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The Nuts and Bolts of a Green AV Installation, Part 1

Green AV is big and getting bigger, but how does it really work out on the job where the nuts, bolts, and cable come together?

The Nuts and Bolts of a Green AV Installation, Part 1

May 3, 2010 11:32 AM,
By Bennett Liles

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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.

Green AV is big and getting bigger, but how does it really work out on the job where the nuts, bolts, and cable come together? Mark Morrison, Patrick DeZess, and Allan Childers of Audio Video Systems (AVS) put it all together in the new headquarters of the U.S. Green Building Council, and they’re going to tell us how it worked.

SVC: Mark, Patrick, and Allan, it’s great to be with you here on the Corporate AV podcast. And you’re with Audio Video Systems up there in Virginia…
Childers: Right.
…and we were talking about the U.S. Green Building Council’s headquarters where you did a major installation there. And I would think that the United States Green Building Council, I mean, when they have a headquarters set up and installed, it had better be an environmentally green building. First of all, before we get into the installation, what does AVS do and how long have you guys been around?
Childers: Actually, AVS was founded by the owner, Peter Barthelson, in 1992—and so almost coming up on 20 years—and we’re a systems integrator, [and we] specialize in design, engineering, [and] integration of audiovisual systems. We do everything from the basic AV to video teleconferencing suites. We specialize in a lot of government installations—command and control centers, operation centers, large conference rooms for offices, general things like that. One of the things that we have been doing is working with the Pentagon since the mid ’90s on their renovation program, PENREN, and so we’ve worked as the major AV installer for that—all the different command and control centers and offices, conference rooms for the generals and for the different Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc. But we’re doing a little bit more, for example, with the Green Building Council—a little bit more corporate, a little bit more education, but the majority is government and military stuff. [Timestamp: 2:16]

And you’re getting ready pretty soon to be moving into a new headquarters yourselves with AVS. How is that been going?
Childers: A couple of years ago, the owner bought some property, and we designed and are completing the construction of Barthelson Plaza, which will be a headquarters for AVS. Right now, we’re tentatively scheduled to move in just at the end of April or early May. And that is a 72,000-square-foot, four-story building. It’s going to be LEED-certified, I believe, shooting for the gold. If we can go higher, we will. As a green building, it will be organically managed and a lot of the stuff is recycled—furniture, content, and everything that you can to green building and all the stuff that will need LEED certification. [Timestamp: 3:03]

Well, obviously, the green movement is very big in AV now, and it sounds to me like AVS has made some pretty serious commitments to operating in green. What other things have you been doing within the company for that?
Childers: Well, actually, the Green Building Council install kind of jumped off a few ideas for us because we looked at that—we had to do some things differently, obviously, which we’ll get into—but we kind of took a look at what we were doing internally and put some ideas together. We put together sort of a three-fold plan of things that we could do … internally, how we’re doing everything from recycling and doing VTC instead of traveling or things like that … the basic stuff that people do for green internally. The other point is the LEED certification to the new building, but also, we looked at what we could do to provide sustainability and green stuff for our customers and the systems we build. We look at green AV sort of like a tag line, as Patrick has said before, but we look at ourselves as a company that’s using sustainable business practices in the products that we provide to our customers. We’ve got an internal team, a green task force of ourselves, that has been doing research for months and putting together plans of things we’re doing. We’ve implemented things like a major recycling policy, obviously, internally, but externally, for our customers, we’re looking at different things like what we can do for power management in our systems, how we can use our control systems to help customers—save them energy. If they’re not using their systems 24/7, then maybe they can save costs by turning them off on the weekends or things like that. That’s a simple example, but we’re looking at everything we can do and then we’re also doing a blog online talking about the green stuff that we’ve been doing, sort of telling a story of what we’re doing. There’s not a lot of people talking about it besides some of the trade magazines. The system integrators aren’t talking too much, but we want to put ourselves out there and basically drive what’s going on in the industry, sort of inspire people to challenge themselves and challenge the industry to see what we can do to further sustainability efforts for the AV industry. [Timestamp: 5:20]

