Deakin University’s biggest lecture theatre has been transformed from an acoustical war zone to a flagship VC-capable teaching space.
Text:/ Jen Temm
The Rusden Theatre at Deakin University’s Burwood campus in Melbourne offers the latest in AV for its staff and students after an extensive $250k overhaul earlier this year, with videoconferencing functionality, high quality audio, an intuitive control interface, automated camera system, programmable pro-grade lighting and flexible connectivity.
“It’s Deakin’s largest lecture hall across all our campuses with a capacity of about 670 seats, so it was a massive undertaking,” says Deakin’s AV & Networks Unit Leader Neil Clarke, who worked closely with installer Insight Systems, major supplier Production Audio Video Technology and Deakin’s eSolutions team on the project. “Because it’s our largest space, part of this project was to set it up to be used for major presentations — and it was a combined project with our facilities people who were working on a physical rebuild of the interior of the theatre.”
In videoconferencing mode teachers presenting locally can now connect to other sites using either standards-compliant videoconferencing, which Deakin uses extensively, or via the university’s new PC AV integration gateway, which allows PC-based videoconferencing such as Skype, GoToMeeting, Blackboard Collaborate and others: “We tried to stay software agnostic, so that leverages all of the more professional AV equipment in the room. With the two-way audio and video gateway the teacher can choose whatever PC-based videoconferencing software they want,” Clarke says.
Two teacher-tracking iSmart cameras replace older and clunkier IR-based devices and are positioned on either side of the stage to accommodate the width of the room, with a large confidence monitor keeping the teacher’s eyes forward.
“Previously we had analogue video switching and all the limitations you get with analogue video but we’ve standardised on using the Epson 3LCD projectors on campus — high-brightness full HD models that don’t break the bank. From there it’s digital the whole way through the switching system now so you get the crisp full-HD HDMI video without any ghosting or shadows or any of the artefacts we were previously experiencing.
“The main vision switch is an AMX DGX frame — we’re using the HDBaseT solution throughout all our spaces these days so it’s digital switching all the way through. Around the same time we’ve been working on the standardisation of our AMX room control software, so we now have a common software base and a common user interface across all our teaching spaces using AMX touch panels — regardless of the room, staff get the same user interface experience. Some of the features such as the PC video integration is new to them but that is also appearing in several other rooms, so if they’ve been trained on it for one room that knowledge translates across.”
HANGING THEM HIGH
The front of the lecture theatre required additional building work to allow projected images to display in line with Deakin’s standards for image size, quality and sightlines — a new bulkhead wall, relocation of lighting fixtures and repainting, were all completed by InSight. The task was to get all the gear up and out of the way of the screen and sightlines to the screen.
Bespoke loudspeaker lifting solutions were created to allow the new EAW KF720 series line arrays to be safely lowered to ground level for servicing — one of the trickier aspects of the project according to InSight’s Alex Jory.
“One of the issues we came across was the ceiling space was 10m above floor,” Jory says. “That posed issues with accessing the equipment, so one of the more unique things we did was to mount them on motorised droppers — we can bring the PA down for servicing and no one has to climb any ladders. That required quite a bit of custom rigging equipment, putting the droppers in place, cable retraction systems and safety lines as well, so there’s no chance of it dropping and injuring anyone. Quite a bit was involved in getting that working well.”
Ben Clarke, PAVT’s Technical Support Manager, provides more detail on the audio package:
“The transformation of this venue is incredible. PAVT in our capacity as tech support for ClearOne has had a lot to do with this theatre over the years, and it’s been a nightmare. It was originally built as a large Gyprock bunker with no redeeming acoustic features.
“Arup, as the acoustic consultants, working with the architects, has done the heavy lifting here from an audio perspective — hanging a nice line array PA in the space was the easy part!
“Initially a choice had to be made to either spec a point source PA that would be positioned above the projection screen, or a line array hung wide, either side of the large screen.
“The uni preferred the line source option if we could make it work.
“Having the EAW KF720 so wide and near the side walls meant Arup needed to look after the first reflection, which they did with some serious acoustic treatment.
“We supplemented the main PA hangs with a number of small-format Ecler co-ax loudspeakers as front fill to help focus the sonic image down for the front rows, as well as adding to the speech intelligibility. We also specified four EAW JF10 delay loudspeakers up into the top tier of the theatre. We could easily have driven the FOH line array to reach those top rows but we didn’t want to. By installing the delays it meant we didn’t have to throw so much energy into the room from FOH.
“In my view, the heroes of the audio piece are the two Powersoft X8 amplifiers — one amp (four circuits aside) powering both arrays, while the other taking care of the subs and delay/fill. The power, efficiency and price of these amps allowed us to keep the audio package under budget as well as ensure the top-notch sound quality. These amps sound phenomenal.”
Production Audio Video Technology: (03) 9264 8000 or www.pavt.com.au
“It’s on par with a large professional venues except that it’s configured to be driven by the teacher rather than an AV crew,” the uni’s Neil Clarke says. “We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from our technical support staff in that this new space needs much less support, and were getting positive feedback from the teaching staff and students as well.”
Areas outside the lecture theatre are also being refurbished to provide a semi-enclosed, more casual learning environment. “The new technology in the Rusden Theatre allows an interconnect between the stage area in this more open plan space so that if someone is doing a major presentation in the theatre, other people can view the presentation from the video wall display above the stage in the open plan area, or vice versa,” Clarke says.
“Part of what we were doing with this lecture theatre build was to look to the future, and with the increasing demographic of part-timers and mature age students there’s an increasing load on this campus in particular and this area is going to have a lot more after-hours life with services open until later in the evening — but that’s a future plan.”
Deakin University: (03) 9244 6333 or www.deakin.edu.au
InSight Systems (Integrator): 1300 369 451 or www.insightsystems.com.au
AMX Control Solutions, video switching & extension
Cisco video conferencing & networking equipment
EAW KF720 line array PA
Powersoft X8 amplifiers
Ecler Audeo surfacemount loudspeakers
ClearOne audio processing
Williamsound Hearing Augmentation
APC UPS and power management
Epson and NEC digital displays
Shure Wireless Microphone
Beyerdynamic desktop microphones
iSmart tracking cameras
Dynalite lighting control
Nick Boulter, Associate Principle, Acoustic & Theatre, ARUP
Ken Fong, Acoustic Consultant, ARUP