Case Study: University of Newcastle, Australia

Hurrairah bin Sohail discovers how the University of Newcastle upgraded AV systems to make its Great Hall leap into the future and highlight AV and IT’s convergence.

The University of Newcastle’s Great Hall, found on the university’s Callaghan campus located in the western suburbs of Newcastle, New South Wales is a local landmark. The Great Hall was constructed in the early 1970s and was built with signifi cant contributions from the local community. The building is multi-functional and is used by the university and the Newcastle community for a wide range of events. With this in mind, the university decided to upgrade the AV infrastructure of the venue.

Xcite Audio Visual served as the integrator while InDesign Technologies was the consultant for the upgrade project. Work commenced in June 2017 and was completed in October 2017.

Peter Coman from InDesign Technologies talks about the brief from the client: “The reason behind the upgrade was to deliver a signifi cant improvement in the audio and video quality and reliability within the University of Newcastle’s Great Hall, in support of the university’s teaching, learning and community outreach activities. As part of the upgrade we set out to convert the current analogue system to a fully digital solution built on AV over IP technology. We wanted to provide an AV solution that was fl exible, scalable and able to support the wide variety of functions that the Great Hall hosts.”

Reimagined audio

The project got off to a shaky start. Coman explains: “In being engaged to design and project manage the solution, the single biggest challenge we faced was a lack of time. There were four months to design, gain approval, tender, procure, install and commission the system.

“To begin with, we didn’t even have access to the architectural drawings besides some hand- drawn, legacy sketches from the 1970s. Because of this, we had to engage a Sydney based company to laser model the hall to produce 2D and 3D drawings, just to allow us to proceed with our work. This took three weeks, but having the dimensioned drawings was the only way we could move forward, other than having to draw them ourselves, from scratch.”

Issues with the old audio system were evident. Coman describes: “The audio in the Great Hall was inadequate for the room and unreliable. It was absolutely paramount that the audio issues be overcome since that was first and foremost the reason for the upgrade. Due to many complaints, external companies were usually hired to provide temporary solutions to overcome audio issues, but this was understandably unacceptable.”

Martin Audio line-array speakers and subwoofers have been chosen as the audio solution. These flank the main stage and provide audio for the Great Hall. Martin Audio amplifiers are employed as well. A QSC Core 500i DSP serves as the heart of the audio system. A range of Shure and Audio-Technica microphones are provided for the purpose of input.

Finding a spot for the line-array speakers was not simple and Coman narrates: “Our first audio design had the two large line-array speakers at the front and back of the hall with a column of sub-woofers on either side of the stage. We sent some of the 3D renders of the speaker design to the university who immediately rejected the sub- woofers being on stage due to aesthetic reasons. So we had to redesign the speaker configuration and fly them, hanging them behind the front- of-house line-array speakers, and the end result looked relatively unobtrusive.”

According to Australian building code requirements, hearing augmentation is provided by Williams Sound and Ampetronic products. Hard work was put in to ensure that the audio performance was of the highest possible quality. Coman details: “The space itself was awkward; it’s about 30m from front to back with a stepped ceiling. Some areas have 20m high ceilings and there is a combination of concrete, brick and timber surfaces. The 3D drawings allowed us to produce detailed audio mapping and models to determine speaker placement.”

Audio signal transmission over IP is accomplished via Dante. Keeping in mind the multi-functional nature of the Great Hall, Atterotech Dante wallplates and interfaces are also provided. This allows extra audio equipment brought in for special events to also be brought on to the network. An Allen & Heath mixer is used to manage inputs and outputs.

Coman says: “All the speakers, microphone inputs and outputs, hearing augmentation, digital signal processors, microphones, audio console – about 120 inputs and outputs – sit on the network and communicate with Dante.”

Brightly lit

The legacy video system of the University of Newcastle’s Great Hall comprises a 300- in projection screen mounted at the front of the room. On the left and right side at the halfway mark of the Great Hall are two smaller, supplementary rear projection screens. These screens were a specific pressure point.

