Published in May 2008

Breaking Down the Walls
By Dawn Allcot

USCís McKibben Hallís AV extends educationís reach.

One of te 14 million-disciplanry laboratories (MDLs).

By now, most AV industry pros are familiar with the capabilities of, and technology behind, distance learning. For many integrators, the primary challenge behind projects in this field is educating the customer and the end user (who are not always the same person, incidentally) about the best ways to take advantage of this cutting-edge technology without losing the personal touch that is so important in a classroom environment. Or, as Michael Pratt of Los Angeles CA-based Hoffman Video put it, “The technology shouldn’t get in the way of the material itself.”

Pratt is pleased to report that nearly 95% of all instructors in McKibben Hall, part of the University of Southern California’s (USC) Keck School of Medicine, have been receptive to the new AV and distance learning technology installed in the facility’s four lecture halls and 14 multi-disciplinary laboratories (MDLs). With up to 75 different professors using the rooms throughout the semester, a 95% acceptance rate is a huge success, according to Pratt.

Full Renovation

The installation, part of a full renovation of the Keck School of Medicine, located on the Health Sciences campus in Los Angeles, satisfies USC’s Distance Learning Mandate, which calls for “the implementation of technology which supports distance learning and collaborative environments serving students beyond the physical campus,” according to the installer.
The school is using the new technology for off-campus instruction, which permits USC to offer the Keck School experience and curriculum to students who don’t live near the school or don’t want to commute to the campus.

As USC enrollment increased, the school faced an important decision: Should it add buildings to accommodate the larger student body, or use technology to reach out beyond the school’s physical walls? Pratt said, “They decided to upgrade their technology and reach out to folks willing to pay for the USC instruction who don’t necessarily want to come to California. The distance learning technology attracts people who don’t want to live in LA, but want an education from USC.”

The Keck School also uses the technology to reach out to hospitals near and far. Top doctors in locales ranging from the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Medical Center to Asia work as intermediate instructors. “The technology allows [the staff] to reach out to areas they couldn’t before,” Pratt said. “They’re using the system to their advantage.”

Lecture Halls Of The Future

The lecture hall AV systems, which are standardized across all four of the lecture halls, include dual-screen displays, integrated control systems and a “smart instructor’s lectern/podium,” with a Crestron touchpanel that gives the instructor easy control over the presentation systems during lectures. The podium contains a WolfVision VZ-8plus portable Visualizer and Sony VCR/DVD player/recorder for multimedia presentations.

The systems in the room also incorporate traditional teaching tools, such as a whiteboard and writing tablet, so the instructor can make notes on top of a PowerPoint presentation. The instructor can connect his laptop to the systems for presentations.

One of the primary needs outlined by the client was that the systems be user-friendly and intuitive. The Crestron control panel on the podium makes it easy for any instructor to come in and set up a simple presentation. Extron equipment handles switching duties.

During distance learning applications, an operator sits in a control booth in the back of the room, permitting the instructor to focus his attention on teaching, rather than using the technology. Pratt cited the control systems, and the control booth, as one of the highlights of the project. “The Crestron PRO2 control system went a long way toward making the system work properly,” he said.

A Crestron touchpanel, along with 15-inch ViewSonic LCD monitors, allows the operator to control all distance learning and videoconferencing functions from the control booth.
Extron products were selected for audio and video switching. Each room uses a CrossPoint 300 128 HVA matrix switcher, an MAV Plus 88 SVA S-Video 8X8 matrix switcher for routing video and stereo audio, and two Extron RGB 109xi computer-video interfaces with Advanced Digital Sync Processing. The ADSP technology conditions sync signals for reliable operation with a variety of signal sources and display types; which makes it suitable for the wide range of sources used in the lecture hall.

The distance learning systems include a Tandberg 6000MXP Codec video system for digital transmission of all the signals, offering near-end to far-end videoconferencing with a videoconferencing feed going out across the network to one or multiple remote sites or classrooms across the USC campus. The MDLs are set up to receive a live or recorded feed from the lecture halls, as well.

A Sonic Foundry Mediasite RL440 rich media recorder permits the school to provide streaming video of lectures at a later date or for digital archiving. Processing is accomplished through a MediaMatrix by Peavey S-Frame 88 digital audio processor. The processors reside in a lower-level control room, and the MDLs can receive a feed from that location.
View from the rear of a lecture hall

Image Capture

Image capture for videoconferencing is accomplished through two Vaddio Sony BRC-300 cameras controlled by Crestron C2N-CAMIDJ digital joystick camera controllers located in the control booth at the back of the room. The cameras are mounted in the left and right back corners.

