If keeping up with technology churn is tough for corporations, consider the plight of most civic organizations, for whom funding cycles are unpredictable.
Cities, counties, and other governmental organizations rely on technology to communicate with the public by broadcasting council meetings, holding large public meetings that require amplified sound, and providing access to visual information. As these organizations look to refresh their council chambers, community spaces, and broadcast facilities, they must emphasize flexible designs that are resilient to technology churn while also driving productive meetings and boosting public engagement.
In this blog post, we talk about the most current technologies on the market that combine ease of use, low cost of maintenance, and resistance to obsolescence.
Gone are the days of washed-out images and noisy projectors. Providing a better meeting experience for both council members and the public is often as simple as replacing aging projectors and outdated projection screens with modern upgrades. Projector technology has improved significantly from even five or ten years ago and, as a result, high-efficiency and high-brightness projectors are more affordable than ever before. Laser light engine technology is largely to thank for this paradigm shift, and it comes with the additional operational benefit of requiring less maintenance. Laser sources last longer than the lamps that drive older projectors — typical laser sources can last for upwards of 20,000 hours of use before they need to be replaced.
Selecting the right projection screen is just as important as selecting a projector with enough brightness. Where a projector competes with daylight and an abundance of room lighting, a projection screen material that rejects ambient light will prevent the projected image from looking washed out. Some screen materials also provide wide viewing angles to accommodate wider room layouts.
In larger spaces, participants sometimes have a difficult time hearing those talking. Strategically placed microphones pick up the talker’s voice and amplify it throughout the space using a technique known as “voice lift.” Gooseneck microphones placed at the dais and at public lecterns are ideal for this use, and they can also provide integrated mute buttons council members use during private sidebar conversations.
But modern design calls for a sleeker aesthetic, and audio technology has come a long way toward that goal. Depending on the ceiling height of a space, ceiling microphones can be employed for voice lift with comparable results to traditional gooseneck or handheld microphones. Ceiling microphones have long been an eyesore, often resembling choir microphones or hanging golf balls. The current generation of ceiling microphones, however, integrates well with high-finish ceilings, including some similar in appearance to HVAC return air grilles.
Beamforming ceiling microphones focus their listening on specific locations, much in the way spotlights are used to target light where it’s needed. This functionality proves useful in council chamber-type facilities, where multiple groups or entities may use the space. When the space is used for council meetings, the microphones can be configured to “listen” only to those seated at the dais. Conversely, when the space is used for breakout sessions or workshops, the microphones can be dynamically redirected to “listen” to the common working areas. This system flexibility mitigates the need for an excess of microphones and cables to account for all situations.
In today’s age of digital engagement, the ability to reach broader audiences over the Internet becomes vitally important. Public agencies are often required to record and make available the proceedings of each meeting, and one way to accomplish this objective is to incorporate streaming technologies into the meeting workflow. There are an abundance of products on the market today that will mix camera feeds with presented content, merging the two sources in a picture-in-picture (PIP) format. Those products can simultaneously record the combined output for viewing at any time, and stream the meeting over the Internet, for viewing by anyone with an Internet connection. To take things a step further, that recorded content can be uploaded to a networked video management system, so that anyone may access the content on demand.
The use of recording and streaming technologies comes with its own set of considerations. To provide an optimal experience for those remotely watching the meeting, it is often helpful to switch between different cameras so the talker is always visible on-screen. Both fixed and remote-controlled pan-tilt-zoom cameras can be employed to capture compelling images of the council chamber. For example, one might use a fixed wide-angle camera to capture a wide shot of the entire dais, and a pan-tilt-zoom camera to capture close-up shots of talking participants, including the public. Camera integration with the audiovisual control system can make operating the cameras and switching between views as simple as pushing camera preset buttons on a touchscreen control panel, mitigating the need for a technician to operate the AV system during a meeting.
Some agencies and organizations employ external video production companies to produce meetings and events in council chambers. Similarly, local television stations sometimes need access to these spaces and to any content shown during meetings so that they can process the audio and video in a production truck outside the building and televise it to the public.
Equipping a facility to support independent production crews is a relatively low-cost option that can expand an agency’s reach and audience. An investment in building infrastructure, in the form of a cabling pathway between a press connection plate and the central AV system, is often all that’s required to extend meeting content to external production equipment.
Looking to the Future
Since civic projects tend to evolve more slowly than those in the corporate and tech worlds, it’s important to work with an AV/IT designer capable of planning for resilient systems and a “plug and play” infrastructure. Your design team should work closely with stakeholders to develop a flexible strategy based on a detailed understanding of current workflows and how emerging technology — and funding — might impact future processes.