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Living in the Future

Officials in Lexington, S.C., wanted the new-build River Bluff High School to be a school of the future, both educationally and technically.

Living in the Future

May 8, 2014 10:26 AM, By Tim Kridel and Cynthia Wisehart

The auditorium at River Bluff High School is the centerpiece of a Dante-networked facility that includes classrooms, and recording and TV studios.

Officials in Lexington, S.C., wanted the new-build River Bluff High School to be a school of the future, both educationally and technically. Systems design discussions started five years ago, which is a long time in AV dog years. The strategy to defer final equipment decisions until the building was completed in 2013 allowed the design to track with technical innovation, especially in AV networking.

For students who graduate from the 520,000-square-foot, $138.9-million River Bluff High School, college might seem like a step down. The science labs, for instance, are better than those at many universities, as one River Bluff biology teacher told the local newspaper.

That same level of aspiration applies to students in the competition-level marching band, and those pursuing careers in music technology and recording, technical theater, and TV and video production.

At a 2009 meeting between the architect and theatrical systems integrator Productions Unlimited, the school’s superintendent found inspiration in what was the recent past. “She told our president Brian Phillips that she wanted her space to include technologies used in the Chinese Olympics opening—that scale,” says Kevin Little, AV engineer at Productions Unlimited, which designed and installed the AV rigging, and lighting systems for the school’s Center for Media Arts, Design, and Production.

“At the time,” Little recalls, “the center didn’t even have a name yet. It was really just an intention to have the latest and greatest media technology systems.” Over time that intention matured into an integrated facility with a 900-seat auditorium/cinema; a black box theater; small lecture hall; choir, band, and orchestra rooms; and a digital recording and television studio—all sharing a common Dante network and Crestron DM control system, across thousands of feet of cable.

“It was a big job,” Little says simply. “It was one of those big opportunities to stretch.”

From the outset, Productions Unlimited envisioned an integrated, flexible system that would allow teachers and students to easily reroute signal throughout the entire media building. Exactly how that would play out in rooms that were not yet defined or built was a moving target as the facilities took shape over several years, as an empty patch of dirt became a high school. Today, the auditorium can be a stage, a cinema, or a classroom; the music rooms can feed the recording studio, auditorium, or both; the spaces can be flexibly sized and reconfigured, and can support live or automated media or both. The school auditorium also serves as the community’s professional performing arts center with its Yamaha CL5 console, 7.1 surround sound Nexo NXAMP amplifiers, Nexo Geo S12 line array (see sidebar) and PS series sound reinforcement, and a 20K Digital Projection Titan projector.

“Multi-use is becoming increasingly important,” says Chris Hinson, a Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems technical marketing specialist who collaborated on River Bluff. “So when the system needs an operator you have a high performance venue. But you also have straight-up, simple operation for administrators and teachers. You might like to do the CL StageMix wirelessly on an iPad. We’re asking our systems to do a lot nowadays.”

“Originally we had EtherSound in mind for the network,” Little says. But, as with many decisions in the multi-year project, the arrival of new technology changed the direction of the design. “When Yamaha came out with the CL console with integrated Dante, that turned the network towards Dante.” It also began what would be an education in modern network design and implementation.

Steve Seable, systems applications engineer and Dante specialist for Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems who collaborated on River Bluff, puts the network into perspective: “Not very long ago this type of network would be supporting the Olympics or a Kenny Chesney tour. Now it’s possible at the high school level.”

Seable’s not exaggerating; he’s supported Kenny Chesney tours. He explains that River Bluff was one of several early, cutting-edge projects in the fast-moving evolution of networks. “There were a number of projects in recent years where we really learned and formalized techniques for making a network work, including switch specification and configuration. River Bluff benefited from that work and contributed to it,” Seable says.

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Living in the Future

May 8, 2014 10:26 AM, By Tim Kridel and Cynthia Wisehart

Sound reinforcement for the 7.1 cinema-style house includes Nexo Geo S12 line arrays.

Today, Yamaha maintains a switch configuration guide, and firmware updates have been influenced by experience on jobs such as River Bluff. And Hinson points out that the last few years have not just influenced the gear but also the people. “If I could say one thing, it’s learn as much of you can about networks and become an IT professional of sorts. Read books, take classes, do training, because that knowledge will be critical if you’re going to be providing solutions in the next 10 years. No matter what kind of network you’re implementing, it’s good idea to know IP address, subnets, and VLANs, and how to configure switches and create redundancy.”

On the River Bluff Dante network, the hardest thing about setting up the system wasn’t keeping track of where the signal is, Little says. “It’s making sure the signal routing is managed very well by the switches and following the configuration guidelines. And it wasn’t just the switches. For example, it was important to follow proper procedures in configuring the NXAMP amps for the Dante network,” he says, crediting Yamaha Commercial Audio’s Joe Rimstidt for Nexo for support on that.

