SVC: There was a big financial firm that wanted to move their annual client meetings to their office building. Apparently the AV facilities were not quite up to the task. What did they want you to do on this one?
Mark McPherson: They were trying to create a vision for updating all their rooms and accommodating those annual client meetings. A year and a half ago we had moved into a new headquarters and we designed a new technology demonstration center. So we were able to bring them into our demo center and showcase a whole bunch of different technologies for them to visualize and touch and feel; to give them a good understanding of what their options were for designing a new building. As one of the largest investment companies in Canada, they did want to have a very consistent user experience across all these environments. So we’ve got rooms of different sizes and trying to have a seamless experience across all those environments is a challenge.
Part of their vision included Smart interactive displays; was there a particular reason why you went with that brand and how did you introduce the clients to them?
Kevin Linton: We demoed the Smart Meeting Pro software to the clients at our briefing center and they really liked the simplicity of its use.
How big are the Smart displays?
Mark: There are some different-sized meeting rooms throughout the building. It’s quite a large building, and so the display sizes ranged from 70-inch to 84 up to 90-inch.
Let’s go to the executive boardroom just to pick one. Do they like to stand at the board and do their presentations or do they prefer to do it from a seat at the table?
They’re able to do both and they’re definitely using Smart Ink to go over the top of any of the applications they’re driving.
That could get a little tricky because if they’re doing live conferencing or recording what they’re doing, it gets a little awkward if you have to pass a mic around. But then you have to get one single voice out of the crowd without it sounding like you’re on a jet plane or something.
Kevin: Yeah. We also had four Sennheiser wireless mics with headbands – headsets.
Mark: Yeah. One of the real challenges to the presenters in the past was they weren’t feeling as comfortable on the stage with the various wireless microphones they had, so we upgraded all those just for comfort, but also to improve the quality as well.
And keep their hands free. I guess some people are a little intimidated when they’re handed a mic or have to walk up to one on a stand. These people aren’t performers so it can get kind of interesting.
Mark: You’re right. In fact, that’s a really good point you brought up. When you get into these types of applications you end up chatting a lot with the presenters themselves and the users. One of the things we learned was they really wanted to increase their comfort on that stage. So we ended up installing a number of confidence monitors – additional monitors to what they had already – just because they like to roam around that stage. And in addition we added a 24-inch Smart interactive podium, which enabled them to annotate over their presentations and helped them deliver their points.
You used Crestron’s AirMedia on this job. Tell me about that. Why AirMedia? Did it require training?
Kevin: Yeah, there was training for that. There was also separate training for all the Smart products involved in the system as well. So we have people on board here that do full training of both those systems. The AirMedia, the reason it was chosen, you could have up to 32 participants in a quad split on the screen or full screen, and up to 40 remote viewers as well.
And I think this system can allow one person to be the presentation traffic coordinator if there are a lot of people involved?
Kevin: Yeah, they can slide participants over into whatever quad they want to seal them into or they can eliminate them from the screen as well. Which one of the rooms had the most AV gear to go in or required the most work? Kevin: That would be the auditorium. We actually replaced three existing projectors with some Sony solid-state units, laser projectors, and some new 1610 projection screens. We also have two dual 65-inch displays that were located at the rear of the room.
What was the sound situation in there?
Mark: So there was an existing audio system already in the theater area and so we did some upgrades. And what we focused on was adding more ceiling microphones just to create a better user experience for the audience.
You put a lot of Crestron items into it, so what did you use for the control system in there?
Mark: Yeah, as far as control is concerned, we had a TSW750 seven-inch touch panel. The processor was CP3, and we also utilized DM products. We had a full DM-MD8x8 matrix switcher as well as the transmitters and receivers. Scaling receivers were on all the outputs there as well.
You also had Sony laser projectors in the auditorium. Was there a special reason you went with that one? I think there was a story behind that choice.
Mark: Yeah, we ended up putting in three of these Sony laser projectors and this is probably one of the most interesting phases of the project for us. As you know, the quality of the picture is a very subjective thing. We ended up doing demos of three or four different types of laser projectors, and people got involved at all levels, right up to the chairman, to actually come in and see the image quality and give their opinion on which one they like the best. And after evaluating different units for almost a full day, the chairman basically said, “I want the Sony unit,” and that’s what they got.
Alright well, when the chairman wants something he gets it.
Mark: That’s right.
Kevin: And the beauty of these projectors is they have up to 20,000 hours of maintenance-free service. They were really impressed with that as well as the power savings they’re going to gain from these products.
What video signal format do you have there? You mentioned the matrix switcher. What are the ins and outs on that, like HDMI, DVI or what?
Kevin: For the most part they’re HDMI. The inputs on the actual switcher are DM and HDMI combinations and then the outputs are DM outputs.
And you still needed to have a VGA connection in there somewhere right? It’s not completely dead but you can allow them to make the transition at their own pace and accommodate anybody who comes along.
Kevin: Yeah, they’re really being phased out but you still get them asked for in most installations.
Are all of the meeting rooms identically equipped or are there bigger ones and smaller ones?
Mark: Yeah, they’re smaller rooms and in those rooms we have the cable cubby with a flip top as well as the AirMedia. And we have 70-inch Sharp displays in those rooms as well.
Okay, and when it gets to where you have everything installed and connected, what kind of source devices do you use to test it all? Try it with everything you can think of or in this environment do you pretty well know what you’re likely to run into?
Mark: Yeah, you pretty well have to check everything out. You’re hooking up to the AirMedia. You’re using phones, iPads and laptops just to make sure that everybody’s connecting properly, working with their IT department as well to set things up.
And I think you did a classroom in there, too?
Mark: Yes we did. That’s using a DMPS300 AV. Again, a lot of DM receivers and transmitters. They’ve got a TSW550, which is a five-inch touch panel wired. And in all these rooms they’re also using the iPad app and we supplied iPad Airs for all these with the Crestron iPad docking station.
What was your timeline on this and were there any sudden snags or architectural surprises or just room access issues?
Andrew Hykowski: This is a large organization with more than 1,000 staff in this building, as you can imagine, for a lot of these rooms, they’re trying to use them at the same time that we’re trying to do these upgrades. So we worked closely with their project team to design a phased-in approach where we would knock off sections of the project at one time. It wasn’t the most efficient way to go about it and it resulted in us delivering this project over about a two-month period. But it worked, and they were able to continue working and doing their meetings quite seamlessly. As far as challenges, you know what? This one did go relatively well. Our biggest challenge – and I think this comes in any installation where you’re using existing infrastructure, you’re using some existing cabling and stuff that’s in these buildings – you never quite know what you’re going to get when you go in there. And so we did have a few challenges where we had to upgrade some cabling, re-fish things, change connectors and repair things, but overall it went relatively smoothly.
You had to train the people on it and I guess they did pretty well once they got used to it.
Andrew: Yeah, our approach to training is two-fold. So we utilize our Crestron programmers to deliver a lot of our system training for customers because they’ve worked intimately with the users on how to design the GUI layouts and help envision how they want the system to work in the first place. Our Crestron folks actually led the sessions very well and then we brought in our Smart-certified trainers to work with the people who were going to be actively using the Smart systems and it ended up just perfect.
So what’s up next?
Kevin: We’re working with this customer right now on doing some upgrades involving numerous video conferencing systems and adding some video conferencing suites to the building. And we’ve got quite a few big projects in the go. We’ve got a few new broadcast studios we’re working on as well as two control rooms in Canada and a hotel project, which is a complete new build that we’re really excited about.