A full audiovisual ‘refresh’ of the municipal courtrooms in Mobile, Alabama, recently saw systems integrator Atlantic Video Corporation install a Symetrix Radius NX 12x8 DSP and T-5 Glass touchscreen endpoints.

Much of the hardware A/V systems in the three municipal courtrooms in the North Tower of Mobile’s Government Plaza dated from the facility’s construction in 1994. When James Barber, Chief of Staff for the City, approached Gary Crumbley, head of Atlantic Video’ Mobile branch, the priority was for speech intelligibility. Of particular concern were the gallery areas, where small loudspeakers set in a suspended lighting truss did not always allow attendees to hear proceedings clearly.

Crumbley and Debbie McGowin, City of Mobile Director of Courts, treated the first installation as a prototype, allowing 30 days for evaluation and feedback before finalising the design for the remaining courtrooms. Unable to close the courtroom during the installation, Crumbley and colleague Neal Smith worked around court proceedings, leaving the facility spotless and fully functioning each day.

‘From the outset, we were determined to provide a future-proof solution that delivers a step change not just in audio quality, but in how A/V supports smooth working of the courtrooms,’ Crumbley says. ‘At the same time, we had to remember that this facility is used by judges and attorneys with important jobs to do. The last thing they want to be thinking about is how the A/V system functions – it just needs to work.

‘We rejected the first system concepts because they were over-complex, with too many points of p[otential failure. Finally, we arrived at an elegantly simple solution, founded on Symetrix for audio processing and control, WolfVision’s Cynap for wireless collaboration and Visionary Solutions’ Packet A/V encoders and decoders transport to and from the touchscreens and displays.’

A Radius NX 12x8 was selected to manage audio throughout the courtroom, with automatic mixing and a dual-core AEC module ensuring maximum intelligibility. The Radius NX 12x8 routes audio to three zones: the upper bench served by three Sonance PS-P43T pendant loudspeakers and the lower bench and gallery, each furnished with six speakers of the same type. The DSP’s USB audio port also allows eight channels of audio to be captured to USB. With rack space always at a premium, Crumbley replaced the 18 rack units occupied by the incumbent DSP unit and multichannel amplifier with the 1U-high Symetrix Radius NX and a half-rack Powersoft Mezzo 604A amplifier.

Although designed for hands-off operation wherever possible, the system offers streamlined, intuitive audio control via a pair of a Symetrix touchscreen endpoints. Crumbley called on the expertise of Richard Hembree, Territory Manager with sales rep firm Griffith Sales Associates, to devise the user interface for the system. Leveraging the power of Symetrix’s SymVue GUI authoring, Hembree created, tested and simulated the different page layouts and custom controls before deployment to the touchscreens. The judge and clerk can mute or change the levels of all mics in the courtroom from their screens, with a Reset button allowing them to return to the default configuration. Telephone calls are managed from the touchscreens, which can also trigger sidebar conferences, during which all mics are muted, noise is played through the speakers and the city’s official seal is displayed on all screens while judge and attorneys confer in confidence.

‘Symetrix has become our go-to DSP solution,’ Crumbley says. ‘We are impressed by the quality and robustness of the products and by the development team behind them. We have also had excellent support from Richard Hembree, who is a tremendous source of knowledge on Symetrix DSP and all things audio.’

Alongside the audio upgrade, Atlantic Video has transformed the way the courtroom works with visual content. A WolfVision Cynap wireless presentation and collaboration system allows attorneys to share documents and other evidence wirelessly from their devices, cutting the complication of wired connections and document cameras. A Dante network facilitates bi-directional sharing of audio between the Cynap and the Symetrix Radius NX 12x8. Integration with Visionary Solutions’ Packet A/V encoders allows documents to be shown and annotated on the courtroom’s main screen, as well as displaying feeds from up to four video cameras, all controlled from 24-inch Planar touch monitors located in the judge, witness and attorney areas. Bi-directional communication with the Visionary Solutions encoders can also allow video routing from the Symetrix touchscreens.

Feedback on the completed installation has been positive: ‘It is extremely important for the judge, attorneys, and parties to be able to hear well and clearly in a courtroom,’ comments McGowin. ‘Mobile Municipal Court handles misdemeanors some of which can result in a jail sentence. Being that someone’s liberty may be at stake, all involved need to be able to hear the evidence clearly. The old system did not allow for the clear and crisp audio and sound that the new system has. Nor did we have the capability for virtual testimony or the sharing of evidence electronically. The new audio system has been a tremendous improvement. The audio in Courtroom C was updated while we were still under the mask requirement. The improvement allows you to hear everyone speaking clearly even while wearing a mask.’

‘The improvement in audio quality throughout the whole courtroom was immediately appreciated by the professionals who work there,’ Crumbley adds. ‘The fresh approach to sharing evidence and managing the displays has also been very popular. The updated courtrooms will allow better efficiency as well as virtual hearings and testimony in matters in which it is allowed. With the addition of a couple of mics and the touchscreens for the judges, we now have a proven solution that we can confidently roll out to the other courtrooms.’

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