Superlab – The Ultimate Teaching Laboratory facilitated through cutting-edge AV over IP solution

Superlab is one of the largest teaching laboratories in Europe and was originally opened in 2007 as part of the new LMU Science Centre. By 2017 the main features of the original IT system in the lab had become unstable and Reflex started working with the University on a refresh project to plan, design and implement a new system on which all practical science lessons could be delivered.

The challenge was to enable 268 students to work in the lab at one time while engaging with any one of up to 12 different lectures running simultaneously. The solution was met by a system which at the time became the largest Wyrestorm AV over IP system in the world.

Students receive the audio for their chosen lecture via their own headphones connected to portable receivers worn in their lab coat pockets and pre‐set to the correct lecture channels. The associated video material is shown on a display mounted above the assorted scientific equipment on their work desks; these same displays double as their local PC monitors.

Each lecturer station has the same set up as above but with the addition of a table top visualizer and a PTZ camera, mounted above the display. The lecturer has a simple membrane keypad on the desktop to select what is broadcast to the students at any point in the lecture; the options are 2 pre‐set camera positions, the visualiser and the lecturer’s PC screen; each can be shown full‐screen or the camera image can be shown as a picture‐in‐picture. Each lecture can be recorded onto a removable USB memory stick and the lecturer can control start and stop functions on the same keypad.

With up to 40 different channels being used at any one time, the system provides clear sound and vision to enable students to follow procedures and conduct experiments safely.

Challenges Faced and Met
Video
Audio
Control
Challenges Faced and Met

The original challenge for this project was to find the most cost efficient way of delivering 12 different sets of high‐quality audio/video content simultaneously to so many students spread over such large distances.

Video

The video challenge was met by a design centred around a Wyrestorm streaming system pulling in the lecturers’ video feeds and transmitting them in 4k resolution to each student workspace across the Superlab’s existing Cat5E cable infrastructure. The use of the existing Cat5 infrastructure was fundamental to the cost‐saving achieved but necessitated a complex cable‐route testing plan and the specification of specialist network switches capable of processing the high‐speed switching required due to the volume of data in the system.

Audio

The need for each student to be able to tune into multiple different audio channels was elegantly met by use of a Televic IR distribution system and portable receivers that are worn in the lab coat pockets. However, the sheer distances involved due to the size of the Superlab introduced more challenges in terms of making sure that every student position could clearly receive the signals and that the timing of the audio heard was synchronised with the video pictures on their displays. The result was achieved through careful positioning of the IR radiators and precise set up of latency adjustments with the system.

Control

It was important for the lecturers’ controls to be extremely quick and simple to use so as not to interrupt the lectures. Reflex commissioned small desk‐ mounted membrane button panels that are perfect for the application and resistant to harmful chemicals which are used within the lab. It was also critical for a technician to be able to configure the system quickly before each lecture session to define which student positions would receive which lecturer’s AV feeds. This was achieved through an Extron controller which allows wireless control via iPads and also two static touch panels.
The installation was obviously complex due to the sheer volume of tasks and working restrictions as the lab was regularly in use. Nevertheless, it all went smoothly thanks to very detailed planning and scheduling.

Sam Barter, Reflex’ project manager explained some of the challenges: “A major element of the project was the removal of old equipment including 280 heavy glass‐ fronted monitors, a process that took several weeks. The re‐use of existing cable infrastructure also made it necessary to carry out extensive testing of all network ports before working bench by bench to install new equipment. All high level work had to be carried out when the lab was free of staff and students, on just one day each week. Even so, we managed to keep ahead of the original schedule right through to completion.”

According to Andrew Kennedy, project manager for the University, “the students got to grips with the system immediately; the technicians and lecturers were a little nervous to start with but gained confidence within a few days and soon became fully comfortable with it.”

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