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Systems Integrators Demystify Advancements in Facility Design

Tech breakthroughs create 'smart buildings'

“System integration” may seem a rather bland term, but it describes a vital function. System integration increasingly is important to the design or updating of group audiovisual facilities such as conference rooms, auditoriums, command-and-control and training centers as well as video conferencing and distance communication hubs.

The technological advances associated with today’s AV system integration can be complicated, which is why hiring a system integrator might be a good idea. What if an AV manager tasked with upgrading a conference room
wants everything to be HD-compatible? At the same time he wants everyone with an iPad to have a connection?

AMX’s Epica DGX 144 “That is the conversation that initializes a project; and from that, integrators can decide what to do,” said Spike Jones, associate vice president of business development for Communications Engineering Inc. (CEI). “System integration is all about providing solutions. [It is] a process driven by customer needs and resolved with the application of appropriate technology design and implementation.

“Integrators are in the marketplace everyday looking at solutions and new technology that we know our customers can use to run their businesses,” said Jones. “Knowing what’s out there and how to use it are key reasons for hiring an integrator.”

There have been some breakthrough changes in the way AV facilities are being designed in recent years. System integrators are creating cutting-edge masterpieces using equipment that allows for true assimilation of AV systems, including the creation of what is, in effect, a “smart building.”

“Trends in larger switching platforms lend themselves well to enterprise-wide systems,” says Mark Grassi, the senior design engineer for CEI, which is based in Newington, Va. “This allows AV technology to really become a centralized asset to an organization.”

CEI has worked with several government agencies to provide them with full-building control and automation as a complement to their AV systems, according to Grassi. Systems as disparate as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning to lighting, asset management and physical security can be controlled and managed with a touch panel.

“Fiber is becoming very popular as it is more secure, reliable and can transport more data with less cabling, which means less cost,” he said. In addition, fiber is future-proof, making it the “smart choice” for AV infrastructure.

“Outside connectivity for video conferences, shared resources between rooms and the capture of meetings for Web distribution and archives are becoming increasingly significant components of modern AV design,” he said. “[Those] resources are almost always best managed in a centralized environment.”

Not many years ago, using fiber for connections between a central equipment room and a conference room required a multitude of individual boxes and converters on each end of every circuit, according to the integrators. But that has changed.

PESA’s Cheetah 144NE Fiber Router The good news is that many of today’s medium and large digital routers have configurable fiber and electrical input/output (I/O), which makes implementing a fiber wiring plan even more sensible and cost-effective, Jones said. “Eliminating a series of one-function components that cost money, take up rack space, generate heat and have to be configured with significantly more-capable core routing, drives down project cost and speeds project completion.”

The timely confluence of rising demand for shared AV resources, larger routers at lower cost and the move towards “recording everything” is driving the trend towards more-centralized AV switching facilities, according to Jones.

Clearly AV designers are adopting more fiber-enabled switching and transmission products made by manufacturers such as AMX, Crestron, Evertz, Extron, PESA and PureLink.

PureLink’s 36×36 DVI Matrix Router The AMX Epica DGX 144 is a modular fiber-optic matrix switcher able to transport uncompressed video, embedded audio and one-way control up to 3,000 feet away over single-strand multimode fiber, according to the company. DGX technology enables signal conversion between digital and analog signals whether needed at the source, the switch or the destination.

PESA said its Cheetah 144NE Fiber Router is a high-performance, modular, fiber-optic switch system for routing HD-SDI and 3G-SDI video in ProAv or broadcast applications. It is expandable in sizes from 36×36 up to 144×144 inputs/outputs in the same 4RU frame. The Cheetah 144NE Fiber is a modular design featuring eight I/O slots and each unit supports up to 36 fiber-optic connections using standard LC-type fiber SFP modules. Once configured, it can be controlled from the PESA control system or any third-party control system.

The PureLink 36×36 DVI Matrix Router has a single-link data rate of 1.65 Gbps and supports a graphics display resolution of up to WUXGA at 60 Hz, according to the firm. It includes Flexible extended display identification data (EDID) management. EDID is what enables a personal computer to know what type of monitor is connected to it.

Crestron’s 32×32 DigitalMedia Matrix Switcher “Twisted pair” technology remains important to system integration because that option means less cabling. The basic idea of twisted-pair cabling—which was invented by Alexander Graham Bell—is a type of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together for the purposes of canceling out electronic interference from external sources.

Twisted-pair cabling “is a very elegant way to move audio, video, power and control over a single cable,” said Jim Hatcher, chief technology officer for Human Circuit of Gaithersburg, Md. Human Circuit adds that it finds Crestron’s Digital Media and Extron Electronics’ XTP especially useful pieces of equipment.

The Crestron 32×32 DigitalMedia Matrix Switcher provides low-latency video and audio switching; HD multi-room signal distribution; integrated Ethernet networking; and USB human interface device (HID) distribution for “complete connectivity,” according to the company. Crestron control is built in to alleviate additional wiring. The device is field-configurable to handle up to 32 AV sources.

Extron Electronic’s XTP CrossPoint 3200 Series Extron Electronics’ XTP CrossPoint 3200 provides flexible, reliable digital and analog video switching and distribution between local and remote endpoints. This modular matrix switcher is configurable from 4×4 up to
32×32 using a wide variety of available input and output boards. It sends high-resolution video, audio, RS-232, and Ethernet up to 330 feet over a single CAT 5-type cable to remote XTP transmitters and receivers. The XTP CrossPoint 3200 also supports direct HDMI, DVI, VGA, video, and audio connections to local sources and displays.

As facilities age, many agencies look to retrofit older analog systems, but Hatcher cautions against keeping too much of the old.

“The expectation with teleconferencing participants is that images will be in high definition on screens with a 16:9 aspect ratio,” Hatcher said. Such expectations make having the means to connect a laptop to a facility’s system increasingly essential.

In addition, Hatcher identifies a growing preference for large, less costly LCD screens over projector systems, which can requiremore upkeep.

There is also a preference for free services such as Skype, except where security is essential. That trend is challenging to traditional teleconferencing hardware.

“Eighty percent of the teleconferencing rooms that we build have some sort of component like Skype,” he said.

Biamp Systems’ Tesira SERVER IO SPANNING AV
Still moving through the development stage, but considered by many to have the potential to be the “next big thing,” is audio video bridging (AVB) technology, which can send a great deal of audio and video over an Ethernet connection. An indication of the technology’s acceptance is that a consortium is developing AVB common technical standards.

One product considered capable of providing AVB applications for very large venues, stadiums, arenas or large conference-room situations is Biamp Systems’ Tesira SERVER IO, according to Human Circuit. The Tesira SERVER IO offers flexibility in scalable digital signal processing (DSP) and I/O in the same device. It supports up to 12 Standard Tesira I/O cards for up to 48 channels of audio I/O. The Tesire SERVER IO is configurable with one 420×420 channel AVB-1 card or one AVB-1 card and one or two 32×32 channel SCM-1 Cobranet cards.

Despite the growing array of manufacturers producing AVB product, the jury is still out on AVB, Hatcher said. Adds Jones: AVB “holds great promise, but there will have to be a widespread rollout of products.