The presentation systems include two Epson EMP-8300NL PowerLite 8300i multimedia projectors, which project onto Stewart Filmscreen 120-inch tensioned screens on the front wall of the room, flanking the podium.

The lecture halls had no outside windows, so ambient light was not an issue for the installer. However, tiered ceiling in two of the theater-style, 75-seat lecture halls did create line-of-sight challenges. “The ceiling in the two first-floor lecture halls was angled in tiers,” Pratt explained, “which didn’t permit us to hang the projectors from the ceiling. However, the back of the room is elevated enough that the projected light path cleared students’ heads.” They mounted the projectors in a custom-built media console, which allowed them to maintain the necessary sightlines, achieve the correct projected light paths and fill the screens.

In these rooms, a long-throw lens was added to the Epson projector, and 150-inch Stewart screens were used instead of 120-inch models.

Acoustical Challenges

The tiered ceiling also created some acoustical challenges. “Sound gets trapped in the tiered ceilings if you’re not careful,” Pratt explained. However, soundproofing the ceiling tiles helped dampen the room and prevent echoes.

Hoffman installed Tannoy CMS8 TDC ceiling speakers across the room for voice reinforcement, and dual V8 wall speakers in the front corners for sound to accompany video presentations.
Working in an existing facility created several challenges for the integrator, as far as preserving the aesthetics of the room while seamlessly incorporating the technology into existing rooms.The architect, however, gave the integrator permission to change ceiling outlets and open walls to run conduit in order to ultimately preserve the room’s aesthetics. A key consideration was keeping the wires going into the podium off the floor, where instructors might trip over them, and off the ceiling, where they would hang in an unsightly manner. Hoffman ran boxes through the floor beneath the podium and to the control booth.
The Lecture Hall podium contains a portable camera and VCR/DVD player/recorder for multimedia presentations.

Inside The MDLs

While the lecture halls permit instructors to reach out behind the walls of the USC campus, the 14 multi-disciplinary labs provide a collaborative learning environment with networked multimedia capabilities. Content from the lecture halls and other locations on campus can be streamed into the MDLs through the MediaMatrix and controlled via the MDLs’ own Crestron MPS-100 multimedia switchers and C2N-FTP control centers.

Each of the MDLs features an Epson EMP 7900NL LCD projector and a diagonal tensioned screen from Stewart Filmscreen. A Sony VCR/DVD player/recorder is included.
Sound reinforcement is accomplished through 42 Tannoy Di6 DCT ceiling speakers spaced evenly throughout the room. Pratt said the client didn’t require a high-fidelity sound system in the room and the Tannoy brand had worked well in other, similar applications.

IT Rears Its Head

With extensive distance learning capabilities installed, the school required the appropriate network infrastructure to accommodate the new videoconferencing traffic traveling through cyberspace. Hoffman Video’s network integration partners worked with the school’s technical staff to ensure the network could handle the traffic. As more and more USC programs update their systems to fulfill the Distance Learning Mandate, the school will expand its network infrastructure.

Another key challenge to the project, according to Hoffman Video Systems, was the short timeframe in which it had to be completed. The renovation was sparked by a visit from members of the Liaison Committee on Medication Education (LCME), the accreditation authority for medical education programs. The recommended improvements and resulting renovation coincided with USC’s Distance Learning Mandate so, Pratt said, “The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
In addition to the new AV and distance learning technology, the renovation included conversion of existing space into restrooms, locker rooms, a student lounge and student services offices. Construction was completed by Lundstrom & Associates, while Donna Poole and Don MacDougal headed up the USC project team.

The architect, general contractor and Hoffman Video had only 11 weeks between teaching sessions to complete the entire renovation in all four lecture halls, and only eight weeks for the work in the MDLs. “We worked around the clock,” Pratt revealed. “Putting two or three shifts on one project can work pretty well sometimes.”

He added that it could not have been done, on time and within budget, without complete cooperation from all parities. “The coordination made a difference here. The general contractor, USC’s team and our project management team, which included project engineer Hector Rodas, are all to be commended.


