King’s digital future

When King’s College London was presented with a rare funding opportunity its AV Services team turned to integrator GV Multimedia to implement a completely digital system. Anna Mitchell went to the university to explore the installation that spans 14 seminar rooms and 8 large theatres.

King’s College London was founded in 1829 and over the years has spread through the capital city, growing, developing and forging mergers to become the massive institution it is today. It sprawls over five campuses, incorporating the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, Chelsea College, Queen Elizabeth College and the Institute of Psychiatry.

The institution currently has around 23,500 students and is undergoing the second phase of a £1 billion (€1.2 billion) redevelopment programme. This includes a five-year teaching and learning project that will see £18 million pumped into upgrades of seminar rooms and theatres.

Over the last summer the university’s Audio Visual Services department, led by Rod Wilkinson, worked with integrator GV Multimedia to overhaul 14 seminar rooms and 8 large theatres. The resulting installation was based around what is thought to be the largest Crestron Digital Media system ever installed in an educational facility and was designed to begin the process of standardising equipment across the various campuses.

The Audio Visual Services department carries out small installs and repairs in house but needed to forge a strategic partnership with an AV integrator to carry out the overhaul. Wilkinson says the university carried out a scoring exercise across four possible AV companies and whittled it down to two. “GV’s approach was flexible and open,” noted Wilkinson. “Furthermore they were the only company that offered a non-template solution”.

GV offered the university three options. The first one essentially covered what the university had asked for, the second proposed a hybrid HDMI solution and the third a full Digital Media solution. When faced with the three quotations, the AV Services department realised there wasn’t a huge financial difference between the hybrid and the full digital.

Because lecturers move around the various rooms it is important that the equipment they use in each room be familiar and accessible. Teaching staff entered the planning process via the Teaching and Learning Committee and, in part, specified the installation.

Wilkinson explained the refurbishment and upgrade was also important to provide a quality learning environment for students. He noted that as tuition fees rise students would become more discerning and demanding about all aspects of their education. His comments seemed particularly pertinent as on our way through King’s College’s Strand campus we practically had to step over banners and posters fresh from the previous week’s protests that had hit the streets of London. Students across the capital were venting their frustrations at a Government Bill that will allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a term in tuition fees.

Rooms are used all day with the last lectures starting at 9.00pm. The only time the contractors could get into King’s was over the summer and even then they had to work around various events. In order to work around the university’s Conference Bureau bookings the contractors were left with a seven-week turnaround starting in August.

“We had to integrate with the building contractor and we had a very short window of time,” said Kristian Cutting, sales executive at GV Multimedia. “And, some of the rooms, such as the Greenwood theatre, were incredibly challenging.” Adding to that challenge GV had to remove existing cabling and install the entire cable infrastructure for the project including some lengthy cable runs. And the final headache was working on rooms within the listed King’s Building. Cabling in rooms with listed floors was particularly problematic although Cutting said he experienced little problem with mounting.

“The Greenwood is a 460 seat lecture theatre. It has a stage, where shows are performed, and an orchestra pit,” he continues. TeamMate units are included in each of the 24 spaces. The unit in the Greenwood theatre has to move every night for the events so had to be mobile. One of the hardest elements of the Greenwood install was the lengthy cable runs that Cutting says really put Digital Media to the test. In this theatre, GV didn’t touch the existing audio system that was already in place including Soundcraft mixers and Martin Audio Speakers. However, they did add Ecler ceiling speakers in to the back of the room and balcony areas. Again, a Biamp DSP was employed to mix the two systems together.

Installation of induction loops in listed buildings also proved problematic. Cutting expressed his preference for an induction loop and Ampetronic systems were fitted throughout most rooms. However, where this was completely impossible he implemented a Sennheiser infrared system. Some of the rooms were also very close together and the team had to be very careful that there was no overspill from each Ampetronic system.

Cutting added that care had to be taken in the traditional Anatomy and Harris theatres over on the Guy’s campus. Both theatres have raked seating and balconies. JBL line-arrays were installed to serve the theatres from the front and the rest of the space was filled with Ecler ceiling speakers. A Biamp DSP was installed in each theatre to mix in the ceiling speakers.

Projectors, either full HD Panasonic or 720p Hitachi, were ceiling mounted or, in the case of the larger rooms, sat in projection booths. Both Dalen and Unicol mounts were used and, where projector screens were needed, GV turned to Draper. The university did use some existing projectors in certain rooms. The infrastructure is in place for the university to implement full HD in every room but right now it isn’t necessary to overhaul all equipment. “With the Digital Media system,” adds Cutting, “there is an improvement on the quality of every projector.” In one very large lecture theatre a Panasonic HD plasma was used as a repeater screen for the students at the rear of the space. Panasonic blu-ray players were also included in the racks housed in the TeamMate units.

