Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfitted the Washington State Bar Association for distance learning. 10/14/2010 7:49 AM Eastern
Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1
Oct 14, 2010 11:49 AM, With Bennett Liles
Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.
The Washington State Bar Association needed continuing education for its members to stay on top of things, but not all of them could make the trip to their new Seattle conference center so they called in Advanced Broadcast Solutions to outfit the place for distance learning. And Mark Siegel is here to tell us how they made it happen.
SVC: Mark, it’s great having you here for the SVC podcast from Advanced Broadcast Solutions, and you had a new distance learning project for the Washington State Bar Association in their new Seattle conference center, but first tell me a little bit about Advanced Broadcast Solutions.
Advanced Broadcast Solutions is a system solution provider; we primarily focus in acquisition distribution and manipulation of video and audio systems—very focused toward the broadcast space and not necessarily the AV space but we focus on, let’s say, the higher end solutions for people. [Timestamp: 1:23]
OK, the Washington State Bar Association had an interesting concept. They wanted to bring in more people to conferences while cutting down on travel so I guess this is more of a distance learning or a videoconference situation. So what did they have to begin with and why did they call in Advanced Broadcast Solutions on the project?
I have to say probably, number one, our reputation preceded them contacting us. They were looking for an organization to help them understand and deploy their solution. We had done a project a number of years ago which was with TV Washington, which is a Washington Public Affairs Network that got pretty high-profile within the state and TV W covers the supreme court hearings and all that stuff. And we orchestrated a system very similar or in much larger scope to what Washington State Bar Association was. They contacted us, so TV W was a very good reference for us on this. It’s a unique project. It’s something that, properly deployed, can really help the organization and help the organizations members by obviously reducing cost, reducing travel, and delivering a quality product. [Timestamp: 2:38]
And on the basic premise of this thing, they’re trying to furnish continuing education to their members and not all of them can do the traveling to get there. So this was their distance traveling situation?
It is a distance learning situation. They recently acquired new space, a conference-like facility, and in this conference-like facility, it was brand new construction or remodeled construction—a very nice location in downtown Seattle. They brought us in very early to do some consulting on, “Well, how could we use this space?” Was this space going to be functional for what they were trying to achieve, so they can host probably 140 to 160 guests in a classroom environment with image magnification. You go to a lot of these facilities, [and] the first thing that people complain about is you’re sitting here trying to learn is you can’t hear well in these spaces. So we spent a lot of time on acoustics, planning the acoustics of the room, proper isolation. Three walls of the building are glass that we had to deal with that, and we had to deal with bringing in lighting for the video portion of it and not have it too obstructive to what was going on in the classroom or conference center. It’s really a multifunction room. They can pull out all the various desks and computers in there, and then you have a very large meeting room or let’s just call it a conference or meeting facility. [Timestamp: 4:10]
And it sounds really good for the people who can make it there. Now how much of an idea did they have about what they wanted on this? I mean some clients have no idea other than the general result they want and then some know just enough to be dangerous and then some have everything lined out, so where were they along the scale of this?
Well, they had already, in a sense, been in the process of streaming sessions and meetings that they had but not very efficiently and the quality was not very high. There was a single camera sitting in the back of the room; [it] didn’t have proper lens on it and you couldn’t see things; you couldn’t hear things well. And they understood, I think, their objective, but they brought us in to help recommend proper technical equipment and properly deploy it and give them the product that they’re distributing today. We used some of their legacy equipment [and] integrated it with some new equipment. They had tried this before, but we brought our little spin to it where they could, obviously, produce a better product for their viewers. Proper camera positioning, proper audio levels makes you feel like you are right there with the presenter versus an observer from a very far distance. they will still continue to grow upon it. This was their first significant step to bring information that they’re offering to their members. [Timestamp: 5:31]
And so what sort of gear do they have in there? Are they using document cameras or annotators or anything like that?
Currently, we have three cameras, two manned cameras, and one PTZ—pan tilt zoom—camera operated remotely in the event that they’re having smaller events. Everything can be controlled from the control room with a single robotic camera. We put in a Broadcast Pix production switcher because they wanted a more production feel to it versus a typical, let’s just say banging through the buttons from source to source. There are some unique things about the Broadcast Pix production switcher that allow you to bring in all of the various graphics that they’re using in their presentation. The switcher has direct DVI inputs so you can use them as a source in the computer. Plus we are using the system to feed their IMAG screens so they can have a very specific mixed program output, which goes out to the Web for their viewers to view on, let’s say on demand or they subscribe to the services and then we can also switch or mix a separate program for the people that are in the classroom experience to have IMAG, which is something that they did not do before. Image magnification allows them to, obviously, for Power Point presentations or for preproduced content that they may use in their program, they can play that back in the room as well. [Timestamp: 6:56]
What type of screens were they using on this? Were they permanent screens or retractable? How were they doing the projection?
