Strategic AV planning

IICE has completed an impressive installation at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’s HQ. The integrator overcame stringent aesthetic and technological requirements from the client to deliver a modern, discrete solution to a prestige conference facility.

Arundel House, in London, is the headquarters of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict. After purchasing the site in 1997, the IISS embarked on an extensive remodelling programme and finally moved into its new home in 2000.

The newly added fifth floor is finished to match the rest of the period building, the paint work and cast plaster false ceiling not lending themselves greatly to retouching (we’ll see why this is important later on..)

In 2007, the institute decided it was time for an upgrade of the conference facility to overcome a number of faults which it had identified with the AV systems in place.

The problems included poor sound reproduction, resulting from a system of 100v ceiling speakers with poor feedback tolerance. The front half of the room needed its speakers to be totally switched off when the primary lectern position was in use. The client also complained of poor volume levels and unintelligible speech.

The IISS also had difficulties displaying video from modern laptops and other video inputs such as DV cameras. Limited switching capacity along with limited input positions were also weaknesses.

The existing equipment was also generally showing its age, with individual components failing to function correctly reliably. As a result of all of these issues, revenues from bookings of the space had dropped significantly.

The IISS therefore went out to tender with a specific set of requirements for a complete overhaul. The key functionality additions and improvements were as follows:

Full video signal handling capability from composite all the way up to 1080p was essential, along with complete flexibility of signal distribution within the facility and outside to OB units.

The new PA system was required to be capable of handling speech and 10.1 surround sound, whilst remaining totally unobtrusive.

The room must be capable of being used in a number of different configurations, as well as being split in two for simultaneous events.

More floor plates were to be added capable of handling third part sources ranging from PCs and Macs toMP3 players or Blu-Ray disks. In addition full relay and recording functions were required for all audio and video content. Relay options were to include within the building, to broadcasters and to remote participants in the IISS’s other offices in Singapore and Washington.

After some consideration, the contract to design and build the system was awarded to IICE, under the leadership of project manager David Gray.

Neil Goodman, the IISS’s CTO, said of the contractor selection process: “Prior to appointing IICE we had many conversations with other potential suppliers, none gave us the confidence that they understood what it was we wished to achieve of that it was indeed possible.

“From our initial discussions with IICE, we quickly reached an understanding; they gave us the confidence that we could achieve our goals and understood the art of making it possible.”

Given the client brief, David Gray identified a number of challenges facing his team as they approached the project: “We had to come up with a system which would be state of the art and remain relevant and functional for years to come. It needed to be appropriate for both internal presentations and the space’s use by third parties. These include groups such as the BBC, corporate lawyers, and even the Government.

“The client likes and uses a wide range of modern technology, they seek to employ the best solutions for presentations and events, but wish the AV and control element to be a discreet and invisible adjunct of the presentation rather than a feature itself. This presented problems of visible finishes.

“The largest challenge apart from the complex system design was to ensure the event space became functional at short notice over the installation process”

This was compounded further by the fact that the sheer number of cables and rack interconnections meant that much of the wiring could not be done in an off-site rack building.

“Ceiling speakers also needed to be invisible,” went on Gray. “This required close liaison with speaker manufacturers, building and allied trades, to ensure that the original plaster speaker tiles could be re-constructed which still allowed them to operate fully as loudspeakers using the Amina NXT technology.”

Before arriving at a final system design, IICE consulted with a number of primary users at the client including the AV, IT and event and banqueting departments, as well as several regular hirers of the venue.

They determined that the main room would be used in eight different layouts and the same number again whilst it was divided in two. In addition there was a need to route separate audio and video sources to the ante-room (River Room) connected to the main event space.
IICE prioritised the needs arising from these discussion to help them deliver an appropriate solution.

The Solution

The audio system has two distinct parts, speech and surround sound. The addition of eight extra wall interface points each to be bi-directional and capable of handling signals up to 1080p (including HDCP routing) and beyond, spread around the event space dramatically increased connectivity. All of the systems are able to be controlled through a simple wireless touch screen based GUI.

The surround sound system would only be used in single room mode, and in one of the two lectern positions. IICE elected to lay out a totally separate set of loudspeakers for that function.

They positioned 10 speakers in the walls using NXT panels from Amina, which were cut into the walls and then covered with a thin plaster skin. Two powered CS265P subs from Martin Audio were concealed behind false radiator covers, one in each half of the space.

