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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio over IP, Part 1

Oct 7, 2010 4:24 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Yeah, you used the Barix Annuncicom 1000. Why did you go with that one? What features did you particularly find attractive?
The pastor of the church asked me last summer. He really enjoyed seeing the system with the outdoor speakers and having the opportunity to catch the attention of students that may not be exactly in the classroom where they’re supposed to be, and it occurred to him that, “Well we could have also some music playing during particular times of interest during the day either during their school day or during events that the church would have when we have social events and a time to fellowship there.” So we looked at a couple of options and the Annuncicom and also one of the Instreamers gave us an opportunity to play some music and before school starts and then during the lunch break and then right after school for the kids, we would be able to play some music there and then when the church has particular events where we’re outside, we have dinner on the grounds, we would be able to play some music that would be appropriate for that event as well. [Timestamp: 10:17]

OK let’s get into control on that a little bit. I think it has some contact closure ports on it.
It does, and it also allows for specific streaming to multiple IP addresses at the same time, which we found very attractive. It’s one of the reasons that we selected that particular product. [Timestamp: 10:39]

OK, when you set this up you probably didn’t have a lot of space. Where’s the control rack and all that gear located? Did you challenges installing that?
No, there again that was one of the golden opportunities that we had installing the network infrastructure for the IT systems and we did some restructuring for the telecom at the same time and the Barix equipment. We’re a small enough facility where we don’t have a computer room or a network operation center, so we used a communications trunk—a closet basically, and in that trunk, we have a standard 19in. rack. And our rack holds our firewall equipment, our routers, and hubs and switches, and patch panels close by holds our servers and the computer that we use to control the bell system, which we use Bell Commander software from Acro Vista. So setting that up and having it centrally located was not any stretch at all for us; making sure that we had the correct wiring for our backbone and things like that was just a matter of course in setting up the network. [Timestamp: 11:53]

Now at the receiving end, you’ve got the Extremer decoders; I believe you used the 100s.
Right, Extremer 100s, and we have eight of those so we have eight distinct zones and are able to vary the schedule so that the appropriate sounds are going to the appropriate zones at the right times for the events that are going on through the day. For example, the elementary school students, they start their day with a 5-minute-til bell, and that just lets them and the parents know, “Got to get in the classroom, get seated, get my backpack and my books, and my lunch box where they’re supposed to be.” And then there’s an 8 o’clock bell for, “OK, now it’s time to start our class,” and the students and the teachers know that at 8:04 and a half there’s going to be a tone that lets them know that it’s time for pledges and they all stand and they say the pledge to the American flag and pledge to the Christian flag and they also have a time of prayer before they start school—which is unique for our school. It’s something that you may not see in the public school setting, but that’s all prerecorded and scheduled. But then the high school students are on a separate schedule, so they don’t hear any of that. So the Extremer 100s allow us to assign the static IP addresses to each individual piece of equipment and then schedule all of that through Bell Commander, and the only thing that I really have to manage throughout the year is special events if we have a half day schedule or if we have a special event. Other than announcements, I really don’t have to have hands-on management of the system; it runs itself. [Timestamp: 13:44]

I know the Extremer devices are a snap to set up. How do you have those powered? Was there any additional cabling you had to put in?
On the modular buildings, there were some NEMA boxes that were already in there, and we bought the modular buildings secondhand, so I have no idea what they were originally for, but I’m using them for routing and for powering this other equipment. It’s nice because they’re up all the way up against the ceiling, so they’re out of reach of the students hands and it’s enclosed. So the only thing that I had to do was I found an electrical junction box and with the help of an electrician friend of mine, we were able to pull an outlet over and install a brand new outlet up there next to the shelf that contains the amplifier and the Extremer 100. So everything’s way up; the students can’t reach it and get to it, and there wasn’t some terrible additional cabling that we had to do; we just had to put an outlet in. The amplifier that we use and the network switch is all up there in that NEMA enclosure. [Timestamp: 14:55]

And when you put these in when you installed the system, was there a particular type of twisted pair for the Barix system, say shielded or unshielded?
Well, since it was audio, I did want to go with the better quality cable. On the backbone of our network system I’m using Cat-6 cable, which is just a standard twisted-pair cable. I use a little bit higher quality brand than the run-of-the-mill, but the only other place where I had any concerns was in two places the fire marshal recommended that we use a plenem cable. But other than that I used a standard Cat-5e/Cat-6 cable. [Timestamp: 15:35]

Well, it sounds not all that challenging to set up but something the school really found to be a huge improvement.
Oh yeah. tThe principal of the school is tickled over the changes that were made and the administrators just like to see things happen on time when they’re supposed to happen and don’t have to deal with too many extras or changes or special events, but just having the bells ringing on time has been a huge lesson for a lot of the staff members I think we have probably 3 or 4 students that jump still when the bells ring but other than that… [Timestamp: 16:10]

Well that’s a minor price to pay, I mean. Well, I appreciate this Jerry. It’s been great having you on the SVC podcast for part one. You were talking about the Barix system installed in Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, and in part two I want to get into the control software application and what you did for amplifiers and speakers and the receiving end of things. But thanks for being here for part one.
Well, thank you Bennett. It’s been a pleasure being on.

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