One of the very important objectives to this project was, architecturally, this was aesthetically pleasing. They used very high-end materials inside of the room. I spent a tremendous amount of money on TNI, tenant improvements. We put in Da-Lite retractable screens that retracted up into the drop ceiling. We had to make custom mounts for the various cameras and for the projectors so that they architecturally or aesthetically fit into the room, that they did not stick out like a sore thumb. We used Brightline, which is a series of lights which are architectural lights designed for broadcast application to light up the stage so they don’t hang down. They’re not obtrusive to the presenter; they’re a florescent-based fixture. So there were lots of considerations for the environment; that it appeared that the technology, in a sense, was pretty transparent. We used two Christie projectors for the IMAG, and they were not using document cameras. Everything that they produce is preproduced content that is played back on a PC. [Timestamp: 8:04]
Video and Control Systems for Distance Learning, Part 1
Oct 14, 2010 11:49 AM, With Bennett Liles
So they can do just about anything they want to do there. What are they doing primarily, a lot of Power Point and things like that?
The majority of the content is presentation-based. Whether they use Power Point or any PC application, they can run on computers. We just take that content as a DVI file into the system and mix it in as a video source. [Timestamp: 8:23]
And you used, I believe it was Panasonic AW-HE100s?
Yeah, that’s their fully integrated PTZ camera; [it’s] very nice, comes with a great optical lens on it, very smooth. That was one of the criteria that they had—very smooth pan tilt zoom, as what we would call on-air, moves rather than a get-to PTZ; very smooth transitions. [Timestamp: 8:45]
And that’s going back, just like the other cameras, to a camera control unit in the central control room?
Yeah, it’s going into the control room; [they] have CCU, have full control over gain, GAMMA, NE, all the various settings that are required to adjust a camera properly for the proper light situation within the room. [Timestamp: 9:03]
Why did you go with those particular cameras? Did they have a certain feature you liked?
The fact that it is a fully integrated PTZ versus discrete pan tilt head, then a separate box camera, separate lens; it’s integrated into a very nice package. [Timestamp: 9:20]
How far from the presenters are these cameras? I mean, do you have to use special lenses to get past the audience? Are the cameras in the back of the room?
Well, actually not; the total depth of the room was about 80ft. There was beam running horizontal in the room. We were able to put the cameras about, I would say, 35ft. away from the presenter, which is optimal. We put the two manned cameras up on little pedestals off to the left and right side of the room and the PTZ sits 35ft. away from the presenter so we didn’t have to go to longer lenses, which is always a consideration. We were able to use very simple 13, 14, 17Xs lenses in the configuration and when putting in these types of systems, [that] is a huge consideration, which is camera placement and the lens that you choose. [Timestamp: 10:08]
Yeah, that can add or take away from what you are doing in there, I mean, if the cameras become the show in themselves. So where’s the control point for this? What’s the control room like in there?
The control room was designed to house three people. It’s directly at the back of the room. During these meetings, they have a moderator involved in the presentation so the moderator also sits in the control room. We put a big window glass at the back of the room so that the director, technical director-producer, can see very clearly everything that’s going on in the room and the moderator for the program. For example when a guest or someone that’s participating in the session wants to send in text questions to the presenter, that’s where all that information is compiled and moderated. [Timestamp: 10:54]
And the Broadcast Slate 100 switcher is what you used in there. Is there any other reason why you decided to go on that switcher?
Just for the value. Their two legacy cameras were SDI cameras; their new camera is an HD camera. The Slate has the capability of taking internally that those SD cameras and upconverting them to high definition. It’s also got a built-in scaler so all the PC graphics come in under a DVI port; they are in effect scaled to high-definition resolution. So in a sense, we are mixing a high-definition program output of these shows and feeding them to a VeiwCast encoder, and they are encoding using Flash and sending that out to the Web. They are also archiving the shows on Blu-ray DVD. [Timestamp: 11:45]
Yeah, the Broadcast Slate 100 sounds like the Swiss Army knife of all the video switchers. You have pretty much everything you need, particularly for a situation like this where you’re doing distance learning like this with a lot of different sources. So Mark, thanks very much for being here with me, and in part two I want to get into how they do some recording and playback and get into the audio side of this that you were talking about right at the beginning. But thanks again for being with me here for part one.