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Historical Site Adds Modern AV

The Webb County Commissioner's Building in Laredo, TX, is home to the Commissioner's Court, a large meeting room where four commissioners, one judge, and six department directors decide the fate of civic proposals, budgets for county programs, and other local issues. Built in 1908, the Commissioner's Court was originally used as a criminal court.

CHALLENGE: Provide broadcast-quality video and audio in an acoustically challenging room without mounting multiple components on the walls, drilling large conduit holes, or adding acoustical treatment products prohibited by the State Historical Society.

SOLUTION: Add audio filters to existing loudspeakers, and install individual, daisy-chained delegate stations with built-in speakers and microphones, along with digital cameras that can be controlled from a second-floor control room.

The Commissioner's Court, located in the Webb County Commissioner's Building in Laredo, TX, includes Interkom Electronics delegate terminals for commissioners at the front of the court as well as for department directors facing them

The Commissioner's Court, located in the Webb County Commissioner's Building in Laredo, TX, includes Interkom Electronics delegate terminals for commissioners at the front of the court as well as for department directors facing them

THE WEBB County Commissioner's Building in Laredo, TX, is home to the Commissioner's Court, a large meeting room where four commissioners, one judge, and six department directors decide the fate of civic proposals, budgets for county programs, and other local issues. Built in 1908, the Commissioner's Court was originally used as a criminal court. The room is protected by the State Historical Society, which safeguards the historical and structural integrity of the building. While this guardianship was established to ensure the site maintains its historical ambiance, it also makes updating its AV capabilities a challenge.

Before its new AV system was put in place in late 2004, the bi-weekly Commissioner's Court meetings suffered from several audio challenges. With the old PA system, speaker's microphones, which were fed to two loudspeakers behind the dais, couldn't be turned off, and commissioners and directors would talk over each other. The room also had poor speech intelligibility resulting from a 25-foot-high, tin ceiling.

In addition to its audio issues, odd camera angles detracted from the quality of the public broadcast of the meetings, and hand-written or typed voting records made recalling past votes time-consuming. Another problem stemmed from the court's analog video format that's fed to the local access TV station to broadcast the meetings, which would become obsolete as soon as the TV station makes the upcoming FCC-mandated transition to digital signal.

“The problem with the old system, besides being analog, was that everyone could speak at the same time,” says Eliud Diaz-Cortez, production administrator, Webb County Management Information Systems (MIS), who operates the AV systems in the building. “We didn't have control over canceling or limiting the speakers.

To address these issues, Diaz-Cortez worked with Guillermo Garcia, former MIS director, and the County Clerks Purchasing Department to approve a $350,000 budget for audio improvements, a new networked voting system, cameras, switchers, decks, and an updated control center to replace the eight-year-old system. The bid went to Austin, TX-based systems integration company Texas Media Systems (TMS), which submitted a proposal that came in about 15 percent less than the facility's budget.

Digital meetings

Diaz-Cortez designed an initial system based around Interkom Electronics' Digital Multimedia Congress (DMC) system, a customizable digital conferencing system designed for meeting halls, boardrooms, and courtrooms. The system design and equipment needs were finalized with the help of TMS consultant and project manager Blake Naleid and former TMS computer technician Chris Barrios.

TMS installed a DMC system that includes two Digital Central Units (DCU), five software control modules, and 12 delegate terminals with built-in audio. The DCUs, located in the control room and in front of the judge, control the system via Windows-based software modules included in the Interkom Intelligent Congress Network System (iCNS). These modules are installed on a PC and are connected to the DCUs via serial connection.

The Commissioner's Court currently uses five of the system's software module options to meet its needs: The iCNS-A agenda module pre-programs meeting agendas; the iCNS-C chipcard module ensures only authorized votes are cast; the iCNS-N network module links the two DCU control stations; the iCNS-P protocol module controls the conference via synoptic operation surface; and the iCNS-S synoptic module enables voting.



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