UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE
GREAT HALL AUDIO VISUAL UPGRADE


CASE STUDY
  • Great Hall: Previous Installation
  • Great Hall: Previous Installation
PROJECT TITLE

Project Name: University of Newcastle Great Hall
Start Date: 26th June 2017
Completion date: 26th October 2017
Approximate Value: AUD1.35 million (ex GST)
Integrator: Xcite Audio Visual
Consultant / Project Manager: InDesign Technologies – Peter Coman and Livia Renhe
UON Representatives: Paul Berude, Kevin Knox, Mark Gillespie, Ann Walters, Liz Burd

OVERALL SUMMARY

The University of Newcastle’s Great Hall is a significant landmark building on the University’s Callaghan campus located in the western suburbs of Newcastle, NSW. The construction of the Great Hall in the early 1970s has a strong connection to the local community, being funded largely by the community who “bought a brick” to build the Great Hall.

This building is multi-functional and used by the University and the Newcastle community for a wide variety of functions ranging from formal University graduations, public performances, sit down dinners, open days, community events as well as teaching & learning activities.

The Audio-Visual Infrastructure upgrade was focused around providing a significant improvement in audio and video quality and reliability within the Great Hall.

The end result achieved that and more. It’s exible, scalable and supports the University’s teaching, learning and community outreach activities.

While we are incredibly grateful to have been involved in the project, it certainly wasn’t easy, and it put us and everyone else involved with it, to the challenge. But despite the myriad of setbacks, we all managed to deliver the seemingly unthinkable on time. And the best part is… The University of Newcastle is ecstatic with the final result.
 

CLIENT BRIEF & REQUIREMENTS

  • To deliver a significant improvement in 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

  • Convert the current analogue system to a fully digital solution built on Audio Visual over IP technology

  • To provide an Audio Visual solution that’s flexible, scalable and able to support the wide variety of functions that the Great Hall hosts
 

DESCRIPTION OF AREAS/SYSTEM

The Great Hall is the largest function room on campus. Featuring a stepped auditorium ceiling, the facility provides a large stage that can accommodate a full Symphony Orchestra.

Rooms in scope:

  • Great Hall (including – Bio Box, Crying Room, Back of Stage)
  • Foyer
  • Green Room
  • Equipment Room

Size: 915 m2 | Capacity – Total seating of 1,231 (includes 448 tiered seats and 783 removable auditorium seats)

Features:

  • Grand piano and organ
  • Spotlights and stage lights
  • PA system, Radio and lectern microphones
  • Hearing aid loop
  • Data projection facilities
  • Network connection
OBJECTIVES, CHALLENGES, TROUBLESHOOTING

In being engaged to design and project manage the solution, the single biggest challenge we faced was a lack of time. There was 4 months to design, gain approval, tender, procure, install and commission the system. To begin with, we didn’t even have access architectural drawings, except some hand-drawn legacy sketches from the 70s. 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 setup our drawings. This alone took 3 weeks, but having the dimensioned drawings was the only we could move forward, other than having to draw it ourselves, from scratch.

Audio

The audio 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 so many complaints, external companies were usually hired to provide temporary solutions to overcome audio issues, but this was understandably unacceptable.

The space itself was awkward; it’s about 30m from front to back with a stepped ceiling. Some areas have 20 metre high ceilings and there’s a combination of concrete, brick and timber surfaces. The 3D drawings allowed us to do detailed audio mapping and models in order to determine speaker placement. Thanks to the extremely high ceilings though, we had no idea of the building structure that was concealed in the ceiling space and what we could secure and hang equipment from. That’s when we remembered that Google is our friend and we managed to find some old black and white photos of the hall being built, which revealed ceiling structure and plenty of steel beams. We had hundreds of kilograms of equipment to hang from the ceiling, the speakers alone were 200kgs each so we engaged a structural engineer to examine the facility and tell us what we could and couldn’t attach to – which took several weeks.

Our first audio design had the 2 large line-array speakers at the front and back of the hall, with a column of sub-woofers on either side on the stage. We sent some 3D renders of the speaker design to the University who immediately rejected the sub-woofers being on stage for aesthetic reasons. So we had to redesign speaker configuration and conceal them; hanging them behind the front-of-house line array speakers, and the end result looked relatively unobtrusive. Additionally with the speakers being so large, the amplifiers to drive them were no different. There were 9 high powered amplifiers each requiring a 32 amp feed – that’s nearly a 300amp feed required to power the amplifiers alone, and we haven’t even accounted for the extra power required to feed the projectors, LED screens and equipment in the rack. Given that switchboard hadn’t been upgraded since it was originally built, it didn’t have the capacity to power these new devices so new sub-mains had to be brought into the building along with new power distribution boards – more time and more delays.