The surround sound system is driven by a Denon AV receiver with ten channels of power amplification and considerable EQ capacity.

For the speech reinforcement component of the system IICE used eight further NXT panels from Amina, chosen for their wide sound dispersion cone (175 degrees) and lack of audio delay. Each speaker is driven via its own channel of amplification through a pair of Cloud four channel devices. The speakers are located four in each half of the room, within the ceiling void, using false ceiling tiles to match the rest of the roof. Four speakers are run off each amplifier, providing full split room mode control, irrespective of the room layout.

In the River room IICE added a further pair of NXT in-plaster speakers in the ceiling, driven from a third cloud amplifier.
Live mixing of events takes place on a Yamaha LS9 digital desk. The 16 default scene sets “default masters” are recalled by simply selecting the relevant scene set from the CUE control panel, routing to amplifiers, sound levels and speaker muting being set correctly within the LS9. Audio recording of events takes place on a Marantz PMD750 recorder, using compact flash cards for storage.

The new video system features two projects like the old one. The existing main Sanyo projector is located in the control room. It was fitted with a new DVI input board to compliment the RGBHV, composite and YC inputs. The second projector is located on a motorised scissor-lift in the main space, and front projects onto a Projecta electronic screen.

The projection unit was upgraded to a Barco CLM R10+ with a DVI HDCP input along with RGBHV and IP connectivity.

The River Room also required an additional display. A Loewe 37” LCD panel was selected for this, with an accompanying wall box for connectivity.

With the addition of the eight new wall and floor boxes to the ten existing ones, the channel count was 36 balanced audio inputs and 36 outputs, 16 computer inputs, 18 composite inputs and outputs, eight bi-directional SDi ports, 16 bi-directional Cat6 ports with the same number of bi-directional fibre ports.

To route and manage this massive array of connections, IICE opted for a 32 x 32 Sierra Pro RGBHV mappable matrix to handle all the floor/wall box inputs for RGBHV, RGBs, YUC and YC. This was coupled with a manual selector panel for bespoke routing. Also fed into this matrix were the video outputs from the video source machines and processors.

Two Sierra Lassen 32 x 32 balanced audio matrices, a 16 x 16 Sierra Pro SDi matrix a Sierra Pro 32 x 32 composite matrix, and an Extron 16 x 16 audio matrix. Manual routing panels were included for all the sierra matrices to cover custom set-ups and routing requirements.

IICE also provided a bespoke lectern. This included connections for a pair of Audio-Technica gooseneck microphones, a laptop (VGA), as well as additional audio and video inputs. An Interspace MicroCue RF mouse is provided to give the present slide control for presentations.

The addition of a comfort monitor meant that the talker need not look away from his audience or notes to check on slide or video status.

Various on screen effects are available to a presenter, including PIP as well as standard transition effects such as wipes, fades and blinds. These are created using a Barco screen pro II and Kramer VP 727 presentation switcher.

With 16 pre set scenes and the number of routing permutations for input and outputs running into the hundreds, the main system control needed to hide all of this complexity, whilst remaining functional and useable by operators of little or no technical knowledge.

Set-up is designed to be quick, typically no more than three button presses from request to action. David Gray said of the chosen system:

“We selected CUE system for its ability to control multiple machines and program calls within a nested environment reliability and consistently. Each of those program calls would effect all required routing through IP, RS232, RS422, IR and relay controllable components; each having a range of settings dependent upon the room layout selected.”

The control solution consists of one 15” engineering touch-screen interface, 1 CEO / Technician touch screen (8”) and two command controllers (CUE IPDeltas). These refer to the three levels of user access programmed into the system.

The CUE system runs on the control room LAN, which allows IICE to update the software, and also log the button usage history, which is invaluable for trouble shooting and bug hunting.

So does it deliver? IICE has pulled out all the stops to meet its customer’s exacting demands, the integration of the NXT speakers and flexibility of the space demonstrate the efforts made. The final word though must go to CTO Neil Goodman from the IISS:

“The overall standard of the finish has met and exceeded our already high standards and we are delighted that the grandeur of the room and its décor has not in any way been compromised by the inclusion of so much technology, some of our regular visitors such as the BBC have commented on how impressed they are with our new facilities.”

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