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Four Tech Trends in Education

Jul 16, 2010 2:38 PM, By Dan Daley

HD, IT, audio processing, and video capture make the grade in education installs.

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At the Medical Partnership facility, video capture was essential. TSAV installed an extensive video capture system that includes Panasonic WV-CS574 PTZ cameras.

Trend 3: Video Capture

At the new Medical Partnership medical college facility in Athen, Ga., TSAV installed an extensive video capture system that extended from patient encounter areas to a central control room and networked storage. TSAV mounted Panasonic WV-CS574 security-type cameras on PTZ platform. The image is encoded in standard-def MPEG4 and streamed via Extron MAV Plus 2412 composite matrix switchers and a series of Extron MDA 3V 1x3 composite distribution amplifiers, and VBrick MPEG4 CIF encoders.

Content is stored on a pair of Rorke Data Galaxy HDX2 drives with almost 7TB of storage and can be recalled and viewed anywhere on the network. “Between distance learning and teacher evaluation and other applications, schools want to capture more of what goes on in their own classrooms and turn it into content for future use,” says Keith Reardigan, sales engineer for TSAV on the UGA/MCG Medical Partnership project, who notes that the declining cost of videocameras and capture and storage technology are contributing to the trend (as probably are an increase legal liability and security concerns).

Capturing audio and video live in the classroom presents some challenges not often found in education installs, Reardigan says. “First, you have to determine the degree of resolution you’re going to need, based on the application,” he says. While most content will do fine at standard-definition levels, medical and fine-arts applications may call for higher resolutions. Similarly, music will also do better at a sampling rate of least 48kHz. “Then, based on the applications and degrees of resolution, you have to light the classrooms appropriately, and in the case of audio, do acoustical treatments in order to keep the sound intelligible,” he says. “Classroom design is going to have to adapt to using it as a space in which to capture content.”

Reardigan adds that 720p is rapidly becoming an ad hoc standard in upscale academic systems designs. “We’re seeing 720 as the baseline spec now, and that’s a very recent development. I don’t think you would have seen anything but standard definition even a couple of years ago,” he says. “Most of the [instructional] content that’s available does not exceed 720p and that’s fine for most everything but critical medical imaging.” But if and when the standard moves to 1080p, Reardigan would not be surprised if it were medical teaching applications that contribute considerably to it. The school also implemented a Tandberg videoconferencing system that can operate at 1080p resolution.

Recognizing that Savannah College of Art & Design’s video production arts facility would need a software solution that would work with the schools four-source, tapeless, file-based workflow, CTG contracted DNF Controls to write custom software to handle the schools complex file-naming process.

Trend 4: I/T Comes To the Fore

Atlanta-based integrator CTG has found that media arts schools are especially pressured to configure their systems at the cutting edge of the technology. “They understand that their graduates will be stepping into some very sophisticated work environments, and they have to be prepared for that by the school,” says CTG Vice President Steve McCormick.

That concept first came to the fore three years ago when the company did the systems installation at the Atlanta campus of SAE, an international audio media arts college. “What we did there was take advantage of a trend of ‘mixing in the box,” McCormick explains, referring to the Avid’s Pro Tools system’s ability to create stereo audio mixes without having to leave the computer/software environment. “They were putting the school on an all-file basis. All the content was created in the same studio it was recorded in; then it could be moved throughout the facility on data CDs and DVDs or on hard drives.” CTG also installed additional Cat-5e cabling in anticipation of a centralized server system to be installed at a later date.

The Savannah College of Art & Design’s new Atlanta campus is a former broadcast television facility that reopened as a video production arts school in late 2009. Here, CTG took the concept considerably further. The facility has a completely tapeless, file-based workflow that uses fiber cabling to route 1080p video from three Panasonic AK-HC3500 HD cameras to a 60TB Harris Nexio server, routed via a 32x32 Harris Panacea router. Additional digital audio, recorded via a Wheatstone D-7 console in its own suite in the studio, is embedded with the video. “The entire AV signal can go out over a single coaxial cable,” McCormick says.

Having audio and video embedded also serves the requirement that all production media be available as soon as possible for students to work on. In this case, it’s accessible to Apple Final Cut Pro-equipped student work­stations within minutes of it hitting the server. But one of the costs of such rapid accessibility is the fact that, instead of picking up where it left off when action is cut—as it would in a linear workflow—in a file-based environment each new “on” creates an entirely new file. The challenge is to name that file quickly to allow it to be found for editing purposes. Multiply that times four sources, and it becomes a potential digital traffic jam. McCormick says his team recognized the need for a software solution for that issue in the RFP stage, and bringing that up to the client helped CTG secure the project. They contracted with

DNF Controls, which wrote custom software for an automated file-naming process that also ensures that SMPTE timecode is also applied to all files. “That turned out to be critical, both for us getting the job and for the school to be able to get the greatest benefit from their digital workflow,” McCormick says. The cost of the customized software is more than offset by the fact that the school can offer students near-instant access to production content. It also really underscores the importance of systems designers and integrators being aware not only of how education environments work but also of what is state of the art in the media sectors that schools are trying to teach.

Expect to see more advanced systems propositions in schools as competition for student dollars ramps up. The recession was painful for almost everyone, but one of the silver linings will be an academic environment far more attuned to high tech.

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