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Designing a Repeatable Boardroom AV System

Quintiles Transnational wanted nothing like an old-style, fortress-like boardroom in its headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Having proven an AV design at HQ, the company planned to use the blueprint for other locations.

CHALLENGE: Effectively balance boardroom AV systems with carefully crafted aesthetics and still deliver a technological "wow" factor.

SOLUTION: Opt for the biggest plasma available (the "wow"), but demonstrate how the proper audio infrastructure is crucial to enabling the desired meeting experience.

The Quintiles boardroom almost didn't include those gooseneck microphones, but audio quality was too important.

The Quintiles boardroom almost didn't include those gooseneck microphones, but audio quality was too important.

Credit: The Whitlock Group

Quintiles Transnational wanted nothing like an old-style, fortress-like boardroom. The company, which performs pharmaceutical clinical trials and sells directly to physicians around the world, was expanding. So the boardroom was just one piece of a major AV upgrade of numerous rooms on eight floors in its headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Plus, having proven the AV design at headquarters, the company planned to use the blueprint for other locations.

"They wanted the whole building to be transformational," says Brandon Haberman, senior design and acoustical engineer at The Whitlock Group, which designed and integrated the project. Global architecture firm Gensler did the building design out of its Charlotte office. According to Haberman, Quintiles was after aesthetics and a "wow" factor for its 40-foot-long, 30-foot-wide boardroom with an oval table that seats 20.

Plasma Screen Wows 'Em

The room's existing windows and ceiling soon ruled out projection. A long-throw lens in the back of the room wouldn't work because of ambient light. A café on the other side of the front wall prevented sufficient clearance for a rear-projection system because it could not be configured for lens shift.

Quintiles considered auxiliary monitors for the table, but these were "value-engineered" out of the equation, says Haberman. "They wanted a clean look on the boardroom table."

So Whitlock began hunting around for the most impressive plasma screen they could find, ultimately settling on Panasonic's 103-inch TH-103PF10UK. "We were pretty much stuck with the large plasma," Haberman says, admitting, though, that it gave Quintiles executives the wow factor they were looking for because it was the largest flat-panel available at the time. Still, Haberman says, the solution was a compromise. "By AV sizing, it still wasn't large enough," he says.

In fact, its dimensions and 600-pound weight created a whole set of problems. A structural engineer required plywood reinforcing of the wall and the addition of metal studs 6 inches on center. The plan was to carry the screen to its ninth-floor location on a freight elevator–which proved 3 inches too narrow.

"They didn't want to crane it through a window," Haberman says. "It takes eight guys to install it." Panasonic's "white-glove" installation service eventually decided to make an exception and remove the screen's 8 inches of protective packing foam before putting it in the elevator.

Cooling requirements for the giant screen also presented climate-control issues. Haberman says the room's air-conditioning load had to be increased, an 18-inch vent installed above the screen, and an exhaust fan installed in the plenum above the café . After all that, Haberman insists the A/C alterations didn't add to the room's ambient noise.

All told, the speed bumps delayed the plasma installation by two weeks.

AudioConferencing: a Foundation

Installing the boardroom's new 103-inch plasma display required some structural engineering smarts-and a few people.

Installing the boardroom's new 103-inch plasma display required some structural engineering smarts-and a few people.

Credit: The Whitlock Group

"Good quality audioconferencing is a big requirement in all the rooms, especially the boardroom," Haberman says. There are four zones for ceiling speakers for the conferencing and two zones for program speakers at the front of the room.

The audioconferencing was a challenge. The original design specified 20 gooseneck microphones to be mounted on the table, but Quintiles rejected them for aesthetic reasons, preferring a "clean slate," Haberman says.

So the team thought wireless. But wireless boundary mics, which offered the advantage of being removable and/or sitting flat on the table, were rejected because someone had to remember to place them in rechargers overnight. Moreover, the wireless mics also had an anti-theft feature that caused an alarm to go off if someone walked off with one, even accidentally. "So they came back and said, 'No, audio is a priority in the room; it has to be really good,'?" Haberman says. "So we went back to the standard of gooseneck microphones."

The resulting forest-like aesthetics of the table was still a shock to Quintiles officials because the custom Clockaudio microphones had to be 12 inches high to clear laptop noise. The solution: 20 custom plates from FSR that allow the mics to be disconnected.

Haberman credits the room's Polycom SoundStructure C12 audio DSP with achieving the quality Quintiles demanded. Its ultra-wideband, dual-channel, echo-cancellation algorithms drew listeners to the platform. Haberman adds that the dual-channel feature will help with the high-definition stereo audio for the videoconferencing system to be added later. The company has Polycom videoconferencing units at other locations but hasn't decided on the new system for the boardroom.

Haberman says he used an Ivey Technologies audio analyzer to test the room's audio system and establish a reference. "We're just keeping it so it's right in the middle to avoid clipping or distortion," he says.

The SoundStructure's voice-lift feature enhances the volume for listeners farthest away from the microphone of the person speaking. Speakers who are one zone away are lifted by 3 decibels; two zones, 6 decibels. "The system is at unity gain all the way through," Haberman says.

Crestron Takes Control

Ease of use was another important criterion, so Quintiles standardized on Crestron TPMC-8X wireless touch panels that communicate through an in-room Crestron Wireless Access Point (WAP) to the PRO2 control processor with Ethernet card in the rack. "No matter where Quintiles people go to different sites, the touch and feel is the same," Haberman says.

The panels let the operator in each room dial conference calls, turn on the plasma screen, choose content sources (cable TV, DVD player, or VCR), and control the lights. When not in use, the touch panel rests in a docking station secured by a user name and password or fingerprint recognition.

A Crestron GLS-ODT-C-1000 motion detector turns room systems off after a pre-set period. A Linksys RV016 Ethernet router connects back to Whitlock's network for remote troubleshooting and control. Quintiles is planning to add Crestron's RoomView this spring to give the company web-based control, troubleshooting, asset management, and scheduling.

The equipment closet is in a copy room down the hall, connected to the boardroom over Cat-5 twisted-pair Ethernet cabling. Three Extron laptop interface transmitters provide connectivity in the middle and at both ends of the table.

Haberman says Quintiles' IT department provided 20 cables that are accessible from flip-top boxes in the table so attendees can connect to the wired network. The building also has a wireless network. "Everybody can be on the Internet, but only three people can display on the screen," Haberman says.

Going forward, the company's wish list already includes video signal distribution to allow recording and streaming of presentations to conference rooms on every campus, says Haberman. "We kept all the infrastructure in place so all those systems could be implemented in the future," he says.

Most importantly, the design was carefully coordinated among all parties to support future technology without major overhauls. The hiccups in the plasma display installation produced perhaps the biggest lesson that Haberman took from the project: the importance of in-field coordination. Let architects and structural engineers know about changes in the AV design as early as possible, he says. Coordination will pay off now and in the future.

David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Peterborough, N.H.



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