Well, it was no secret, I guess, the extent of AVS’ involvement and green technology, and I guess it’s no surprise then that the Green Building Council decided to go with you folks on this. So what did they tell you when they first came to you with this on the installation and what was the scope of what they wanted to do?
Morrison: Well, originally the Green Building Council was an existing client that we had, and we actually installed their systems in their old facility. And when they were looking to move into their new facility, they actually engaged us for some design and some consulting to make sure that we could fit the needs in the new building. During that process, we identified what they liked about their current systems and what they didn’t like about their current systems, and it pretty much came to fruition that one of the most important things that they wanted was a system that was as easy as possible to use. That meant automating the system. The actual green cost savings wasn’t a driving requirement as much as the usability of the system, so during that time period, we looked at various technologies from Crestron, AMX, all the major vendors, and then we went down the road of actually looking at possibly automating the systems, tying into other building control systems, things of that nature. After we came up with a concept, demonstrated the functionality of it to them, went over it in detail, they then gave us another word for the actual installation portion of the project. [Timestamp: 6:45]

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The Nuts and Bolts of a Green AV Installation, Part 1

May 3, 2010 11:32 AM,
By Bennett Liles

Yeah, there’s always a, I guess, kind of a careful balance you have to strike in all of these installations between flexibility and the ability to do lots of different things, and the ease of operation as far as how many people they’re going to have operating it and how familiar they are with this system, how many newcomers are coming in and going to be looking at this thing for the first time and trying to figure out how it works. So since Energy Star ratings aren’t all that wide-spread, I guess yet, in the professional AV gear, how did you figure out what specific equipment you were going to use as far as what kind of energy savings it would provide?
DeZess: I think that’s part of our entire approach is that if there are Energy Star-compliant products that we can use, like we did for some of the displays in this installation, we obviously want to look at using those but also using our ability to custom-integrate standard pro AV products in a way that can sustain lower energy usage by turning systems off and things like that. The intelligence that we can build into the control system can make up for what’s not currently available. [Timestamp: 7:50]

I’m not sure that LEED ratings are all that well understood yet by everybody. How much does the AV system have to do with that other than how much power it uses?
DeZess: Well, we have a couple of other places where we’ve tied into the building the occupancy sensors that were installed for the lighting system. We’ve tied into those so that when the rooms aren’t occupied, if the systems on, they will turn themselves off—those sorts of things that are helping with the energy usage of the building but just not being qualified for points in the LEED system yet. [Timestamp: 8:22]

Were there any particular problems that they told you they had with their former system that they wanted to make sure they kind of avoided or maybe got around on this one?
Morrison: Their former system was a standard AV system of the time, so you had button panels, you had to turn the system on, turn the system off, routing—things of that nature—and when we engaged them in a design process, one of the things that we had discussed with them was fully automating the system so [it] didn’t matter who walked in. If they walked in and plugged something in the system, it automatically [would] come up and route that source to the display. If you disconnected that source, the system would also then power down after a certain amount of time. If somebody had a source hooked up and nothing was happening in the room and the occupancy sensor didn’t pick anything up for a short amount of time, then the system would also power off. So we made it as user-friendly as you could so even if there was a non-AV person that walked into the room, that it was still very easy for them to use. [Timestamp: 9:12]

Did you know anything at the time about specifically what sort of program content they were going to have on these things and exactly how they were going to be using it, or was it just a case of adhering to the certain specs?
DeZess: As far as the content that they were going to be using, it was more general that they needed to do these sorts of functions because the way that their organization functions, they have a lot of different people that come in and out of the facility that bring in laptops and things of that nature. So overall, flexibility to handle multiple situations is definitely the most important part. [Timestamp: 9:47]

And you got, I believe it was, Crestron TPMC-8X touchpanels in there?

How do they use those?
Morrison: The overall system comprises of multiple rooms, so there’s some rooms that are individual rooms that have a divisible wall between them that can then go into a combined mode so the way that this system is laid out, the individual rooms have small button panels and that controls the individual side of the room. If you wanted to go into a open combined mode, then you would have the TPMC-8X touchpanel, which then would operate the room in combined mode. So you can float around a room, you can send sources, you can control the various configurations of the rooms. [timestamp: 10:20]

Oh, well, I guess that would add another level of complexity to the programming of things you would have to figure out in advance.
Morrison: Exactly.