On an audio side JBL and Apart speakers are used throughout the refurbished rooms and, where ceiling speakers are needed, GV implemented Ecler products. Sennheiser and Audio-Technica gooseneck microphones are installed on TeamMate units and additional microphones, including some Shure models are available for panel discussions or other events where speakers cannot just speak from the lectern. TeamMate vari-height lecterns are included in all larger rooms for DDA compliance.

WolfVision visualisers, requested by the teaching staff, are included on every TeamMate unit. All AV equipment is controlled via a simple interface on a Crestron panel that is mounted on every teaching unit. However, Cutting points out the control of the visualers has been left at the visualer, adding that teaching staff seem to prefer it this way. “Some lecturers were still using OHPs,” said Wilkinson, “so the Wolfvision products really helped.” And, talking of OHPs another ancient display product was starting to give the AV Services department a headache. “Blackboards are still used in a surprising amount of teaching rooms,” said Wilkinson. “We have huge problems with chalk dust and the AV equipment. The Mathematics department is really keen on them because they like to write out long formulas across the board.” During the recent upgrades an effort was made to replace the blackboards with white boards.

Lecturers and speakers can walk into to any of the rooms and access numerous resources via the TeamMate unit. They can easily connect laptops via an interface panel on the unit, plug in a USB or access files over the secure intranet. This means teaching staff can carry less materials and resources from room to room.

Although not yet implemented by Kings College, lecture capture systems are ready to go in most of the rooms via Echo360 boxes. The Teaching Committee has two major projects planned that will utilise this equipment and the university currently has 12 licences but can add more.

Every room is set up with Tandberg videoconferencing systems. Care had to be taken with the lighting and audio systems to ensure an appropriate environment for videoconferencing. There are plans to use the Tandberg equipment to beam lectures out for distance learning or lecture sharing applications. When the university is ready to start then the AV infrastructure will already be in place.

Furthermore, the videoconferencing set up has already been utilised for the Biomedical Forum, which takes place once a month and draws in consultants to lecture on their research. The lectures have been sent out to various institutions throughout the UK and abroad. And, it’s not just one way, remote lecturers are also brought into the rooms via the system. Wilkinson says lecturers are really keen on the videoconferencing technology and can see its potential but vary vastly in their ability to use it.

And with varying abilities AV Services finds itself called on regularly to address problems lecturers face because they don’t understand the equipment. “We do run training courses,” says Wilkinson, “but they’re not well attended. We also provide easy to use instructions on every one of the TeamMate units to try and avoid getting called in for minor issues.” Wilkinson adds that cameras, installed in every room for monitoring purposes, are a great help allowing his team to look straight into rooms and, hopefully, diagnose problems speedily.

Furthermore, the Digital Media system allows the AV Services department to remotely monitor equipment across all rooms. Both Wilkinson and his colleague Rodrigo Sanchez-Pizani agree that one of the most useful features of the new system will be implementation of Crestron RoomView software which will allow their department to monitor, manage and control devices from a remote computer. This is a particularly useful asset to a university like King’s that sprawls across numerous areas of a massive city. In addition to the benefits of the system, AV Services has an in-house Crestron programmer, making Crestron an obvious choice. Rodrigo does add: “The only slight negative I can think of with Digital Media is if the network goes down we can have problems. However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.”

Now more than ever there are clear signs, particularly in the UK, that education funding will become increasingly scarce. And the level of funding King’s has been presented with for this project is rare in any economic environment. Therefore, Wilkinson and his AV Services team were keen to grasp the opportunity and implement a system that would last them well in to the future. “Digital Media is future proof, it should last us for the next ten years.” says Wilkinson. “And the potential for expansion is huge. It will allow us to continue to update plugging in additional equipment as needed.”

Tech Spec

Ampetronic induction loop amplifiers
AMX high-voltage relay
Apart powered speakers
Audio Technica boundary and gooseneck mics
Biamp Nexia processors
Denon amplifiers
Ecler amplifiers, Audeo loudspeakers, ceiling speakers
JBL 100V line speakers and brackets
Marantz audio recorder
Sennheiser UHF mics, infrared induction loop system
Shure SM58C mics

Axis network cameras
Canford XLR input plate
Crestron Digital Media system, touchpanels, faceplates, IR emitters
Dalen projector mount
Draper projection screens
Extron distribution amplifiers, CAT5 transmitters/receivers, video switcher
Hitachi projectors
Kramer digital scaler
Lindy network switches
Panasonic blu-ray players, plasma, projectors
Sony cameras
Tandberg videoconferencing system
TeamMate fixed and vari-height podiums
Unicol projector ceiling mounts
Wolfvision visualisers

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