“We had become aware of digital signage on a walk through an Infocomm Show floor [in 2007], and thought that the idea was a good one for the school,” says Williams, adding that a rash of college campus shootings, such as the one that took place on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in April that same year, added some urgency to the idea. Saint Louis University’s IT department set the first signage display up and the Multi Media Services staff spent the next year showing it to department heads. The administration then green-lighted four initial display locations, and Williams’ department has been overseeing the installation of more ever since. Integrator TSI Systems installs the NEC Display Solutions digital signage systems. Each department it reaches can develop its own content for their channel, and the school’s marketing and public safety departments can access and override all channels in the event of a need to quickly communicate urgent information campus-wide.
Initially, the system was set up for 1080p high definition, but bandwidth demands quickly compelled them to move to compressed video files. The signage is not interactive but Williams says they are considering adding a wayfinding component to the system. Presently, all of the signage is located indoors; outdoor locations would be useful for wayfinding applications but, as Williams points out, the university is in a downtown urban environment where theft or malicious damage to the displays could be an issue.
Projectors and Video Walls
Saint Louis University refreshes its technology infrastructure on a six-year cycle, with between 30 and 35 of its 311 classrooms and lecture halls updated annually. The university’s video projector complement has been nearly fully replaced using high-definition NEC PA5000U digital projectors. TSI’s integrators take between three days to a week to install the upgrades, which are scheduled for in between semesters or other breaks in the school year. Williams expects that the university’s entire projector complement will be high definition within two more years.
The growing number of video walls throughout the university’s auditoriums — currently there are two 2 x 2 NEC display walls, one 3 x 6-unit display and two 5 x 5 configurations, with another 5 x 5 soon to be added in a former gym being refurbished as a 1,000-seat auditorium — can be attributed to a detailed cost-of-ownership study prepared by the Multi Media Services department, which established that on a seven-year basis the school would save approximately $75,000 using video walls versus high-performance projectors for its medical school imaging applications.
“When we documented what the costs of projectors would be for these purposes, along with the cost of lamp replacement and other maintenance and labor costs, plus the down time that comes with that, it was clear to the administration that video walls was the better way to go,” Williams says. That analysis included the cost of spare displays that the school’s maintenance department would keep on hand to hot-swap in the event one of the displays went down. “If a lamp is out it can take a room off line for up to two days; the spare display can be hot-swapped in less than a single day,” he explains.
Saint Louis University’s Multi Media Services department won’t have time to rest on its laurels. The school is building a new off-campus center for its law school that will include a mock courtroom. The facility, scheduled to open in August of 2013, will be outfitted with identical A/V systems, including the same NEC projectors and displays, and Crestron control systems, as used on the main campus. It’s A/V will also be connected to the campus systems via fiber being laid underground for the two miles between the two locations.
“We still have a lot of A/V to go,” says Williams.