Yeah, I was always kind of interested in … multiroom systems where you can have, say, three separate rooms and then pull the partitions back—I would think that sometimes the people who are actually going to be using that thing don’t even know yet at the beginning what all the iterations of the operation of the thing is going to be.
DeZess: Yeah, it’s always tough with a divisible space designing in such a way that it will meet the largest number of possible configurations and usages that the customer may come up with, and it’s not uncommon for a user to come back six months, a year, or even two years later and say that the way that they use the room now is different than they had in mind when they first planned the room. So being able to get more scenarios accommodated up front to allow them some flexibility to determine how they’re going to eventually end up utilizing the space is very important. [Timestamp: 11:24]

I understand there were some motion sensors in there. What do they do with those?
Morrison: The motion sensors themselves were actually tied into the building lighting system and we were asked to actually see if we could integrate those motion sensors into our system. So like I said, the motion sensors are part of the automation process, so what we did is we tied them back to the central controllers for the rooms, and if nobody was in those rooms and those motion sensors didn’t go off, the system would automatically power down after a certain amount of time. So that’s how we actually integrated those into our systems. [Timestamp: 11:52]

OK, and they just run back on contact closure lines?
Morrison: Exactly. Exactly. They actually run to a panel to a Crestron lighting system that was installed by another integrator, and we simply tapped into those and ran those back to our control systems. [Timestamp: 12:06]

Oh, well, I’ll bet when they see all these things, they’re kind of impressed—I mean, if they don’t know how it works. You also had a Christie LW600 projector in there. Was that chosen to fit the green profile in some way, or was it just technically suited to the purpose?
Morrison: I don’t know if that was really chosen to fit the green profile. We’re a Christie platinum-level dealer, which gives us certain benefits over other AV integrators as far as service and things of that nature. The main thing that went with the Christie was that the U.S. Green Building Council chose some aesthetic tiles for that particular space which were, I guess, on 45s and various different angles, and we actually had to spend extreme detail in how we were going to mount that from the structure above the ceiling and not interfere with the aesthetics of the room. And then we also had to work with the screen because they wanted to do different aspect ratios on the screen, so we went from 16:9 to 4:3s, and things of that nature too. [Timestamp: 13:00]

OK, and that’s all in the Crestron programming. Is that how it’s triggered?
Morrison: Yep, everything’s fully automated.

Oh, cool. OK, well, it sounds like they don’t have to really figure out how anything works, it’s just to know what they want to do and to push the right button to, in some cases, make a whole sequence of automated events happen.
DeZess: Ease of use is one of the things that we try to make sure we include in all of our systems so that it’s simple enough that any person who can operate a normal computer—that level of difficulty—can walk into the room and easily operate our system, very much like they would their home TV or their home PC. [Timestamp: 13:37]

Right, and the more complex function it has, the more of a challenge that that gets to be.
Morrison: Right, and we’ve also found that if you make the touchpanels too challenging or you put too much into the touchpanel, it actually inhibits the users’ ability to use the system, so we try to make our panels as user-friendly as possible.

Childers: People have noticed that because we’ve sort of had the same kind of touchpanel screens on all of our systems for years. For example, I said that we worked at the Pentagon for so long, and we’ve had people that have gone from different offices and then go to a new facility—they’ve never been there before—and they said, “Hey, I recognize how to do this and how to use it,” and could jump in right away and go ahead and just use the system. [Timestamp: 14:17]

Right, and I would think that typically you don’t have people going in there ahead of time and sitting there and playing around with it to make sure they know what they’re doing. They just walk in and don’t really even think about that until the presentation, or whatever it is, is ready to start and then it’s, “Oh my God, how does this thing work?”…
Morrison: Right.
…So the simpler the better and the more familiar with it they are the better.

Well guys, Mark, Patrick and Allan, this has been fantastic in part one here and this is a really interesting installation. In part two, I want to get more into some of the low-voltage stuff and a little bit more about how you designed it to save energy and specific cable formats and things like that, but for now, thanks for being here with me for part one and I’m looking forward to part two.
Morrison: Thank you.
DeZess: Thanks for having us.

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