Technical University of Berlin

To future-proof itself the Technical University of Berlin has turned to cutting edge AV over IP technology. Paul Milligan spoke to the three companies involved in the design and installation.

The Technical University of Berlin (Technische Universitat Berlin, also referred to as TU Berlin) was founded in 1879 and has become one of the most prestigious educational  institutions in  Europe.  

The  university is renowned for its engineering programmes, and the alumni includes 10 Nobel Prize winners. The motto of the university is ‘we have the ideas for the future’, so to help keep its teaching spaces functional for the next decade and beyond it decided to upgrade two of its large auditoriums. 

To do this it employed two  Berlin-based  consultants,  MMT  Network and  Macom  to  design and specify the right technology for each room. MMT Network had responsibility for Room 105 (capacity 1,200), with Macom handling Room 104 (650 capacity).

The systems integrator for both rooms was also another Berlin-based  company,  PIK,  who had just four weeks to complete the installation.

TB Berlin room 104 behind

So  how  did  this unusual scenario of two consultants working on back-to-back  rooms, all with one integrator come about? Sebastian Mensing, AV consultant/project  engineer from Macom  explains: “TU Berlin as contracting authority decided to split the responsibilities for the two main lecture halls. In the beginning there was an idea of keeping the two consultants separate and treat each room as an individual project. 

During the planning process and with the development of new network-based AV components, the idea of creating an interconnected structure over the two main rooms was born. Of course both consultants had to specify the individual needs for each room and developed separate tender documents for the corresponding room but with the  special twist that one integrator won both tenders.”   

MMT Network has worked with TU Berlin for many years, and began discussing what would become the final solution for the backbone of both rooms some time ago.  “Five years ago we started to think about how to manage the future, especially how  to distribute audio and video across the campus with IP technology.  

At  that point it was a theoretical  work,” says Bernhard Muller, managing director, MMT Network.  “Five years ago we didn’t know how we would do that as there wasn’t the hardware then, but we knew our time would come and products would appear.”

So what was it the client wanted for Rooms104 and105? It wanted to refurbish the existing spaces to support modern pedagogical practices while maintaining portions of the original AV system (installed in 2005) whenever possible. The system had to provide support for combining the two spaces or stream content from one room to another when needed.

TU Berlin room 104 desk

“Some buzzwords definitely were reliability, high quality (audio and video), low  latency,  lip sync, expandability, manageability, future-proof, audio de-embedding, but mostly full flexibility,” says Mensing.
Central to the whole  installation was the decision to go with Biamp’s TesiraLux media system. “TesiraLux was the decision by the client for two reasons,” says Ingo Nolte,  executive, PIK.  “It was a 10GB infrastructure, so had lower levels of compression and AVB has the advantage of being able to transport the audio and video together, but you can divide the audio and video while they are transported to bring the audio into the DSP, correct it and then bring it back together with the video without any delays.”  At the time of installation it was only the second time it had ever been used in a project, and it remains the  world’s  largest  install  of  the  technology.   

Macom and MMT Network initially suggested an HDBaseT solution, however the university requested that the two rooms had the ability to combine, so it could accommodate larger audiences during special occasions such as welcome  messages on the first day of term. In addition to have the ability to combine rooms 104 and 105  the university required overflow capabilities that would allow events from one room to be broadcast in another if demand exceeded seating capacity. 

As mentioned  previously,  the  new AV  system  had  to  maintain portions of the original system, which were based on Biamp AudiaFlex devices and used CobraNet for  audio  and  video distribution  via  DVI  and RGBHV connectors. So TU Berlin was looking for an IP-based system that could accommodate this expansion. Muller explains what happened next, “We checked the market, and there were a few products about but they didn’t have the quality that we wanted to have. So that was the starting point for us. We discussed different solutions with the client, and presented a range of products to them in room 105 itself, so we could compare the difference in quality between standard solutions and  4K/60 and AVB  products. The quality of AVB convinced us to go in that direction.”

In fact room 104 became the first education auditorium in the world to run both the  audio and video systems on the same  network.  The installation now includes 26  TesiraLux encoders and 18 decoders, these are connected to the lecture desk, front  of  house, stage, and control room, as well as to four adjacent interpreter rooms.