Video

The original system consisted of a 300” projection screen mounted at front of the room. Halfway back on the left and right were two smaller, supplementary rear projection screens. These screens had motorised retraction and a pivoting arm to extend them into position; however they wouldn’t consistently move into the same position, regularly causing images to be out of focus. Additionally, the ducted air con would blow onto the screens causing distracting movement. The projected images also lacked intensity as the projectors weren’t bright enough for the ambient light levels within the hall.

The new design replaced the front projection screen with a larger 340” motorised screen and added a new 31,000 lumen Panasonic Laser projector – creating an amazing image despite the well- lit environment. For the smaller, supplementary screens, a transparent LED screen was used. This technology has every 2nd row of LEDs missing on a 10mm deep transparent PCB – the overall effect equals a translucent screen that’s far less obtrusive than a jet black or stark white screen, when not in operation. But thanks to an extremely small pixel pitch it provides an exceptional quality image as well. Brightness is no issue either; with settings have to be adjusted to 1/3 of its potential brightness.

We first saw the technology at Infocomm. While we didn’t have an application initially, we were always fascinated by it and paid it plenty of attention. A Sydney company who manufactured a suitable product out of China was engaged to design the solution. We requested a sample to take to the university to do a demonstration to help them visualise the end result. The sample was 2m high x 1 wide. They demoed it and everyone loved it. In fact the key decision maker came in and took one look at it, immediately saying yes, let’s go ahead.

The LEDs screens had to hang from the wall on left and right side of the walls, requiring a special structure to facilitate this. We designed these new supports 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, the walls 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. With the weight of the projector being 140kg, we were unable to simply mount the projector where we wanted. As previously mentioned, the timber ceilings hid any indication of ceiling structure and we weren’t permitted to get up and there and physically sight it for ourselves. So again, we had to consult with the structural engineer to determine where the projector could be attached in the ceiling space and design a special mounting pole and bracket to hang the projector. Additionally, there was asbestos in the ceilings, and we didn’t have the time or the money to have it removed so we had to ensure our solutions kept tradespeople safe from the toxic material.

Signal Transportation

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 5 meters. HDBaseT overcame this problem and as a result has been used extensively over the 7 years to transport video signals over long distances. 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 6 months we’ve started to see video transportation move over to use IP streaming boxes. In fact Crestron only released their IP streaming boxes known as the Digital Medium NVX Series System in August, 2017.

We were engaged to start the design on June 26th and the project had to be finished on the 6th October 2017. We knew that Crestron were going to be releasing the product, so the design was based on using it. This deployment of NVX would have the first of its kind in Australia, and it’s probably the largest roll out of NVX in the world (at time of completion).

Full credit goes to Kevin Knox, who works for UON and leads the IT/AV team and pushed to incorporate this new technology in the hall upgrade. UON 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. It did however provide an excellent opportunity to ‘test’ the product before rolling it out across the entire university. Unlike a HDBaseT system, which relies on centralised matrix switchers, the NVX system only requires a standard network switch to route signals.

In relation to audio signals, Dante was used to transport them. Dante is an audio transportation protocol used for IP networks. It was developed by an Australian company called Audinate and is now the global standard for audio over IP. All the speakers, microphone inputs and outputs, hearing augmentation, digital signal processors, microphones, audio console – about 120 inputs and outputs all sit on the network and communicate with Dante. Even the wireless microphones were Dante and by designing the system like this, allowed us to utilise an inherently unknown feature of the microphones – typically each wireless microphone has a receiver that it connects back to, which is then cabled back to the digital signal processor (DSP). With this system however, one receiver can actually handle up to 8 wireless microphones – making the addition of further microphones easy.

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 Cat 6a – a first for us and one that will have profound impact on the way we design systems, moving forward.

Equipment Storage

Another challenge we faced was finding a suitable location to store the equipment. There was a store room that already contained a small rack; it had no air conditioning but was a good size. The previous University AV manager however, said it would be impossible to get the new cabling there and given that the entire system would now sit on the network, we needed a significant amount of new twisted pair cabling run. So we made the decision to use that room and do whatever it took to get the new cabling installed. NVX and Dante only required a 1GbE network so technically we only needed unshielded Cat 6 cabling run. However, in the interest of ‘future proofing’ (and covering our ass) we ran Cat 6A shielded, which would provide up to 10GbE . The fact that it was shielded, would also allow us to go back to a HDBaseT platform, if for whatever reason this new system didn’t work – after all, it was an untried and untested system from our perspective.

