Published in August 2003

AV Serves Multiple Offices
By Jim Stokes

Allied Insurance’s regional offices and 3000 employees are served by audio and videoconferencing and other multimedia systems.

     When Allied Insurance Company opened its new, from-the-ground-up, multimillion dollar corporate headquarters in Des Moines recently, AV was an important facet of the overall project. Within the seven-story, 558,000-square-foot building space in Iowa’s downtown capital city, Allied’s new facility includes 52 multimedia rooms, which are encompassed by striking architecture and design. And this all makes for a pleasant, productive working environment for the 1600-plus people working there.
Allied, a member of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, has called Des Moines its corporate home since 1929. In addition to the advanced AV technology at the home office, Allied’s regional offices are served as well in Lincoln NE, Denver CO and Sacramento CA, via live audio and videoconfer-encing, and presentations. With a total workforce of 3000 nationwide, AV systems are used for not only distance conferencing but also meetings, crisis communication, emergency action plans, news and training purposes. In addition, videoconferencing takes place between Allied and Nationwide Insurance’s headquarters.
     With that overview in perspective, we will highlight the corporate headquarters AV systems, which include an executive boardroom, auditorium, cafeteria, fitness room, lobby, 23 training rooms, 18 conference rooms, company president’s rooms and community videoconferencing rooms.

Credits and Kudos
     The engineering consulting firm was KJWW, Des Moines; we spoke with Jeffrey Carpenter, EE, technology department manager. KJWW was the consulting firm for all the engineering systems in the Allied project, including mechanical and electrical as well as AV. Dascom Systems Group (DSG), Woodbury MN, was the integrator; we spoke with president Dan Takkunen and vice president Scott Apfelbacher. Allied collaborated with KJWW on the project. Takkunen was involved with the design and Apfelbacher and Takkunen worked together on planning and pricing the project. “From a consultant standpoint, Jeff [Carpenter] was wide open on product selection because he realized that integrators work with equipment on a daily basis,” said Takkunen.
“We were actually contracted through Baker Electric, the electrical contractor, in Des Moines,” explained Takkunen. “Baker Electric did all the conduit work and a lot of the cable pulling. Among Baker, the general contractor, the consultant and the customer [Allied], it was a really smooth project, especially for this size.” And on the customer side, Apfelbacher noted that Steve Rassmussen, the president of Allied, is technically knowledgeable. “He drove a lot of the AV design after he saw some of the changes,” said Takkunen.

Design Progression
     Indeed, “change” was the overall key word on the Allied project. According to KJWW’s Carpenter, “The time between the initial design and the construction was a pretty lengthy period. Our involvement in the planning stages started in 2000 then wrapped this year. From my standpoint, the most unique aspect was how the design progressed. Allied was very receptive to AV planning very, very early in the design. Since it’s a from-the-ground-up building, Allied thought about and included the audio/video design before the building was even constructed.”
     DSG was involved in the design process early on as well. “We sat down with the consultant and the people from Allied to determine that each of the rooms we were designing for them with the consultant met the criteria,” said Apfelbacher.
     “As with any customer, there were lots of changes and revisions after we were brought in, just because they had more time to think about it,” added Takkunen. “And it was more operator/user preferences or needs. Some things were added and changed to make it more usable for them.”
Carpenter observed that there were changes in transmission modes for AV conferencing, which is used extensively at Allied. “We saw a maturing of IP technology during the design,” he pointed out. “As time went on, there was a mixture of more conventional videoconferencing with IP-based videoconferencing.” Allied headquarters has both IP and ISDN transmission capabilities.

