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Special ‘degree’ in SDVoE boosts Finnish University’s AV upgrade

Renowned Aalto University's Otaniemi campus undergoing a major tech injection

Aalto University, Finland’s highly regarded multidisciplinary technology, business and art/design school, is deep into phase three of a major AV system upgrade designed to enhance the learning and work environments for all buildings on its Otaniemi campus, located near Helsinki. The overall project is highly focussed on SDVoE.

More than 40 of the campus’ rooms in phase two of the project – including 16 lecture halls, 25 classrooms and one common area across three buildings – were outfitted with SDVoE signal distribution. In addition, traditional matrix switch technology was deployed in rooms in other campus locations.

Aalto selected ZeeVee’s SDVoE AVoIP signal distribution system, which makes it possible to distribute and switch uncompressed 720p, 1080p HD, Ultra HD and 4K resolution content with near zero latency, as well as audio and control, via off-the-shelf 10Gb Ethernet switches.

The key goals for phase three are to continue to transform all media platforms and connectivity to an IP-based solution so that there will be more flexible routing options for audio and video between rooms and to enable the creation of overflow rooms on the fly.

From the beginning, the University’s administrators were very interested in finding an easier way for instructors and students to simultaneously present 4K AV content from multiple sources, including both in-room components and personal devices. At the same time, it was deemed crucial that the new system provide long-term cost-efficiency and reliability.

“The renewal program of Aalto University AV was originally established to support digital transformation of our university and  we were lucky enough to have the basic capabilities in place to support us through the hybrid mode of operations during the pandemic,” explains Hannes Päivänsalo, Aalto University’s head of IT operations.

“In the future we will need to provide AV capabilities with even more flexibility and scalability, not only cross our campus, but also to remote participants. Finland is investing heavily to higher education and we need to be able to maximize the usage of our campus infrastructure to serve more students
in the future.”

The project is being spearheaded by Lasse West, Aalto University’s AV infrastructure solution specialist, and the University’s IT Services team, which provided all the networking infrastructure and in-house design.To complete the team, West called on distributor Dustin Finland Oy to provide hardware and project management support, as well as AV integrator Electro Waves Oy for system design support.

Making the SDVoE solution particularly attractive was that it offered the highest quality video and built-in capability to expand the system in the future, with components that fit the University’s budget and needs from an extensive ecosystem of SDVoE gear from dozens of manufacturers.

Phase three planning was also impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading the project team to redefine the technical specs and primary use cases to support a hybrid approach for both onsite and remote learning scenarios. This was important in reducing the boundaries between face-to-face and remote participants and helping instructors to focus on teaching instead of technology.

“Our AV system upgrade plan began under a ‘New Learning Spaces’ concept, which added system capabilities and sophistication enabling instructors and students to work with a high level of interactivity that invigorated the learning experience,” says West. “It was also key to have the flexibility to support a wider array of instruction in each lecture hall and classroom.”

The current and final project phase features a technology neutral, standardised interface that enables the AV systems in each room to be reconfigured at the touch of a button to accommodate any number of seating, display and presentation set-ups. It includes more than 300 AVoIP endpoints serving Panasonic projectors, Samsung LCD displays, LED screens, Fohhn and Nexo speaker cabinets, and Fohhn subwoofers. Instructors and students can use any connection point to link their laptops, media players and other devices to presentations staged anywhere within the rooms.

Additional system hardware includes Shure DSPs and microphones; Sennheiser microphones; PTZ cameras from Sony, Panasonic and Telycam; CueSystems touch panels and controllers; Genelec and Shure loudspeakers; Extron speakers and DSPs; Kramer VIA wireless;  Lightware AV switchers; Epson and Panasonic projectors; Finlux/Vestel LCD displays; as well as various installation accessories from manufacturers including Chief, Wave, Extron, Kondator, Caymon, ProCAB and Vivolink.

The system is driven by ZeeVee ZyPer4K encoders and decoders and Juniper network switches, operated via the ZeeVee ZyPer Management Platform – a comprehensive and easy-to-use video distribution control system. Instructors and students operate the system, without advanced training, via a customised Snowflake user interface touch panel.

During the first two phases of the initiative, West and his team faced challenges in network design and the availability and resources to implement networking hardware. While the networking challenges were mainly related to technologies other than SDVoE, the platform did require a learning curve. These were overcome by adding more hands-on resources, attending training sessions and enlisting the support of device manufacturers such as ZeeVee, to provide best practices and assist with the network configuration.

In addition, West’s team increased its focus on defining and recognising the relevant use-case scenarios in each AVoIP solution environment, as well as conducting stringent evaluations of selected hardware to be included in their SDVoE system.

West is quick to point out that there is still much work to be done including retrofitting pre-existing buildings and expanding the system to new facilities.

“The technical part of the project has been exactly where it was expected to be and the SDVoE solution is covering off on the goals of the project perfectly,” he says. “Going forward, we are very confident that the AV signal distribution solution we selected will enable us to efficiently and cost-effectively expand the program on budget and on schedule.”