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Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1

Oct 14, 2010 11:49 AM, With Bennett Liles

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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.

The Washington State Bar Association needed continuing education for its members to stay on top of things, but not all of them could make the trip to their new Seattle conference center so they called in Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfit the place for distance learning. And Mark Siegel is here to tell us how they made it happen.

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Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 2
The Washington State Bar Association has a new Seattle conference center, but for a lot of their members getting there is a problem. ...

SVC: Mark, it’s great having you here for the SVC podcast from Advanced Broadcast Solutions, and you had a new distance learning project for the Washington State Bar Association in their new Seattle conference center, but first tell me a little bit about Advanced Broadcast Solutions.
Advanced Broadcast Solutions is a system solution provider; we primarily focus in acquisition distribution and manipulation of video and audio systems—very focused toward the broadcast space and not necessarily the AV space but we focus on, let’s say, the higher end solutions for people. [Timestamp: 1:23]

OK, the Washington State Bar Association had an interesting concept. They wanted to bring in more people to conferences while cutting down on travel so I guess this is more of a distance learning or a videoconference situation. So what did they have to begin with and why did they call in Advanced Broadcast Solutions on the project?
I have to say probably, number one, our reputation preceded them contacting us. They were looking for an organization to help them understand and deploy their solution. We had done a project a number of years ago which was with TV Washington, which is a Washington Public Affairs Network that got pretty high-profile within the state and TV W covers the supreme court hearings and all that stuff. And we orchestrated a system very similar or in much larger scope to what Washington State Bar Association was. They contacted us, so TV W was a very good reference for us on this. It’s a unique project. It’s something that, properly deployed, can really help the organization and help the organizations members by obviously reducing cost, reducing travel, and delivering a quality product. [Timestamp: 2:38]

And on the basic premise of this thing, they’re trying to furnish continuing education to their members and not all of them can do the traveling to get there. So this was their distance traveling situation?
It is a distance learning situation. They recently acquired new space, a conference-like facility, and in this conference-like facility, it was brand new construction or remodeled construction—a very nice location in downtown Seattle. They brought us in very early to do some consulting on, “Well, how could we use this space?” Was this space going to be functional for what they were trying to achieve, so they can host probably 140 to 160 guests in a classroom environment with image magnification. You go to a lot of these facilities, [and] the first thing that people complain about is you’re sitting here trying to learn is you can’t hear well in these spaces. So we spent a lot of time on acoustics, planning the acoustics of the room, proper isolation. Three walls of the building are glass that we had to deal with that, and we had to deal with bringing in lighting for the video portion of it and not have it too obstructive to what was going on in the classroom or conference center. It’s really a multifunction room. They can pull out all the various desks and computers in there, and then you have a very large meeting room or let’s just call it a conference or meeting facility. [Timestamp: 4:10]

And it sounds really good for the people who can make it there. Now how much of an idea did they have about what they wanted on this? I mean some clients have no idea other than the general result they want and then some know just enough to be dangerous and then some have everything lined out, so where were they along the scale of this?
Well, they had already, in a sense, been in the process of streaming sessions and meetings that they had but not very efficiently and the quality was not very high. There was a single camera sitting in the back of the room; [it] didn’t have proper lens on it and you couldn’t see things; you couldn’t hear things well. And they understood, I think, their objective, but they brought us in to help recommend proper technical equipment and properly deploy it and give them the product that they’re distributing today. We used some of their legacy equipment [and] integrated it with some new equipment. They had tried this before, but we brought our little spin to it where they could, obviously, produce a better product for their viewers. Proper camera positioning, proper audio levels makes you feel like you are right there with the presenter versus an observer from a very far distance. they will still continue to grow upon it. This was their first significant step to bring information that they’re offering to their members. [Timestamp: 5:31]

And so what sort of gear do they have in there? Are they using document cameras or annotators or anything like that?
Currently, we have three cameras, two manned cameras, and one PTZ—pan tilt zoom—camera operated remotely in the event that they’re having smaller events. Everything can be controlled from the control room with a single robotic camera. We put in a Broadcast Pix production switcher because they wanted a more production feel to it versus a typical, let’s just say banging through the buttons from source to source. There are some unique things about the Broadcast Pix production switcher that allow you to bring in all of the various graphics that they’re using in their presentation. The switcher has direct DVI inputs so you can use them as a source in the computer. Plus we are using the system to feed their IMAG screens so they can have a very specific mixed program output, which goes out to the Web for their viewers to view on, let’s say on demand or they subscribe to the services and then we can also switch or mix a separate program for the people that are in the classroom experience to have IMAG, which is something that they did not do before. Image magnification allows them to, obviously, for Power Point presentations or for preproduced content that they may use in their program, they can play that back in the room as well. [Timestamp: 6:56]

What type of screens were they using on this? Were they permanent screens or retractable? How were they doing the projection?
One of the very important objectives to this project was, architecturally, this was aesthetically pleasing. They used very high-end materials inside of the room. I spent a tremendous amount of money on TNI, tenant improvements. We put in Da-Lite retractable screens that retracted up into the drop ceiling. We had to make custom mounts for the various cameras and for the projectors so that they architecturally or aesthetically fit into the room, that they did not stick out like a sore thumb. We used Brightline, which is a series of lights which are architectural lights designed for broadcast application to light up the stage so they don’t hang down. They’re not obtrusive to the presenter; they’re a florescent-based fixture. So there were lots of considerations for the environment; that it appeared that the technology, in a sense, was pretty transparent. We used two Christie projectors for the IMAG, and they were not using document cameras. Everything that they produce is preproduced content that is played back on a PC. [Timestamp: 8:04]

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