Military Might

From the June 2010 issue of AV Technology

by Gregory A. DeTogne

ARMED FORCES AV ACCOMMODATES VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS, INTERACTIVITY, AND MORE

Many experts have come to agree that some of the greatest strengths of the US armed forces are found in excellence in training, an ability to work together in an integrated fashion, and providing quick access to information on all levels of command. AV systems have naturally played an increasing role in all of these areas in both peacetime and war, and while concern is being expressed that shrinking budgets won’t allow the military to continue to invest as heavily in communication technologies, just the opposite seems to be true.

Video content on the Heritage Hall videowall can be programmed to show 16 separate images, a single image spread across the four center screens while different ones appear along the borders, and in many other combinations including 2×2 arrays side-by-side.

Providing evidence in support of just such a notion, AV systems developed recently at Ft. Leonard Wood and Scott Air Force Base, with the help of Communitronics, a St. Louis-based integration firm, demonstrate the military’s command and competence with the latest technology.

Exhibiting shrewd savvy in component selection that helped shave costs while still providing every core capability desired and more, both systems were designed by Communitronics’ Mike Leitensdorfer around a backbone of reliability and ease-of-use that plays well with experienced technology managers, operators, raw recruits, and visiting civilians alike.

Home of the US Army’s Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN), Ft. Leonard Wood covers 62,911 acres in the rolling hills of Missouri’s south central Ozarks. Beyond MANSCEN activities, it is also where chemical, engineering, military police, and transportation training takes place. Hosting US troops as well as international members of the military from allied nations around the globe, the facility houses about 80,000 square feet of classrooms, briefing rooms, training areas, and support offices.

“It’s a massive, sprawling complex,” notes Communitronics’ Rock Leitensdorfer, brother to designer Mike, and the firm’s systems integration specialist. “Especially if you’re new to the environment, just finding your way around can be a major undertaking.”

Seeking to streamline the process required of everything from simply moving efficiently from place-to-place to obtaining detailed visual messaging concerning class times, cancellations, locations, and other important announcements, the government representative in charge of the project played a vital role in creating the new AV blueprint. Envisioning a system that could be administered centrally as well as by the facility’s individual departments to meet their own unique needs, he felt that critical AV elements should be capable of being instantly changed on-the-fly to accommodate sudden twists and turns in scheduling. At the average user’s level, the system had to offer intuitive interactivity for those in need of information of all kinds.

Communitronics was given the freedom to create the template of components meeting the project’s established criteria. Within the design, a fiber ring utilizing a 144×144 FOX 4G 14400 matrix switcher from Extron serves as the hub from which signals are routed, transported, and delivered to their final destinations. On the ocular end of the equation, 46-inch LCD screens from Sharp manage the bulk of the display workload, while single 65-inch and 40- inch models from the same supplier stand in for special-duty assignments.

FUSION universal flat panel (model LTMU), micro-adjustable tilting mounts from Chief were used in wall-mount applications of the Sharp screens. Pole-mounting was employed in other areas utilizing eight-inch CMA110 ceiling plates also found in the current Chief catalog of products. Coupled with appropriate- sized extension columns, the ceiling plates relied on Chief model MCSU universal flat panel ceiling mounts on the hanging end to complete the installation of screens suspended from above. In another application where a display was recessed into a wall, Chief’s FUSION model LSMVU pull-out wall mount offered easy access for both installation and future maintenance.

EMPHASIS ON THE END USER

Programmed to turn on automatically at predetermined times, Heritage Hall’s Infocrest Technology videowall at Scott Air Force Base can also be controlled by an operator behindthe- scenes using a PTZ camera mounted in the display area to monitor commands.

“Remaining true to a design philosophy that stressed user-friendliness, we took great pains in everything we did to keep costs down without sacrificing quality,” recounts Rock Leitensdorfer. “Choosing Chief meant we gained sturdy reliability along with mounting requiring less labor. That all translated into big savings for the Army, allowing them to put more money into other portions of the system than they would have been able to otherwise.”

Content for the MANSCEN campus flat panel displays falls under the guidance of a Visix content manager supporting up to 50 channel players. Currently, only four different types of content are being used, and these include cable TV channels, a programmable calendar of events, and audio and visual messaging.

