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Just what the Doctor Ordered

Founded in 1860, the New York Medical College (NYMC) moved to Valhalla, New York, in 1972. Originally designed as temporary quarters, these Westchester

Just what the Doctor Ordered

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM,
By Gary Eskow

Founded in 1860, the New York Medical College (NYMC) moved to Valhalla, New York, in 1972. Originally designed as temporary quarters, these Westchester County facilities had charm and historic value that matched well with NYMC’s storied past. However, by the mid ’90s, school administrators felt that the institution needed more modern accommodations, and a decision was made to renovate the Basic Sciences building and seat the School of Medicine in a new structure that could more easily house the technologies that were available at that time.

Michael Cotter has been the head of educational media at NYMC for nearly five years. One of Cotter’s most important assignments was implementing the A/V installation at the John W. Nevins, M.D. auditorium. Located on the Valhalla campus, this 250-seat facility is used by professors on-site. It is also frequently employed as a distance-learning hub.

Altel Systems — an integrated audiovisual solutions firm based in Brewster, New York — was hired to design and implement the installation, based in part on the work it had previously done on the college’s Center for Integrated Learning project. Altel’s staff had to determine whether an academic installation differs from a corporate assignment, and if so, how do those needs impact equipment purchases, design work, and installation?


The way Troy Jensen, Altel’s vice president of operations, sees it, all installations — corporate, residential, or educational — have one key component in common. “The success of any job comes down to the task of doing a proper needs assessment,” Jensen says. “What does a customer require, and what’s the best way to spend the funds they’ve budgeted for the job? The customer — in this case we worked very closely with Cathy Halkett, vice president of university development, and John Hammond, chief information officer, in the preplanning phase — has something in mind. Our job is part investigation and interrogation. Does a client really want what they’re initially asking for, or is there a better way to reach the goals they’ve articulated?”

Jensen believes this phase is the most crucial part of an installation.

“When it’s well handled, preplanning leads to a proper compilation of a bill of materials,” Jensen says. “Clients leave this phase of the operation knowing exactly what we’re going to give them. Fortunately, we had already worked with NYMC on its Center for Integrated Learning, and that interaction was extremely successful. As far as the way an institutional job differs from a typical corporate installation, our experience is that these jobs don’t have the degree of mission critical requirements that a corporate assignment has. If a line drops out and NYMC temporarily loses a connection — which no one ever wants, of course — it’s not losing millions of dollars.”

However, Jensen stresses that the professors at NYMC need extremely accurate projectors. “High-quality imaging is much more important in this application than in a corporate job, because 250 students — more than you’d ever be able to fit into an operating room — are learning about the body through the projection of slides and pictures,” Jensen says. “The color of the specimens they are being shown is critically important.”

To provide this high-quality imaging, Altel put in a Navitar 560AF slide projector, a Navitar GNZ-200300 zoom, and a Sony PVM-8042Q 8-inch color monitor. The company also spent a lot of time adjusting the quality of the projector and video equipment, using a combination of software- and hardware-based measuring tools.

The John W. Nevins, M.D. auditorium consists of two control locations that have distinctly different requirements. The onstage podium requires simple controls that can be easily operated by the professors who use them on a routine basis. “Michael Cotter knew the individual styles of all of the professors who will be using this equipment,” says Jensen. “This let us tailor a control surface that satisfied everyone. The professors don’t want to get caught up in complex routing schemes. All they need is a simple graphical interface.”

However, Cotter and his staff operate the second control station located in the back of the auditorium, so they require much more flexibility. Altel installed a Covid CVD 6000 video control switch in this location. “The Covid can handle picture-in-picture, split screen, and some other features that you don’t want a casual user to be using onstage,” Jensen says.


Cotter was brought into the loop after the preplanning phase was complete. “My job was to work with Altel to make sure that the needs of the end-users, the faculty, would be met,” Cotter says. “At a medical school, the professors use visual equipment, including LCD projectors, slide-to-video converters, and document cameras to show students how to do everything from load a scalpel to perform complex surgical procedures.”

Cotter says that balancing budget and quality is extremely important in an academic install. “Obviously, we wanted the best quality we could get, but our funds weren’t unlimited,” he says. “Getting a high-quality document camera was vital. Altel suggested a Canon DZ3600U camera, and that’s what we purchased.”

