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Installation Profile: HD Distance Education

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

University of Wisconsin's Pyle Center upgrade keeps its lead in distance education.

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Man standing in front of a monitor

Waveguide Consulting ripped out the front wall to accommodate the almost-11ft.-wide rp Visual Solutions 16:9 glass projection screen. At the inustructor's area, Waveguide installed a 17in. Crestron TPMC-17-QM touchpanel and a WolfVision VZ-9 document camera. The company installed three NEC Multeos M40-AV 16:9 LCDs for confidence monitoring.


Trying to time a major technology change these days can be tricky. That's one of the main lessons of the project, according to Scott Walker, president of Atlanta-based Waveguide Consulting. Waveguide Consulting did the systems design and programming on the UWEX project, both for the Pyle Center's original iteration a decade ago and for this most recent update.

“In a way, it's good that the five-year plan we crafted for the Pyle Center in 2003 didn't get its funding at the time,” Walker says. “The HD codecs, cameras, and projectors just weren't ready at that point. Doing the update when we did it this year gives the Pyle Center the benefit not only of a well-developed technology, but one that's become less expensive.”

This pilot project has more riding on it than its estimated $400,000-plus price tag, he says. Refitting an already tech-heavy classroom for HD on a facility-wide scale means more than adding equipment. The new design for the pilot room — classroom 235 — called for replacing the existing two 4:3 XGA projectors with two 5000-lumen Digital Projection Titan 1080p 16:9 digital projectors, a Polycon HDX 9004 codec, and rp Visual Solutions 16:9 glass projection screens. This meant Waveguide needed to tear out the front wall of the classroom not only to accommodate the larger screens, but also to accommodate the greater throw distance of the new projectors. At 6'×10'8”, the screens were the same height as the wall, but much wider.

“This isn't just a technology challenge; it's an architectural challenge, too,” Walker says. “You have to redesign the wall in order to both fit the screens in, but also to make sure that the entire room has the same line of sight to them as before.”

In this case, an existing header above the left screen was extended over both new screens as a platform for program audio loudspeakers and two of the four new Sony EVI-HD1 PTZ cameras the room now has.

Most of the physical changes to the room took place in the instructor's space and in the projector area. The rest of the room, composed of concentric semi-circular tiered desks, remained in place. The changes to the front-of-room spaces are both large and nuanced.

The teacher's desk has been replaced with an adjustable-height podium featuring a variable tilt, a 17in. Crestron TPMC-17-QM touchpanel control screen, and a preview monitor that is linked to a sidecar equipped with a WolfVision VZ-9 document camera. Soffited into the first tier of student seating are three NEC Multeos M40-AV 16:9 LCD flatpanels, which the instructor uses for video-confidence monitoring. These flatpanels replace a pair of 4:3 CRT monitors, and they show dedicated program sources. One displays the outgoing video from the selected Sony HD cameras that are mounted on the first desk tier; the second LCD displays the same content that is being shown on projection screens behind the instructor, so instructors don't have to turn their backs on the classroom; and the third monitor displays the images of the DL students so the instructor can see them. The images of the students can be arrayed in a variety of configurations, ranging from a one-on-one setup to a Hollywood Squares-style setup that shows multiple students via video bridging in the center's main control room.

“The design is intended to keep the interaction between the instructor and the students as high as possible,” Walker says. “The quality of the HD allows the instructor to see remote-learning students more clearly. Keeping the instructor facing the class supports a more natural interaction with the local and remote students.”

There are more than a couple of projectors behind the rebuilt front wall of the classroom, which also houses video sources such as DVD decks and the audio DSP system. The bulky new RG-59 cabling required for the updated HD video would make the lengthy Cat-5 runs used in the previous installation onerous and expensive.

“We wanted to control the cable lengths of the RG-59 because it's difficult to pull, and we wanted to minimize signal loss,” Poindexter says.

Bill Facklam, AV systems project manager for systems integrator Dascom, agrees. “The RG-59 is .5in., plenum-rated, high-bandwidth cable, and it was definitely a challenge to pull it in some places,” he says. His crews figured out that placing a third crewman in the center of a long cable run to pull cable made the process significantly easier.

Even though more equipment was designed to stay in the room, cable runs to the central control room for troubleshooting and preview uses were still necessary.

“We also removed several cable runs from the old installation to the control room that weren't being used, and we shortened some of the other runs that were now going only to the projector room,” Facklam says.

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