Create a cost-effective, fully automated AV system capable of broadcasting Western Refining’s daily meetings to 350 employees dispersed throughout a 555-acre facility in El Paso, Texas, including two large refinery complexes located across the street from one another.
Blake Larsen, Western Refining’s Manager of Information Technology, wanted a more affordable alternative to closed circuit television (CCTV). Western also required a fully automated solution to eliminate the need for a full-time AV technician. Because the meeting moderator changes almost daily, ease of operation was another high priority.
Develop a speech-sensing, auto-homing camera package that utilizes the existing LAN infrastructure to broadcast and archive all company meetings. Howell Electronics’ Design Engineer Steve Waltman and his team based the system on the digital audio processing and logic control capabilities of Biamp’s AudiaFLEX Digital Audio Platform.
The greatest challenge was creating a systematic approach for directing camera coverage over a 1,700-square-foot conference room using only general microphone coverage as the sensory guidance control. To accomplish this goal, the system has to operate with virtual immunity to extraneous noise. To combat the noise issues, Waltman first established the basic audio system design using integrated control functionality within AudiaFLEX. He then applied parametric filtering, auto-mixer logic functionality and compression/ limiting processing, combined with time synchronized logic gates to achieve the final goal: a speech-initiated camera control system merged with local sound reinforcement. AudiaFLEX provides slight attenuation over the audience microphone system when speech overlap occurs.
The AudiaFLEX unit not only handles signal processing, but also provides the dry contact closure to guide camera selection based upon the active microphone zone. The cameras feed directly into a Pelco VA6220 20-channel sequential homing switcher. The switcher incorporates an alarm mode where a dry contact closure calls up a particular camera. The AudiaFLEX provides the control signal for the dry contact closure – based on its internal logic sensing each time it detects an active microphone – which facilitates rapid and fully automated switching between the moderator/panelists and audience response.
Seven Audio-Technica AT835b condenser mics suspended from the ceiling form a zoned grid pattern that enables the AudiaFLEX to activate individual cameras with fixed position coverage, allowing remote viewers to see a close-up of the person speaking.
Audio output from the AudiaFLEX and video output from the Pelco VA6220 are summed through an Ocean Matrix OMX-7001 video and stereo audio distribution amplifier and delivered to the company’s Windows® Media encoder and server for real-time LAN distribution and archival. Throughout the company, employees use the Windows Media Player to remotely observe the meetings.
The system’s greatest benefit lies in its ability to provide affordable and effective in-house mass communication. The Audia-based networked media system delivers automated, reliable conferencing for less than half the cost of closed circuit television. One powerful, flexible AudiaFLEX unit combines many functions in a single piece of equipment, from signal processing to sound quality to logic control for the cameras. With this user-friendly system, Western employees can stay well connected every day.