Going digital: Conferencing upgrade at Newport City Council
An Art Deco-style listed building in Wales presented both an exciting and challenging opportunity when it came to bringing its conferencing system into the 21st Century. Charlotte Ashley explores.
Home to the governing body for the city of Newport, located on the border of England and Wales, Newport Civic Centre was long overdue an upgrade to its conferencing and interpretation system when it contacted local installer Simon Hurditch five years ago. The actual installation of its new system – the first of its kind in the UK – would not be completed until 2018, however.
The council’s brief to the installer was modernising its conference environment with a system that could work at the switch of the button and that was both affordable and reliable. “When I first got involved with the Newport City Council they didn’t have the money to do anything with the chamber so it got put on the back burner and nothing happened for years,” recalls Hurditch, technical director at Simcol Communications. “Within that time I’d been introduced to new products and companies including Media Vision who approached me to see if I had any projects in the works.” A partnership was then struck, with the £37,000 (€42,000) project at Newport sealed following the manufacturer’s offer for the council’s 50 members to trial the equipment for a couple of weeks before making a decision.
“The old system was so complicated and unreliable that if anyone went in one of the racks (with four graphic equalisers) and turned the wrong control or pressed the wrong button the sound would shut off,” states Hurditch. The integrator had previously offered both wired and infrared options as an upgrade to its dated 25-year-old hard-wired system to the council’s decision makers, but a digital infrared system was preferred. Hurditch notes this was driven by the ease of use for councillors, lack of RF interference and ensuring the privacy of non-broadcasted sessions. The chamber’s location within the 1940-built, Art Deco building (with Grade II Listed building status) meant an upgrade to the microphone and interpretation system would require extensive planning around its furniture to ensure cables weren’t visible. “There may be some installs which you look back on as fairly easy, but this was not one of those projects,” says Hurditch. “It took us about three or four days for the two of us to do, which you’d not really expect for a wireless system.”
"Certain equipment like the infrared radiators have got to be wired and trying to get cables around the chamber without taking bits of woodwork apart was really difficult."
A Taiden infrared wireless system comprising 35 digital infrared wireless microphones, six IR transceivers and two interpreter consoles was installed during a week pre-arranged with the council for the installation. The system also equips the council for simultaneous interpretation into Welsh wherever members may be sat in the chamber (via an infrared pocket unit and headphones). “Certain equipment like the infrared radiators has to be wired and trying to get cables around the place without making a mess or taking bits of woodwork apart was really difficult,” says Hurditch. “Probably the most challenging part of the project overall was working to get cables around the room’s huge wooden doors inside the door frame without removing any panelling.”
The system works with a broader Public-I council meeting webcasting system connected to three data projectors and three large displays presenting important information to the councillors, and a number of PTZ cameras. Hurditch adds that the chamber is now easily equipped for upgrades later down the line should the council desire; “In the future, if they want to do any control from the Taiden system itself, this functionality is built in (i.e. dragging up the cameras) or if they want to add the capacity for voting, we’ve allowed for this too.” Feedback problems with the old system brought about by the acoustically challenging environment have now been significantly reduced: “The sound in the chamber is now really good when doing either a broadcast or just using the conferencing system – plenty of gain, no background noise or any other issues the old analogue system had.” Host to five or six meetings a month, when not in use by the council, the chamber is hired out for events such as weddings – making the portability of the equipment via charging carts ideal. “The system can very easily be virtually derigged and taken away, and then they can just bring them all back in, switch the microphones on and they all locate themselves on the system, which was very useful.”
Following the completion of the installation, Simcol hosted a day of training allowing councillors to familiarise themselves with the equipment and how the infrared system works. “Trying to train councillors all together is hard so they came to the chamber in small groups and we showed them how to use it,” says Hurditch. He continues: “But it’s now a fully integrated installation system and councillors are over the moon with it. All the reports back are positive.”
A showpiece installation as the first public installation of a Taiden digital infrared system in the UK, the installer hopes to inspire more councils to consider an upgrade. “We’re now encouraging others in Wales to take a look at their current systems, and perhaps come visit the facilities in Newport, to see if they could benefit from going down a similar route,” concludes Hurditch.
Taiden HCS-5302 Digital Infrared wireless microphones
Taiden HCS-5300TD Digital IR transceivers, transceivers and extension cables
Taiden HCS-8385 interpreter consoles
Taiden rolling charging carts
Taiden System Interpreter units