Taking the lead at Derby University

Integrator GV Multimedia has secured an EMEA first in its design and installation of a new collaboration lab at Derby University in the UK. Paul Milligan looks at the project.

Being the first to do something can be a great feeling, but by the same token nobody likes to be the guinea pig, the one who has to spend precious time ironing out teething problems for the benefit of everyone else.  It’s often a criticism of integrators that they play it safe with new technology, preferring to use something ‘tried and trusted’ rather than push the envelope of new technology.  But this was something UK integrator GV Multimedia did at the University of Derby, it was the first in EMEA to install Crestron’s NVX product, the latest in the company’s Digital Media range. 

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It can deliver 4K60, 4:4:4, and HDR video over a standard 1G Ethernet network, without the need for 10G infrastructure. Not that the integrator knew it was the very first admits Stuart Harris, technical project manager, GV Multimedia, but it wouldn’t have affected his decision he says; “I wasn’t aware it was the first at the time, I was only told this afterwards.  Would it have changed my approach? No it wouldn’t have. I like to sit at the front of where technology is going, I like to push technology as much as I can, we want to be at the front, we want to be at the edge, we don’t want to be stuck doing the ‘same old, same old’ teaching spaces week after week.

So how did GV get involved with this project in the first place? “We have an ongoing relationship with the client, and we were doing a refurbishment project on the same floor,” says Harris. “It wanted to do something different, a collaborative space, and had already spoken to the furniture manufacturers before we got involved, about what they wanted in there, so we designed the system around that.” 

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The room is called the B226 collaboration lab, and features a raft of technology all designed around modern teaching methods to get the best out of students by making them work together for a more collaborative outcome. What was the original brief to the integrator about the collaboration lab? “It was fairly dynamic, it was for a collaborative space, they wanted a main display and five individual separated desks that could be shown on the main display.  The technology behind that was very loose.  It was originally going to be a Crestron DM 16x16 HDBaseT matrix, but I made a suggestion we should be looking at AV over IP and the NVX product.  It was then discussed and tested in others areas of the University, and then given the OK.”

So what does the NVX bring to this articular install? “NVX is a multi-cast AV over IP solution. The best way to describe it is that it’s like an HDBaseT endpoint with a virtual switch’” says Harris. “You have the endpoint where you connect your device in, like you would with HDBaseT system, but instead of a frame in the middle, you have a network.”

Collaboration is the key element of the lab explains Harris, “The sending of multiple signals to multiple locations within the space, to aid with teaching, to show different types of content, to show different content from the main screen, to show one content to all screens.  There is also camera technology to capture what is going on in the room, as well as microphones in the room and banks of microphones on each desk to capture everything that happens.”

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To make sure everything went as smoothly as possible, GV worked with integrators Lucid Partnerships, the provider of all programming for the University.  Harris explains how that relationship worked; “We design the system, then send them through to Lucid, who will see it the costs are viable within the budget to programme the system, then they will tweak if needed.” It helps that Harris is an experienced Crestron programmer himself, “so the design elements generally work well because I design the system with programming in mind. They come in and commission and programme the system to the client’s spec.” 

The lab is awash with technology, including some nice little touches all around that a casual observer might miss on first glance (more on that later).  As mentioned above, the furniture was the starting point for the lab, 5 nine-seater bespoke Top-Tec tables are positioned around the room, each with a NUC PC discreetly hidden inside.  A totem at the end of each table features an NEC 55-in 4K LFD.  Dotted around the walls of the lab are five Crestron AirBoards (a whiteboard capture system), and one NEC 98-in Shadowsense interactive LFD.  The AirBoards feature an automatic snapshot feature which uses an overhead camera to capture snapshots during use.  The snapshots are processed by a Cloud service (a web URL is provided with access to your data), and a small white unit under each board gives students a URL and pin number needed to securely access the content. Students have the option to connect their smartphones or tablets via AirMedia allowing selected content from their personal devices to be displayed on screen and with the rest of the lab.

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Lecturers can control the technology in the lab using a 10-in Crestron TSW-1060 touchscreen, and originally the plan was for teachers to walk freely around the lab, just using that, but the plan was amended during installation, as Harris explains. “This room wasn’t going to have a lectern originally, it was going to be a stand-and-teach area with collaborative tables, it was only through the desire of some lecturers who wanted the comfort of having a lectern that there now is one. It’s a mid step towards a lectern-free environment.” Connectivity is the room is handled by ports on each table, as well as those doted around the edge of the room.  The room is completely digital with no VGA ports whatsoever. 

Audio is another clever aspect of the lab.  Genelec 4030C 50W loudspeakers are installed in every corner of the room, and all mics (Shure table array multi-head mics) sit on the tables themselves, and all the audio is Dante controlled. But why network the audio if it all exists in the one room? “Traditionally with a multi-head microphone you would have to run multiple cables or one multi-cable back to a DSP. Then you would need a very large DSP or stack multiple DSPs into the audio system,” says Harris. “The microphones have four heads in them, so that’s four cables per mic.  We have six cables in that room, so that’s 24 cables in total, plus a DSP.  If you do it via Dante is just one network connection, so it simplifies everything such a lot.” All well as the audio on each desk there is another Shure mic fitted in the ceiling, and all audio, from either students or lecturer is recorded into the University’s Panopto system. 

The colour coding of the room is a very clever touch. The tables are all individually coloured, and each chair for that table shares the same colour.  When the mics are live they go the same colour as the chairs (Purple, orange, blue, red or green), so the lecturer knows which table is speaking.  That is repeated on the touchpanel as well. There are coloured stickers on each totem too.

Because the backbone of the lab is predominantly Crestron, the installation itself was relatively straightforward says Harris, “the biggest problem was getting equipment up to the second floor, we had large furniture and a 98-in screen which had to go two floors up a stairwell.”
The client is understandably delighted with the end result, “We are always looking at ways to improve the overall learning experience for our students,” says Mark Daniels, senior AV engineer, IT services, University of Derby. “And the installation of this new technology has provided an innovative way for them to collaborate and communicate with each other.”

Kit List

Crestron AirBoard, AirMedia 200, DM-MVX-351 DM Encoder/Decoder, Avia 12x8 DSP, 10-in TSW-1060 touchscreen
Dalen monitor arms
Genelec 4030CWM loudspeakers
Lindy USB over twisted pair extender
Logitech C922 HD Pro webcam
Panasonic AW-HE40 PTZ camera
Shure MXA-310W table array mics
Top-Tec Synergy Blade table, Explorer Lectern 1500
Wolfvision VZ-3neo visualiser

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