The National Assembly for Wales has expanded its committee room infrastructure, building a new facility away from its home, the Senedd. In event of issues at the Senedd the space will ensure Members can continue to conduct meetings and conferences via the videoconferencing set-up.
The Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales, was opened in 2006 and incorporated extensive ICT and broadcasting solutions throughout its committee rooms and in the main debating chamber. In spring of this year Committee Room 4 became the most recent project for the National Assembly team led by head of ICT and Broadcasting, Brian Davidge.
“[Committee Room 4] is a live committee room but it’s also in another building so that in the event of problems in the Senedd we’ve got at least one committee room that is ready and active. In addition, right now it’s also used for everyday business,” explains Davidge. The room accommodates 20 participants around the table but also has public gallery space for a further 25 onlookers.
Before the technology was specified an in-house team consulted with Members and committee clerks that use the rooms to capture the requirements that would be needed for the new space. The information was then passed over to the in-house broadcaster who completed the technical design.
Davidge’s team has implemented a Marantz audio recorder to document the discussions that are taking place. The audio files are given to the Hansard team who can then provide a full verbatim record the meeting.
In addition, proceedings are recorded with Panasonic broadcast equipment. “TV broadcast cameras are used to capture the images with audio and provide an output to our Senedd TV channel and also to an internal ring main,” continues Davidge. The feed is also supplied to external broadcasters who use it to produce programmes and, in the case of Welsh language channel, S4C, for a nightly channel that is run from midnight.
Peter Black AM, Commissioner for the Assembly and the Citizen said: “One of the main strategic aims of the 3rd Assembly is to increase participation in the democratic process.
“A cornerstone of that aim is having good quality multi-media coverage of the works that the Assembly Members do in Committee in terms of scrutinising and holding the Welsh Government to account.
“So it is important that we have good technical systems in place to ensure that the Welsh public can view good quality coverage of committee meetings, and that’s what we have in place in Committee Room 4.”
Beyerdynamic interpretation equipment, supplied by UK distributor POLARaudio, provides two channels on all systems so users can speak in English or Welsh. If Welsh is spoken interpreters in a dedicated booth will simultaneously translate into English. Davidge explains that English is not translated into Welsh and adds: “The system also allows contributions from outside the room in English or Welsh and that’s quite unique to our videoconferencing set-up.
“So, we can conference between locations,” he continues. “This is mostly used to go through to the European Parliament in Brussels but we’ve also used it for the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, in fact anywhere in the world where somebody may be contributing to our committee. It’s certainly cut down on travel, that’s one of the big drivers that allows us more sustainable use and it’s a greener solution.
“It also means that if an Assembly Member is busy in say North Wales or West Wales then they can contribute to the committee by going to another site that has videoconferencing and can join in on the committee. So, it’s used quite extensively and it really improves the day-to-day operation of the Assembly.”
The videoconferencing set-up is based around a Tandberg system with AMX touchpanel control. An Adder controllable eight-way power distribution unit is housed in a Middle Atlantic rack alongside a CYP 1:2 HDMI distribution amplifier and CYP high resolution VGA to TV scan converter.
The team at the Assembly opted for a Beyerdynamic wireless conferencing set-up. It incorporates a central control unit, chairman’s unit and twenty delegate microphone units as well as charging units and control and headphones for interpretation. The systems are used with a Bosch infrared listening system. An Audioleisure induction loop driver was fitted to assist those with hearing aids and Davidge’s team provided the facility with Yamaha and Soundcraft sound desks. Video monitoring is handled with Sony equipment, while audio monitoring is carried out with a Yamaha MSP5.
Davidge will be looking at working to upgrade the equipment that is currently housed in the Senedd over the next year or two. “The focus now is on making everything greener and smarter,” he says. “We’ll be looking at anything that allows us to improve our sustainability or anything that allows us to reduce our support costs because obviously money is very tight.
“The green issue isn’t just about reducing travel by using videoconferencing,” continues Davidge. “It goes right down to the choices we make in the equipment we use, such as opting for equipment that boasts low power usage and low heat emissions so we don’t have to cool meeting rooms. In Committee Room 4 the Panasonic cameras we’ve chosen are smallish models so they don’t produce as much heat as their larger counterparts. However, the choice wasn’t completely driven by green considerations because they had to fit into our current installation. That said, we looked for the greenest cameras we could find that would work with our current installation.”
Currently, the committee rooms over in the Senedd building are fitted with largely the same equipment. IVC Media, a systems integrator based in Yeovil, UK, installed the conferencing and interpretation systems throughout these rooms.
IVC was also involved with a massive installation to kit out the main debating chamber of the Senedd. Davidge says that in the debating chamber a Televic conferencing system was selected. “The reason we opted for Televic here was because it had to be a wired system, whereas in the committee rooms we needed the flexibility of how the committee is laid out so moving tables, chairs and desks. We couldn’t go for a cabled system and we felt Beyerdynamic was the best wireless system available.”
It will be interesting to see how the ICT and Broadcasting team move forward in updating and upgrading the Assembly buildings. The current austerity drive permeating the UK Government and its budgets will no-doubt take its effect on the Assembly. However, speaking with Davidge it becomes apparent that audiovisual technology can be used to support this drive and promote cost cutting across all departments.
Audioleisure induction loop driver
Beyerdynamic central control unit, chairman and delegate mic units, charging units
Bosch headphones, infrared radiator, infrared receivers,
Marantz audio recorder
Murraypro Pico PPM
Soundcraft Spirit M8 sound desk
Tandberg AudioScience Mic
Yamaha sound desk, audio monitors
Adder power distribution unit
AMX Netlinx controller, Modero touchpanel, Autopatch Matrix
CYP distribution amplifier, scan converter
Electronic Visuals waveform monitor
Farnell PSE65-12 power supplies
Gyration wireless keyboard and mouse
Middle Atlantic Rack
Panasonic broadcast camera, SDI option cards, remote control units
Procon 1 Gang Input panel XGA
Sony vision monitors, programme monitor, preview monitor, SDI cards, camera monitors
Tandberg integrator package, video switch