AV at the Democratic National Convention
Events like the Democratic National Convention can present a rising tide of opportunity for local businesses. That was certainly the case this past summer for Denver-based AV integration shop ListenUp. The company had to move fast, however, to capitalize.
The control room in Denver's Emergency Command Center, with equipment racks, HD cable boxes, and feeds from the citywide fiber-optic camera system.
Credit: Courtesy Listenup
Build a command-and-control environment for more than 100 federal, state, and local officials in less than six weeks.
SOLUTION: Use previous designs as a template and discuss product availability with manufacturers at the beginning of the process to make sure there are no surprises.
EVENTS LIKE THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL Convention can present a rising tide of opportunity for local businesses. That was certainly the case this past summer for Denver-based AV integration shop ListenUp. The company had to move fast, however, to capitalize.
“It was the fastest job I've ever done,” says Listen-Up commercial division manager Jeff Largen, who oversaw the integration of a $92,000 command-and-control AV environment inside the newly created Denver City and County Emergency Management Command Center.
With the DNC scheduled to arrive in late August, and with a Department of Homeland Security grant in hand, city officials rushed last spring to establish a command-and-control center inside the basement of the old county courthouse. “It's a command center designed to hold [more than] 100 people, including everyone from local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel to local utilities to the fire department and paramedics,” Largen explains. “The Colorado Department of Transportation uses the facility, too. It's basically a giant monitoring room.”
It's actually multiple rooms, with a conference room and five offices adjacent to the central command center. There's also the smaller command center, the so-called “JIC Room” (Joint Intelligence Center).
ListenUp, which has built a local reputation as an integrator of high-definition display systems, was called in at the last minute as a subcontractor to local builder Interlock Construction Corp. The AV shop was given less than six weeks to come up with a design that would outfit all the rooms with display equipment and then install it.
“One of the reasons we got the job in the first place was our ability to complete it so fast,” Largen says.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Experience with similar room configurations allowed ListenUp to use a previous design as a template. “Because we had worked on similar systems in the past, we were able to have the design done in less than a week, and we were on site doing the install within two weeks of our first meeting,” Largen adds.
Mobilizing so quickly, of course, presented challenges. With all of ListenUp's commercial-division personnel booked on other jobs, Largen found two staffers in the company's home services unit who were available for assignment. “The biggest challenge on this whole job was finding labor resources,” he explains. “Fortunately, we are a hybrid company, and we have a homes division, and I was able to tap into those resources.”
ONE ASPECT TO CONSIDER
“We really had to do our homework on this one because we wanted everything set at a 16:9 aspect ratio, but 16:9 is still new to the commercial world,” says Jeff Largen, commercial division manager for ListenUp. “A lot of the stuff we sell is still 4:3. And it was a big deal because most of what we've done in the past is 4:3. This is really only the third job we've ever done where we had to go 16:9.”
Given that so many 16:9-centric flat-panels were used throughout the facility, feeding them 4:3 video signals “would have resulted in big black bars on the sides of the images or stretched computer images,” Largen explains. “You'd have a lot of stretched and distorted images that way.”
Among the myriad elements that had to be accounted for, computers had to be equipped with display cards that supported 16:9, while software such as PowerPoint also had to be tweaked to support the display configuration.
“You have to use newer versions of applications that support it in many cases,” Largen notes.
Other challenges, meanwhile, were minimized with a little forethought. “We made sure in advance that all the products we were going to use were readily available from the manufacturers,” Largen says. “We had to call [companies] like Extron and make sure what we needed was in stock and that we could have it in a week's time.”
ListenUp's mandate was to create robust HD display environments in multiple rooms that leveraged several different content sources. The first was basic cable television. Each display in the facility is connected directly via Component video wire to its own Comcast HD cable box stacked in a Middle Atlantic DWR2122PSD rack. These boxes allow command center personnel to access CNN, MSNBC, The Weather Channel, or any other TV news source of their choosing.
“They can monitor the news channels from anywhere in the building, which is really important to them” Largen says. “They can also bring up a live feed of every intersection in the city where there's a camera.”
