AV on the Move in Education
From InAVate Magazine: By Steve Montgomery
Goethe University in Frankfurt, one of the world’s leading international research and teaching institutes, was founded in 1914 and today serves over 41,000 national students and 6,500 international students, with a teaching staff of 550 professors. With an enviable record of 19 Nobel laureates, the university has a renowned reputation for quality and learning, and strives to create excellence in teaching, reinforced by superb amenities and the most up to date methods possible.
Central to this philosophy is the Conference & Media Services Department that enables the whole university to capture, edit and distribute audiovisual material, both internally to students, staff and visitors and externally in a major outreach programs to fellow academic institutions and the local community. The department covers a wide range of lectures, presentations and live events around campus.
The task of providing broadcast quality recording and editing services for a variety of platforms has been fulfilled using a selection of Blackmagic Design, Adobe, Panasonic, Sonic Foundry and other third party equipment and software. This has been selected, integrated and operated over the course of two years as the department builds its expertise and develops the most appropriate operating procedures. One of the major challenges in providing multimedia services to the latest high tech specification within an ancient establishment lies in the lack of opportunity to design and build, or even retrofit campus buildings to suit modern day equipment and cabling requirements.
Shane Duggan, AV engineer at Goethe University in Frankfurt, describes how this affects his day to day activities: “The major role of the Conference and Media Services Department is ensuring that lectures and presentations are recorded and made available either as live, remote playout or as on demand programs that are accessible by both internal and external students and academics, as well as making popular events available to interested viewers.
We have eight large lecture halls and 25 seminar rooms that are permanently fitted with recording equipment, but we have to cover many more halls and locations on an ad hoc basis. Wiring all potential locations to a central facility is not possible for two reasons: firstly, the sheer number of target rooms would make it very difficult and expensive to cover, and secondly, the structure and layout of the old campus buildings prevents permanent wiring from being installed easily and economically.”
In addition to the main permanent recording rooms, the university operates some fully portable mobile systems that can be deployed almost anywhere within the university to ensure that nothing is missed.
“This setup delivers the flexibility and capability that we demand,” explains Shane. “Our primary role is to ensure that scheduled university lectures are recorded and made available to students on demand to assist them in recalling the main points of their lectures and enabling them to catch up on missed lectures. In addition, we provide live broadcast of events to multiple platforms and via web servers for viewers to access later. For example in covering the Dalai Lama’s recent visit and lecture, we provided direct viewing on additional screens around the campus and to remote viewers over the web to the wider community. We also cover Kinder Uni, which is a series of lectures streamed to local schools aimed at eight to twelve year olds to introduce them to science in a fun and unforgettable manner.”
This system is built around a Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher fed by a set of five Panasonic AG AF101 HD video cameras. Output from the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher is passed to Sonic Foundry’s MediaSite web casting and recording platform for later playout and streaming of the lectures. Live production and cutting of the individual sources is handled within the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher, closely aided by graphic design facilities offered by Photoshop and loaded directly into the ATEM media pool.
The ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher provides broadcast quality production switching in a single, compact unit with a host of features that aids the university’s production team. Quickly and easily set up, making it ideal for mobile application, it has an internal multi viewer enabling all sources to be displayed on a single monitor so that the operator can readily observe feeds and instruct camera operators. The device’s feature set includes upstream and downstream chroma, pattern and linear keyers, extensive digital video effects, graphic wipes and stinger transitions.
“Despite its small size, the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher gives us everything we need and more,” says Shane. “It allows us to add all the creative and editing features we could wish for to tailor content for live distribution and for storage for on demand retrieval. We can connect a wide range of ancillary devices into it so that pre prepared lecture material and the output from educational equipment such as microscopes can be integrated into the presentation. The ATEM even has built in media players which can be loaded with support material and accessed during the live event.”
The mobile solution devised by the department is small enough to be easily fitted in to almost any location, a frequent situation in older buildings. So far it has been tucked away in spaces underneath stairs and in storage cupboards. In addition to its general use for lectures it has been used to cover the opening ceremony of a new building and is expected to be called into action for more varied events around the university campus; both indoors and outdoors, as requirements emerge.
Ease of use is another aspect that is important to the overall operation. There is generally very little time to set up the equipment and no chance of rehearsal for most live events, so the whole system needs to be intuitive to use as well as having enough flexibility to enable connection between the key elements of the system to be readily achieved. The equipment has the capability to support all the major analogue and digital signal formats and interfaces used in standard and high definition professional video and broadcast installation.
Future proofing is also a consideration for the university, which wants to ensure that they will be able to accommodate new video formats as they appear on the horizon. Remote control and set up is generally via built in Ethernet ports across most of the equipment, and the PC based nature of the cutting and web server equipment allows the whole system to be highly integrated and self contained. Individual IP addressing of the major components enables them to be configured from a central control computer, thereby streamlining full system set up and control on the fly, without disrupting the equipment whilst it is in operation.
Shane is extremely satisfied with the cost and economics of the setup: “Along with the impressive features and outstanding quality of the system, we have been able to introduce a truly broadcast grade solution for the fraction of the price that other systems would cost. Blackmagic Design has allowed us to bring this technology onto campus and to achieve a greater level of production values than we would otherwise have been able to do. This has been achieved over a timescale spreading over the past year and to a cost that is within the scope of the university’s audiovisual budget. The equipment has performed to a level greater than our initial expectation for a system of this sort of cost and we are now looking at more Blackmagic products to extend the scope and capability of the department.”