Integrator All Access, Inc., of Littleton CO, spent more than a year working with the State of Colorado 18th Judicial District in Centennial CO to design a dependable and robust courtroom AV system that had the capability of being changed with last-minute notice. The courtroom is located in Arapahoe County, which has the distinction of being Colorado’s first county.
Arapahoe County was named for the Arapaho Indian tribe, one of the larger tribes of plains Indians. In 1861, when Kansas became a state, Colorado was made a territory, with Arapahoe County one of the 17 original counties. Even though Arapahoe County did not reach the foothills, the streams running from the mountains supplied water.
As settlers came in and took up lands on the eastern portions of the state, new counties were created and then cut down to their present size. In 1848, gold prospectors on their way to California stopped in Colorado long enough to pan its streams. The first gold in the state was discovered in the county.
All Access, Inc. (www.allaccessinc.com), key personnel included Manager/Engineer Mike Carlson, who provided design and programming, and Jake Koblos was lead installer. Mike Wisniewski, Colorado Network Cabling (CNC, www.coloradonc.com) of Golden CO was the data wire subcontractor.
Taking a perspective of working with the courts, Carlson noted that the courts have been trying to convert as many rooms as they can with the same Biamp AudiaFLEX and QSC amplifiers. “I estimate we have done 18 or 20 rooms so far in four courthouses with audio systems. However, this present install is the first system we did using the SVSI network video solution. And we’ve gotten quite a few calls from people inquiring about other courtrooms.”
All Access was asked to design/build an evidence presentation system for the State of Colorado 18th Judicial District. “We had multiple meetings with the customer about their needs,” said Carlson. “I was literally making changes three hours before the first use of the new system for a trial.
“We originally looked at a traditional AV matrix system. That hard-wired system would have been difficult to reconfigure at the last minute, if needed. It’s not very user friendly. If you have to do touch programming and touch a screen on the fly, you’re going to be hurting. And there are multiple changes that happen throughout trials.”
After looking at multiple systems, the integrator decided that the SVSI networked AV system using standard IP networking would be the most versatile, cost-effective solution for this project. “In contrast to a hard-wired system,” Carlson noted, “I came in on a lunch break, changed my programming and got out within half an hour.”
Specifically, the N2000 series encoder/decoder was chosen after the integrator conferred with SVSI. “The key thing was to look at not just one courtroom but the whole system,” explained Carlson. “It has to have the ability to add a network cable and, with a little bit of programming, to add any [additional] room, to have up to 10 gigs of available space.
“The SVSI encoders come in different forms. It’s the encoders that eat up your bandwidth. You have the N1000 series, which has a very low latency, but uses a lot more bandwidth, so you have to run about 800MB. Right there, you’ve used up 1 gig of your 10 gigs. So we ended up using the N2000 series, which gave us a lot more room on the networks. We could add a lot more devices. You can have as many decoders as you want.”
The project required that All Access provide an isolated, secure network. “We used the recommended Cisco network switches and Tyco Electronics 50 Micron OM3 multimode fiber between switches,” continued Carlson. “This provides the system with up to 10 gigs of encoder traffic. The system was protected with a 1000VA UPS.”
The evidence presentation system includes an encoder on each of the defense and prosecution tables. The encoders provide the defense and prosecution with a 1080p AV input to the network. The defense and prosecution staff have decoders connected to a monitor at their individual desks, which they can use to preview the presentation before making it live to the viewers. “This was found to be useful because of the multiple video formats in which evidence was recorded and the format could be adjusted if needed prior to presenting live,” said Carlson.
Specifically, the defense and prosecution each have an Aspire laptop for previewing evidence. “We give them a couple of buttons so they don’t accidentally send something up,” said Carlson. “And they have the ability to quickly turn off the feed if they make a mistake.” In addition, there are two Lenovo ThinkPads. One is for the court staff member and the other sits back at the headend Chatsworth rack closet where programming changes can be made and the matrix network can be viewed.
The 50’Wx80’D courtroom is equipped with a Sharp 80-inch monitor directly across from the jury, Sharp 60-inch monitor behind the jury, Sharp 60-inch monitor behind the clerk, Samsung 19-inch monitor on the witness stand and an Element 24-inch monitor at the judge’s bench. Peerless-AV mounts were used for all monitors, which were customer provided.
“It’s interesting that the prosecution requested a monitor behind the jury [for a specific case],” said Carlson. “At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Then I saw that the whole idea related to presenting evidence: The jury views an 80-inch monitor across the room, while the prosecution or the defense would be viewing a monitor behind the jury while addressing them, without having to awkwardly turn around to figure out where they’re at.”
All of the monitors have a decoder providing a 1080p video signal and stereo audio. For that case, the audio was disabled at the monitors except for a judge evidence preview that could be selected by the prosecution or the defense. This gives the ability to present new digital evidence to the judge prior to presenting it to the courtroom. The judge has easy access to vital audio functions located in a small Middle Atlantic rack underneath his desk. Thus, the rack has Biamp DSP and amplifier controls so quick adjustments can be made, such as mic levels and feedback elimination. There’s also a Chatsworth rack in a nearby closet. It includes all the Cisco switches, UPS and the customer’s CCTV controls.
“In addition, there’s an onsite engineer/technician who could walk personnel through a task,” said Carlson. “And then, we could also remote in to the Biamp programming and the SVSI programming. I can do it from my cell phone.”
