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The SVC Interview: HD to 4K Over IP

Barona Resort and Casino in Lakeside, California is up and running 24/7. They needed a huge expansion on their video system and it had to get done with no disruption or downtime. Fluid Sound, San Diego came in with Just Add Power’s Ultra HD Over IP system. Dennis Pappenfus of Fluid Sound is here with the story.

SVC: Before we get into this project, tell us about Fluid Sound and what kind of projects you do.

Dennis Pappenfus: We’re kind of all over the place, but in a very interesting way. I like to refer to ourselves as a boutique integrator. We do everything from emergency operation centers for clients like the Red Cross, to corporate boardrooms of all sizes, to some hospitality with custom room-combining systems and a lot of specialist training and presentation systems with video and audio distribution. We’ve been doing pretty well with custom video walls, and even a custom projection dome, actually, for the same project at the Barona Casino. We used a couple of high lumen laser lamp fish-eye projectors that were stitched together to create a brighter image on a curved dome surface using Navitar custom lenses and 7thSense Design backend software. So we’re all over the place, but at Fluid Sound we like to take a holistic look at the client’s use case from their point of view. We want to be a partner in the solution and not a box reseller.

How big was the Barona Resort and Casino expansion and what did they need to do to expand their video distribution system?

This is a really interesting project for us. It was initially a consultant-led project and the consultant spec had initially looked at expansion of legacy video matrix switching that was at the head end. The cost for expansion of legacy systems would have crested into the $1.2-$1.3 million territory for the project. We proposed an alternative, based around Just Add Power’s video over IP solution, and we were able to save them close to $300,000 with a more scalable solution – so the benefits to the client were pretty significant. And it allowed us to accomplish a couple of really interesting things. One, existing systems were left in place and operational during the new construction and expansion of the casino. So we built out the new head end, we built out all of the distribution to the IDF closets, all the new screens tied into legacy video sources and we brought them over to the new head end. This is a planned migration to HD over IP for the entire facility. The benefits to that are significant. You can get up to 4K on that solution. We can infinitely grow the matrix and we can support local content sources at the IDF closets. For example, the resort has some cluster screens at their entrance that are close to an IDF closet. That cluster of screens has a very specific digital signage use case. They don’t need all of the sources that are available at the head end to that group of screens. So it’s a much more flexible solution that ended up being lower cost and provided them with scalability and growth opportunity out into the future that excited everybody. And then of course nobody walks away from that kind of savings, so that got us to the table as a design-build partner and the original spec was thrown out the window.

How did Just Add Power’s Ultra HD over IP system work to fit in with their present system without causing any disruption? For instance you would need to have some easy or automatic way to match scaling in the new displays with the imaging in the existing ones.

Yes. Lots of the existing screens are various supported resolutions. You have some legacy 720p HD screens, some 1080, 1080i, 1080p stuff. So a lot of their existing infrastructure is non-standard resolution at the display. So when a lot of the migration of the existing facility rolls over to this new solution, scaling is critically important. On the new side of the building we just set the scaling to standard resolution because all the new displays were standardized. At this point it’s just a 1080p distribution solution, with the exception of a couple of video wall locations where we are moving some 4K digital signage content. But the entire backbone was built to support 4K because they have a migration plan to support 4K content property-wide within the next year or two. So we built the backbone out for that purpose.

There were several IDF closets that you had to run things to. How did you install all of the fiber optics system and components among all of those closets?

This was actually initially a real challenge. We worked very closely with the Just Add Power engineering team to make sure that our design approach was going to work with their solution. And it worked seamlessly, but what we ended up doing is a hybrid. Because this is an existing casino that expanded, at their head end they had 38 sources that needed to be available to principally any display at any time or any combination of routing configurations they could dream up. So we built out a 40-gigabit fiber trunk between the head end fiber core switch and all the IDF closets. And it’s a link-aggregated group, so it’s a true 40-gig trunk, not a bunch of 10-gig links. So it’s a very big pipe between the head end and all of the IDF closets to support all of their 38 sources currently and migrating all of them to 4K. We’re also moving our audio, which is CobraNet audio, over that same 40-gig trunk and all of our control information over that 40-gig trunk. It was a very interesting project using multi-mode fiber and a Cisco fiber head end switch and Cisco switches at each of the IDF closets.

The Barona Resort runs twenty-four hours a day. I would think they might be more than just a little nervous about having a bunch of AV installers running around connecting equipment while they’ve got things going on.

