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Audiovisual and Acoustics Engineering: Steve Thorburn Reports from InfoComm


By Steve Thorburn.

Like most sessions at InfoComm, my class was originally set up in response to suggestions from attendees, who are regularly solicited for input on what would be relevant to their needs. I have taught this one (among others) for many consecutive years and it still draws very well. Next door, Thorburn Associates president Lisa Thorburn (right) was leading the session “How to Issue an RFQ/RFP, ” (see: How to Issue an RFP/RFQ : The Basic Tools of Project Development) also with a good turnout. Although these sessions are targeted primarily to owners, they attract quite a few vendors as well. Naturally, being in search of work, the latter attend partly in order to meet the former. This year, relatively few of the roughly 60 participants in Lisa’s session identified themselves as owners. It could be that fewer owners are at the show this year, or that some are concealing their status in order not to be solicited – either way, a sign of the times.

Can You Hear Me?

There’s a gripe I hear in my AV class year after year. It typically comes from a frustrated person at an educational facility, who can’t get a room acoustics problem resolved or an area upgraded because certain decision-makers can’t be swayed or convinced. The resistant person or people may be engaged in a power play, oblivious or resistant to technology. (In my experience, the anti-tech people don’t exist in corporate America anymore – realizing the buggy was gone, the powers that be got rid of the buggywhips.) An adage that bears frequent repetition in our business is that a room with bad acoustics can’t be fixed by sound reinforcement technology – it will still sound bad. Acoustics are best applied at an early stage of the design process – that’s when they’ll be the most effective and cost the least.

We lunched with our longtime colleague, producer Ammiel Najar of Graphic Films. Ammiel specializes in giant-screen film, and in the 1990s he and I were on the founding board of the Large Format Cinema Association, which merged a few years ago with the Giant Screen Cinema Association. I was preparing for my Wednesday afternoon session – a four-hour class about basic principles of acoustics that I have been presenting at InfoComm for numerous consecutive years. Ammiel related a story about developing the campus of the USC School of Film and Television, for which project he was transition coordinator in the 1980s. They paid careful attention to acoustics, surfaces and surface treatments, Ammiel recounted, and they were so successful that the fire department required some modifications – the installation of fire annunciators – because the soundproofing of the classroom walls was so effective that students inside wouldn’t be able to hear fire alarms ringing in the halls.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Designing rooms for videoconferencing and teaching a class on the subject, which he will do Friday morning at InfoComm, has made Thorburn Associates senior consultant Lance Sturdevant (right) extremely sensitive to human communications issues. Lance observes that most people like to establish eye contact with the other person during conversation, and that traditional videoconferencing makes this goal somewhat elusive because of the camera position. (He’s also irritated by people who text-walk.) Exploring on the trade show floor, Lance pointed out the “telepresence” videoconference equipment that was featured in several booths, which uses tilted screens and concealed cameras to deliver high-res, life-sized images of conferees and closely simulate the experience of being in the same room with them. An advantage of videoconferencing, video chatting and video phoning is the ability to watch the person’s face and especially their lips, if one is hard of hearing. The so-called “granny-cam” video phone is catching on in certain demographics for this reason – elderly people who may not be conversant with email or texting, may take readily to the granny-cam to stay in touch with friends and family.

For the past two days we have been immersed in the educational program, but Thursday and Friday we’ll be getting onto the trade show floor, and will commence to share product news: mainstays, upgrades, innovations, and vaporware.

Images: top left Steve Thorburn, top right Lisa Thorburn, bottom right Lance Sturdevant

See also:

Technology for Entertainment, Education and Business: Steve Thorburn Reports from InfoComm 09

Themed Design: Seven Steps of Tech Design Success

Themed Design: Modern Building Design Demands Partnership between Tech Designers and Architects

Reconciling Architecture and Acoustics in the LEED Era

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Rachel Reed

Rachel Read

Rachel is Finance Director. She has a degree in engineering from Cambridge University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at Deloittes in London. She worked in finance in industry for twenty years. She oversees our news and also manages our events.

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