On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Phil Earnest of Collins Communications about the complete conference room installed for TriOak Foods in Oakville, Iowa. A warehouse-to-office space conversion project, the job called for a very large and narrow 31ft, x 19ft. space to be outfitted with three monitors, camera, projector, ceiling speakers and a control system. Phil describes his solution to the challenge of positioning all of the sound and visual elements to function well in the very narrow and deep room.
Links of Interest:
This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor with Phil Earnest of Collins Communications. We’ve got the show notes and product links for all of the podcasts at svconline.com. Go to Podcasts at the top of the page.
At TriOak Foods they were coming up with a brand new conference room with the latest technology but it had to be easy to operate. After years of audio difficulties in the old room, the quality of the sound pickup and playback had to be second to none. Collins Communications was called in and Phil Earnest is going to give us the lowdown on how some challenges were solved, coming up on the SVC Podcast.
Phil, thanks for getting with us today on the SVC Podcast.
Glad to be here.
This project was a corporate conference room for TriOak Foods in the Ames, Iowa area. That’s not too far away from your neighborhood.
It’s actually in Oakville, Iowa. They do have an office in Ames, but their headquarters is out of Oakville. But nobody really knows where Oakville is at, so I think they put Ames. It’s actually Oakville, Iowa.
Yeah, I’m looking at that and it’s about 150 miles. The main thing is that knew where it was.
Well, how about telling us something about your experience in the AV installation business. I believe you do mostly residential work but this time you had a pretty hefty commercial installation. How did you get your start in doing this type of work?
Well, I started out in the commercial pro back in the mid/late 80’s in the Chicagoland area and did a little bit of everything. Touched on residential a little bit for some of our clients in the commercial business. Did that up until about 2006. I took over, actually, a cell phone business and in my town of Macomb, there is nobody in this town that does audio. So with my background I just kind of threw a little residential room in here and primarily have done mostly residential. But again, there’s no one in my town for about an hour, an hour-and-a-half away that does any audio. And I’ll do commercial, a little bit of everything. I have a background in both, so it keeps me tinkering in toys and playing a little bit. [Timestamp: 2:15]
So you’ve really got the whole local AV market there cornered.
We do. [Laughs]
Ok and this was a fairly substantial commercial installation so what was the background on how you got into that one?
One of my residential clients is in charge of this business and again, because my town and Oakville, Iowa, are in the middle of nowhere and really nobody around that does audio. It kind of started as a conversation. He said hey, can you do this? Well, I’ve done conference rooms before, just maybe not as up-to-date on some of the newer technology in that aspect. So we kind of went to work. We had a tight timeframe to work with because they had the room already designed, and then they brought me in which is sometimes opposite of what you want to do when you do a new room. [Timestamp: 3:03]
Yeah, I would think.
Yeah, we had some obstacles to work around because of that. The table is custom made so it was already positioned a way that was really kind of opposite of what I wanted. The room is long. It’s about 30-foot long and about 18-foot wide, and they have the projector on the far end of the screen – or the far end of the room on the short wall where I wanted it on the long wall so everybody is a little closer to it. So he had a few obstacles like that to overcome to make the room work the way they wanted it to. [Timestamp: 3:34]
And this wasn’t an upgrade for an existing room. This was a big renovation of a completely different type of space and adding some offices and a lobby and I guess the new conference room was all part of this bigger move.
Yes. They took a bunch of warehouse space and made offices and this new conference room in it. So it was a brand new buildout in there, which were kind of having them jump into the technology field. Their current meeting room, conference room, was a lot smaller and their video switching consisted of unplugging the VGA cord from one laptop and handing it to the next person who was going to present with the projector sitting on the table. So we kind of made a huge jump in technology for them from what they were used to. [Timestamp: 4:18]
We’re talking about the depth of the room here and it does seem a little weird for a conference room to be that long and that narrow. They even had the conference table ahead of time so you were kind of working at a disadvantage as far as the whole shape of the room right from the beginning.
