23.01.08

Gently down the stream

AUTHOR: Inavate

Public access to the workings of Government is now a hot topic across the region. Denmark is no exception to this, and its parliament has invested in a new audiovisual solution for its committee room infrastructure.

European politics is a hot topic in Denmark at the moment. The re-election of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his subsequent statement that his government wanted to hold a further referendum on whether the country should adopt the Euro currency have thrown the European debate to the fore once again. It has even been suggested that any such referendum should go further and consider the status of Denmarks opt-outs on the policy areas of defence, justice and home-affairs.

At a time when the European Union oversight committee of the Danish parliament is likely to be taking on extra work, it is appropriate then that it should be the recipient of a brand new council chamber, fitted with the latest in discussion technology, cameras and web streaming.
The installation has been carried out by Copenhagen-based systems integrator Informationsteknik, who had previously installed the microphone system in the main debating chamber of the parliament.

Having been approached by the Parliament earlier in 2007 to come up with a solution, as an established partner Informationsteknik were then asked to deliver their solution. Installation was begun at the end of the summer and completed in October.

System designer Jesper Rosgaard took up the story:

“The project was for a meeting room for the European Committee. There are a total of 22 committee rooms in the parliament so this was to be some kind of trial run. They also have a their own broadcast facility on the site and a dedicated streaming suite. The idea was to feed this with audio, video and data from the discussion in the meeting room.”

The committee room itself is a fairly standard affair. It is dominated by a large oval table, with 32 seats around it. Each seat is equipped with a conference delegate unit – a DIS 6990 with the chip card reader. These are also equipped with touch screens, which can be used for text messaging, viewing voting results or reading documents. In this case, the committee members are mainly using them for their voting functionality.

In the centre of the table is located a podium which holds four Sony BRC-H700P CCD cameras. These provide face-shots for web-casts or broadcasts and are interfaced with the microphone system to track to the face of the person speaking. A fifth camera is used to provide an overall shot of the room.

In order to get the PTZ cameras to communicate with the DIS conference system and respond to its control commands Informationsteknik used an AMX Netlinx 3100 controller. It acts as a middleman between DIS’s CCU and the cameras.

In terms of the signal paths things are relatively straightforward. Both audio and video signals are transmitted to the broadcast and streaming suite from the committee room via a fibre link. HD-SDI video signals from the cameras are fed into a Network Electronics fibre transmitter via a matrix. At the same time, the audio output from the DIS central control unit is run through a dbx Pro driverack. Bjarne Rassmussen Informationsteknik’s project manager explained why: “The driverack acts as a limiter and also provides a bit of compression on the microphone audio before broadcast. It’s just so the audio is a bit better than a live microphone sound.”

The audio is then encoded and injected into the SDI signal as embedded AES digital audio, before the two signals are split out again at the other end for broadcast or delivery to the streaming server.

The parliament itself has its own highly competent technical team, which is a mixture of broadcast and IT specialists, so it was in conjunction with them that informationsteknik delivered the system.

Running parallel to the AV signals is the meta-data from the DIS conference system. The web streaming server can request almost any piece of information from the central controller to be displayed around the audio and video feed of the webcast. Commonly used data includes the name of the speaker on the active microphone, his political party, how long he has been speaking for or indeed how long he has left to speak. Other information could relate to the agenda being discussed.

To deliver the full streaming solution, Informationsteknik worked with streaming service provider Digieyez. And this presented the companies with a significant challenge in getting the DIS conference system’s open web service interface to communicate with the streaming server.

Another less technical challenge, according to Rosgaard, was preserving the look of the committee room itself. “We spent a lot of effort building the equipment into existing furniture. The only things that really stand out are the microphones themselves.”

The chip-card system is central to the effective operation of the committee. It is common for ministers or other witnesses to be present for only one or two items on the agenda. By simply walking in and inserting their card in the conference unit they are automatically registered as attending and the central control unit does the rest.

Whilst the main purpose of the installation is to provide information to members of the Danish parliament about the activities of the committee, the web-cast is also freely available to members of the public online.