For those who haven't noticed, colleges and universities have been making great strides in the use of high tech audio/video equipment for communications and instructional purposes. Rapidly leaving us are the days when a student would wheel around a spaghetti-wired cart with a VCR and mid-sized television, or perhaps a film-reel projector. Now, fixed data and graphics projectors using high-quality film screens are the rage, along with computer-video interfacing, shared media sources, centralized control systems, and dedicated AV staffs to keep it all running. Among the leaders in this trend is St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, who's newly built Mandeville Hall showcases cutting-edge AV technology like few institutions of higher education, if any, ever have before. Of course, Extron products are there.
Mandeville Hall is the culmination of the faculty's desire for the school to benefit from new technology and the system designer's knowledge of that technology. Reverend Nicholas Rashford, president of St. Joseph's, explains the school's standpoint: "Overall, what we wanted to do was to create a traditional classroom environment, but one that would cut a path for the next millennium, with the technology in the background, but enhancing the experience incredibly."
To turn this vision into reality, RJC Designs, Inc. of Glen Burnie, MD were contracted. Rich Coluzzi, president of RJC explains: "Father Rashford's vision as conveyed was to utilize the latest in technology that would give the university maximum flexibility in use, fulfill instructional-use criteria, allow for various communications paths, and be as intuitive to use as possible." RJC was given a wide degree of latitude in how they fulfilled these goals, including all of the product and technology integration choices.
Mandeville Hall was designed to have media sources centralized for global usage in addition to local sources in specific rooms. To accomplish this, two things were necessary. First, nearly every room in the building was wired with multiple runs of audio, video, and broadband cabling. Second, a master control room was built in an adjacent building that is closer to the university's pre-existing data processing hub than Mandeville itself. It is here that all external communications paths are found, including a satellite link, RF, ISDN lines, etc. Master control's media sources include laserdisc, DVD, tuners, video teleconferencing codecs, and various types of VCRs. Communications between buildings are done over fiber, which is converted to analog at several points in Mandeville. This arrangement not only allows for resource sharing to nearly every room in Mandeville, but control of all systems both locally and from master control using AMX control systems.
Key Points of Interest
Due to space constraints, we cannot look at everything Mandeville Hall has to offer in this issue, and we will have to limit our review to just two out of the dozens of areas that contain cutting edge AV technology. These two areas are among those RJC, their contractors (Peirce-Phelps, Vistacom), and the university are the most proud of, and are also among the most impressive in terms of versatility and the uses of technology therein.
The room layout of each of the two Moot Boardrooms (Moot, as in controversial or debatable) is two tiers of elevated gallery seating in a "U" shape surrounding a boardroom-style table in the center of the room. The goal was a setting where a board could stage debates, while students could observe or comment from the gallery seating. Also in the focus area is a 120" DaLite screen for use with a Hughes-JVC model 100 projector.
Each of the 36 gallery seats is equipped with a LAN connection for laptop computers, and every other seat has a Crown microphone. What really sets these rooms apart, however, is the Extron RGB 320 computer-video interface system. Each seat has an RGB 324 interface buffer, which converts a laptop's external video output to RGBHV and routes it to an RGB 320 interface switcher in the Moots' observation room. By pressing the "Show Me" button on an RGB 324, each occupant may route video and audio from their laptop to the room's projection and audio systems.
This system has been used by the business students within Mandeville to display and compare materials, and other groups have used it to display evidence during debates. Regardless of the topic at hand, making use of Extron's RGB 320 interface buffer system in this way facilitates a more convenient way to exchange ideas visually than previously possible.
Moot Observation and Local Control
Between the Moots are the observation and local control rooms. The observation room allows observers to view ongoing activity in either Moot via windows on either side of the room, or by video routed to a pair of 40" Pioneer plasma displays. Located in this room are the 14 Extron RGB 320 interface switchers required to control RGB 324 interface buffers found in the Moots. When the aforementioned "Show Me" button is selected on one of the buffers, the display signal of an attached laptop is sent through the buffer to one of the RGB 320s (each can control six buffers), through one of two Extron CrossPoint 84HVA matrix switchers, and on to its routed destination.
The local control room also found here holds all video production equipment used when recording events within the Moots. Among the equipment found therein is a Panasonic video production switcher, Biamp mixers, and an Extron scan converter for incorporating computer video into recordings.
The Multipoint Distance Learning Classroom
The DLC was designed to handle a variety of conferencing modes, including audio only, one-way video and two way audio (which nearly every room in Mandeville is capable of), standard point-to-point video teleconferencing, and multipoint video teleconferencing with as many as four remote sites. The room also is designed to incorporate computer-generated video into a conference.
To allow for four remote sites to be viewed simultaneously and by the entire room, four Toshiba 50" monitor cubes were recessed into the room's front. For conferencing with a single site and other display needs, a Hughes G1000 projector with a 120" Draper screen was chosen. When in use, the screen and projector would lower out of the ceiling with the screen positioned between two of the monitors.
While the monitors and the Hughes projector took care of the student viewing needs at the local end, it was determined that this arrangement posed some problems when used in the distance learning role, especially for the instructor. One could not face the local audience and the ParkerVision auto-tracking camera at the rear of the room while viewing the remote site feed displayed at the front of the room. To solve this problem, an additional display for the instructor was necessary. To fill this role, a Panasonic projector with a 52" Draper screen was positioned at the rear of the room. This "heads-up" display is lined up with the instructor's camera, allowing the one to look at the audience as well as the camera, and still maintain the illusion of eye contact with the remote site.
As in every room, size, flexibility and layout were all taken into consideration when designing the instructor's workstation. With the DLC's, two side by side IBM color LCD monitors were used to accommodate the AMX PCTouch system and the instructor's PC applications. "The LCD monitors being only four inches deep allowed us to maintain a minimum of station depth," says RJC.
Also at the instructor's station (here and in the Moots) are Extron RGB 404 and RGB 406 architectural computer-video interfaces. The RGB 404 is reserved for guest presenters and also provides auxiliary composite and S-video inputs to the system. The RGB 406 is affixed to the instructor's PC. Unlike the RGB 324 buffers used in Moot Boardrooms, these single computer interfaces do all signal conversion within the device itself and then route the signal through an Extron CrossPoint 84HVA matrix switcher. Computer and other RGB signals are then converted to NTSC via an Extron scan converter and sent to a matrix switcher used strictly for NTSC sources. From here, computer signals may be used in videoconferencing, recording, or be displayed on the 50" monitor cubes.
"The promise of what Mandeville Hall is bringing to St. Joseph's is what gets us the most attention," says Joseph Lunardi, Director of External Relations at St. Joseph's. "This is one of the few facilities of its kind anywhere in this part of the country." Besides aiding in instruction at St. Joseph's, the facilities within Mandeville Hall have attracted the attention of non-profit groups, other universities, and government agencies that normally would not have access to anything like the technology available there. Many companies with a relationship with the campus through Mandeville's Haub business school have also expressed interest. When asked if his vision of a "traditional learning experience, enhanced greatly by technology" had been fulfilled, Rev. Rashford replied pointedly, "By and large, we have succeeded." Says Rich Coluzzi from RJC: "Our goal was to take an innovative, system-wide design approach along with the visions of the University to the next level while not loosing focus on the goals and needs of the facility. I believe we have accomplished our goals at Mandeville Hall."