“The Army is starting slow and leaving plenty of room for growth on the content side,” Rock Leitensdorfer adds. “Almost immediately after the first channels were placed online, ideas started popping for more.”

Since putting the new MANSCEN AV system to work, the Army has found that the new technology does what it was intended to do without unleashing a torrent of calls to the help desk, which, of course, was one of its prime directives from the outset. This fact alone has gone a long way to popularize the concept with everyone who finds themselves in the campus corridors. Along with this factor, the human interface is so easy that it seems illogical at this point to have approached the task of visual messaging and information sharing in any other way.

Back in the main control room, a Crestron AV2 system serves as the brain doing all the thinking required of complete AV integration: You can consider it sort of like the great, allpowerful Oz if you will, but step out from behind the curtain and travel out to the individual displays, and mere mortals will find that they are equally empowered by touch controls that are often as simple to operate as, well— pushing a lone button.

A certified Crestron programmer since the days when the New Jersey-based company was issuing system commands via mechanical relays, designer Mike Leitensdorfer has given one-touch simplicity to the task of total room and display control in areas like auditoriums, and provided interactive ease at kiosks via CyberTouch 46-inch touchscreens. Elsewhere, some displays can be quickly converted for presentation use via wireless remotes and provisions for interfacing with laptop computers.

“You really can’t think of this as anything other than a comprehensive visual communications system with a fair degree of its own intelligence,” Rock Leitensdorfer believes. “We’ve come a long way since putting a handpainted sign up to help people find their way around a building, and now the notion of what digital signage entails is evolving so fast that what was futuristic last month is already being expanded upon today.”

VERSATILE AND INTERACTIVE

A Scott Air Force base project was also completed recently by Communitronics. Located not far from St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, the base is home to the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and Heritage Hall, an exhibit space showcasing the history and mission of USTRANSCOM.

Condensing levels of visual messaging and interactivity similar to the MANSCEN system into an Infocrest Technology videowall employing 16 of the company’s 46-inch, 720p Dz Wall Blocks with narrow bezels, the Heritage Hall system once again relies upon easy-to-use Crestron control, and Visix content management, which rides herd over CPU input, a highdefinition tuner from Aurora Multimedia, and a Blu-ray disk player. A Black Diamond Video CXPS DVI unit handles switching.

In these times when return on investment is a measure forefront in everyone’s mind, the Heritage Hall system earns its keep well beyond its service as an interactive centerpiece among the exhibits that lets visitors select from various programming options displayed in formats utilizing all screens, or myriad combinations thereof. Outfitted with its own RF mic system, it can be quickly converted from educational and instructive uses into a presentation tool regularly used for ceremonies and press briefings.

“Versatility was a major concern here,” Rock Leitensdorfer says of the install. “The video presentation can be easily changed as needed, making the system adaptable for future displays. On an aesthetic level, the videowall ties into the rest of the room’s look as well.”

The videowall was taken down in Heritage Hall for safekeeping during renovations beginning in April. Reconstructed in late May, the wall will be joined by a separate, standalone 2×2 wall installed in another area in July working off of the same switcher.

KEY ELEMENTS

ROI:
Heritage Hall system earns its keep for its service as well as an interactive centerpiece among exhibits.

RELIABILITY:
The Army has found that the new technology does what it was intended to do without unleashing a torrent of calls to the help desk, which, of course, was one of its prime directives from the outset.

EASE OF USE:
At the average user’s level, the system had to offer intuitive interactivity for those in need of information of all kinds.

INFO

AURORA MULTIMEDIA: auroramultimedia.com
BLACK DIAMOND: blackdiamondvideo.com
CHIEF MANUFACTURING: chiefmfg.com
COMMUNITRONICS: communitronics.com
CRESTRON: crestron.com
CYBERTOUCH: cybertouch.com
EXTRON: extron.com
INFOCREST TECHNOLOGY: infocresttech.com
SHARP: sharpusa.com
VISIX: visix.com

Gregory A. DeTogne has spent the last 30 years as a freelance writer and publicist serving the AV and entertainment technology industries. He lives and works at the Electric Gnat Ranch, his rural refuge in Libertyville, Illinois.

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