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Zoned AV Educates the Public About Mercy Corps

It was a rush job, but AV integrator CompView came up with a design for the new Mercy Corps Action Center that took an open space and divided it into discrete, non-intrusive AV exhibits.

Visual Aid

Mercy Corps’ Portland Action Center is a sister site to the group’s New York City Action Center. It consists of three mobile training towers, where visitors can watch case studies of region-specific initiatives; eight action stations for calling up information and suggestions about helping out; four video dispatch stations, showing webcam-generated videos of Mercy Corps field staff and beneficiaries; a briefing hut, designed for presentations and videoconferences; and an interactive global status wall at which visitors use touchscreen controls and a Google Earth interface to “spin” the globe and learn about real-time conditions where Mercy Corps is engaged.

“The concept behind the audio-video design was for it to be interactive, so all the video displays have touchscreens except one or two,” says Erin Shannon, CompView’s lead systems designer.

Pressed into action on short notice, the company didn’t throw out the baby with the bath­water: CompView was able to repurpose about half the original equipment list, including seven Elo TouchSystems wall-mounted open-frame, LCD touch monitors, and a 15-inch desktop LCD touch monitorall with acoustic pulse recognition (APR). Elo’s APR technology combines a sturdy glass overlay and small electronic controller board to sense touch through the sound created when people tap, press, or brush the glass a certain way.

Connected to the World

The briefing hut, which was built of reclaimed wood, contains one of two Hitachi CP-A100 ultrashort-throw projectors, and is used for presentations to visiting school groups and other visitors. There’s a lectern with its own touchscreen computer, webcam, and microphone system, plus a connection panel for launching the center’s portable LifeSize videoconferencing system.

The second Hitachi projector displays Mercy Corps’ custom-programmed Google Earth exhibit on the global status wall. From a custom-built podium designed by Pinnacle Exhibits, visitors can operate the wall and spin a globe by swiping their hand to the left or right on the touchscreen. They can then select a predesignated location to learn more about Mercy Corps’ efforts in that area.

Neither Hitachi projector displays on an actual screen, but rather on a section of wall that Pinnacle Exhibits treated with projection-screen paint. Both projectors ride the facility’s AV network. If the global wall isn’t being used, or there’s overflow from the briefing hut during a videoconference, the LifeSize output can be routed to the second projector. In fact, video can be routed to any screen or monitor in the space in an one-to-all or one-to-one fashion. An Extron SMX 400 MultiMatrix switcher provides the brains, along with a collection of Extron MTP twisted-pair transmitters and receivers for moving VGA, audio, and RS-232 signals.

Although Mercy Corps relies on interactive video to educate visitors, the star of this Action Center’s AV design may be the audio system.

“We have five zones set up, using in-ceiling speakers, and then we have maybe 15 potential audio and video sources,” explains Jesse Mejia, the Action Center’s technical specialist, who operates the system. “So video and audio can be routed together or independently. Audio can be routed to any of those five zones or any of the exhibits that have audio dedicated to them.”

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