To boldly go…

AUTHOR: Inavate

Russia’s rapidly developing market for gas and oil exploration is placing huge technological demands on local integrators. Dan Goldstein reports on the long and winding road that led to a successful Siberian installation for Polymedia.

The days when AV systems were judged on whether they succeeded in making Powerpoint look better are long gone. And, some would say, not before time. Yesterday’s boardrooms are today’s multimedia presentation suites. What were once cinemas are now multifunctional performance spaces. And what used to be called ‘videoconferencing’ is now ‘telepresence’ – an altogether more involving, and technologically demanding, experience.

A lot of this change is being driven by the seemingly irrepressible rise of 3D and visualization systems. Once end users get an idea of what modern AV can do for their business, they seem to want to be surrounded by it – or, in some cases, completely immersed in it.

A case in point is the congress hall of the Gazprom Dobycha Yamburg company in Novy Urengoy, a city in the Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous region of western Siberia. A three-and-half flight east from Moscow, the region is currently enjoying a boom in gas exploration activity, and GDY – an affiliate of Russia’s state-owned gas-production monopoly Gazprom – is at the forefront of this development.

Alexey Samokhin, senior sales engineer at Russian-based systems integration company Polymedia, says the conference and 3D visualization space his company has installed is a far cry from the room originally envisaged when the GDY building was being designed in 2003.

“We have a very long-standing relationship with this customer, having worked with them on a number of other projects,” Samokhin says. “When it came to the Novy Urengoy room, the system design and consultancy had already been carried out by other companies. However, this design was for a concert and cinema hall, which the customer then decided was not an appropriate use for the venue. So they came to us and asked us to submit a new proposal for a modern conference facility, embracing state-of-the-art AV solutions.”

One benefit of the room having originally been designed for music and movies was that it had a large stage area, which Polymedia decided to exploit by specifying a Projecta screen measuring 8m wide by 4m high. Firing onto this is a Barco XLM30 video projector which, at the time the job was specified, was the only commercially available unit to combine HD resolution with 30,000 ANSI lumens brightness.

“Our design idea, which was accepted by the customer, was to combine the XLM HD30 with a Folsom ScreenPro [now Barco Encore 2ME] image processor,” says Samokhin. “This gives us multi-window functionality for the screen, and the opportunity to show Russian and English presentations simultaneously or, in the case of videoconferencing, both local and distant points. The processor is able to use the projector’s full native resolution of 2048 x 1080, and is controlled using an Encore Controller SC.”

With screen, projector and image processing hardware all on order, the project story took another twist, as Samokhin explains: “While visiting an IT industry tradeshow, representatives from GDY were introduced to 3D visualization technology, and more or less decided there and then that they wanted some kind of 3D functionality to be incorporated into the system we were working on. So we added two Barco Galaxy 12 HB+ projectors to the design spec, to provide an active stereo 3D solution. This allows 3D content to be viewed on the 8m x 4m screen by delegates wearing special glasses.”

As well as presentations, videoconferencing and 3D visualization, Polymedia’s system design also had to embrace audio conferencing, along with interactive voting and simultaneous translation. For this reason, two additional Barco 70-inch rear-projection screens are positioned either side of the main 8m x 4m screen. These are used to show a variety of content, from live video feeds of speakers to graphic displays of electronic voting results.

“The rear-pro cubes are a self-contained solution that have Barco iQ PRO 500 projectors inside them,” says Samokhin. “The great thing about the iQ PRO units is that they have an onboard computer inside them. For this application, we’re using a Bosch DCN New Generation congress and interpretation system, which has a client and server aspect to it. So we made our own graphic interface client application, and this runs on the CPUs that are built into the projectors. We can also control the application remotely, either from the control room or the lectern, using Crestron’s eStart software.”

