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Reengineering the "Old Normal" for Today's Needs

The technology was developed with a completely different application in mind. But then again, it was developed before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

For many, conducting a Microsoft Teams, Zoom or similar type of video conference is pretty standard fare. Everyone logs in from their respective location and, barring any unmuted background noise or bandwidth issues, it all works quite well.

What doesn’t work well is having two or more people separately logging in – and they’re in the same room. Avoiding feedback loops in the room requires a manual orchestration of microphones, mute buttons and speakers. A time-consuming process that is often met with frustration.

Which was exactly the problem the City of Tucson was facing in its 17 courtrooms. Social distancing and indoor meeting restrictions required proceedings to be held by video conference. However judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and often witnesses were in the courtroom – all logged into the video proceedings using separate laptops.

In evaluating the situation, E1 engineers felt the best possible solution was to create a hybrid video conferencing environment. They envisioned having courtroom participants interacting as they always had before the pandemic and taking individual laptops out of the equation altogether.

The key was finding a way to aggregate all of the courtroom’s activities into a single feed so the courtroom as a whole would be seen as one video conference participant.

The solution called for the integration of common courtroom technologies with one piece of technology that’s never been in a courtroom before.

For each courtroom, the more familiar part of the solution entailed implementing PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras for the judge, council table and witness stand.

Sound within the courtroom was channeled through new ceiling speakers with the existing courtroom microphones tied back to the video conferencing system. The audio solution not only eliminated system feedback but provided a near-telephone-like user experience.

Everything ran through new digital signal processing equipment and a control system which the judge accessed via a 7-inch touch panel.

New to the scene was IDK’s ultra-high definition (up to 4K), multi-window processor. It takes up to four video inputs and simultaneously displays them on a single screen – or in this case – on a single feed into a video conference. Additionally, the judge has a multitude of options for how those separate images are presented to others on the video conference.

IDK engineers say this type of application was never contemplated when they developed the processor. And while its appearance in courtrooms is something brand new, IDK’s multi-window processor is well known to advanced AV integrators such as E1. Its more common application is consolidating the feeds from multiple security cameras into one screen for easy monitoring.

New problems call for fresh thinking. Thanks to E1AV and IDK, the City of Tucson courts’ new normal is suddenly beginning to feel a lot like the old normal again. Only better. And that’s a good place to be.


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