Yes. They had the table. It was not made at the time, but they already had it designed how they wanted it. Turning the table and having the screens on the long wall so everybody’s a little closer would have cost them, they figured, anywhere from four to six seats in the room and they didn’t want to compromise that. So I gave them the obstacles that we were going to overcome with screen size and all the distance and I think we came to a good end result on it. Again, it’s not ideal the way the normal conference room setup, but we absolutely made it work. [Timestamp; 5:08]
And I think you did that in large part using a ClearOne system so you had good equipment to start with on the basics.
Yes. The management at this company has been in a lot of conference rooms. Some of them are on the boards of banks and hospitals, so they’ve been in a lot of meeting rooms. They’ve been on a lot of conference calls out of the meeting rooms. The main thing they wanted in this room was audio quality. They had a lot of field staff at this company and it’s very difficult sometimes to hear when your source is not a good signal. So that was the number one aspect they wanted to concentrate on was the audio quality and being able to hear both ingoing and outbound audio from this conference room and for their field staff. [Timestamp: 5:53]
And to do that on the audio pickup you went with a ClearOne beamforming mic on the ceiling?
Yes. We looked at a few different options. There’s always the table mics and hanging microphones from the ceiling. I got hooked up with ClearOne and started having some conversation with them. They were talking to me about the beamforming microphone. And this microphone has about 24 mic elements in it, and we’re actually doing two for this room because of the length of the room. And you can really steer, it has great echo cancellation, all sorts of that, that really made it work well. And the main reason why I selected this, and the client, we even got a couple of them on the demo, we did a conference call with ClearOne and they got up and walked around the conference table and we were not able to hear any difference in levels or quality of the voice when he was doing that. So that really solidified the sale of the ClearOne system. [Timestamp: 6:52]
Well, there’s nothing like an actual demo instead of just going over a lot of specs.
Absolutely. And because of the length of the room, that was one of the issues we were going to have is again, we could hang mics from the ceiling and I mean, it would have worked, but because of the length of the room there would have been a lot of microphones needed and, of course, that creates a problem right there. And with hanging two of these in there – and we’ve done this test in that room. We got up and walked around the whole room, the 30-foot-length room, and you can’t tell that someone is up and walking around. [Timestamp: 7:22]
And so to anchor that system you used the ClearOne CONVERGE Pro 881TA. Now what was the advantage in going with that? Of course you’re having the same manufacturer’s equipment at both ends of the wire.
Correct. I mean, the CONVERGE system works well together and having technology today, one of the last things as an integrator you want to do is try to figure out how to integrate equipment from different manufacturers when there’s already an integration there for you. I selected the 880TA primarily because it has a four-channel amplifier built into it. Now I have eight speakers in that room and they’re in groups of four, so I actually have four pair of speakers in there. And each amplifier can balance out the volume based on the noise in the room and where the voice and the microphones are working together. The other reason why I selected this is I gave them an option to have a microphone at the front of the room. And we’ve got the setup that if a microphone is plugged in, the game control and everything is automatic so there’s no volume controls in that room for the audio at all for the speakers. And the front two speakers will actually shut off when the microphone is plugged in so the remaining six speakers in the back will still work. Something that it was an afterthought when I brought it up; it’s something they didn’t really think about. But a 30-foot room, if you have it packed with people, not only does the microphone help, but in a lot of office environments, if you want to record the speaker then now you have a good mic source to be able to do that with as well. [Timestamp: 9:03]
So for all of the business end of it, where’s the PC and all of the processing equipment located to support the conference system?
I had them build me a closet right in that room. It’s actually in the wall so it’s recessed; it looks like a closet. But all the equipment rack and everything is in that room and all the fan noise and everything is really at a minimum with the way this equipment is built so you don’t even hear that it’s in there.
And among the other stuff I think you ran a POTS line and some data lines into the closet and installed your own switches.
Yes. We have the phone line coming in, which connects right into the ClearOne system for the conference calls and then data lines from the main data closet into this room. But all the switching for that room is handled internally. The table that they built, we had cut in Altinex boxes – it’s a U-shaped table – down the two long legs that there’s about four per side popup boxes that has electric and data in it. And then at the head table they have HDMI input, USB input right to the computer so they can transfer files as well as data and power right there at the table. So it’s a very clean-looking install. There’s no need, really, for cables or anything to be laying around the table unless somebody plugs in power or an HDMI cable or network. But it’s very clean when nobody’s using it. There’s nothing on the table and the boxes fold down really nice. [Timestamp: 10:32]
And did you say those were Altinex table boxes?