In  addition, both rooms have connections to the Lichthof central meeting point, situated 100 metres from the  primary  space. All  devices on the network are connected using 10GB fibre, and two different technical rooms provide support for the different signals. The ZGR-M technical room manages media engineering devices via an Extreme Networks  switch  (more  on  that  later),  while  the Wiring Centre uses Cisco switches for control. 

Both rooms have Wacom Pen Displays allowing lecturers to use an interactive  chalkboard to illustrate lessons in real time. “It feels like a stacked chalkboard which the professors like,” says Muller. These  27-in displays also double up as preview monitors for professors. 

Low  latency  was  a  critical  element  of  this project  to  ensure  that  the information  being shared by the professors was visible to students without delay or distraction.  

Another key part of the project was cabling. “We had to install 5,000 metres of Cat7 cable, and 800 metres of multicore  fibre,  which is a lot of work to hide between the walls,” explains Muller. The  new  wiring  configuration connects multiple floors to the  AV  system, supporting future expansion as the university constructs new buildings or refurbishes existing sites.  

Audio  in  Room 104 and 105 is provided by legacy Kling and Freitag loudspeakers.  The system is controlled by a legacy AMX system, “In the short installation time we had, the decision was made not to change the old AMX control system, as it works with the AVB nicely,” adds Muller.  Because the UI has stayed the same, the professors are oblivious to the upgrade, until they notice the increased quality  of the projection systems installed.  

Projection in Room 104 is provided by two Barco UDX4K32 32,000 lumens laser projectors, in Room 105 two Panasonic PT-RQ32K 30,000 lumens laser projectors provide images on to a 13-metre long screen. Laser was chosen as the illumination source to cut down on maintenance and downtime. In 105,  installing  the  Panasonic  projectors  provided one of the biggest challenges on the job, as Nolte explains:  “The  two  projectors are in the  middle of the auditorium, so we had to bring in silencer cases from Audipack, but they didn’t match the projectors perfectly, so we had to adjust and fix them to work with the optical beams.”  

The project also provided two other significant challenges: getting the Cisco switchers  (the university’s  current  network  infrastructure)  to work with AVB, and working with TesiraLux in its infancy.  

“When we began to test the AVB we used a 2x2 matrix, then a 4x4 matrix, and then a little bit larger.  It looked very easy at the beginning because the 2x2 and 4x4 matrix were no problem with the Cisco switchers. We spoke to Cisco and were told AVB is no problem, but when we used larger matrixes we saw more and more difficulties and  interruptions.  So  we  had  to  decide  a  few weeks before the install was completed to move to  an  Extreme  Networks  switch,”  says  Muller.  

When  you  are  installing  technology  that  has only just been introduced to the market, there are inevitably going to be one or two teething problems, as Nolte explains.  “One of the biggest challenges  was  that  the Biamp technology we were installing was brand new. There were some bugs and we had to find out how to solve them.  We worked a lot with Biamp to find the solution, and they even came to Berlin to help us, and we worked together.   The end result is that it works, and works well.”

Now fully installed and working well, the AV technology is monitored  remotely  by  PIK  at  its office in Berlin.  Client reaction to the technology has been overwhelmingly  positive. ‘The Tesira AVB system has been stable every day since we went  live.  We  have  never  had  such  as  superior AV experience before,” said Christoph Moldrzyk, data and media manager, TBU Berlin.  Plans are already afoot to upgrade the control system later this year and upgrade six more lecture rooms with the same AVB infrastructure.    

Audipack enclosures
Barco UDX4K32 laser projectors
Biamp TesiraLux IDH-1 encoders and OH-1 decoders
Extreme Networks Summit x670v-48x-4q 10GV ethernet switch
Lindy HDMI to DisplayPort 4K converters
Panasonic AW-HE130 PTZ camera and PT-RQ32K laser projectors
Purelink FD340 4K extender
Teracue ENC500 HD streamer
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD Touch pen and touch display
Yamaha Dante-MY16-AUD Dante interface card

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