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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 c 12/18/2005 8:09 PM Eastern

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 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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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.

The judge's DCU is connected to the control room DCU unit via Cat5 cable, and doubles as a second control station and a redundant control unit in case the first DCU should fail. At either station, the judge or control room operator can retrieve past record data and control what the judge sees on his monitor, and also control the capabilities of the delegate stations. Located about 80 feet from the first delegate station, the DCU system in the control room is daisy-chained to six DCT-S delegate terminals, which include alpha-numeric displays for the judge and commissioners, and six DCT-B delegate terminals for the department directors in the main courtroom.

TMS used a single proprietary cable from Interkom to connect the stations, which is convenient because existing conduit is scarce in the building. TMS had to drill a new conduit for the Interkom and Cat5 cable, but was able to drill a small, structurally safe hole by working with the city's maintenance department to ensure the structure wouldn't be damaged. The existing conduit in the Commissioner's Court was filled with RGB cable that connects a new projector, a new audio cable that runs from the control room to the loudspeakers, and a camera and control cable that connects to the new cameras.

In addition to serving as a single-chain system, the delegate terminals also offer another advantage: built-in speakers that act like a distributed sound system. This was important because the Historical Society prohibits mounting additional speakers to the walls of the room. “We were able to tweak the system and get everything to the appropriate level where it sounds full and there's not a lot of dead space,” Naleid says. “It's conversational in tone. It sounds like the speakers are right there talking to you.”

The new system also enables the judge to cut off individual microphones using the President function, which the judge or control room operator can grant to any delegate station, if speakers go over their allotted time to make meetings more efficient.

Audio concerns

A balcony overlooking the court posed another audio challenge. While, there are wall-mounted speakers located behind the dais for the patrons in the balcony, the reverberant space needed acoustical treatment. However, the facility's budget didn't allow for new, more effective loudspeakers.

Although Diaz-Cortez knew the ideal solution would have been to add sound treatment products to the hard, reverberant surfaces, the Historical Society wouldn't allow anything to be mounted that would significantly change the look of the room. The team decided to integrate a Lectrosonics DM1612 automatic matrix mixer with an audio filter on the inputs and outputs to address the problem. Because the system is a matrix router, Diaz-Cortez can send audio from various sources including individual delegate stations, DVDs, a cassette deck, CD player, and audio from presentations to the loudspeakers that serve the citizens in the balcony.

“It also allows us to process the audio because it has built-in filters,” Naleid says. “The filters were heavily used in this install because we didn't have the opportunity to upgrade the loudspeaker system. We did equalization and used the built-in automatic feedback reduction feature, which automatically sends white noise out into the room and measures the frequency of the feedback.”

Visual extras

With the voting system in place, Naleid and the TMS installers turned to addressing the room's presentation capabilities. The team mounted an Eiki LCX50M projector under the citizens' balcony at the rear of the courtroom to display content from DVDs, VHS tapes, and PowerPoint presentations on a pre-existing screen above the dais.

The team also used an Extron System 7SC switcher that enables separate control of the signal being sent to the projector. The team took the RGB output from the switcher and ran it through an Extron VSC 700D scan converter to get an SDI output, which in turn runs into a Broadcast Pix Studio 1000 studio system and switcher. This system enables Diaz-Cortez to incorporate the presentation material into the programming that's broadcast to the public. The presentation content is integrated with the video content captured by four Hitachi HV-D5W 3-CCD box cameras with serial digital interface (SDI) outputs mounted in the court.

Diaz-Cortez monitors the video from the cameras on two Marshall dual 8.4-inch rack-mounted LCD panels in the control room. He can also view content from other sources, including a Compix LCG8000R character generator and a Videotek VSG-201D signal generator on another set of Marshall dual 6.8-inch rack-mounted LCD panels.

“The new system allows me to control the cameras through the switcher and add the character generator at the same time,” he says.

The video feeds are recorded for archival purposes via two Sony DSR1800 recording decks outfitted with SDI cards for switcher program output.

The finished product

After the initial bid process, which took six months, the project was finished in about six weeks. “I've been extremely happy with the system,” Diaz-Cortez says. “It has made things easier ever since we went digital. The Interkom system allows me to have more control of everything.”

A CUSTOM SOLUTION

The heart of the Webb County Commissioner's Court's new system is based on the customizable Digital Media Congress (DMC) system from Interkom Electronics, which offers a wide range of configurations. For example, users can elect to have a multi-session system, which enables one central control unit to manage delegate stations in two separate rooms. Additionally, there are five different delegate terminal options that can be used. The DMC's most versatile function is its software modules. Each control unit comes loaded with more than 15 software control modules, which are accessible with individual key numbers from Interkom. Along with the multiple components that allow systems integrators to customize the systems, the software modules and buttons on the delegate terminals can be programmed to meet the user's specific needs.

 Paul Kramer is associate editor of Pro AV. He can be reached at pkramer@ascendmedia.com.



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