How the California Courts Apply InfoComm Standards to Every Courthouse in the State

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Government; Government Relations; InfoComm Products and Services; Standards

Date: November 2011

By Brad Grimes

It is perhaps the Holy Grail of industry standards: to be specified or expressly integrated into other industry standards, best practices or requests for proposals. Take, for example, the growing stable of ANSI-accredited, AV performance standards from InfoComm International®. Aside from the fact that InfoComm standards benefit enormously from approval by the American National Standards Institute, the ultimate measure of their worth comes when users take those standards and incorporate them into their own building and design requirements.

If you dig into the most recent facilities standards for California’s trial courts—somewhere between mandatory provisions for conference and training rooms and fire protection criteria—you will find a section devoted to courthouse audiovisual systems. And in the section on AV systems, you’ll find descriptions such as the following: “Speech and audio reinforcement systems design shall follow the current release of the design standards established by ANSI/INFOCOMM 1M-2009 Audio Coverage Uniformity in Enclosed Listener Areas (ACU).”

In fact, the current version of the California Trial Court Facilities Standards, published by the Judicial Council of California’s Administrative Office of the Courts and due to be final in November 2011, makes reference to all three existing ANSI/INFOCOMM standards, including 2M-2010 Standard Guide for Audiovisual Systems Design and Coordination Processes and 3M-2011 Projected Image Contrast Ratio standards.

“It’s important to have the standards in there,” says Jennifer Willard, CTS®, Supervising AV/Video Systems Technical Analyst with California’s Administrative Office of the Courts. “When you talk about courthouses, architects design fabulous buildings, but they can prove difficult for integrating proper audiovisual systems. The standards are critical because they hold the architects and designers accountable. Now we’re not forced to compromise on our AV systems. Thanks to the standards, we’ve finally got something that, from a performance perspective, we can leverage to our advantage.”

And in the California courts, that’s no small deal. Under California Senate Bill 1407, 41 courthouses in the state are slated to be built or renovated through 2015, at a cost of roughly $5 billion. Although the latest version of the courts standards hasn’t been finalized (the prior version was published in 2006, when AV systems were still predominantly analog), Willard says some designers are already working in the spirit of the pending document and with an eye toward the InfoComm standards.

“This is a milestone,” Willard says. “AV was included under telecommunications in the 2006 edition of the courts standards. For the first time ever, AV technology has its own chapter.”

Why AV Standards Matter

In September, the state held a ribbon-cutting for the new Mammoth Lakes Courthouse in Mono County, which is located in the state’s eastern Sierra Mountains. Oakland, Calif.-based technology design firm TEECOM engineered the courthouse’s AV systems. Though the Mammoth Lakes design was finished before the new standards, the company’s AV experts are already versed in the courts’ current AV requirements and are applying them to other courthouses they’re working on.

“The process of broadening and disseminating the InfoComm standards is essential to creating uniformly better creative projects, both for initial use and for long-term benefits,” says Ben Shemuel, CTS, Audiovisual Associate at TEECOM. “As designers, we would welcome more requirements from bodies like the Administrative Office of the Courts—across the country—at the municipal, state, and federal levels. These are facilities that our tax dollars are paying for. If someone designs and builds a facility that underperforms, it’s a disservice to everybody and it’s a waste of our hard-earned money.”

TEECOM and other AV design firms work on courthouses throughout California. Shemuel says he can’t imagine a situation when his firm wouldn't have a certain level of dialog with architects over the AV systems. Often, the back-and-forth revolves around video displays and viewing distances.

“In the absence of a standard from a governing body like the Judicial Council of California, when we have dialogs with architects about why, for example, a 42-inch flat-panel display isn’t adequate when viewed from 40 feet, we have to couch our arguments in our experience and best practices,” Shemuel says. “It’s a whole lot easier when we can say we are obligated to follow AOC standards that say the distance to the  furthest viewer must have a certain relationship with the size of the screen.”

The pending California court facilities standard does, indeed, address video displays specifically: “Display equipment shall be based on a common 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio and capable of a minimum resolution of WUXGA. The size of the display shall be calculated so that the height of the screen is equal to a minimum of one-sixth of the distance to the farthest viewer.”

Moreover, the court standard, as currently written, also accounts for the projection of 3D content in the courtroom. The switching and processing equipment must support digital video protocols including Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) and High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). And the court standard specifies the use of ANSI/INFOCOMM 3M-2011, Projected Image System Contrast Ratio.
“When we’re trying to convince someone of the legitimacy of our position, it makes it easier when we can cite standards,” Shemuel says. “It makes it easier when it’s not just us making this stuff up in the eyes of the architect, but it’s us invoking the language of the California Trial Court Facilities standard.”

Like Other Standards

“InfoComm standards are no different than ASHRAE standards or building codes,” says Willard. “An AV system designed to a standard will operate in a consistent, verifiable way. The AV standards developed by InfoComm raise the level of system quality that the owner and end user can expect. We reference our facilities standards during the design phase in each construction project. Once adopted, we’ll be able to influence architects to work more closely with AV consultants on bridging any divides between form and function. Also, I’m now able to include the InfoComm Standards in every construction project's technical specifications.”

InfoComm is currently developing standards for videoconferencing lighting and energy management for AV systems, as well as a suite of audio system performance standards to complement the existing Audio Coverage Uniformity in Enclosed Listener Areas standard. Without reference to these yet-unpublished InfoComm standards, the new California Courts Facilities Standards specify measures such as using Energy Star-qualified components and control systems that incorporate occupancy standards to manage AV systems based on whether a room is in use. They also note that spaces where videoconferences will take place require specially designed lighting. As InfoComm’s future standards earn ANSI accreditation, they can be incorporated to better define the courts’ requirements.

And Shemuel, for one, isn’t worried that incorporating AV standards into the California courts standards will mean just anyone can design an AV system for a California courthouse.

“Standards may close the performance gap between the best executed and the most poorly executed projects, but they still leave a very wide gap in how we get there,” he says. “Specifically in how we, the more experienced, conscientious consultancies and design/build firms, handle the process, how we involve the owners and the design teams in the decision-making process, and how we handle costs. In those regards, there’s still plenty of potential for more competent firms to distinguish ourselves.”

All three ANSI/INFOCOMM standards are available for purchase at the ANSI eStandards Store, including the Projected Image System Contrast Ratio standard, the Audio Coverage Uniformity in Enclosed Listener Areas standard, and the Standard Guide for Audiovisual Systems Design and Coordination Processes.

Freelance AV writer Linda-Seid Frembes contributed to this article.