Class-leading technology

AUTHOR: Inavate

Taking the opportunity to install campus wide system monitoring and the latest AV technology, Queen Margaret University has moved into a brand new campus outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Chris Fitzsimmons reports on the UK’s newest educational facility and the technology there-in.

Representing the first university campus to be built in the Scotland for thirty years, the new Queen Margaret University site was constructed at a cost of some £50,000,000 and combines the previous three sites into a single location.

After a length planning and tender process, Jim Bain, the university’s Educational Resources Manager awarded fellow countrymen Cameron Communications the contract to design and install audiovisual systems across 74 classrooms as well as four lecture theatres and a pair of boardrooms.

Managing Director of Cameron Communications, Greig Scott explained his company’s approach to the project. “Several things struck us as important on such a big project. The first thing was, that despite the scale of the project, it was really important to keep control of the rack building ourselves. Other tasks such as cable installation and termination we were happy to contract out, but the key elements of the project we wanted total control over.

“The Crestron software aspect of the project was also critical. It wasn’t something that we came up with initially – the client requested it specifically as they wanted to use the RoomView functionality to manage the campus. We could have been forgiven for subbing this element of the project out as well, as I wasn’t all that familiar with it, but this was a really important project to us. I’ve seen too many instances where a third party programmer is used. They finish the programme and move on to something else. The problem is, if you need something changing or trouble shooting, you can’t get hold of them again for three weeks because they’re busy.”

Jim Bain said: ““We’d actually looked a quite a number of different systems but the reason we chose the Crestron system in the end was the single user interface for all the different systems. We also like the flexibility that the Crestron system offered us.”

The usual civil engineering delays, all too common on such large projects, caused Cameron Communications considerable head-aches. At one point during the pre-build process, the company had 70 racks populating its offices. So much equipment was having to be stored, because it couldn’t be installed, that Scott was forced to take out emergency insurance on the hardware.

They do say that every cloud has a silver lining, and for Greig it was a bit of extra time. “The slight bonus in the delay was that it gave us a bit more time to experiment and play with the Crestron software,” he said. “We were certain that when it was all installed it would work straight off the bat. It’s paid off to be honest – we’ve had very few call outs since the thing was all done.”

The campus itself contains a total of around 70 primary teaching spaces. 43 of these are identically equipped teaching rooms for between 20 and 40 students.

Each teaching room is equipped with a ceiling mounted NEC LT280 Projector, which fires onto a 64” Smart board. The equipment rack hosts a Crestron MP2E media controller, Cambridge Audio A340 amplifier, Samsung VHS/DVD combo and a Kramer VP23 switcher for source switching. The projector is controlled via RS-232, with the DVD player and audio amplifier managed over infrared through the MP2E’s IR interface.

Scott explained some of his equipment choices: “The choice between using a Crestron controller with built in switcher or a separate dedicated switcher essentially came down to two things – cost and functionality. Even if we had gone for a Crestron solution we would still have needed a VGA box to switch VGA & audio signals – the Crestron one only did video. We therefore opted for the MP2E, which is probably the cheapest box with the Ethernet connection we needed for RoomView, and the Kramer VP23 as an all purpose switching unit.”

On the lecturer’s desk itself there is a 16 button Crestron keypad for controlling the room, an AKG microphone, and a couple of access tanks. These contain inputs for additional VGA sources – laptops – and audio ouputs to which a mobile induction loop transmitter could be attached. The university had an existing stock of portable Ampetronic units for this purpose.

In addition to the 40 or so teaching rooms are another 25 laboratory spaces. These are equipped in essentially the same way, with the same selection of control and switching gear. However due to the shape of the rooms, and their use for clinical skills teaching there were a lot of long benches in place. Discussions between Cameron Communications and QMU’s ERC team lead to a decision to install mobile 22U racks on casters. These were then connected to the system via an umbilical cable, which contain all the signal carriers. This was attached to either wall or floor tanks depending on the location of the rack. Instead of interfaces on a fixed desk, a face plate was added to the top of the equipment rack.

As an aside, one of the problems that arose from the civil engineering work was that the locations for the projector mounts left by the contractor were several tens of centimetres out of position. Cameron Communications were forced to get around this by going back to their bracket supplier, Unicol, and asking them to make specially extended mounts that put the projectors in the correct position. Scott said: “It was fortunate that we had chosen a locally manufactured bracket for this job. It meant that the specials had only to be shipped a few hundred miles and Unicol were able to respond very quickly to our request.”

At the heart of the new campus are four large lecture theatres, two of which can accommodate up to 250 students, along with two smaller spaces seating 150.

Greig stated: “We installed the NEC NP1000 projectors in the lecture theatres, the big one. It’s a really nice projector with all the lens shift you could need to allow for variations in ceiling positioning. The equipment over all was considerably further up the scale than what was installed in the classrooms. The lecturer is supplied with a 15” Crestron touch panel as well as a Smart Sympodium presentation tablet. This allows separation of media control from the business of delivering a lecture.”

The integrators also installed a Crestron Quick Media Overlay, which allows the lecturer to preview any video sources they intend to use. Because these sources could be from VGA or DVD sources, the signals are scaled to XGA before previewing on the touch panel to simplify matters.

The sound system is a 100v solution from TOA. TOA PC 1867 ceiling speakers are driven by a 200W amplifier for simple speech reinforcement. There is also provision in the cabling structure for a pair of speakers to be installed at the front of each room, however the university is not currently using this potential.

Wireless Audio-Technica ATW3110 microphones are provided for both the lecturers and students to participate in discussions. Each lecture theatre is also supplied with a Polycom VSX8000 codec and a single camera. These are IP networked allowing local conferencing between lecture theatres, or full off-side videoconferences. Because there was a need to mute and control microphone levels during conference calls, Cameron Communications are using the Crestron AV2 controllers volume cards, rather than a direct IR link to the amplifiers for volume control purposes. This means that this process can be directly programmed into the software.

The switching gear selected is also considerably beefier than that in the classrooms, Kramer supplying a VP64 XGA switcher and VS5x5 VGA unit to cope with the various sources, which include Elmo visualizers.

The larger pair of lecture theatres makes use of a dual projection system, with a double projector mount from Unicol supporting a pair of NEC NP1000 projectors. No screen is used, with the units firing onto a specially painted wall.

In addition to the teaching spaces the campus benefits from a dedicated video conference room equipped with a pair of 50” NEC plasma displays and a further VSX8000 unit along with a Crestron AV2 controller. There are also a large and small boardroom for staff meetings, and functions, which can be combined into a single larger space via a partition wall.

Finally, Cameron Communications installed 4 channels of its own digital signage solution called Cameron Freeway. Four Samsung plasma screens are located in the registration, refectory, reception and communal spaces. The system is tied into the University’s internal network, which means it can make use of RSS news feeds as well as taking an input from a digital TV box, which is streamed via Cameron’s own web-streamer.

“We’re more than happy with the installation job from Cameron,” concludes Unfortunately we were delayed getting into the building, and had to rework our schedules to achieve as much as possible in the time allotted. Greig has achieved this really well.”