UCLan Cyprus

For the past two months the University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus (UCLan Cyprus) has been welcoming English speaking students to a new, €50m campus, offering not only premium British higher education but also a technological breakthrough in the way in which they can engage with the digital teaching methods.

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Situated on a 40-acre site in Pyla near Larnaka, the technical infrastructure borders on the miraculous, not only for the implementation of an advanced Learning Information Systems (LIS) network but the speed with which local integrators ALA Equipment Co Ltd were able to redesign the original topology to provide a more future proof solution after being brought in at the last minute. In fact they carried out full turnkey planning and delivery in just the final three weeks of a fast track build time that was itself accomplished in only 180 days.

ALA had only learnt about the University AV project three days before the tender deadline, at which point UCLan was on the verge of appointing a UK-based contractor to install the first phase, 8,000 sq. m. campus. “Only a basic specification had been prepared initially,” recalls ALA MD Andrea Piemonti. “But in three days we redesigned the site from the ground up to give the University a turnkey solution with full HD capability. They were delighted with the simplicity of operation we proposed within what was clearly a complex layout.”

ALA also demonstrated that they had the economic backbone to support a technology contract valued at €700,000, which needed to be commissioned in time for the start of the new academic year 2012.”

Fundamental to the proposal were advanced digital networking tools including the first Christie JumpStart videowall content management system in Europe, and Extron’s groundbreaking GlobalViewer Enterprise (GVE).

The scope of work was to equip 15 single and double facing classrooms (in the first phase) with cutting edge AV, as a precursor to a further 30 that will follow. The other major challenge was to equip a 310-seat lecture theatre that had to double as a 5.1 cinema. And for this ALA also proposed a theatre-spec lighting and sound solution.

But if the advanced HD signal transmission over long distances, using Extron Twisted Pair provided one of the unseen achievements, it was the MicroTiles wall display that first wowed architect George Lyssiotis.

“A standard LCD display was being considered but when we demonstrated MicroTiles he was both shocked and surprised,” records Piemonti. “The next day he invited the board of directors for a demo and they knew immediately that this was what they wanted.”

Foyer Display

The rectangular 10 x 6 MicroTiles display — which combines an LED light source with DLP optical imaging — dominates the imposing atrium inside the main entrance. The robust JumpStart content management solution, designed for large tiled displays, operates in conjunction with an Extron HD matrix. This breakthrough HD display is driven by four Christie ECU’s, fed by four DVI104TX/RX Extron fibre optics extenders to offer a total resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, while the audio feed is provided by a sophisticated BSS Soundweb London DSP networked system.

During the day it can be used either as a multi-window or single display to promote the university, but after hours it can also cross mix from the theatre and function as a relay screen — thereby increasing the capacity to the lobby.

Explains Andrea Piemonti, “MicroTiles can operate in multi-windows from the sources in the auditorium, with the display partitioned and overlaid through the JumpStart, which manages the entire canvas from the control room.”

Sound reinforcement in the foyer is provided by four JBL CBT50 constant beamwidth column speakers, powered by Crown CTs amplifiers and controlled by a dbx DriveRack 260 processors. These receive feeds directly from the Soundweb DSP’s, as does a large Ampetronic induction loop system, managed by Extron automation.

Lecture Theatre

ALA were tasked with creating a flexible, multi-mode infrastructure for the theatre and responded by specifying a powerful 10,000-lumen Christie L2K1000 2K resolution projector. However, this is likely to be relocated as soon as the second phase is complete next summer in favour of a Christie DCI-compliant 2K platform, to accommodate full digital film delivery.

Projection is onto an electric drop-down 7 metre 16:9 ScreenLine screen, fitted with high gain screen material.

If the screen is of Italian manufacture, then so is the lighting, with 72 channels of DTS digital dimming driving the system. The auditorium contains 240 lighting points on a patching system with 80 DTS conventionals (mixing PC, Fresnel, Profiles and PAR 64’s), intermixed with DTS automated lighting (four DTS NICK 1201 NRG High Power LED Moving Head Wash/Beam and six DTS JACK High Performance Spot/Beam/Wash automated luminaires). All are under the control of an SGM Studio 24 Scan desk linked to the Extron master automation system.

The high specification is maintained at the pro-audio end, with JBL SRX providing the 5.1 surround sound, powered by Crown CTs amplifiers. At front of house is a Soundcraft Vi1 digital mixing console while ALA’s generous tie line provision ensures that OB trucks can operate at the venue. SDI/3G video networked feeds are available along with analogue audio feeds and an AES/EBU network for the cameraman’s audio feed.

Management of the theatre I/O’s is via four BSS Soundweb London BLU 160 digital DSP, using BLU-Link, BSS Audio’s proprietary network transport. Based on Gigabit Ethernet technology the BLU-Link carries 256 channels of fault-tolerant, low-latency audio at 48kHz/24bit, or 128 channels at 96kHz/24bit across a standard CAT5e connection — and thus provides an elegant and economical cabling solution.

With Polycom 8000 videoconferencing also forming part of he package, it is little surprise that two 42U rack units occupy the main control room, with an enormous quantity of Extron’s matrix switchers, scalers and twisted pair transmitters taking care of all the video distribution. Decoding and de-embedding of audio from BluRay players and servers is also managed by Extron audio devices controlled by Extron automation, which handles the source switching and signal formatting, while outside the control room a Christie LX 400 serves as a preview display for the guest on stage.

