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LCD monitors move U of C Hospitals conference room into the 21st Century


The University of Chicago Hospitals boardroom shown from the back.What a difference a century makes. 100 years ago the steam locomotive was the fastest way to go cross country, the Wright Brothers were still working on their flying machine, the magic lantern was cutting-edge projection technology, and University of Chicago trustees were still considering whether to establish a medical school. Today the University of Chicago Hospitals and Health System is a city-wide network that admits over 30,000 patients a year and its new boardroom boasts one of the city's most advanced presentation systems.

In a typical meeting, only two people would view each monitor and the projectors up front would remain hidden.

 

The new boardroom was built at the behest of Hospitals President Ralph Muller, whose board of directors had been transient since giving up its old conference room to office space a couple of years ago. Muller finally decided it was time for a new home, and he put out the call for a state of the art facility to be ready for board meetings in the year 2000. Because the old conference room had little or no built-in technology, conceiving and designing the new room from scratch was a challenge. The task fell to interior projects manager Trish Nagy. "We wanted something professional, but not ostentatious. We had to be conscious of comfort, but people also needed to be able to see what was happening." Nagy outsourced the design of the room to an audio-visual consultant. United Visual provided the technology, installed it and trained hospital staff to use it.

The three dozen members of the U of C board of directors, along with hospital administrators and other personnel, now find themselves seated in high backed leather chairs, at a very long custom-designed cherry table. But the most striking feature of the room is the presence of as many as 36 multi-media monitors installed into the conference table itself-usually one for every two people seated there.


Equipment rack contains video- and audioconferening processors, media sources, sound system and AMX control system.Why individual monitors

Installing multiple monitors into conference rooms is an idea that's coming of age. The U of C Hospitals boardroom, built in an existing facility, could have been a problematic space: it's a room that's much longer than it is wide, not dividable into smaller sections, with a somewhat low ceiling that limits the use of a projection screen large enough for everyone to see. Like most executives, hospital board members are finding an increased need to view computer information and to do business long-distance via videoconferencing. In training rooms or auditoriums where it's impossible to install a large-enough screen up front, designers often will put a couple of large monitors farther back for the use of those in the back of the room. But in a boardroom a single conversation takes place around a single table and everyone needs equal access to information. In this kind of configuration, it would be difficult to find space for additional large monitors and very difficult to put them where everyone could see clearly.

The solution was to place individual monitors along the whole length of the U of C conference table. Now everyone can read small text and fine-lined schematics on screens only two feet in front of them.

United Visual's Doug Carnell, who worked on the project, steered Nagy towards Mitsubishi LCD monitors for three basic reasons: price, size limitations, and technical requirements. "The original specs called for basic CRT style monitors, which are bulky and deep," says United's health care specialist, Jim Mergens. "The mere fact that the Mitsubishi monitors have a slim, narrow profile made them much easier to install. They can also be taken down and stored easily since they're so lightweight." The smaller monitors were also much more affordable, certainly a consideration when you're buying three dozen of them.

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The University Hospital's board meets only quarterly and conferences can be quite lengthy. Comfort, convenience and versatility were all major considerations. Presenters can control all media-laptop computer with hospital intranet hookup, VCR, DVD player, document camera, or videoconferencing-from the touch

panel at the podium. The two Sony cabinet monitors at the front provide an alternative to the tabletops when the meeting is small. "The audio/visual is very user-friendly," says Nagy. "There's a sense of completeness to the room. I think it's very well rounded and comfortable, but practical as well. It really is our premier room."

"Aesthetically it's a great room," says Mergens. "It's all Panja touchpanel controlled and it's the latest model. The cliche might be, if you can use an ATM machine, you can use this room, but actually it's easier. It's important that conference room technology be easy to understand, especially if a room is used by a variety of organizations or presenters."

It was widely believed that we stood on the doorstep of a technological revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. The airplane, the automobile, the movies, the telephone, the light bulb all lent credence to that belief. Just as the University of Chicago Hospitals now places itself at the forefront of medicine, the new conference room stands out as a sleek, modern testament to the newest trend in audio-visual enhancements. As we move farther and farther away from the bright arc of the magic lantern, who knows where the 21st Century will take us?