Executive Boardroom
     The executive boardroom’s main features include rear-screen projection, teleconferencing and videoconferencing. Access is via Crestron touchscreen control panel, as are most of the other AV-equipped rooms within this large install.
     Specifically, the 45x25-foot boardroom has a 30-foot-long meeting table with a highly reverberant granite countertop. And that’s an indication that this aesthetically pleasing space is “extremely tough for audio,” said Apfelbacher. “It took awhile for us to solve the audio problem.” Contributing to the bouncing sound as well as the room’s beauty, all the walls are mahogany and the big lights around the table are made of onyx. Despite the reverb, the room is designed to be a “very flexible boardroom for presentations.”
     “The original design called for some 16 mics spread around the table,” explained Apfelbacher. “Allied president Steve Rassmussen said, ‘Absolutely not! We’re not going to have all those holes in this beautiful countertop.’ That’s when we started to scramble.” In the search for a combination of good sound pickup and aesthetics, ceiling mics were also rejected, “although they would have worked fine, audiowise.”
     The solution to getting intelligible sound in this highly reverberant space was a group of three Audio-Technica AT854R boundary microphones strategically placed along the long meeting table. These mics effectively take the place of 12 single-element mics because the AT854R is comprised of four cardioid condenser mics within its “pod”-looking housing. In addition, the mic’s unobtrusive enclosure doesn’t detract from the business at hand. Altinex Tilt ‘N Plug interfaces were custom-mounted under the table and away from hitting people’s knees, allowing laptops to be plugged in.
     The boardroom is set up to bring in four different phone calls in teleconferencing via a ClearOne/Gentner XAP800 echo canceller/mixer. “What’s nice about the [XAP800] is the way you can program those units to build their own little bridge to the Crestron,” said Takkunen. “It’s like a commercial phone bridge.” Eight TOA 70-volt system ceiling speakers driven by a Biamp power amplifier provide sound reinforcement. “Biamp is reliable and has a nice line to select from when you’re using a lot of components in a system,” said Takkunen. Presentation audio comes from a Crown amplifier driving left/right Klipsch in-wall speakers.
     Other AV sources include a Sony DVD, Denon cassette deck, Sony VHS deck and a WolfVision digital document camera. Video projection is via Sanyo XGA, 5000 lumens rear-screen projection onto a Da-Lite screen.
     For videoconferencing, the boardroom has a Polycom VS4000 codec, with a Sony EVI D100 Sony video camera, built over the rear-screen projection in order to get a line-of-sight effect during conferencing. Thus, viewers at the other end get eye contact akin to professional video production.

 
Dascom Systems Group (DSG) was formed in 1995 by Scott Apfelbacher and Dan Takkunen. Headquartered in Woodbury MN, DSG has a full-time field-service staff located throughout the Midwest. The company mission is to provide turnkey video-system design and integration services to customers in the corporate, educational, broadcast, medical and judicial markets.
Since its inception, DSG has completed several projects successfully in excess of $1 million and is rapidly growing. “We’ve done more than 800 distance-learning rooms,” declared Apfelbacher. Services include system planning/consultation; system design of audio, video, control, transmission and ancillary services; system fabrication; on-site installation; and training and ongoing service.

Control, Switching
     A Crestron Pro2 frame with a TPS-5000 touchscreen provide equipment control. An RGB graphics card allows laptop computer images to be monitored on the touchscreen, while the XGA graphics are on the room’s large projection screen. Extron devices routed through the Crestron include a DVS 204 digital video scaler and a 10 Plus switcher.
     On a separate project, DSG installed an internal cable system at Allied using DirectTV as the source. The head end is comprised of Blonder Tongue modulators for the 24 channel system, and the satellite receivers are Philips. A Sony AM demodulator at the head end allows cable channel viewing via the rear-screened video projectors, which don’t have an RF input. Each of the executive offices has an RF cable input and a TV for picking up the business channels and Allied’s internal, nationwide network.

Other Areas
     Because it’s beyond the scope of this article to detail extensively all the other areas in headquarters, we’ll summarize or highlight those areas. By checking the accompanying equipment list quantities, readers will see quickly the equipment common to most areas, including such items as speakers, amplifiers, AV source players, interfaces and control systems. As specific examples, Sanyo projectors are always shown on a Da-Lite screen, and equipment is housed in Middle Atlantic racks.
     The 60x50 foot, Harvard-style-seating auditorium has an acoustically separated control room for AV tech operation. That control room houses a Sanyo 5000 lumens projector for front projection with a full, seven-foot Middle Atlantic rack. A Biamp power amplifier drives TOA ceiling speakers for audience coverage. The JBL Control 28 left/right stereo speakers are mounted at opposite ends of the screen.
     For the convenience of salesmen and other presenters, DSG installed laptop access through Altinex boxes on each side of the front row. The podium has an Altinex box as well, and a Shure gooseneck microphone. The auditorium has the same Crestron control system as the boardroom. Extron devices include a 7SC video switcher/scaler and an SW6 VGA/audio switcher. Crestron also controls the room’s Lutron lighting dimmers.

Cafeteria
     The 150x100-foot cafeteria has three different video viewing systems. As an amenity for the employees, an area is set aside to view programming on a Sony 61-inch high-definition-capable, rear-screen TV. Sound is provided by TOA ceiling speakers driven by a Biamp amplifier.
     Company presentation events are viewed on three, 42-inch Fujitsu plasma panels. For instance, when the company president addresses employees, he might project a spreadsheet on the plasmas. In addition to the Shure gooseneck mic on the podium, there’s the option of putting up to four wireless mics. TOA Scout Series wireless are available on an “as-needed” basis for the cafeteria as well as other rooms in the building. In addition, outdoor presentations are accommodated via a portable sound system using Bogen Near speakers.
     The third video viewing system is a Sanyo 5000 lumens front-projected system. Crestron control allows any or all of the three viewing systems to be accessed for programming or presentations. For instance, the Sanyo and plasmas can show bulletinboard information when not used for presentation.