The Classrooms

Of the first 15 classrooms to be equipped, two have been fitted with a double Christie LX400 projector while the remainder comprise single LX400’s, ceiling mounted using Euromet Arakno brackets.

The Christie LX400 has been a real revelation, confirms Piemonti. “We chose this projector because the University wanted a superior performance, high brightness projector from a top brand name [than that originally under consideration]. The customer was happy to switch to Christie and was really impressed. “At the demo, the guys were surprised it could be used with open blinds — since it’s very sunny in Cyprus — and along with the quiet operation and extremely attractive price that determined the choice of projector.”

Helping to optimise the projector is the choice of the Euromet Arakno bracketry. Not wishing to compromise on safety or quality of positioning a simple screw adjustment system was all that was needed.

Each room is equipped with a 2-metre wide ScreenLine motorised front projection screen, connected to the Extron control system and a custom double racked/double faced lecture podium (fabricated by ALA). The remainder of the AV equipment includes four JBL Control 24 ceiling speakers powered by Crown XLS amps; a Samsung BluRay player connected via HDMI to the Extron MPS 409 Presentation Switcher and fully controlled via the central Extron control system. In the double teaching classroom an Extron DVS 605 is used because of the extra functionality like seamless switching and Picture-in-Picture capabilities.

An Extron RGB-DVI 300 is also used for upscaling any VGA input to HDMI while an Extron IPL 250 control processor is interfaced to a 7” Extron TLP 710MV touch panel in each room. The HDMI signal to the projectors is delivered via Extron HDMI 201TX/RX Twisted Pair Extenders that carry the required RS232 control signals.

The Gigabit backbone is accessed via an HP Procurve network switch (100Mb 8 Port) with a rack-mount HP PC and the SMART Podium 17” interactive LCD pen display at the lectern is interfaced to the PC and Presentation Switch via an Extron DVI DA2 distribution amplifier. On this touch screen, resembling a mega iPad, the teacher can write or modify the presentation in real time.

The Extron architecture presents each classroom with a versatile infrastructure and a number of available inputs. These include 3 x HD; 1 x Composite Video; 1 x VGA (via the Presentation Switch) — with a VGA input direct back-up to the projector for redundancy — and eight audio stereo inputs.

Explaining the design, Andrea Piemonti says, “This solution gives the teacher full control of the classroom via an intuitive GUI loaded onto the Extron 7in table-top touch panel which provides the ability to control any video, audio and lighting presets in the classroom.

“Via the Extron’s touch panel the teacher also has full control of the BluRay player, with the increased simplicity of predefined presets controlling screens, lighting and audio. He can also edit and interact in real time with any presentation via the 17” SMART interactive pen display without obstructing the screen. This removes any stress from the teaching method.”

The network-based classroom AV system not only provides immense functionality but also Help Desk remote access via the Extron GlobalViewer Enterprise Management System (GVE). The Help Desk offers a view of the entire enterprise in a single window and access to detailed room data with just a click of a mouse.

The GVE provides ALA with a full remote diagnostic of the entire campus, providing a detailed e-mail report in real time, outlining the status of every single component installed in the campus.

“To be able to carry out all diagnostics online via GVE is perfect,” says Piemonti. “We can interface with the server and switch on with iPad. As result we know everything there is to know about the Campus component management. It has been very well deployed in this campus and will continue to be with future expansion.”

Speaking of the installation, Extron Director of European Sales, Jerome Gueras, said, “Since the beginning of the UCLAN project, ALA has put a lot of effort into integrating a full Extron solution, including control, switching and signal management. They benefited from Extron’s extensive experience in the higher education market, and we are pleased to hear the positive comments about Extron systems from both the integrator and the University.”

Andy Belcher, UCLan’s own AV technician, responsible for providing teaching support, was delighted with the fulfillment. Tracing the project he confirmed, “Initially we had opted for the UK tender but right at the last minute ALA produced another tender and set of drawings.

“We knew how we wanted the installation — but this is far different and a lot more advanced than our original design, which was much more simplistic. The decision to put in more sophisticated Extron control was a good idea and suits the purpose, with everyone carrying iPads and laptops.

“Usually there are teething problems when a sophisticated installation such as this is first turned on — but we have not had anything. The standard of wiring has been incredible and I have been impressed with the speed of delivery, the quality of ALA’s work and the professional way in which they supported the contract. In fact ALA met every demand we made — they are a great organization with a great guy at the top [in Andrea Piemonti].”

He also credited the ALA site team with the way they interfaced with the IT network providers, Cytacom.

But more appealing — thanks to this advanced deployment — is the possibility of distance learning and lecture capture whereby lectures conducted 3,600km away in Preston are transmitted to Pyla.

Subjects such as dentistry, in particular, would benefit — and this potential is of considerable interest to Floros Voniatis, Founding Partner and Member of the Board, from UCLan Cyprus’ senior management team. “From an operational perspective the work carried out by the contractors will enable us to exceed our original objective, offering not only British students the opportunity to study here but also those from Cyprus, Russia and the Middle East. This project is one of the most advanced and fastest constructions ever to be built in Cyprus.”