Imperfect motorised retraction for the two supplementary screens, to stow them away when not in use, meant that the projected visuals would often be out of focus. In addition, air- condition gusts from nearby ducts would blow and cause the screens to move.

Coman talks about how these problems were rectified: “The new design replaced the front projection screen with a larger 340-in motorised screen from Screen Technics and added a new 31,000 lumens brightness Panasonic laser projector.” The environment in the Great Hall is well lit and the high brightness Panasonic projector was essential in ensuring the visuals would be properly seen.

Coman continues: “For the smaller supplementary screens, a transparent LED screen was used. This technology has every second row of LEDs omitted on a 10mm deep transparent PCB. The overall effect results in a translucent screen that is far less obtrusive when compared with a jet black or stark white projection screen. Thanks to an extremely small pixel pitch the screens provide exceptional quality images as well. Brightness is no issue either with settings having to be adjusted to one third of the potential full brightness.”

The Lymlive LED screens are powered by Novastar LED processors. The selection of the transparent LED screens highlights the attention InDesign Technologies pays to its projects and its craft. Coman says: “We first saw the transparent LED technology at InfoComm. While we didn’t have an application for it initially, we were always fascinated by it. A Sydney company manufactured a suitable product out of China and was engaged to design the solution. We requested a sample to take to the university for a demonstration to help them visualise the end result. Everyone loved it. In fact, the key decision maker came in and took one look at it and immediately said yes, let’s go ahead.”

The LEDs screens have been hung on the left and right side of the walls and required a special structure. New supports were designed to attach to the brickwork and concrete within the left and right walls while maintaining the optimum 70-degree angle of the original screens.

While this sounds simple, there were complications. Coman says: “The walls on the two sides were not the same as each other. One wall had a massive, stepped, concrete pillar extending out from where the screen needed to be located and that created further complications. But we eventually got to a suitable solution and added steel wire as a safety measure.”

Panasonic PTZ cameras are employed to record proceedings in the Great Hall. A full suite of connectivity via wallplates and floorplates has also been provided.

Streaming success

Having both audio and video signals transmitted over IP was a key consideration for this project. Coman says: “The transportation of video signals over the decade has changed significantly. Years ago it was analogue and then it was digital with DVI and HDMI etc., with a distance limitation of 5m. HDBaseT overcame this problem and as a result has been used extensively over the last seven years to transport video signals over long distances.”

But HDBaseT was not an option for this project as Coman says: “HDBaseT starts with a transmitter encoding the video signal into a proprietary format which is then transported over twisted pair cable to where transmitter decodes the signal into something usable like HDMI. While it uses the same cabling as an IT network it is not Internet Protocol (IP), it doesn’t stream – it is an uncompressed video signal, just in a different format - HDBaseT. It’s only in the last six months we’ve started to see video transportation move over to use IP streaming boxes.”

Crestron NVX was chosen to be the video over IP solution. Coman says: “University of Newcastle are a Crestron university and until now, they were using Crestron Digital Media as their HDBaseT transportation system. There were certainly risks for everyone involved in shifting over to the new NVX transportation platform, given that it hadn’t been used anywhere before. NVX did however provide an excellent opportunity to ‘test’ the product before rolling it out across the entire university. Unlike an HDBaseT system, which relies on centralised matrix switchers, the NVX system only requires a standard network switch to route signals.”

He summarises: “The end result was that every single device, no exceptions, runs off the network with Cisco switches. The only cable that has been used is shielded Cat6a – a first for us and one that will have profound impact on the way we design systems, moving forward.”

Overall, Coman identifies the tight time schedule as the greatest challenge faced while delivering this project. He says: “For us it was pressure, pressure, pressure the entire time. All the challenges that continued to pop up, robbed us of precious time. The deadline however was fixed, no allowances, no possibility to extend it. It was a complicated project reliant on so many moving parts – the equipment manufacturers, structural engineer, electrical engineers, electrical and comms tradespeople, AV installers, programmers and of course the integrity of our design.

“Being completely honest, we were doubtful it would happen on time. So many things had hindered our progress along the way but naturally we kept pushing. It still feels like a miracle that it all came together, on time.”

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