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AVoIP Case Study: UNC Curtis Media Center

The University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media opened the Curtis Media Center to students in the summer of 2022. The 13,000-square-foot building features a high-tech broadcast studio and control room, a podcast studio, a makerspace, and two divisible classrooms equipped for HyFlex learning. Curtis Media Center will educate current and future generations of journalists and media practitioners in a multimedia-rich environment that supports innovation and collaboration. The audiovisual system supporting the media-focused activities in this building is the brainchild of Gary Kayye, Assistant Professor of advertising and public relations at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, in partnership with Gary Kirk, Broadcast & Emerging Media Engineer at the UNC Hussman school. Kontek Systems, Inc. performed the detailed design, installation, and commissioning of the AV system. An Extron NAV Pro AV over IP system serves as the building’s AV backbone.

“NAV Pro AV over IP and NAVigator are great because NAVigator is remotely accessible. I can configure all of the building’s AV end points from my desk. If there’s an AV issue in a classroom that’s in use, I can re-route AV assets from a vacant classroom, allowing teaching to continue while I fix the problem,” says Gary Kirk. “User feedback about the Curtis Media Center AV systems is very positive. Thanks to the ‘wizard’ style touchpanel interface, users are self-sufficient after a brief onboarding walkthrough. Support calls are minimal.”

Every learning space in the Curtis Media Center can be used to originate and display multimedia content. The AV system can route any source to any destination over a dedicated 1 Gbps AV over IP network that includes AES 67 audio. NAV Pro encoders and decoders provide ingress and egress of AV content to this network. The NAV Pro encoders and decoders convert HDMI signals to IP packets and back again. The packets are routed by standard network switches, allowing scalable matrix switching of AV signals over the LAN. Currently, there are 57 encoders and 57 decoders, and with support for thousands of endpoints, there’s plenty of room for growth.

NAVigator AV over IP System Manager configures and controls the NAV Pro endpoints and establishes the connections made through the LAN. Users request AV connections between sources and screens with a couple of taps on a TouchLink Pro touchpanel. SMP 352 streaming media processors live stream, broadcast, and record presentations from classrooms, a seminar space, and a broadcast studio. The SMP 352’s include Panopto® integration, allowing them to receive recording schedules from Panopto and stream live video to Panopto. Mobile AV credenzas in the classrooms contain ShareLink Pro presentation systems that allow people in the room to share AV content from wired or wireless BYOD sources. The NAVigator has an intuitive browser-based user interface, providing maintenance personnel with convenient access to all functions. Users in the learning spaces establish their desired AV connections between sources and screens with a couple of taps on their in-room TouchLink® Pro touchpanels. Gary Kirk notes that NAV Pro AV over IP has streamlined his ability to perform AV system maintenance by allowing him to remotely access all AV endpoints right from his office desk.

Divisible Classrooms and Seminar Space

One side of a divisible classroom with the partition closed to create two rooms with identical AV capabilities.

Virtual Mics, Ceiling Speakers, Cameras, Displays: Large sunlit classrooms that can seat 50 students occupy most of the second and third floors. Movable partitions can divide each of these classrooms into two rooms. In each classroom, 9,000 virtual microphones can pinpoint the location of sound originating from anywhere in the space. Extron pendant speakers, surface mount speakers, and ceiling mount subwoofers provide room audio. Video is captured by PTZ cameras. The rooms on each side of the partitions feature two laser projectors aimed at adjacent walls, and two 75″ flat panel displays pointing into the rooms from the partition wall. The third floor includes a seminar space that has the same AV amenities as the classrooms, but without the flat panel displays.

Lecture Streaming and Recording: A pool of Extron SMP 352 streaming media processors in the central AV racks can simultaneously live stream, broadcast, and record presentations from all four classrooms, the seminar space, and the broadcast studio. These processors include Panopto® integration that allows them to receive recording schedules from the Panopto video platform as well as streaming live video to Panopto. The SMP 352’s store AV content to internal solid-state memory or – for capture and carry – to a removable USB storage device located at each classroom’s mobile AV credenza. When recording presentations and lectures to Panopto, the SMP 352 provides a clear indication that recording is in progress by lighting an indicator on the room’s TouchLink Pro touchpanel. This feature is appreciated by users because it provides confidence at a glance that Panopto is capturing sessions.

