Visionary Solutions Key to Mills College’s Visionary System

Mills College Lisser Hall ext.Historic buildings are challenging to renovate because of old construction and legal restrictions. One-hundred-year old Lisser Hall, on the beautiful sylvan campus of Mills College in Oakland, California, came with yet one more complication: a total remodel nearly a half-century ago that reversed the hall’s layout. In 2017, the renowned women’s college undertook the arduous task of an extensive renovation that essentially gutted and rebuilt the 250-seat venue.

The demand for modern media capabilities in the hall was met by an innovative, fully converged AV system designed and installed by David Carroll Associates (DCA) of Richmond, California. The crucial requirement for integration of video services into the system was satisfied by high-quality AV-over-IP encoders and decoders from Visionary Systems.

The hall must accommodate a full range of media devices, including TVs, phones, tablet computers, and projectors. However, the existing wiring and AV systems were not up to modern code specifications. The college wanted a new AV system to serve both the main venue and a second, 50-seat performance space and allow the two to be linked. The lobby area and outside deck also required AV service. Narrow pathways, difficult-to-access areas, and the cost of running conduit all around the building combined with historic-status restrictions to discourage the use of separate analog systems for different media.

The school turned to DCA, which recommended a comprehensive AV-over-IP approach. “We don’t have separate networks for audio, video, and control,” relates DCA president David Carroll. “It’s all one network, so you can connect a video or intercom device into any jack on the network, and it just shows up and works.” A single CAT6 cable carries audio and video signals, control functions, and intercom, any of which can be accessed from more than 100 Ethernet connections in the building. “On-ramp” encoders and “off-ramp” decoders insert and extract signals to and from the Extreme Networks-powered core network infrastructure.

Mills College av rackVisionary Solutions E4100 encoders and D4100 decoders convert up to 4K UHD video content, plus stereo analog audio, to and from HDMI and USB. A Blu-Ray player and a video camera aimed at the stage are the main sources for encoding. The D4100s feed projectors, large-screen TVs, and other display devices. Attero Tech unBT2A wall plates allow background music or other content to be streamed wirelessly into the system from a smartphone or other device via Bluetooth.

DCA selected the Q-SYS platform from QSC to carry audio and control data around the hall and provide compatibility with multiple protocols, such as Dante (to communicate with a Yamaha TF-series mixing console), Ethernet AVB, and Q-LAN protocol from QSC for audio. Through a strategic partnership between QSC and Visionary Solutions, Visionary Solutions has created a plugin that enables integration of a stereo audio stream from the E4100 encoder directly into Q-SYS. A Q-SYS Core 510i integrated processor provides diverse card-based and network I/O options and serves as the main processing engine.

The system is easily expanded, since scalability of an AV-over-IP system is not limited by the size of a matrix, and higher component costs were offset by eliminating conduit costs. And with universal access from any Ethernet jack, Carroll point out, “a user can put a Visionary Solutions D4100 decoder on the back of a flat-panel display on a rolling cart, roll it anywhere in the building, plug it in, have it show up on the network with whatever name it was given, and immediately monitor any video signal on the network without changing networks or addresses.”

The reality of students learning to use technology was also an issue. “We needed things to be relatively bulletproof,” states Carroll. “We didn’t feel comfortable putting VSI devices directly in students’ hands because the products are designed for fixed installation. But we needed more flexibility in their deployment, so we manufactured an enclosure to make a box within a box. The enclosures have Ethercon and Neutrik HDMI connectors, are made from heavy-gauge aluminum, and are fitted with feet.”

DCA created custom code and GUIs to enable the Q-SYS TSC Series touch screen controllers to display live video thumbnails from the encoders and decoders, providing access and confidence monitoring to the media streams and their routing around the network. The flexibility of Q-SYS allowed them to offer DIY and Advanced User modes in order to present a limited feature set to students and detailed access to technically qualified users.

The venue’s rolling stage-manager podium vividly demonstrates the power of full convergence and extensive remote access. The podium incorporates a touch panel, computer monitor, and laptop input and can roll around onstage or be moved to a backstage position downstairs. This enables the stage manager to feed a projector, see the output of the stage-view camera, or manage intercom communications. The podium requires only a single connection to access these functions.

The college is thrilled with the system and appreciative of DCA’s expertise and attitude, and Carroll sees the Lisser Hall project as a model for what DCA will do for other installations. “This installation is relatively small, but it has every aspect of what you would want in a big installation,” he explains. “The Lisser Hall approach could be scaled to a much larger project.”

Mills College Performance Theater