Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 2

The Washington State Bar Association has a new Seattle conference center, but for a lot of their members getting there is a problem. 10/28/2010 6:37 AM Eastern

Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 2

Oct 28, 2010 10:37 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1
Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfitted the Washington State Bar Association for distance learning....

The Washington State Bar Association has a new Seattle conference center, but for a lot of their members getting there is a problem. The association called in Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfit the place for distance learning, and Mark Siegel is here to complete his talk on how things went on the project.

Mark, thanks for being back with me for part two on the SVC podcast, and we were talking about the Washington State Bar Association’s conference facility out there in Seattle. The equipment they’ve got in there, they’re doing some distance learning and they’ve got a local group there and apparently they have some challenges not just in the distance learning part of it but for people being able to hear right there in the room. What did you do when you got in there to improve the audio situation?
That’s obviously probably one of the most important things. You can have a lot of interruptions visually and things, but as a participant, whether it be live or whether it be over the Internet, it’s very good to get a very clear message, so audio is very important. You go to a lot of conference facilities and the audio is at best fair. A lot of people don’t take the time to properly do it and very important for this client is to have very good audio as an attendee in the conference center. So we originally went in there, and prior to them signing the lease, we looked at the space and they asked us, “Well, what do you think we need to do to enhance this?” Well, we went in there and we swept the room and we plotted it out using EASE and a couple of other tools that we use to model the room; we did a complete model of the room. We asked them about placement of tables and desks and how the room was going to be used. And we also recommended some acoustical treatment to deaden the typically very hard walls, and they have an awful lot of glass in this room so we even got down to even recommending drapery-based product and blinds. So we modeled the room for them, we made some suggestions, and they really found the importance of doing it right, so we put in a very good Symmetric’s DSP processing system and we zoned out the room properly. And they have the capability of full EQ, so we balanced the room with a very nice product, and the customer understands how to use it, which is most important. [Timestamp: 2:41]

Yeah, you had to do some training with them to make sure they knew what they were doing with this stuff.
Well, it’s very important with any client. A tool is only as good as how well you know how to use the tool. Unfortunately most people in the broadcast industry probably only utilize 30 percent of the capability of a tool because unfortunately we are always under pressure, have to get things done, never have enough time, management never seems to give the operators enough training. In this facility, we probably had a full two weeks of training of all the various functions of the environment, so the people would have a successful product, and they understood their needs and they understood the potential capabilities of the tools that we were providing. [Timestamp: 3:20]

OK, so what are they doing with speakers in there? Are they using ceiling speakers? How does that work?
We actually modeled in some Electric Way ceiling-based speakers. I think in the room, the room’s 75[ft. by] maybe 125. I think we have 35 speakers in that room; it’s just all zoned out and well balanced. [Timestamp: 3:41]

What kind of mics are they using? Do they use lapel mics or a have you got a combination of different mics you’re picking them up with?
Yeah, we have a combination of what we would call zone mics, whether they be PZMs and/or lavaliere and wireless. Wireless is obviously always a challenge especially in downtown Seattle with our topography and density. It’s very difficult to do wireless in downtown Seattle. So we had some frequency agile Sennheiser; I believe they‘re series 2000 microphones, so the client understood the importance of putting in good microphone wireless and being able to scan those frequency in the events that everybody starts jumping all over them. [Timestamp: 4:18]

OK. Is this pretty much a one-way presentation from there to the local and web audience or is there any kind of audience interaction that happens?
It is basically a push model; however, the people that are viewing it via the Web have the capability of typing in text to inquire about questions. We did put in a couple of phone couplers that allow people to do some dial-in and ask some questions if they want to have the participants, obviously, voice their opinion. So there are some phone couplers coming into the system. [Timestamp: 4:49]

And that can always either add to or complicate things; as long as the host is making the presentation, they pretty much can have their ducks in a row, but when it comes to live interaction that can really throw some people off sometimes.
They were well-prepared; they rehearsed, [so to speak]. They’re use to doing that so they handle that workflow pretty well. [Timestamp: 5:08]

Now are the projectors and screens and all that controlled by the presenter or is everything controlled by the production crew?
Both, the presenter has the capability of obviously lowering the screens and has the capability through an AUX bus of actually switching through a little application that was actually built on a iPhone or an iPad so we can have that sitting at the podium, if you will, and the presenter has the capability of switching what they want going to the IMAG screens and even/or what is going out via program. But usually it is controlled through the control room, and the moderator or the presenter actually advances his presentation with a wireless hand clicker. [Timestamp: 5:55]

Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 2

Oct 28, 2010 10:37 AM, With Bennett Liles

Have they got any sort of communication between the presenters and the production crew or is it a visual thing through the control room window?
It’s visual from the window; we did plan IFB at one point—[a] pretty sophisticated intercom system for the camera people and for the presenter. However, that was asking a little bit much of an attorney to put something in his ear and actually try to understand the value of that, but eventually we’ll get there. [Timestamp: 6:21]

Yeah, trying to work in an IFB can be confusing enough for an on-camera pro, especially if you have somebody in the control room who likes to stay on the channel and yak in their ear all the time, so I can see why they may have been a little reluctant on doing that.
There is a talkback system in the room; we put a Yamaha audio console in the back and through the public address system inside the conference center we do have a talkback situation so if from the control room somebody does want to address the audience and/or the presenter, that can be done from the control room. [Timestamp: 6:52]

  Related Links

Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1
Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfitted the Washington State Bar Association for distance learning....

So once you got the ball rolling on this project, did anybody suddenly come up and change their mind, or did you have to switch horses in midstream on the installation, or did it all go pretty much as planned from the beginning?
This is an organization of attorneys, which is an organization of committee; I think our organization was very patient. There was always change; there were always questions because they did not know. They came to us as obviously as professionals in knowing this space, but the target and the scope changed a little bit as we went through, and we were very patient and we understood what they were. I just wish I was able to build at their rate and not my rate, and I think that’s fair but no, all in all, it was a very good project; obviously they kept us in check through our contractual agreements. You don’t want to mess with 1,500 attorneys….

...which is the organization. So on our Ts and Cs, when we originally went into our agreement, it was reviewed very carefully; let’s just put it that way. [Timestamp: 7:50]

Yeah, I guess if there’s any time you want to make sure you have everything on paper dealing with an organization like that would be the one.
Yeah, that is it, and I will tell you what continually happens in projects like this is best laid plans and then obviously when you’re doing a pretty significant T&I project with a contractor and you’re putting a lot of money into a space, a lot of things do change in construction and construction costs sometimes can be very expensive if they’re not thought of upfront. And with the Washington State Bars Association’s best efforts, they really didn’t understand the process, I think, of construction, therefore the construction cost went a little bit deeper than they anticipated. As a result things had to be scaled back in certain areas and well, where do you think they scaled back? [Timestamp: 8:41]

They made concessions everywhere, and the plan is still there to build it out to everything that it was supposed to be. We had to cut back in a few little areas; we would have liked three new cameras, but we had to use two of their legacy, but eventually we will get there. [Timestamp: 8:55]

Well, that’s where having experience in this type of work really comes in so that you can avoid bricking yourself into a closet somewhere on the technical end of it and being able to leave room for expansion. So where do they get the crew people for this? How do they recruit those?
They have a full-time staff. Washington State Bar Association I think has maybe 125 employees, but for the staff of this, they have a department; usually the person that is the moderator is the technical director—the producer; it’s like the one-man band and operates the robotic camera. They normally have two people in the control room, and currently the two-man cameras are pretty much in a lockdown mode. If they have to move one of them around they, I’m sure, recruit somebody within the organization to be camera person for the day. [Timestamp: 9:46]

Well, that’s probably a format where just a little bit of experience goes a long way any how. So how wide a participation do they have with this? I mean, they have an idea of allowing their members to avoid having to do a lot of time-consuming travel; does it seem to be working as far as the participation level?
If Washington State Bar Association can save its members money and time; I mean, you take an attorney out of his office; that costs a lot of money. If they can accomplish these courses for their certification from their local location, that’s a tremendous time savings and that’s obviously what this is all about; you avoid the hotel cost, the travel costs, a lot of other costs other than the course itself by having to come to Seattle. But then there are those that do. I mean the classroom is set up for 140 people to attend these courses and I’m sure they’re going to have probably five fold of people that will take them over the Web. [Timestamp: 10:40]

Well, any kind of distance learning or videoconferencing solutions now are being seriously considered against travel cost. Does Advanced Broadcast Solutions have any more projects like this coming up?
We sure hope so; obviously, this is in line with a lot of government-based, municipality-based projects, whether it’s the city council or … the effect is all the same. It’s being able to take today’s technology, which is a very affordable technology, to use to communicate. Everyday we’re developing new tools in our industry to make it easier, more affordable to bring video and audio communication tools to future clients. I think Washington State Bar Association is probably one of the first in the country—bar associations—to do this at this level. I think it will probably be the benchmark for others to come, and we hope to be taking this model to other states and having them see the success that Washington State Bar Association had. [Timestamp: 11.39]

All right, Mark, I wish you a lot of luck with it. It’s Mark Siegel of Advanced Broadcast Solutions and the project is the Washington State Bar Association’s distance learning and conferencing facility in Seattle. Mark, it’s been great having you here to tell us about it.
Thanks again.

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