in some cases, 20 hours a day. “You'd like to have a neat trick you can call on as a solution for something like this,” he says. “But sometimes there isn't one.”
For More Information
Dan Daley is a veteran freelance journalist and author specializing in media and entertainment technology and business sectors. He lives in New York, Miami, and Nashville, Tenn., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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