The Technological Forefront of Education University of Central Florida (UCF)

The University of Central Florida (UCF) was recently selected by Yahoo! as one of the most wired institutions of higher learning in the United States. Last spring, UCF began their latest foray into the AV world with a multitude of multimedia systems in mind for a new classroom building. This building was designed to integrate technology with architecture for the creation of cutting-edge educational environments: seventeen multimedia classrooms, two auditoriums, an anatomy lab, a student multimedia computer lab, two notebook PC classrooms, two distance learning rooms, and a faculty center. (This article focuses on a typical multimedia classroom system.) All systems are controlled by Crestron, with a dedicated touch panel in each room. UCF's Multimedia Facilities Design and Support staff members developed the AV systems plans, and the Orlando office of MCSi Consolidated Media Systems was responsible for the systems integration.

For the podium in each classroom, two of the goals UCF had in mind were to standardize all podiums for professors and to allow input from an internal podium PC as well as a professor's laptop. Standardization would make technical maintenance easier for tech support and minimize training time and effort for faculty and support staff. Permanent connection access for two inputs ensured that professors did not need to swap out a computer to hook up their own laptops. It also gave professors the capability to instantly switch between the podium PC and a laptop.


UCF staff explained the choice of Extron products, "UCF has used Extron products in the past, and we are satisfied with their high bandwidth and reliability. All products with RS-232 control use Extron's SIS™ [Simple Instruction Set], so that makes programming a lot easier. We also selected Extron products for their quality, performance, and manufacturer support."

Some manufacturers' RS-232 commands are quite obscure and lengthy. For intuitive, time-saving programming, Extron offers simplified RS-232 commands to minimize programming requirements. These commands are collectively called the Simple Instruction Set. Also, every Extron product that is RS-232 controllable ships with free control software for use with Windows operating systems. This software uses a graphical user interface to make control simple and convenient.

A professor's laptop is hooked up to the AV system through the Extron RGB 158xi computer-video interface. UCF staff discussed why the RGB 158xi was selected: "We chose this interface because it offers an electrical outlet. This outlet eliminates the expense of having an electrician install an electrical outlet in each podium. The RGB 158xi's electrical outlet and VGA input connector are perfect for a laptop. Another plus is the rack ears. They were handy for installation, when we mounted the 158xi through the podium, so there would be easy access from the professor's side of the podium."

The rack-mountable RGB 158xi is a universal, analog interface with a 15-pin HD input, buffered local monitor output, unswitched AC outlet, and optional Architectural Adapter Plates for cable pass-through connectors. Offering 300 MHz (-3dB) RGB video bandwidth, it is compatible with VGA, SVGA, XGA, SXGA, UXGA, Mac, Sun, and SGI signals. The RGB 158xi also provides Advanced Digital Sync Processing (ADSP™). ADSP compensates for the sync processing limitations of digital displays, so clear, stable images are produced.

Switching and Cabling

The Extron SW2 VGA DA2 A switches between the RGB 158xi's laptop source and the podium PC. The professor uses the room's touch panel to select the current input source. The PC monitor receives one output of the SW2 VGA DA2 A. The other output is routed to the Proxima projector using Extron BNC-5 Mini HR Cable. The Extron MAV 62 switches between the VCR, document camera, and a third source, which varies. This third source is input from one of the AAPs of the RGB 158xi. From the MAV 62, composite video output is carried to the Proxima projector. The other composite video output is sent to an interface module and then to a Crestron touch panel.

The SW2 VGA DA2 A sends its balanced audio output to the MAV 62. The MAV7 62 in turn routes the selected balanced audio output to the classroom's audio system. The SW2 VGA DA2 A is a two input, two output, combination switcher and distribution amplifier. For computer-video, it switches two 15-pin HD computer-video sources to dual 15-pin HD outputs. For audio, the SW2 VGA DA2 A accepts two stereo audio sources (unbalanced) on 3.5 mm stereo jacks and outputs one stereo audio output (balanced or unbalanced) on a 3.5 mm captive screw connector. Balanced audio output is advantageous because it maintains signal quality over long cable runs, whereas unbalanced audio does not. The SW2 VGA DA2 A includes detachable brackets for under-desk mounting, and optional brackets are available for through-desk mounting.

The MAV 62 is a six input, two output, composite video and stereo audio matrix switcher. The MAV 62 sends any input to either or both outputs. This matrix switcher allows the signal routing in a UCF classroom to be easily controlled from one central location, either the intuitive front panel or the Crestron control system via RS-232 and SIS commands.

Each conductor of the SuperFlex BNC-5 Mini HR Cable is a 26 AWG, 75 ohm, coaxial conductor, color-coded and wrapped in a single jacket. Available in bulk lengths of 500 and 1000 feet (153 and 305 meters), this cable includes an internal ripcord for easy, convenient cable stripping and sequential numbering for quick measurement of cable length. The BNC-5 Mini HR Cable is also available in pre-cut lengths.

Looking Forward to the Future

On the educational side, UCF staff has received extremely positive feedback from faculty members, elaborating, "The new classrooms are in high demand because the systems are very reliable and easy to work with. And the standardization makes using a different classroom a snap." On the technical side, UCF will continue to use Extron products and work with Extron team members on future projects. UCF staff emphasized the cooperation requisite for this cutting-edge classroom building. "I worked with Extron to refine schematics and system designs. Extron was extremely responsive, making sure that their products met the application's needs."