Mobile AV Credenzas: Each classroom includes a mobile AV instructor credenza housing room-specific AV equipment. Among this equipment are multiple Extron ShareLink Pro presentation systems that allow people in the room to share AV content from BYOD sources via HDMI cables or wirelessly through Miracast™ Wi-Fi. Other AV content sources include in-room Apple TV media players, Mac mini desktop computers located in the AV equipment room, and wireless mic receivers paired to in-room handheld mics. Each credenza includes a DTP® receiver connected to a DTP HDMI wallplate transmitter, allowing users to plug-in HDMI content sources at the wall. For audio, each credenza houses Extron audio amplifiers that drive the room speakers and an Extron DMP 128 Plus audio DSP processor that selects, mixes, and optimizes audio sources and connects the room to the Dante/AES 67 network. NAV Pro AV encoders and scaling decoders in the credenzas connect the rooms to the AV over IP network.

HyFlex Ready: The classrooms can accommodate a mix of lecture-based and active learning methods.

Podcast Studio
Podcasts are a key and growing part of the media landscape. A cutting-edge podcast studio and audio workspace on the second floor provides students with real-world podcast and audio production experience. The studio is equipped with three podcast mics and three monitor headphones to accommodate group discussions. Podcast participants in the studio can share AV content from BYOD devices via HDMI, Wi-Fi, or USB using Extron ShareLink Pro and MediaPort units. AV content is also sourced from two Apple TV media players. A DMP 128 Plus audio DSP processor selects, mixes, and optimizes audio sources and connects the studio to the Dante/AES 67 network. NAV  Pro AV encoders and scaling decoders link the studio to the AV over IP network. The studio is equipped with two PTZ cameras and two 75″ flat panel displays.

Podcast studio accommodates group discussions with mics and headphones for up to three people.

Broadcast Studio and Control Room
The James F. Goodmon Studio is a professional broadcast studio and control room that occupies the ground floor. Passersby can see activity in the studio through a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. A 16×9-foot high-definition LED screen fills an entire studio wall. It is visible to all who stop to view the video content, which includes campus news, cultural event performances, and sporting events.

A fiber connection between Curtis Media Center and UNC Athletics facilities, including the Dean Smith Center arena, home for the UNC Chapel Hill Tar Heels basketball team, allows the broadcast studio to originate programs like Sports Xtra. Sports Xtra is a student-produced show featuring sports highlights, analysis, and commentary. Students also produce the live news program Carolina Now, which keeps UNC students, faculty, and staff informed about what’s happening on campus, around town, and around the world. Both shows live stream on Facebook and YouTube. Check out the opening minutes of recent broadcasts in the Featured Video in this article’s sidebar at right.

The broadcast studio has the same SMP 352 live streaming, recording, and Panopto capabilities as the classrooms, and does double-duty as a classroom – with the studio’s floor-to-ceiling LED screen functioning as the classroom AV display. Connection to the Dante and AV over IP network is also similar to the classrooms, via a DMP 128 Plus audio DSP processor and NAV Pro AV encoders and decoders.


AV System Control
Eight Extron IPCP Pro control processors located in the basement AV racks communicate with the AV equipment in all of the venues described above via a dedicated Ethernet AV LAN, controlling all AV equipment in the building while securely isolating AV devices from the college enterprise network. The control processors react to user selections made at TouchLink Pro touchpanels located in each of the AV-enabled rooms. Users can easily select audio and video signals and manage other AV system functions from the touchpanels via intuitive, interactive GUIs. The touchpanels provide full-motion video preview and confidence monitoring of the selected AV program sources, allowing users to confirm their program selections right from the touchpanel GUI

Extron Scheduling Panels at Each Door
Extron TLS TouchLink room scheduling panels are located outside the doors of all teaching spaces. Users can make on-demand reservations with a few taps on the scheduling panel, from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Extron’s Room Agent software integrates the scheduling panels to UNC’s 25Live® scheduling application. Gary Kirk says that people appreciate the scheduling panels; not only for making room reservations, but to avoid opening a door and inadvertently distracting a class that’s in session.

With a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early April 2022, Curtis Media Center opened its learning spaces, makerspace, and broadcast studios to students, faculty, and staff. Don Curtis’ vision of creating a top-tier learning center to prepare future journalists is now reality. Classes are in full swing and making use of the building’s AV amenities.

Gary Kirk says that plans are underway to expand the AV over IP network because users are already requesting more endpoints to allow connection of more program sources and more displays. Beyond the flexibility of the NAV Pro AV system, Kirk credits Extron for assisting in enhancing the robustness of the University’s network to support AV signal transport. According to Kirk, “This was one of two projects on campus to implement layer 3 routing. Until now, our network was very flat. Extron worked directly with our networking department to make this as easy as possible.” Kirk summarizes his views about Extron this way: “Our school has a proven track record with Extron products. The hardware is solid and requires little maintenance. Setup and support are top notch. It was a no-brainer for us to go with Extron AV systems for the Curtis Media Center.”

All photos and video courtesy of University of North Carolina

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