Oldsmar City Council's high-definition upgrade sets low bar

Tim Jacobson, senior engineering technician with the city of Oldsmar, shows resident Mae Burright the fiber-optic networked media control center on the second floor of the historic Oldsmar Bank Building during a recent open house event.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Tim Jacobson, senior engineering technician with the city of Oldsmar, shows resident Mae Burright the fiber-optic networked media control center on the second floor of the historic Oldsmar Bank Building during a recent open house event.

OLDSMAR — The city had hoped that the $170,000 it spent on audiovisual upgrades for its new City Council chamber would result in crisper looking, cleaner sounding broadcasts of city meetings.

But Oldsmar hasn't been able to broadcast its city meetings on television since August, when the switch from its old chamber to its new one began.

"The video problems that we have had are just terrible," said Vice Mayor Doug Bevis, who brought up the issue at this week's city meeting. "It's affecting our ability to get the message out to our citizens. A lot of our citizens are elderly and rely on the public channels to watch."

He said it is exasperating that the state-of-the-art system isn't working properly.

"We've spent a lot of money in this building and in here, and it's embarrassing," Bevis said.

On Sept. 7, the city started holding meetings in the new chamber, just across State Street from the old chamber and City Hall. The new chamber is in a historic building — it housed Oldsmar's first bank — that underwent a two-year, $2.6 million renovation.

Since then, Mayor Jim Ronecker said he's received a number of complaints.

The current glitches are pretty technical and involve the inability of one old piece of equipment to communicate with a new one.

Before Oldsmar updated its system, the city's audiovisual committee asked city consultant Santiago Beron from TLC Engineering how to cut costs, said Adam Shor, the city's information technology administrator. The city was advised to keep a couple of pieces of older equipment, which ended up saving about $20,000.

Meetings are now recorded on a Blu-ray recorder. But one of the older pieces of equipment, a switch that decides what signal to send out to TV, can't communicate with the city's new Blu-ray player, Shor said. So recorded meetings can't be aired automatically.

After months of troubleshooting, the city is close to a possible solution, Shor said. It had two options: either replace the old device causing the problem or program the new digital processor to communicate with the old device.

At the consultant's recommendation, the city is doing the latter. The fix should cost about $2,000, Shor said.

"We're just working as hard as we can to fix it as soon as possible," Shor said after the meeting. "I'm hoping we'll be playing council meetings before Christmas."

But city clerk Ann Stephan is making no promises. The city previously tried to manually broadcast city meetings, but the video was broadcast without audio, she said. The reconfiguration may solve the audio issues. But officials won't know until they try the fix.

Because different equipment is involved for Internet broadcasts, the city has generally been able to televise meetings online. But there have been some glitches online as well. The sound doesn't always synch with the video. And in some cases, officials have ended up with sound without video, or vice versa.

At Tuesday's city meeting, a brand new issue erupted, with flashes of black accompanying each camera change.

"This has been like a house of cards," Shor told Oldsmar leaders. "Every time we add something, something at the other end falls."

A few council members expressed frustration over the problems and how long they're taking to fix. They questioned the consultant's advice and scheduled a discussion of the topic at the first meeting in January.

"I'm tired of it," council member Jerry Beverland said. "If we hired a consultant to go through this, I want the consultant here."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

.oldsmar city council

Watch it on the Web

To view meetings online, visit myoldsmar.com and follow the City Council meeting videos link.

Old setup: A storage closet that contained a switch to toggle between cameras, and a video input for a laptop or projector. Three cameras, one of which could move. Gooseneck microphones and a sound system that could be controlled only by an audio receiver under the city clerk's station. No lighting for TV, just fluorescent lights.

New setup: State-of-the-art control room. Four high-definition cameras, all of which can pan, tilt or zoom. Horizontal bar-style microphones that have a wider sound range. The clerk also has the ability to adjust audio levels and lighting from her seat at the dais. Lighting is specifically designed to highlight the council members for high-definition presentation.

Source: City of Oldsmar

Oldsmar City Council's high-definition upgrade sets low bar 12/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 9:06pm]

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