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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio Over IP, Part 2

Oct 21, 2010 9:21 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.

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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio over IP, Part 1
When IT manager Jerry Boyd set up the computer network at Calvary Baptist School and Church, the school had no way to make announcements or signal the beginning of classes...

At the Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, they needed a way for campus-wide announcements, fire drill signals, and piped music for special events; the Barix Annuncicom and BellCommander Software had the solution. IT manager Jerry Boyd is here to give us all the details on the installation and programming of the system.

SVC: Jerry thanks so much for being back with me for part two talking about the Barix system that you installed at the Calvary Baptist School in Conroe, Texas, where you’re the IT manager. And in part one we didn’t get too far into the control software; what was used for that and what sort of features did you like about it?
As we were doing the research on which bell system and announcement system to go with I ran across two companies. I was very interested in Barix in the hardware side, but the local sales office for Barix in this area in Texas is Acro Vista and Acro Vista also produces the BellCommander Software. BellCommander is a very easy to set up database, and it’s very simply a schedule and has selections built in to the software for the Barix equipment. You can set up the BellCommander Software to use the audio card on a PC or other devices, but the Exstreamer 100s that we use are right there on the dropdown list; it cannot be easier to make the selections. From in that software also we’re able to establish the static IP addresses. There are two places where we selected those with a browser; you can bring up the default IP address that’s assigned on the Barix device and then from that you can assign a static address to it and just tell the BellCommander Software which device that you want to use at which particular zone. You establish all of the zones and the subzones and the individual IP addresses; from that aspect we were able to set up which Exstreamers we wanted to use for elementary and which ones that we wanted to you use for high school, and then we have a third zone—the outdoor zone—for announcements and bells. [Timestamp: 2:41]

I saw some screen shots from that and it looks very simple to set up. You’ve got various modes this thing can be used in; I think they listed sound card mode, network relay, analog phone, SIP phone and so forth; you can apply it to different situations. I think you said you have several different audio zones and one building is segmented into two zones, so how did you do the more analog side of things when it gets back to amps and speakers?
The Barix Exstreamer 100 has RCA ports on the back for output, and we used the cable that was shipped with the Exstreamer to go right into the back of a small PA amp and as a matter of fact, I got the amplifiers from Radio Shack believe it or not. They had the best price and the right wattage. For most of our systems, we use 40W and 100W amplifiers, and each zone in our system has anywhere from two to four speakers. Most of them have four speakers per zone, and we use a single-channel amplifier to produce the sound. Once the sound’s decoded on the Barix device, it’s regular noise that we can begin to work with, and from the amplifier we just use a standard audio cable. For safety and durability, I used Monster cable. I didn’t want to have any issues with impedance, and I don’t have any runs in this particular design that are longer than they should be, so from the amplifier to the speakers it’s typically about a 25ft. to 35ft. run. So everything is as centrally located within each zone as it possibly can be and using just a standard PA amp. Our outdoor zone and one of our indoor zones in our main building are powered by a 250W amplifier that has multiple channels, and that allows us to set on a couple of speakers a lower volume and then on the outdoor speakers a higher volume. And then our outdoor speakers are 100W weather-resistant speakers; inside we’re using, for the most part, flush-mount 40W A-dome speakers. [Timestamp: 4:58]

OK, just regular ceiling speaker stuff?

So what extra load does the Barix gear put on the IP network? That’s something that would be sure to come up with any prospective installation.
In our case, it didn’t change a whole lot. As a matter of fact, since we designed the network at the same time, we were able to design that side of the network with that load in mind. From what I’m seeing on our server and on our throughput, it really has a low impact because the Barix equipment streams smaller packets, but it streams a little faster so I don’t see an impact at all on our system. And I think most IT managers, most network managers, are going to be pleased with this smooth throughput that Barix is going to have. The thing to consider would be that you are streaming audio, so while it’s not a huge file and it is in a streaming mode, it is going to put some load on to your network, but it’s not going to be a huge impact. [Timestamp: 6:03]

And I read about the BellCommander Paging Station software. How does that work?
We have two locations where we have licenses for the paging station, and the purpose for this, from the principal’s office, is to do announcements and to do prerecorded announcements. The prerecorded announcements we use are the pledges that we talked about earlier, and when we have events that we know about long enough in advance, we’ll do a quick announcements. I store those in MP3 format and just put those into the BellCommander System, and it incorporates those into the schedule where I’ve placed them. We can also do impromptu announcements. If a student needs to be called to the office for a particular reason, then the principal can make that announcement. We also have a paging station at the school secretary’s desk for the same purpose. [Timestamp: 6:58]

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