Fitness Area, Lobby
     The fitness area features Sony 27-inch flat screen TVs with accompanying audio re-transmitted over Decade FM transmitters for reception over the exercisers’ personal receivers. The aerobics instructor uses a Sampson headset/mic. Visitors in the second-floor elevator lobby area can’t miss being informed via a 50-inch Fujitsu plasma equipped with a Tech Electronics schedule display.
     All training and conference rooms have a Sanyo 2600 lumens XGA front-throw projector. However, only the training rooms are accessed with a Crestron LC-1000 in-wall touchpanel. Apfelbacher noted that the unique aspect of the training area is that one large room is divided into two using a folding-wall option. By programming the Crestron, he explained, “If they opened the wall, they’d have speech reinforcement in all the ceiling speakers from both rooms from one source when the projectors were fed the same video source, so they could view it from both ends of the room.” A laptop or a document camera can be rolled into a room, as needed.
     The president has his own office and an adjoining conference room. His office is equipped with a Polycom Viewstation for videoconferencing, along with a Sharp 36-inch monitor. The president’s conference room, used for meetings with executive heads, has a Polycom Viewstation and a 42-inch Fujitsu highresolu-tion plasma monitor.
     Employees have available two videoconferencing rooms, each equipped with a Polycom Viewstation and two Sharp TVs. These rooms are used extensively for conferencing with other company satellite offices. As in most of the other rooms in the headquarters install, each room has a complement of a DVD, a VCR and TOA ceiling speakers.

Equipment
27 Altinex RGB interfaces
19 Altinex Tilt ‘N Plug Jr. tabletop interfaces
4 Altinex Tilt ‘N Plug Jr. dual tabletop interfaces
Audio-Technica AT851R mics
Audio-Technica AT854R mics
1 Biamp CMA120 120W mixer-amp
47 Biamp CMA30 30W mixer-amps
1 Biamp CPA650 dual 325W power amp
3 Bogen Near speakers w/70V XFRM
5 ClearOne/Gentner XAP800 echo
canceller/mixers with
TH1 telephone hybrids
25 Crestron integrated control systems
24 Crestron LC-1000 BriteTouch touchpanels
2 Crestron touchscreen control panels
1 Crestron docking station
1 Crestron RF transceiver
Crown D-45 power amps
1 Crestron RGB graphics card for Isys
TPS-6000, TPS-5000
44 Da-Lite 60"x80" Tensioned Advantage
Electrol electronic front-projection screens
1 Da-Lite 67.25"x50.5" Da-Glass rear screen
1 Da-Lite single-mirror Millennium RPM heavy-duty
fine-tuning projector cradle
4 Decade FM transmitters
28 Denon DRM-555P cassette decks
23 Extron MLS 506SA media switchers
1 Extron DVS 150 digital video scaler
1 Extron System 10 Plus switcher
1 Extron CrossPoint 88HVA matrix switch
1 Extron P/2 DA6 Plus video DA
2 Extron System 7SC video switcher/scalers
25 Extron interfaces and wall plates
Extron DVS 204 digital video scalers
Extron SW6 VGA, audio switchers
3 Fujitsu 42" 1024x1024 plasma monitors
1 Fujitsu P50XCA11UH 50" 1366x768 plasma panel
1 Fujitsu video card option for P50XC11UH
2 JBL Control 28-WH speaker w/mounts
24 Klipsch SCW-1 in-wall speakers (pair)
29 Middle Atlantic 27-space 19½" deep standalone
cabinet w/rear door
5 Peerless Jumbo 2000 mounts
1 Polycom VS4000 codec
2 Polycom Viewstation 128 codecs
3 Polycom network interfaces for above
4 Premier ceiling mounts, wall mount
44 Premier projector mounts
3 Sanyo PLC-XF20 XGA, 5000 lumens
projectors w/zoom lens
42 Sanyo PLC-XP40 XGA, 2600 lumens
6 Sharp 36UF500 36" flat-screen TVs
2 Shure MX412D/C gooseneck mics w/base
28 Sony DVPNS715P DVD players
1 Sony EVI-D100 integrated camera system
1 Sony KP61S75 61" projection TV
5 Sony KV-27FS13 27" Wega monitor/receivers
1 Sony KV-36FS13 36" Wega monitor/receivers
50 Sony SLVN99 VHS VCRs
1 Sony TU-1041 AM Demodulator,
181-channel tuning capability
1 Tech Electronics Axis TV Lite system
1 TOA P-906MK2 60W power amp
16 TOA Scout-L wireless mic bodypacks,
lapel mics, receivers
1 WolfVision VZ-8 portable digital document camera

Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry for more than 30 years and is a Sound & Communications Contributing Editor.

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