Lecture Hall (quantities in each of four rooms)

2 Chief RPA-026 ceiling mounts (Epson projectors)
1 Crestron C2COM-3 expansion card
1 Crestron C2N-CAMIDJ digital joystick camera controller
1 Crestron PRO2 2-series integrated dual bus control system
1 Crestron TPS-12B tilt touchpanel
1 Crestron TPS-12L Isys wall mount touchpanel
2 Epson EMP-8300NL PowerLite 8300i multimedia projectors*
2 Epson EMP-8300NL PowerLite 8300i multimedia projectors
w/long-throw lens**
1 Extron BBG 6 A Blackburst/color bars/audio generator
1 Extron CrossPoint 300 128 HVA matrix switcher
1 Extron MAV Plus 88 SVA S-video 8x8 matrix switcher
2 Extron RGB 109xi computer-video interfaces
1 Forbes Model #8448 deluxe multimedia console
4 Furman PS-PRO II power conditioners/sequencers
2 Marshall V-R563P rackmounted 3LCD panels
1 MediaMatrix by Peavey X-Frame 88 digital audio processor
1 Middle Atlantic DR-12 desktop rail rack
4 Middle Atlantic SRSR-4-21 sliding rail systems
1 Panasonic AG-MX70 digital AV mixer
1 QSC CX168 8-channel audio amp
1 Sennheiser SI 30 IR modulator
1 Sennheiser SZI 30 IR radiator
1 Shure MX418D Microflex desktop mic
1 Shure ULXP124/58 wireless mic system
1 Sonic Foundry Mediasite RL440 rich media recorder
1 Sony RDR-VX555 VCR/DVD recorder
2 Stewart Filmscreen VE150V 150" diagonal tensioned screens*
2 Stewart Filmscreen VE120 120" diagonal tensioned screens**
1 Tandberg 6000MXP Codec video system codecs
12 Tannoy CMS8 TDC ceiling speakers
2 Tannoy V8 wall speakers
2 Vaddio Sony BRC-300 cameras
2 ViewSonic VA503b 15" LCD monitors
1 WolfVision VZ-8plus portable Visualizer
Multidisciplinary Rooms
(quantities per each of 14 rooms)
1 Chief RPA-024 ceiling mounts
(Epson projector)
1 Crestron C2N-FTB flip-top control center
1 Crestron MPS-100 multimedia switcher
1 Epson EMP-7900NL LCD projector
1 Forbes Model #8735 custom rack furniture
1 Furman PS-PRO II power conditioners/
1 Middle Atlantic BRK-12 wooden
equipment rack
1 Sony RDR-VX555 VCR/DVD recorder
1 Stewart Filmscreen VE100VST13W-12-2-2
100" diagonal tensioned screen
3 Tannoy Di6 DCT outdoor speakers


Hoffman Video Systems

A family-owned company since 1941, when H. Leslie Hoffman launched Hoffman Electronics Corporation as a manufacturer of AM radios, Hoffman Video Systems has evolved to remain on the cutting edge of audiovisual technology. “Whether it was in 1952 with the color television, or in 2008 with a high-definition tele-presence room installation, the company stays on top of the trends,” stated director of marketing Linda Green.

Hoffman has been especially active in trends related to distance learning and teleconferencing. Last year, the company hosted an education event called “The Classroom of the 21st Century,” with a demo room transformed into a mock classroom and five end users discussing distance learning technology trends. Appropriately for an event centered on distance learning, 170 people registered to attend “virtually,” via the web.

The company recently installed multimedia systems at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles CA, and regularly completes installations for USC. Hoffman isn’t limited, by any means, to higher education clients, however. The AV integrator designs and installs control rooms, videoconferencing, multimedia, streaming media, security and broadcast/professional video systems in houses of worship, auditoriums, corporate environments, government facilities, entertainment, sports and hospitality venues and more.

Green noted the company’s strong commitment to Los Angeles and surrounding communities, reflected in Hoffman’s extensive client list, which includes the Ventura County 911 Emergency Call Center, the Art Center of Pasadena and USC’s Galen Center.

Hoffman prides itself on its internationally recognized design and build process, deemed the Four-Wall-In (4WI) Approach. “The concept is: give us four walls and we’ll build out the space,” Green explained.

This approach works because, according to the company website, “The proper system solution is not just the right configuration of electronic components: It is the integration of electronics, the surrounding environment and human factors of those who work within the four walls of the project.”

For additional information, go to

Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer specializing in the audiovisual and health and fitness industries.

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