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State-of-the-art at University of East Anglia

Snelling Business Systems delivers innovative 7.1 surround and AV integration to enable webstreaming and archiving in Norwich.

The newly opened Thomas Paine Lecture Theatre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich takes a radical new approach to promoting learning, by capturing and streaming lectures and archiving them in a virtual learning environment.

The technology used to implement this owes much to the inventiveness of AV project integrators, Snelling Business Systems – which put together a £250,000 technology package.

In selecting the audio for the new building, they turned to QSC Audio components as their main brand. Handling the complex audio processing of a switchable multi-mode system are two BASIS 922az DSP devices, linked by CobraNet, which contain the gain structure, provide fire alarm control – and feature a 16 x 16 I/O channel matrix, which is worked to capacity.

Seven centrally bookable seminar rooms (holding between 40 and 64 people) and a 360-seat lecture theatre form the ground and first floor of the brand new four-storey building.

The lecture theatre’s sound field has been designed in a 7.1 QSC surround-sound configuration and is Dolby THX compliant. It has been constructed from six AcousticDesign AD-S282H loudspeakers mounted down the sides of the auditorium, a further two behind the grilles on either side of the giant media screen, and a pair of smaller AD-S82Hs forming the rear surrounds. In addition, two QSC HPR-151i active subs are installed under the seating below trapdoors to provide low-end extension.

Snelling Business Systems MD, Toby Wise, says: “We had looked at a number of solutions, and with our senior engineer, Colin Jacobs, came to the conclusion that since the university wanted to promote film studies but also have the ability to switch effortlessly to a Lecture Theatre mode, then the most flexible solution would be offered by QSC.

“We have used QSC components many times in the past and the university is impressed with the clever yoke-mounting system and the robustness and quality of the products – plus all the mechanical engineering data is always supplied.”

The funding for the building was approved in late 2007 and Snelling was initially appointed as independent AV consultants, developing the specification with Chris Browne, the UEA’s head of AV and print services. They then bid successfully for the integration, meeting a tender document produced by main contractors Keir Eastern, which included high-definition Blu-ray capability, a 7.1 cinema surround system and interactivity, via the option of both a simple and a highly technical AMX user interface.

The system itself was designed by Jacobs. “At the outset there was a requirement only for a conventional fit out, but when the university said it wanted HD Blu-ray and 7.1 surround sound – as well as all the usual provisions – the additional channel count presented a challenge. With complex cross point switching and matrixing the only DSP we could find that would expand easily was BASIS.”

In addition to the 8-channel inputs for the ADA Suite 7.1 HD surround sound preamp/decoder further inputs were required for the left/right programme feed from a Kramer VP7277A-BA audio switcher, and microphone feeds from six Shure SLX wireless channels and two wired gooseneck mics, which are processed in a Shure SCM810 automixer.

“The system’s performance, especially in 7.1 mode, is exceptional,” confirms Jacobs. “We have worked with other units but the BASIS DSPs are extremely flexible, allowing us to design complex switching and routing configurations easily.”

As for the remainder of the building, Norwich Business School’s new Executive Teaching Centre will occupy the third floor and incorporate a 90-seater seminar room, a large oval break-out space, an IT and library resources space and a boardroom. Eight NBS academics’ offices will also feature – and already multiples of QSC’s AD-S52 speakers have been installed in the classrooms on the top floor.

A second phase of building is already underway and other NBS colleagues and school offices will locate there on completion in June 2010.

Reflecting on one of the biggest contracts his company has undertaken, a delighted Wise says: “Although we work a lot in the Further and Higher Education sector, this lecture theatre had to make a statement and the impact of the 10.6sqm optical front projection screen combined with the audio is sensational. This is our showpiece lecture theatre – it’s as good as it gets.”