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Case Study

U Ottawa Showcases Latest in Multimedia Tech

When a generous donor offered the University of Ottawa the largest donation in the university's history, one use for the funds was a new, super-high-tech multimedia room. Beginning in 2006, and working in collaboration with its Telfer School of Management and the School of Social Sciences, the university conceived and constructed a 13-floor building. It includes a cutting-edge multipurpose media room complete with immense projection screens that are each 28 feet high, a control room upstairs, theatrical lighting, three permanent Elmo cameras, wired and wireless connections, and a portable stage, among other technical amenities.

The huge, 28-foot high screens--four in all, two that are eight feet wide and two 14 feet wide--take advantage of the two-story height of the media room. Owing to constraints from mechanical and electrical equipment above the ceiling, screen width had to be limited. Specific zoom lenses on the NEC projection equipment deliver the correct image.

In January 2008, the university opened its new multi-purpose room for VIP guests, a room intended as a showcase for the university. Speakers and others who give multimedia presentations using the room can use various media formats and different sources, all from a range of locations within the room. The room itself is 88 feet wide, 25 feet long, and 22 feet high and encompasses two stories of the new building.

"We wanted something flexible," according to Mark Gareau, manager of the Multimedia Distribution Service for the university. "We're using it now in all kinds of fashions.... We're starting to capture events and send them around campus. It's very functional, and [yet] very discrete with the screens and lighting hidden as much as possible ... and the control room on the second floor."

With a student population of some 36,000, the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in North America. Located in Canada's capital city of Ottawa--and a little more than a mile from where the Canadian Parliament meets--it offers students the option of studying in either English or French.

Gareau, who took on the challenge of heading the room design and technical equipment selection, had a number of choices to make during design of the feature-rich multimedia room. In particular, the School of Management, which hosts important visitors regularly and wanted an appropriate room for those events, was a driver behind development of the room, and collaborated closely with Gareau throughout the process. It helped that the school of management had a solid vision of what was wanted right from the start, Gareau said.

"They had visited Harvard and other Ivy League schools to take a look at what was out there, so they were very well prepared," he said.

There were challenges from the start. "We hadn't gone to wide screen [anywhere on campus], something we really wanted to do," Gareau said. Also, "there's a lot of mechanical and a lot of electrical in the room, and we wanted to keep the space as bare and open as possible," with the technical equipment largely hidden. Once obstacles were overcome and the new system was in place, Gareau said administrators have been "completely astounded" by the new room's scope, sound and projection quality, and potential.

For projectors in the multimedia room, the university chose four NEC projectors, including two NEC NP4001s, which featured a wider aspect ratio than the campus had previously. The projector also has technology that allows playback of video sources. Two NEC NP4000 LCD projectors were also installed to provide digital images for computer applications.

"The 4001s were a foray into the new wider screen," Gareau said. "We wanted [features like] the color wheel, the better picture, and better resolution. We really needed two projectors to give it a push.... I'm really happy with it all. It worked out very well."

Cost for the equipment overall was somewhere over CDN$300,000, Gareau said, adding that one point in favor of the NEC projectors was price.

Gareau's advice for others considering a project of this scope: Communication. A constant flow of information back and forth, he said, is one thing that helped make the project a success. "Try to get information [to all stakeholders] out early," he suggested, including letting the project architect know early and often as plans change.

Pleased with the outcome, the university is currently planning to do it all over again and build a second multipurpose room. "They like what they see here," Gareau said.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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