Control

Everything in the project was bespoke. NBX had never been installed before, so the programmer was suddenly trying to work out how to control and transport IP streams verses traditional HDBaseT. There were LCD control screens and input and output plates dispersed throughout the entire hall and adjoining rooms, which presented challenges to making the entire system user friendly. The programmer however, came up with a unique 3D style graphical representation of the hall which made the system surprisingly easy to use.

Budget

The original budget for this project was $600,000 but as the design progressed it was easy to see this was unrealistic – the LED screens alone were $250,000 the projector was $150,000, the audio alone was around $500,000. So we went back to the University with a more realistic total of 1.3 million dollars – more than double the original budget. Thankfully, UON were understanding. They wanted / needed to fix the problem and not have another poorly designed solution again; so they found the additional resources to do it properly. This created the next problem – a short amount of time for procurement. The speakers were specialised and the Australian distributor doesn’t keep speakers of that calibre in stock. So we had to source them from the manufacturer in the UK, however when Martin audio were contacted, they gave an initial delivery date of December – 2 months after the finished date. With a little pressure and the possibility that the design would have to be changed to a different manufacturer, they manufactured them and had them flown over to meet the deadline. The LED screens had to be manufactured to suit in China and were flown over as well and arrived 2 days before handover.

Pressure Cooker

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. It’s also hard to believe that despite everything being designed, installed, programmed and commissioned in a hurry, it all just worked. All the bespoke mounting systems installed flawlessly, equipment functioned exactly how it was designed to, programming was virtually flawless and which made troubleshooting non-existent – to our absolute disbelief. Additionally the quality of workmanship that the installers maintained given the constraints was mind-blowing and an absolute credit to them. Everything from the cable looms, to the labelling and mounting exceeding our expectations (which is tough to do).

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS

Let’s not beat around the bush, realistically our designs consume resources from the environment. And when designing a solution like this, it’s difficult to prioritise careful consideration for how products are manufactured and how they impact on the environment, when the focus is on the client’s requirements and expectations first.

Of course, we always aim to use products that have an increased product life and reduce energy consumption over time. We always use LEDs for lighting and LCDs to limit fluorinated greenhouse gas emissions. Laser projectors are favoured not only thanks to their functionality but they’re also resource light and don’t have any lamps to replace, PIRs shut a room down when it’s not in use as well as programming and energy management being incorporated into scheduling activities. But you can only do so much and we feel it’s not enough to offset the impact we have.

That’s why we support Carbon Neutral. Carbon Neutral is a carbon solutions provider and Australia’s major biodiverse reforestation offset developer.

With our financial support, they help organisations like us, across Australia and beyond, to minimise our impact on the environment through their Plant-a-tree program.

To date, carbon Neutral have planted over 22 million mixed native species, trees and shrubs across 11,700 hectares in the Yarra Yarra biodiversity corridor. There’s a profound link between tree planting and taking a positive action to help the environment and while planting is localised in Australia the benefits of planting more trees on our planet extends to everyone in this world.

Also, since we do a lot of work in education we also believe it’s important to give back to the kids who don’t freely have access education like we do in the Western word. That’s why we also support Pencils of Promise – which is a ‘for purpose’ organisation that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.

So one child and one tree at a time, we are making a positive difference.

“With a can-do attitude, 10 months of meticulous planning and an install period of 18 days, the University of Newcastle made a generational upgrade to the AV facilities in its Great Hall. The ageing and unreliable analogue solution was transformed into a world-class, modern, digital solution befitting of the cultural significance of the Great Hall to the University and local community.

Just two days after installation, a UON Children’s University Graduation ceremony was successfully conducted. This event fully utilised the new AV capabilities which were on show to University senior executives, and the local community. The success of this event has proven that the solution is able to meet the objectives set by key stakeholders.

The UON project team from IT Services worked closely with our partners including InDesign Technologies, Xcite Audio Visual, Crestron and Technical Audio Group (TAG) to deliver this exciting project that will bring long term benefits to the University’s students, staff, alumni and the local community for many years to come.”Ann Walters, Associate Director, Client Services, University of Newcastle