Expertise in conferencing systems is rarely a selection criterion for members of public boards, commissions and agencies, nor is there typically a budget for ongoing AV support personnel at meetings. So it's not enough for a conferencing system targeted at these types of applications to meet high standards for technical performance; the system must also be designed for trouble-free operation by people who are not A/V professionals. That's one reason that Tempest Technologies of Issaquah, WA chose to build its winning conferencing system bid for the Board Room at the Puget Sound Regional Council in Seattle around the DCN Next Generation Conference Solution from Bosch.
The Board Room is used primarily for regular monthly board meetings by various Seattle-region groups focusing on specific issues such as transportation policy, growth management and economic development. Meetings such as those of the Executive, Policy and Economic Development District Boards are both streamed live to the public and archived for later viewing via the PSRC website. The goal for quite a while has been to ensure that interested members of the public can keep up to date on the Council's activities. With a recent room renovation and installation of the new conferencing system by Tempest, the pieces are now in place to make that goal a reality.
“The Board Room existed before, but it used to be a dull-looking room with poor lighting, bad sightlines and nearly unusable AV systems,” says Andrew Birklid, who designed and managed the project for Tempest. “It needed to be completely renovated and expanded. Tempest was awarded the design/build contract for the room. Through our work, as well as the efforts of Weaver Architects and others, we took what was once a troublesome space and transformed it into what it is today. We also provided AV systems in the adjacent Conference Room, which can be used on its own or serve as an overflow from the Boardroom, as well as in several other small meeting rooms.”
Bringing the Board Room up to speed required addressing the shortcomings of the facility’s conferencing system. “The existing video system used low resolution analog cameras, but the biggest problem was the microphone system,” Birklid says. “At a big meeting there would be more than 30 open mics in the room, so the system was prone to terrible feedback. And the camera tracking was all done based on microphone gating, so whenever someone would cough or set down a coffee cup the video switcher would cut to the camera covering that mic and then you’d see that camera swinging over to that mic position.”
In contrast, Birklid says, the Bosch DCN system provides not only “crisp, clear audio” but also “a more organized meeting environment. I did many hours of research and as far as I could find the Bosch system is the only one that handles camera control in a way that works for this kind of meeting situation. The camera system fires based on a managed microphone activation, which is a huge advantage, and the cameras have the ability to hold a freeze frame briefly while the system makes a switch and pan, so you never see camera movement in the video output, you just go smoothly from one speaker to the next. That was a big deal for the client.”
What makes the system work particularly well is the meeting stack enabled by the Bosch Conference Software running on the Central Control Unit (CCU). “The Bosch system enables a much more organized meeting,” Birklid says, “because the software allows you to set a maximum number of mics that can be open simultaneously, and you have to push a button in order to speak. So what happens is that as people push their button to speak on a given topic their mic position is entered enter into a meeting stack, and as they finish speaking they push their button again, and then the next mic in the stack is activated in the order that requests were received. So it’s a really handy way to make sure that everybody gets a turn to speak and nobody speaks out of turn.” The video feed benefits from the stack system as well because the cameras can pre-position to cover the next speaker in the meeting stack.
The Board Room system covers a total of 44 seats at 22 tables. Four cameras are used in all, with each camera assigned a preset for each of 11 seats. Bosch allows the combination of modules at each position to be customized as needed, but in this situation they are nearly all the same: a loudspeaker panel, a mic connection panel, a mic control panel, a microphone and a voting panel. An under-table dual-delegate interface connects the panels from each pair of adjacent positions with the CCU, which is configured via an Ethernet-connected computer.
“The system provides us with very fast and accurate camera tracking, eliminating camera swings from the video stream, and provides an automated electronic means of taking attendance and voting,” Birklid says. “We are also using a key card system to provide on-screen overlay of the active speaker’s name, which is nice for citizens who are watching recorded or live-streamed meetings.” Birklid adds that a design team from Bosch played “a pivotal role in helping us with the system design as well as assisting in the commissioning of the final install. Chris Aeilts and Caleb Braff of Bosch were great, and I was glad to have them on board.”
For each of the several groups that meets regularly in the Board Room, whose technical abilities he describes as “widely varied,” Birklid sat in on the first post-upgrade meeting for each of PSRC’s four boards, gave a brief primer on system operation and stood by to answer questions and help if needed. “It gave them an extra level of comfort with the system to get started,” he says, “and now that they’re comfortable with the system, they just roll with it. The room is almost continually booked for meetings at this point, and the system is super intuitive for them. Overall, it’s been a big success. The custome