The hall’s DCN system has microphone stations for the conference chairman and six on-stage delegates, with four further mics available for interpreters. “There are two interpreter booths, with two desks in each,” says Samokhin. “They are adjacent to the conference hall, not inside it, so we have given each translator their own Viewsonic 16:9 LCD monitors. It’s very important for the interpreter to be able to see the person whose voice they are translating, as well as hear them. However, currently there are no LCD monitors capable of displaying the kind of resolution we get from the Barco XLM projector, so we’ve used an RGB Spectrum Quadview 2+2 image processor to produce a ‘scaled down’ version of the split images on the main screen.”

Translated conference proceedings are transmitted into the hall by infra-red through a Bosch Integrus language distribution system. This provides complete synchronization with the DCN system and can deliver audio to up to 100 delegates (the venue’s capacity is 300). “At the moment the customer is mainly using Russian and English, but we felt it was important to give them more flexibility for the future,” Samokhin says.

Like the interpreters, those delegates sitting on the stage have their own LCD monitors on which they can view the large-screen image. Additionally, the lectern position has a built-in, interactive tablet PC running SMART Technologies’ Sympodium annotation tool, which allows the speaker to notes in a range of colours to their presentation, as well as providing full real-time desktop control.

“The lectern can be used in three different ways,” explains Samokhin. “The first option is that the speaker can bring their presentation on flash memory and insert it into the built-in PC. The second is that, using an Extron hideaway interface that we have built into the lectern, a speaker can connect their own laptop directly. Finally, and particularly if the presenter is a VIP, we can use Sympodium to display the text of their speech on the main screen.”

Polymedia has also supplied Sonic Foundry’s MediaSite conference recording and archiving system, so that all events held at the hall can, at least in theory, be preserved for posterity. “We record both the image of the presenter [using one of four Bosch Autodome G3 cameras] and their presentation simultaneously, and the great thing about MediaSite is that once the presentation has been stored, it is archived per slide – so all you need to do is jump to a particular side to hear what was said about it,” Samokhin enthuses. “It’s been particularly useful for this customer, because the comments that accompany the slides are often as important as the slides themselves. The ability to navigate through the timeline of a presentation, and select a number of slides to review on the fly, has been really valuable.”

In conjunction with installation partner Proton-Svetogor, which supplied the stage lighting, steel structures and mechanics to the project, Polymedia has fitted the hall with a 5.1 surround sound system, using CI series enclosures from d&b audiotechnik. The walls and ceiling of the space remain from the previous concert-hall design, which has benefited the acoustics, but Samokhin’s team has still felt the need to route the audio through a Biamp Audia signal processing unit.

“We’ve designed a distributed audio system with L-C-R front channels, a rear channel and a subwoofer, and within Audia we’ve created different settings for different applications. The interesting thing is that although the customer decided on a presentation-driven system, they still want to be able to use it for music and cinema. So for concerts we use the front channels and subs only, for cinema we use all channels and include an external Dolby processor, while for presentations we set all channels to be at the same level.”

Polymedia has configured the Audia DSP so that its parameters can be adjusted either using Biamp’s proprietary Da Vinci software, or remotely using the hall’s Crestron control system, for which the company has programmed a unique GUI for display on 15-inch touchpanels. The hall’s in-house AV team also has the ability to alter the aspect ratio of any or all of the displays via the Crestron system, while Polymedia’s programming extends outside into the GDY building’s other public areas, as Samokhin explains:

“The customer asked us to extend the system out into the foyer and the entrance zones around the hall, so we designed a small digital signage system using Panasonic 50-inch plasma display panels, network players and our own custom software. The network can show a range of graphic content, including the lists of events scheduled to be held in the hall and internal company announcements for staff working in the building.”

With such a long gestation period and the various changes in spec along the way, the GDY conference facility posed a unique set of challenges to the Polymedia team. “We spent a lot of time informing the customer about the different solutions available, while at the same time fighting off the competition, so it was a bit of a battle – in more ways than one!” concludes Samokhin. “The first specifications were drawn up in 2003, but we did not get the go-ahead to work on our specification until September 2006. But the main thing was that the customer chose the right system, and that we have been able to provide a conference space that is not just modern but truly innovative in its approach.”