Very much so. We had to present a plan to their AV Manager, Paul Slater, to show him how we were going to tie into their sources, and have a plan for rolling sources between active channels to other channels. We were able to take small groups of sources down, split them so they could be distributed to the legacy infrastructure and new infrastructure; the new infrastructure is distributed to the new part of the facility and the legacy infrastructure was left alone for the time being. It is all slated to be pulled out and replaced with this new HD video over IP backbone in the coming year.

What kinds of video sources are you dealing with?

We’re dealing with a lot of broadcast video. This is a casino environment. They’ve got lots of people that are betting on sports games. They’ve got a lot of sports routed to the various gaming areas, and then also to ambient displays. So lots of broadcast video from sources like DirecTV and cable boxes, cable receivers. Quite a bit of digital signage and lots of different digital signage form factors. We’ve got landscape and portrait oriented 4K digital signage going to 3×3 video walls and so forth, and then quite a few live camera feeds from their stage and some promotional areas.

How did you manage to get all of the new displays up and running without causing any disruption or distraction?

The existing facility was expanded. They added probably a third more square footage, and in that expansion area they added all new NEC displays, all new Just Add Power receivers. And then we’ll migrate all of the existing displays onto this Just Add Power infrastructure and that’s really straightforward. Now that we’ve got all of the sources onto the new Just Add Power distribution, we just pull a CAT5 to a new display, drop in a Just Add Power receiver, unplug the old receiver, plug the new one in, and we’ve now migrated. All that work is done in non-peak hours, which is between 2:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the morning.

You added lots more displays and receivers. How did you get power run to all of that gear without having to tear into things, run lots of cable and install connectors?

Honestly the Just Add Power solution powers the receivers via PoE and we love that for a multitude of reasons. Obviously we don’t have to provide extra power at a location if there are not already outlets available. And then also if there ends up being any issue with a receiver, it can be remotely rebooted simply by getting into the control infrastructure and disabling PoE power on that specific port, on that network switch, back at the IDF closet. All that can be done from our main office and support center. It really minimizes truck rolls when you can reboot devices and having the ability to reboot PoE at the switch level is amazing.

I can see how for a place that has to keep going day and night you would have to use some IT solutions.

Yes, most, if not all, of our systems are principally IP-based distribution, control. That allows us to do quite a bit of monitoring and diagnostic that was previously something only the IT professional would touch. It has really opened the door up to collect more information and do useful things with that information from a support perspective.

Next I wanted to get into the control aspect of it.

At the head end there’s a Crestron CP3 control processor. With the sheer number of IP-controlled devices we like the Crestron platform, and that particular processor is a great price point with a lot of feature sets, so it’s really relevant in an IP-controlled environment.

Some installers consider Crestron to be very complicated but if you know what you’re doing it’s also incredibly versatile and you can control some complex systems and make it very simple at the user end of things.

You know, I’m glad you said that. That’s really one of our core tenets here at Fluid Sound. I mean, complex infrastructure can be a real pain for a client if you’re not real careful about the design environment and the design paradigm. Really, it’s our goal to make sure we’re giving them a user experience that allows them to use the tool because this is a business tool. People are buying this infrastructure to provide entertainment to their guests, to conduct audio/video conferences, and that control environment needs to be operated by typically non-technical people. The Crestron platform, in general, allows us to provide very streamlined and intuitive user interfaces and that’s something that I think we do quite well.

With a system as spread out as this one you’ve got to be out there where you can see what’s going on over a fairly large area. I believe there’s an iPhone control interface with this system.

We’ve got iPhone, iPad apps running on their wireless network and then a fixed and wired touchscreen at the head end. That allows for lots of points of redundancy, but back to what I was mentioning earlier it allows for a very tailored operator experience. The pit boss in one of the table games areas doesn’t need the entire facility on his control interface. He’s only concerned about clients that are at his table games looking at the screens, making requests for content, adjusting volume, and taking care of source routing and control for his specific area. And as a function of custom user interface design, on the wireless iPads and on some of the pit boss company issued phones, we’re able to accomplish that customization that really drills down and addresses the specific use case. We selected Crestron as the platform to support that.

So if somebody does push the wrong button it’s typically going to be affecting something they can see right in their own small area rather than someplace on the other side of the casino where they don’t know they’ve fouled up something.

That’s it exactly.