The college also needed a state-of-the-art set of controls at the lecture podium, where everything can be operated from a touch panel, including the document camera, DVD player, and VHS machine. Because the faculty still uses VHS tapes, the college went with a Panasonic DVD-T2000 DVD player, a JVC HR-S9600 SVHS VCR deck, and a Panasonic AJ-230H DVCPRO recorder.

“Once the overall design was agreed upon by the administration and Altel, I was very involved in equipment purchases,” Cotter says. “One specific need we had springs from the fact that students throughout the auditorium need to be able to ask questions during the course of lecture. We decided to incorporate wireless microphones into the system, and we went with a package that included Shure U24D/58 dual handheld wireless and Shure U14D/186 dual lavalier wireless microphones.” The college also purchased a Gentner AP600 audio mixer. The auditorium’s audio is routed on the podium through a Crestron CNMSX-AV control system and, in the back location, with a Crestron CNMSX-Pro control system.

The equipment must handle the challenges provided by the college’s annual Convocation of Thanks, which lets first-year students thank the families of people who have donated bodies to the school as cadavers. “Students perform musical pieces, recite poetry, and deliver words of thanks,” Cotter says. “For this event, and at other times, we need to be able to handle up to 16 microphones at one time.”


Jensen says that the biggest change in educational installations he’s witnessed during the past decade or so is the ever-growing integration of computers into A/V systems. The John W. Nevins, M.D. auditorium is no exception, says Cotter. “Most of the lectures use some type of displayed media to aid in the teaching process,” he says. “There is a reliance on PowerPoint, though some of our faculty still bring in 35 mm slides.”

JBL monitors are used to distribute audio throughout the facility. The choice of JBL VS3215-9 monitors (used to distribute program audio) and a package of JBL Control 5 monitor speakers and JBL Control 2ST ceiling speakers was based on quality and the room’s architecture. The program monitors are strictly for the material that comes off of DVD, VCR, and PowerPoint. The auditorium has crisp, clean sound that produces no feedback, Cotter says. “Altel really did a terrific job in this regard,” he says. “You can walk anywhere throughout the lecture hall with handheld microphones, and there is no feedback at all.”

The ability to integrate with off-site locations was also imperative to the success of the auditorium install. “We have a large integrated videoconferencing, long-distance learning capability,” Cotter says. “We can host or receive videoconferences. Shortly after the auditorium opened in late 2001, we hosted a conference on bioterrorism that linked six sites, and we recently received a surgical video conference.”

NYMC has two distance-learning classrooms at hospital affiliate sites — one at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York, and a second at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, both of which were constructed by Altel. “On Monday nights, we have a class at the School of Public Health here at the college,” Cotter says. “This class originates from the Center for Interactive Learning. A group of students meets in Suffern each Monday to participate in this class. A member of our technical staff is on hand here, and another technician is in Suffern. We have two-way audio and video interaction.”

According to Cotter, a wide range of codec equipment is on the market, but it ranges in price and quality. “I changed the spec from what Altel recommended, and instead we went with a Polycom 2200-12323-001 VS400 codec with 4BRI, in part because we have other Polycom equipment distributed throughout our campus and some of our affiliates,” Cotter says. “We wanted to keep like equipment in our system as far as possible. Our goal was to get picture quality that was as close to 30 fps as possible on video.”


Bill Fedorko was the chief engineer who worked on the John W. Nevins, M.D. auditorium assignment for Altel. “The switching requirement was extensive,” Fedorko says. “We put in a very complete instructor’s console, which can be moved to any one of three possible locations in the auditorium. There’s essentially a complete subsystem that can move between these three locations, with a VCR machine, a DVD player, and a document camera, plus a Crestron control system that interfaces with the main offstage system.”

Altel realized that it needed to design future capability into the system. “Eventually, the institution might want to directly link with similar facilities that may be built on campus,” Fedorko says. “We put in empty pipe that will one day be used to link audio, video, and data between the auditorium and other rooms.”

Cotter says Altel’s greatest value to the New York Medical College may be the expertise the company will provide after the installation has been completed. “As an end-user, knowing that I can call Altel when I have a problem, and that it will answer my questions quickly, is extremely valuable,” Cotter says. “I know most of what’s going on with the system, but there are times when I get stumped.”

Gary Eskow is a composer and journalist who lives in New Jersey. A contributing editor at Mix magazine, he writes frequently about music and technology.

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