Little says that underlying all the configuration details is a key mindset shift: visualizing a distributed network, where all components on the network see and communicate with each other, and the role of master is handed off to the optimal device automatically as the network routing changes. “It’s all one big system and everything sees everything else. You have to configure the network so all the components understand that,” he says. “Once you get over the learning curve of the master clock and the way networks connect now, it’s really fairly easy to work with. From Dante’s viewpoint, it just wants to see everything. Then for me, connecting devices is just putting a dot on a matrix.”

The result, Little says, is flexibility. At River Bluff, with the Crestron DM running in parallel, the users have an easy touchscreen interface that makes all that flexibility readily and dependably available even to non-technical staff.

“The teacher comes in and has 20 minutes of focused time with their kids,” Little says. “They don’t have the luxury of spending 5 minutes trying to figure out why something doesn’t work because a switch didn’t work or a channel wasn’t patched.”

The schools intention—to have the latest and greatest—is also reflected in other aspects of the system. In addition to the debut of the CL, the system also benefitted from the Yamaha R series I/O (RIO), which came out during the design phase, as did components of the Yamaha Digital Mixing Engine (DME) series, the Shure ULX wireless mic system, the Digital Projection Titan 1080p Quad 2000 in the auditorium, and the Focusrite Red that connects the Pro Tools system into the network, just to name a few examples. In truth, the school’s equipment list is enviable and comprehensive, packed with professional details from the cabling to the paging systems, to the microphone collection, to the recording studio gear, to the extensive Crestron DM control network that Little says was as cutting-edge as the Dante network.

“Two weeks before school opened, they informed us that the auditorium would become a teaching classroom,” Little says, citing just one example of how the design of the Creston network paid off. “While we didn’t design it for that, it can handle that capacity. The teachers can handle the system without a production crew.

“The way we designed the systems ended up suiting the evolution,” Little says, adding that a big part of the job was holding the system open as long as possible to allow for new gear and new functionality. “We even held off on final screen locations and lens specification,” he says. “ And there is still room for change and growth.”

“We did all this without having a Pro Tools instructor or even a technology director hired yet,” Little says. “When those guys came onboard, they were like kids in a candy store.”

The sprawling building required a lot of cable; the system has nine individual networks that work together, including primary and secondary for Dante, control, three lighting networks, and two video networks.

Productions Unlimited decided to color-code everything, and its staff carried cards that used those codes to identify which cable went with one system. The auditorium alone has more than 375 conduits, which were initially ran without knowing exactly how they would be used; they are 90 percent full.

River Bluff High School opened in August 2013, but Productions Unlimited still returns to train and tweak as teachers, administrators and students continue to explore the possibilities of the AV system and network.

Product at Work: Cisco 300 Series

Cisco positions the affordable Cisco 300 series switches for small businesses. The 300 series is a portfolio of managed switches that support data, voice security, and wireless services. These switches support long-term investments and advanced features, such as quality of service, Layer 3 static routing, and IPv6. Cisco-cited features include low power consumption and a lifetime warranty. Key features include ease of setup through intuitive browser-based tools (command line interface management options are also available) and security capabilities such as advanced threat defense, time-based ACLs, and 802.1x. The 300 series switches are compatible (and recommended) for Dante networks including by Yamaha and Focusrite.

Product at Work: Nexo Geo S12

The Nexo Geo S1210/S1230 is a sound reinforcement solution for any application, including stadium application with the long-throw ST versions. The speaker cabinets are based on a 12in. low driver and 3in. compression driver, and they can be stacked or flown in a horizontal or vertical array. The system uses a patented, fourth-generation Hyperbolic Reflective Wavesource (HRW), which provides precise vertical and horizontal control of acoustic energy, while the Geo series’ unique Directivity/Phase Device (DPD) extends coherency below traditional mid-to-HF coupling limits of common arrayed loudspeaker systems. HRW functionally positions an acoustical reflector (i.e. mathematically calculated hyperboloid acoustic mirror, derived from rigorous geometrical transformations) that is “outside” the loudspeaker cabinet. The DPD extends upper line source coupling frequency limits between Geo S12’s adjacent 12in. cones, so that adjacent 12in. loudspeakers coherently couple as if there were twice as many 6in. cones, mounted at half the physical distance. Geo S12’s patented Configurable Directivity Device (CDD) is a diffraction slot used to control acoustic coverage across the “non-coupling (horizontal) plane.” The CDD applies user-adjustable bolt-on flanges to set the diffraction slot’s exit flare rate at either 80 degrees or 120 degrees.

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