Case Study: Library Commons, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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Hurrairah bin Sohail discovers how the library commons at the University of Hong Kong was converted into a flexible learning space where students and lecturers can come together and interact freely

Education institutes are paying greater attention to their spaces with a concerted effort being made to improve the learning and teaching outcomes for both students and faculty members.

The University of Hong Kong [HKU] decided to take a closer look at its library commons and decided to embark on a project to maximise the usage of the space. Audio Systems Consultants (Asia) Limited [ASCL] was contracted to manage the project.

Patrick Leung, director at ASCL, talks about the initial considerations for the project: “The main objective for HKU was to allow different departments, no matter how big or small the faculty might be, to have access to a space and AV resources on equal footing. They also wanted to increase the interaction between students and lecturers.”

The existing AV systems at HKU drove the selection of the display technology at the library commons as Leung details: “Most of the lecture theatres that the faculties have access to feature projection. So, for the library commons, HKU wanted to provide a different option. They decided to opt for a videowall featuring LCD panels and this allowed them to produce different configurations and layouts to view content and also opened up avenues for content sharing and connectivity.”

A 4 x 3 videowall comprising Philips 55-in flat panels has been deployed at HKU’s library commons. The Philips panels were chosen specifically due to their 1.8mm bezel thickness which enables the videowall to have a seamless appearance. The panels are kept in place with the help of Chief mounts.

A Crestron DM-MD 16 x 16 matrix switcher is used to route and manage video signals. In addition, a RGBlink X2 videowall processor is employed to enable the multiple configurations and layout modes for the display.

Regarding the selection of the video matrix, Leung says: “Reliability was important as we knew that the library commons space would be heavily used. We expected a lot of people booking this room and this is why we selected the Crestron matrix. We wanted to minimise the number of faults caused by extensive operations and we wanted less interruptions for the AV system.”

The addition of the RGBlink processor is also explained by Leung: “We researched possible processor options for the videowall and found that the RGBlink X2 was the most reliable. It was also extremely cost effective and provided all the features we needed. RGBlink itself was very engaged with us and provided good support and service during the installation phase of the project.”

ASCL employed both products together to bring about HKU’s desired usage scenario for the videowall. Leung details: “There are eight different types of layout settings or configurations that the videowall can operate in. The requirement for these different settings arose from HKU’s objective of enabling interactivity and open communication between the students and the lecturers. We discussed the usage scenario with the university extensively and based on the size of the videowall and the expected number of participants we came to the number eight.”

A total of 12 students can push content from their devices to the videowall at any given time in the library commons and the layout settings of the videowall can accommodate this. Floor boxes from Crestron and Kramer provide the connectivity required for students and lecturers to hop onto the AV systems.

Wireless connectivity is provided via Mersive Solstice Pod. Leung says: “The Mersive wireless presenter provided another feed of input. HKU was already using Mersive products so it was a simple decision to continue with it. There were other options available on the market but none of them provided a good balance between cost and functionality for the client.”

The videowall system can be controlled via an Apple iPad and a Crestron CP3 processor.

Regarding the control options available, Leung says: “An AV technician is available on-site to facilitate but nonetheless we have designed the control system to be friendly with a UX that allows for anyone to control the videowall themselves.”

Audio in HKU’s library commons is provided by two Tannoy DVS8 surface mount speakers along with eight Tannoy CVS6 ceiling speakers. Two Ecler eGPA2-300 amplifiers power the audio system while processing is provided by a Biamp Tesira Forte AI DSP. Audio input is provided by Shure microphones.

Interestingly, HKU has made an addition to the library commons with the help of the integrator to further improve interactivity.

Leung says: “The space was perfect for the use of an interactive whiteboard. It serves as a collaboration tool, it can be hooked up with the videowall and it can also be used for ad hoc sessions where writing has to be supported. We’ve provided a 75-in Hitachi whiteboard on a Chief trolley that can be moved around the space and used as needed.”

He continues: “Since the whiteboard is a solution with user experience at its core, it was important for HKU to be able to have an on-site demonstration. We approached multiple manufacturers but only Hitachi was able to come to HKU’s campus to demo their product. There were 10 different stakeholders from HKU that were involved with the final decision making process so finding a common time for them to visit an experience centre was not feasible. We’re very happy with the Hitachi whiteboard. It supports 20 touchpoints at any given time, can provide 4K resolution visuals and has an anti-glare display.”

Leung comments regarding the challenges faced by ASCL during the course of the project: “There were many hurdles we had to overcome. The installation of the videowall was a challenge since the supporting frame requires the builder to provide adequate infrastructure. Even though a 4 x 3 videowall is not very large and we were using quality mounts from Chief, there were a lot of considerations when it came to the alignment of the panels. Our initial measurements had to be on point because once work commenced it would be very difficult to re-do and start again. “We were also facing a time crunch since we only had a month to complete the entire installation. We countered this by spending more time on planning and researching for the project so when it came to the deployment phase, we were able to cope with the shorter timeframe because we were able to cut down on revisions due to the time invested earlier in devising an accurate game plan.”