Yes, Altinex boxes. The ones down the side are just standard boxes, and the head tables were custom based on the inserts that we needed. [Timestamp: 10:45]
It sounds like you didn’t have that much trouble running all the cabling, at least most of it, since you didn’t have a great long way to go.
No, there wasn’t. We had quite a run from the main data closet down a long hallway. We were probably pushing, I would guess, 150 feet from the closet to that conference room. But because it was new construction, once we got out of the existing area we were able to run the wires however we needed to without a lot of obstructions and such. [Timestamp: 15:24]
And you’ve got, I believe, it’s three fairly large displays in there. Two SMART Boards and a pretty big projection screen?
Yeah. We have a 150-inch projection screen in there merely because of the distance from front to back. They run a lot of Excel spreadsheets and if you’re trying to fit certain graphs and spreadsheets on there anything smaller than that gets pretty hard to see from the head end of the table. So we put a screen in there as large as we could really fit in there, and I started doing demos with them on these SMART Boards. And because they have so much field staff, the SMART Boards that we’re using are very interactive – two-way interactive. So they can have field staff out there on a computer or a tablet or even a phone, a smart phone, and they’re able to interact drawing-wise back and forth between those SMART Boards. Those are also monitors as well, so one thing they like to do while they’re showing a presentation on the main screen, they may have pictures of their facilities on the side screens or something else showing on the side screens. So you can have multiple pictures and images on the screen versus the SMART Boards. [Timestamp: 12:20]
I know that should come in very handy for what it sounds like they’re doing but that’s a lot of potential glare on those big screens so how did you deal with that on the lighting system?
I used a simple Lutron Caséta lighting system. We broke the lighting system down in zones. I think we have five zones in there right now. They have an upper and a lower LED strip lighting around the soffit. They’ve built out a wooden soffit around there with LED lights, and then we have LED can lights in the ceiling. It’s an 11-foot drop-tile ceiling. We have the front four cameras on one zone of switches because that’s in front of the projector, and then the remaining lights behind the projectors on another set of switches – on a switch or dimmer, I should say – to control the lighting in there. And then the last zone, the fifth zone, is they have behind the head of the table their logo built into a box with LED strip lighting around it to light that up. So we really have full control over the lighting in there. And with the Lutron Caséta system, I’ve got it programmed in the control system and also I used the LaunchPort case for the iPad. The iPad does all the switching for the video and control and with the LaunchPort I selected the case with the buttons so they mimic the remote switch for the Lutron to be able to dim the lights and set certain scenes in the room so they don’t have to get up from the table or anything. They can just hit a hard button on the case of the iPad and they’re able to change the lighting scenes based on whether they’re showing an image or need the lights all on. [Timestamp: 13:53]
Using some RS232 control mostly for these devices. What are you using for the switcher?
I’m using a Binary switch. The Binary switch is from SnapAV. I’ve used a lot of those in various situations. It works very well. It’s a 6 x 4 x 2, so it’s got HDBaseT output, and then they’ve got two extra just plain HDMI outputs out of it. That is via RS232. The main control system is a URC control system that controls the video switching on it. I’ve got a combination of some IR; very little IR, but mostly RS232 is controlling everything. The webinar camera as well. [Timestamp: 14:33]
Alright, sounds good and in Part 2 we’ll get into more detail on the beamforming mic and the Vivitek projector, the camera that you chose, a very nice ClearOne UNITE 200 and a great zoom lens. We’ll get into the control aspects of it that really make it easy for office type, non-techies to operate. I appreciate it. We’re talking to Phil Earnest of Collins Communications in Macomb, Illinois and the new TriOak Foods conference room. Thanks for being with us.
TriOak Foods has its top notch conference room and even the big guys can easily make it work every time. Next week Phil will get back with us for details on the PTZ camera, the table top controller and the trick of matching the clarity and brightness between the SMART Boards and the projection. Be here for that on the next SVC Podcast.