Let’s talk about the sound end of this operation, where the amps are located and how the wiring to the ceiling speakers was run. You had pre-cut tiles and that’s going to be probably a 70-volt system.

Yeah, that’s right. We talked earlier about the size of the fiber optic trunk that runs from the head end closet to all of the different IDF closets. Previously, all amplification lived at the head end. As a function of the fiber backbone that we implemented to support the Just Add Power distribution system, we were able to drop audio over CobraNet. We leveraged the existing Peavey MediaMatrix DSPs that supported CobraNet, dropping them onto that fiber optic backbone and dropping more Peavey MediaMatrix DSP and amplifiers in each IDF closet. That way we could minimize the amount of copper that needed to be pulled throughout the facility. So the copper is pulled to the local IDF. Each little speaker is on the local IDF and not clear across the facility back to the head end anymore. And that was a real benefit, leveraging that fiber optic backbone.

Those ceiling speakers, I think you used the Klipsch IC-650T model.

Yeah, that’s right. That was because Klipsch had speakers that had been used throughout the legacy casino and they wanted a uniform sound and no distinguishable differences between sound as you walked from the new expansion into the legacy part of the casino. So we used a similar make and model from the same manufacturer and equalization curves to match acoustical sound throughout the space.

How did you go about setting up the sound control? Was that through the existing Peavey MediaMatrix?

That’s right. Peavey MediaMatrix was existing in the facility; we expanded on that Peavey MediaMatrix NION—again over fiber leveraging the CobraNet interface.

I would think that saved a whole lot of time and trouble and expense, too.

Yeah, time, trouble and expense and, for a facility like this, it’s about not limiting future expansion. Their marketing people come up with very creative ideas and they’re moving table games around and slot machines around and reconfiguring the casino quite regularly. I was actually surprised to learn how often that happened. And because of that fluidity, all pun intended, we had to design something that allowed for future change without ripping out a lot of infrastructure. So a lot of audio can be rezoned quite easily.

How did you manage to isolate all those sound sources enough to avoid just having a big cacophony going on?

That is a significant concern if they start to put on different audio sources that are close to each other. We talked initially with the casino about rearranging their footprint. Each cluster of speakers up in the ceiling had a dedicated home run drop. So those home runs could be adjusted, even if need be, to different amplifier channels and the wiring could be changed. It’s all dropped onto screwed-on terminal blocks and labeled very clearly. So if they needed to move a cluster of speakers from one amplifier channel to another or reconfigure the zoning from a hardwire perspective, they can accomplish that in each of the IDF closets and we can make those changes for them. In addition, the speakers are fairly focused to the area right below the ceiling speaker. It’s a fairly controlled pattern. You don’t have a ton of bleed between the different areas because of the way we lay out the speakers, paying close attention to the coverage pattern of the speaker’s distribution horn.

How did you train the staff for this and how well did they take to it?

We have an interesting approach to training. Obviously we provide it, but during the design/development process specifically for our user interfaces we do a lot of due diligence on the front side so that the training experience is minimized. Not because we’re lazy, but because a well-designed user interface should be intuitive enough for a brand new operator, right? Somebody they hired, that they happened to hire after we conducted training on the system, should be able to grab that user interface, stare at it for a second or two, and then just intuitively understand how to accomplish their goals. If it’s designed right, laid out well, they can accomplish that with next to no training. That’s a major goal for us when we do our user interface design development.

So with this done, what are their plans for expanding and modernizing the AV system from here? Just adding more monitors and spreading the footprint out even more?

Yeah. It’s migration of what’s left of legacy infrastructure over to the new Just Add Power HD over IP backbone. And we’re really excited about how straightforward that is. There’s also going to be a huge push on the casino’s part with 4K content, specifically the large format displays.

And what’s up as far as Fluid Sound? What have you got coming up?

Well, we are looking at another casino as a result of this project and the success we had with this video distribution backbone. We’re also doing a lot of specialty video distribution and training facilities. We’re doing high-end theaters right now where the theaters have a lower seat count but you can rent that theater out for your company presentation or your meeting. We’re doing all the presentation and video distribution and then control development so the operator can find a second use for these theaters in times where the ticket sales are low. The mixed-puse facility has been a lot of growth for us— facilities that might perform four or five different functions throughout the course of a day. And really, that presents design challenges, user interface challenges, and then infrastructure challenges. But we really love those challenges. 

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