Melbourne’s Federation Hall is a 220 seat theatre on the beautiful grounds of The Victorian College of The Arts, Southbank. Part of The University of Melbourne, the Hall is a true multipurpose venue, hosting lectures, orchestral performances and film screenings.
“It’s as much a teaching venue as it is a performance venue” explained Scott Morrison, Senior Technical Specialist in Learning Space Support at the University. “Melbourne Conservatory of Music use it for music composition and performance while The Victorian College of the Arts use it for both theatre performance studies as well as for the Film and TV department.” As such, the venue boasts a beautiful stage, excellent controllable acoustics, an eight metre wide 360 inch retractable screen, four projectors including 35mm film and a 7.1 surround sound system.
Over the last two years, The University of Melbourne, Parity Technology Consulting and integrators Soundcorp have been working together to completely replace the back of house control and distribution infrastructure in Federation Hall, refurbishing its ailing all-analogue backbone to a fully integrated, high-definition venue fully controlled via AMX Modero touchscreens.
“The project started off with renewing the lectern and replacing the existing AMX control system” recalls Pasquale Valpied, Partner at Parity Technology Consulting. “Then it grew as we incorporated stage lighting and screen operation control via AMX. There’s now centralised control for the screen masking, all audio and video input sources, curtains, screen automation, stage and house lighting, presentation and cinema projectors, Dolby processor and even the slide projectors, all from an AMX NI3100.”
Control of the system is via two AMX Modero touchscreens, one mounted in the on-stage lectern and another in the bio box. “The MXD700 in the lectern has specific user settings, set out according to the University of Melbourne’s standard template for its lecturers” explained Sam Moore, Sales Manager at Soundcorp. “The 10” MTX1000 in the bio box is for operators. It’s got more pages, more control over the lighting and more functions to control the four projectors, the surround system and the microphones.”
Monitoring In through Out
All connected devices report back to the University’s technicians via AMX’s Resource Management Suite. All University AV spaces are monitored by RMS, allowing logs of projector lamp hours, wireless mic battery charge and equipment usage cycles to be analysed and acted upon by staff. Not only does this enable timely service to be carried out, but also lets the team analyse whether a particular piece of equipment (such as a DVD player) is utilised often enough to merit inclusion in a similar new space.
At the heart of the complex video switching and distribution system in Federation Hall is Extron’s new XTP platform. Accepting all forms of video input from HDMI to component analogue, and distributing signal via Cat6, the XTP is vital to the functionality of the space. “XTP worked a treat” elaborated Pasquale. “It’s a good application for this space as we have limited video outputs, but a lot of different inputs, from standard to high definition, Betacam players and 35 mm film projectors. We can have a lot of control over the resolution and get our video and audio control articulated over Cat6 cabling down to stage.”
The Mother of Invention
Integrating control of the XTP system to the AMX NI3000 enabled Soundcorp’s AMX programming master Martin Smith to achieve an amazing amount of control with a minimum of cabling. As the venue is constantly in use and difficult to run new cabling from rack to stage, one of the ingenious solutions engineered for DVD and BluRay control was carried out with ported infra-red codes. On activating the lectern’s DVD ‘play’ button, the AMX NI3000 sends an IR command over IP to the Extron, which ports it down Cat6 to stage, before adapting into an IR dongle on the front of the DVD player. Not only was this a handy workaround for cabling, it also saved control ports on the AMX.
Ingenuity like this is the theme of the installation, with control signals on RS232, I.P., GPIO, DMX and Dynalight all integrated to one another through the NI3100. With the house light control on Dynalight and stage light control on DMX, a Dynet DMX switch was employed to link up the new lighting PC in the rack and the override lighting desk via a Dynet network bridge. “Soundcorp did a great install” beamed Pasquale. “We knew it would be difficult to programme, but Soundcorp’s Martin Smith made it look easy.”
The Audience is Listening
While vision is key to the installation, one of the trickiest aspects of job was audio integration. The space must not only be able to run orchestral performances, presentations or cinema easily without an operator but also switch quickly to control by engineers from desks. All sources and mixes not only feed the house, but also the hearing assistance loop and Lectopia Echo360 lecture capture system.
Along with wireless and wired microphones patched to the existing Mackie analogue sound desk, a QSC DCP100 7.1 surround processor feeds QSC amps with decoded audio from the 35mm film projector and the Extron XTP. To enable control and switching of such diverse sources, an Extron DMP128 12X8 digital matrix processor was installed, enabling any source to be sent any speaker in the auditorium, including the Krix surround system and FOH Bose Panarays.
Scott Morrison is proud to have taken part in such a complex refurbishment, and praises his partners. “It’s been a good positive relationship between the three parties. Because of the complexities of the space, there’s been a lot of positive discourse and collaboration around schematics and ideas. The workflow between client, contractor and consultant had been really good.” Pasquale Valpied is equally complimentary about Soundcorp’s involvement; “It was a large job and Soundcorp did it well. There are completely new audio and vision racks, half the size of the previous racks. We’ve given them full HD digital video, 7.1 downmixing, 7.1 playback, and flexible inputs to bring in HDMI or VGA for future expansion.”
Soundcorp’s Sam Moore is pleased to have overseen a long but successful project. “Parity have done a great job of keeping up with new technology as the stages have been implemented. It’s taken the system from analogue to full HD digital. It’s been quite a journey. Working with Parity and the University of Melbourne, along with AMX and Extron, we’ve solved all of the issues that have come up and given a unique space a new lease on life.”
All photos: Gary Drain