Indeed, hundreds of live camera feeds—sources include police, Colorado Department of Transportation, and airport—merge into a fiber-optic network that pipes directly into the command center's network backbone, where it is switched by a proprietary system and dispersed via Composite video cables to four monitors dispersed throughout the facility.
“There are at least 100 live camera feeds on that system,” Largen estimates. “And any one of those cameras can be sent to any of four dedicated TVs at any given time. They can bring up a live feed from any intersection where a camera is located to see a fire, a riot, an accident, or whatever else is happening.”
Meanwhile, five dedicated PCs are also connected to a 24x24 Extron Crosspoint matrix switcher and are able to feed in a wide variety of weather, traffic, satellite, PowerPoint, and other computer-driven imagery into the display system. “They can present a live weather map on any TV in the command center if they want to, for example,” Largen notes.
A PERMANENT FACILITY
To kickstart the installation, ListenUp engineers pulled about 6,000 feet of Liberty wire, which consisted of RGBHV mini coax, Component, and Composite video cable, as well as wire for IR control.
All of this work was done in the basement of the county courts building and an adjacent employee break room, both of which had just been renovated to make way for the command center.
“They built this facility not just for the convention, but for the emergencies that might come along in the future,” Largen notes. “Denver is America's 25th largest city now.” Such a ranking called for a robust display environment.
Thirty-two-inch Sony KDL32M4000 and 52-inch Sony KDL52BR4 monitors make up the bulk of the display systems throughout the facility, with a combination of six flat-panels lining the walls of the central command center, each positioned using either a Chief 55-inch PWRUB or 42-inch MWHUB swing mount that can be swiveled in any direction.
The area also includes a Hitachi Starboard FX-82 interactive white board, contents of which can be projected at the front of the room via an Eiki LC-WB40N projector or through the main display system.
Denver-based integrator ListenUp used the following equipment in Denver's new City and County Emergency Management Command Center.
- Chief MWHUB 42-inch flat-panel swing mounts
- Chief PWRUB 55-inch flat-panel swing mounts
- Eiki LC-WB40N projectors
- Extron PIP 444 quad video processor
- Hitachi FX-82 Starboards interactive whiteboards
- Middle Atlantic DWR21222PSD 21-space wall rack
- RDL TX-J2 unbalanced audio input transformers
- Sony KDL32M4000 32-inch LCD panels
- Sony KDL52XBR4 52-inch LCD panels
— Source: LISTENUP
Nearby, a conference room includes two Sony KDL52BR4 monitors mounted on adjacent walls, with plans for ListenUp to add a Tandberg video conferencing system down the road. Five small offices within the facility were equipped with dedicated Sony KDL32M4000 monitors that are also connected to their own cable box as well as the main computer display system.
Meanwhile, the JIC room features its own dedicated equipment rack, which is stacked with nine cable boxes and two Extron PIP 444 quad video processors. Each processor connects four cable boxes to one of two KDL32M4000 displays, meaning each monitor can display four channels simultaneously. Two KDL52BR4s are also wall-mounted in the JIC, one of which draws source video from the ninth cable box, while the other receives video from the 24x24 Crosspoint switcher on the facility's main AV rack.
The JIC also includes its own Starboard with accompanying Eiki LC-WB40N projector.
Sound re-enforcement within the facility is minimal and confined to the monitor speakers. To preserve sound integrity over the long distances between cable boxes and individual LCD displays, ListenUp routed signals as balanced audio then converted them back to unbalanced audio using RDL TX-J2 input transformers.
“Balanced audio can go a longer distance than unbalanced audio without interference,” Largen explains.
Control of each display point is manual, using dedicated product remotes. The best news: The facility's lone IT staffer can run the entire AV system.
“We had to forgo using a dedicated control system because of the budget,” Largen explains. “But anybody who can operate a basic home theater system can operate this system. We made it very easy to control.”
Daniel Frankel is a freelance technology writer based in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to PRO AV.