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Putting the AV in Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

AV infrastructure for media training programs is a special challenge.

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Full Sail University's live-sound mixing stage

Full Sail University's live-sound mixing stage is part of the Orlando, Fla.-based school's Show Production and Touring program.


Full Sail University's main campus in the Orlando, Fla., area sprawls over 180 acres. It includes a Hollywood-style backlot as well as 110 hands-on labs and 58 classrooms, some of which are set up as theaters. (It has a smaller satellite school in Los Angeles.) Not surprisingly, many of the classrooms and labs are autonomous in terms of interaction with a central control center and distribution of content. Audio recording and mixing rooms that can draw from and store to central servers and video rooms are linked to Avid Unity ISIS streaming servers, but quotidian functions such as attendance-taking stay within dedicated computers in each room, which also have individual projection and monitoring systems — although an Extron IP Link system does monitor projectors for maintenance purposes.

High-definition video has recently been added to the university's graphics-degree program, but the scale of the school influences how HD video is compressed, using the Apple intermediate HDV codec, to address the inevitable space limitations that a student body of 5,600 puts on the school's storage infrastructure.

“It's a balance between space and access time and how many students can stream HD video simultaneously,” says Michael Sangrey, Full Sail's director of technical services. The distance-learning program, which started last October, has its own audio and video content as opposed to recorded versions of classes used by attending students, putting that much more of a load on data storage.

A distributed-audio system exists in the school buildings, but Sangrey says the paging function it was intended for has been largely supplanted by use of cell phones and campus-wide Wi-Fi. (Each student can opt into a school-supplied, Wi-Fi-enabled laptop — either an Apple MacBook Pro or HP Mobile Workstation — at additional cost.) In fact, an emphasis on keeping hands on the technology hardware is the overarching philosophy behind Full Sail's systems architecture.

“We're trying to get [the students] to see the technology, rather than experience it in a virtual sort of way,” Sangrey says. “In classrooms, we have two projectors operating. One will project an image from the screen of the Pro Tools [digital audio] system and the other will have the image from the instructor's laptop or from the screen of the console.”

Each classroom has KSI in-ceiling loudspeakers for instructor microphone amplification and playback of some content. The music and postproduction studios bring out the big guns: JBL LSR series monitors and Dynaudio Acoustics BM15A and powered BM6 loudspeakers. But Sangrey says desktop audio systems are becoming a more common factor as the school expands and professional audio in general migrates more to the personal workstation environment.

“The whole point here is to mimic which technologies are used and how they are used in the real world, and that's something that's constantly changing,” he says. That's another reason why campus-wide system infrastructure upgrades can be risky propositions, versus a more modular approach in which each type of media technology is updated as its own larger culture changes.

A good example is the shift from “battleship” mixers such as large-format SSL and Neve consoles to smaller platforms, such as the SSL AWS 900+ digitally controlled analog mixer paired with a Pro Tools system that has become a familiar combination in conventional and project studios. Newer large-format consoles are also becoming more common, such as the Digidesign Icon that populates Full Sail's Mix Palace facility. Here, a dozen Icons are set up in a honeycomb of 24/7 rooms to teach audio postproduction. These consoles are linked to a remote desktop monitor used by the instructor. They also have a logout script written into their operating system that fully resets the console after each use.

“We want each student to have the exact same experience at the console,” Sangrey says. However, the scale of the school makes it less feasible to use an online booking method for these types of rooms. Instead, the central office programs a schedule for each student a month in advance.

Media technology education has shown consistent growth, even as some sectors of entertainment media — such as recorded music and DVD — have slipped or stalled in recent years. Their systems requirements are as varied as the schools themselves, ensuring a robust niche for systems designers and integrators in coming years.

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