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University AV: From Luxury to Necessity

New AV technology continues to march through colleges and universities despite economic upheaval. More than ever, universities see the value in bringing high-resolution presentation systems and online collaboration tools to educate the 21st century workforce faster, better, and more affordably.

Florida Atlantic: Office Depot Supplies Executive Class

Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic

Credit: AVI-SPL

AV was essential to the image Florida Atlantic University wanted for its Office Depot Center for Executive Education, a two-story, 15,500-square-foot addition to the Barry Kaye College of Business that opened early this year on the main campus in Boca Raton.

"They were looking for as high-quality and technically advanced a system as they could get within a certain budget," says Martin Lois, sales engineer at design/build integrator AVI-SPL, which worked on six spaces in the center.

Architecture and AV create an executive-class feel in the building, which is used for graduate and MBA courses, as well as corporate events, some held by Office Depot, headquartered nearby, whose $2.8 million donation was matched by the state. A case-study room has elegant woodwork and lecterns. Automated shades come down when the 5,000-lumen Panasonic PTD5500U projector is turned on, all controlled by Crestron hardware.

Some rooms have Smart Board PX350 overlays on one of their 50-inch NEC PX50XM4A plasmas. Audio is handled by JBL speakers, Biamp and Crown amplifiers, ClearOne mixers, and Shure microphones. Two videoconferencing rooms have Tandberg MXP 3000 codecs that will offer streaming over the Web once Echo360 servers are added, says Peter Goumas, the college's director of IT.

All that technology aside, the architecture presented challenges during installation. While mounting a projector to the ceiling in a case-study room, technicians risked ruining custom woodwork if they didn't cut it right on the first try, Lois says. A large, divisible multipurpose room had a bulkhead with holes barely wide enough for the two NEC plasmas and their Display Devices PL3050 lifts, let alone the hands to install them. "We only had inches to work with," says Lois. So the general contractor widened the openings and patched them later.

Goumas says of the displays, "They come out of the ceiling automatically when you turn on the system." An AVI-SPL programmer worked diligently to get the Crestron equipment to switch the front and mid-room display sources to accommodate dual or single-room operation, he says.

The project was delayed a month so the construction company could install soffits and drop ceilings 8 inches to clear sprinkler pipes. "You never really know where all the A/C ducting and piping is going to go," Goumas says. "It's never fully defined in the construction drawings."

In another room, vibrations plagued a projector mounted on a pole connected to a sprinkler pipe. "Every time someone of substantial weight would walk buy, it would shake the projector," Goumas says, crediting an AVI-SPL technician with installing a rubber mount that alleviated the problem.

Signal distribution via Extron switchers became critical when the university wanted to future-proof the building with the ability to transmit audio, video, and VGA signals to the planned streaming servers. Lois says his team worked with the architect and electrical contractor to add cable trays to accommodate the cabling alongside the network wiring, and upgraded the Extron switchers. Goumas says long cable runs caused VGA attenuation that required AVI-SPL to also add Extron extenders to boost gain.

The college decided it wanted displays with wide aspect ratios, which Goumas says required changing the originally specified displays and adding scalers. "Doing 16:9 images on some kind of budget is very difficult," says Lois. "We chose products that, although they might not be true HD, do a very good job of the 16:9 imaging."

The aspect-ratio and resolution issues were an eye-opener for Lois, who faced anomalies and screen-size problems that required extensive modifications to the scaling. He recommends paying close attention to planned resolutions and says AVI-SPL does more in-house mock-ups on display devices before taking them on-site.

Though planned and funded before the economic crisis, the center could help FAU continue to attract students and donors. Goumas says the college used to hold fund raisers in its electronic trading room. "Now when we're bringing in people to impress, we take them to Office Depot Center."



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