The judge has a pair of Sony headphones to listen privately to the evidence being presented. The audio is controlled by a separate decoder connected to the DSP, giving the ability to have total control of the audio in the courtroom. One issue that arose was when presentations were being switched from one device to another, which would cause a pop in the audio system. The fix was to use the DSP compressor on the AV presentation input to squash the pop.
The evidence presentation system can be sent to multiple overflow rooms in the courthouse. These rooms, which seat about 300 people, are used for jury overflow and other events, as well. The ability to roll in a 60-inch monitor as needed to a room gives the customer flexible use of the room. All that was needed was a network connection to the Cisco switch. Specifically, the overflow rooms are accommodated with Sharp 60-inch monitors on Peerless SmartMount flatpanel carts.
“The programming of the SVSI N8002 controller was a challenge at first, but was simplified when SVSI went to a Java format,” said Carlson. “One feature we really liked about the N8002 controller was the ability to view and control a matrix of the system’s encoders and decoders via a web browser. This was very helpful when troubleshooting the programming.”
Mic Fix Up
Regarding audio challenges, Carlson related, “I recognized that, when people were speaking into the microphone, they were listening to the speaker above them and not getting a reference from the room of their volume. This was a major issue with the courtroom audio,” said Carlson. “Most of the time, you would find the witness backing off from the microphone in intimidation of the volume, and the court staff would then try turning up the volume until feedback resulted.
“The challenge was, ‘How do we remedy this?’ We first removed the court staff’s ability to adjust the system. We felt that the court staff should not have to be sound engineers. Tuning the system with a versatile DSP would give us a hands-off approach.”
Therefore, the Biamp AudiaFLEX DSP is programmed with a five-band parametric EQ and a feedback suppressor per input. And the matrix is configured so the microphones are sent to all the speakers except the one above the microphone. This gives the ability to use omnidirectional microphone capsules. The QSC amplifier has eight 70-volt outputs and is used to separate the courtroom into speaker zones served by 13 Atlas speakers. Areas include judge, witness, prosecution, defense, podium, jury, gallery and IR listening device. “By breaking the speakers out into eight listening zones, we found that the microphone volume could be increased because the people speaking have a room reference of their spoken volume,” said Carlson. “By using an omnidirectional microphone, the person speaking does not have to be right over the microphone. In fact, the microphone is sensitive enough to be pointed at the ceiling and still provide proper amplification.”
An additional advantage of using DSP is the ability to generate pink noise and send it to speakers, providing a sound mask for bench conferences. This is controlled by the RED-1 remote controller at the judge’s bench. “This is a great device: simple for the end user and simple to program,” Carlson remarked. “However, conversations are still being recorded with an AKG surface-mount microphone on the judge’s bench.”
Here’s a rundown of other microphones in the courtroom. In addition to the AKG boundary, there are two AKG push-to-talks. “We went with AKG here because the mic has a physical button you have to push and hold down to speak,” explained Carlson. “By doing that, all conversations at the table not meant to be heard are kept private. And it keeps the courtroom noise down.”
Shure mics include four encrypted wireless for secure evidence, and three Microflex goosenecks for the judge, the witness stand and the podium.
The system started as an evidence presentation system, but soon required the ability to control the existing in-courtroom CCTV connection. The CCTV connection provides multiple feeds throughout the building via SDI output from the customer-provided Panasonic HD camera in the courtroom. The first task was to provide a high-definition media link to the roof where the media can wirelessly send signal to trucks in the parking lot. The second task was to allow the court staff to turn off the CCTV when the court is not in session. The third task was to give the court staff the ability to turn off the CCTV link to the overflow rooms when court is not in session. This was achieved by taking the HDMI output off the Panasonic camera, encoding the signal and providing decoders at the overflow room monitors, as well as a decoder to the media link on the roof.
Carlson noted that the roof Cat5e 292-foot cable run was a concern. “We wondered why we were dropping 3dB to 6dB,” he said. “Tech support ran through everything and found it was the patch cable connector and not the cable run itself. The patch cable was just intermittent enough to cause dropout. That was a learning experience to not trust your patch cables directly out of the bag,” Carlson emphasized.
“The customer has requested expansion of the network AV system to additional rooms,” he added. “Because we installed a 10GHz network, the system can handle a large number of encoders and decoders before adding to the network. This is where the customer’s initial investment saves money on the system and, most importantly, saves our tax dollars. I believe we have provided an integrated system that is versatile, secure and robust for our customer.”
To Design/Build AV
All Access, Inc., was incorporated in 2002. Prior to opening the design/build AV business, Mike Carlson served in the US Army. “We encourage the hiring of veterans,” he asserted; two of his six technicians are veterans. Carlson’s background as a live sound engineer and production manager averaged 150 live shows per year, including such venues as Red Rocks, Paramount Theater, Fox Theater, Ogden Theater, and festivals like the Westword Music Fest and June Fest in Las Vegas, plus many more. “I’ve been involved with production of the Westword Music Fest for 21 years,” he reported.
“After years of live events, I realized this is no way to make a good living. So, we started installing commercial audio, video and CCTV systems. Over the years, we have installed systems for multiple state, city and county buildings, including courthouses, boardrooms, city hall chambers and commercial buildings. We design/build systems with the customer’s best interest in mind.”