New PA system presents unexpected challenges

November 6, 2017 — by Jessica Wang and Michael Zhang

ASB officers read the announcements on a recent weekday.

On the first day of school, returning students were surprised to hear screechy and muffled voices during morning announcements.

Technology staff, including district IT administrator Tony Palma, jumped on the case immediately and discovered that the issue stemmed from differences between a newly installed digital system and old analog one.

Over this summer, the school debated whether to put in an older ‘60s-style PA system in the new music building like the rest of the school or invest in a newer, more modern system, Palma said. The school elected to implement the newer technology for the music building, which led to an update to the existing technology in the office as well. Instead of using a landline phone for announcements, the new system now communicates using IP addresses over the Internet.

This has resulted in a variety of benefits for both the announcement and bell systems. For instance, it allows for specific volume control for each classroom. It also allows for a broadcast to only a specific set of classrooms in the school.

The new technology has also helped make the announcement system feel more modern.

“Last year we used a telephone for announcements,” Palma said. “But now we have a specialized microphone, which allows us to control the volume level a little better. It’s more fitting with a PA type system — to make a call we just need to push a button.”

ASB President senior Nathon Chin, who frequently delivers the morning announcements, feels that he has adjusted to the new microphone.

“Both [systems] are good; the new one just took some time getting used to,” Chin said.

Additionally, the school bells can also be set to any custom sound through a sound file.

“The bell can be any sound we want, and that’s the beauty of the system,” Palma said.

Using the flexibility of the new technology, Palma also proposed creative ways for students to design the bell sound. For example, he suggested that perhaps the school band could create it or the Student of the Month could pick it for the next month.

The current bell was selected because it was a softer alternative to the traditional bell system.

“This year’s bell is more tolerable; not everyone is happy with it,” Palma said. “We can always make it better, and I think it’s an improvement of what we had before.”

The new system that has already been implemented in the music room also features a digital display. This means that it can flash messages along with important announcements or silently warn students of an emergency, such as during a lockdown.

However, it has become apparent that updating such technology has induced unforeseen problems with sound quality. While Palma did not expect to observe negative effects, he certainly is not surprised.

“Was it a surprise that the quality was bad? No, because we knew that it wasn’t going to get any better quality than this old system can provide,” he said.

So far, quality issues for most of the school have been more or less resolved, Chin said.

The main exception has been the science and media arts buildings. Since they were built after the original PA system was installed, their technology differs from the rest of the school.

If the volume is adjusted for the science and media arts buildings, then the audio would be distorted for the rest of the school, Palma said. Currently, the sound quality in these buildings is being sacrificed to keep the quality high for the rest of the school.

A seemingly simple solution would be to install new PA systems in every classroom. However, according to Palma, the cost for this is too high — about $1,000 per room.

Also, construction for installation would be necessary in every room, which further adds to the expenses and makes replacement impractical anytime soon.

“We're working on a plan to make that change and implement these devices, but it can’t happen overnight,” Palma said. “There’s costs, there’s construction, and we have to have people out of the room to do it.”

As a result, Palma is working to make the best of the current situation. A complete re-wiring of the old system and meticulous volume and audio adjustments have already made the sound quality during announcements much more tolerable.

The current goal is to first gain independent control of each classroom wing by installing separate devices and amplifiers so every section on campus has its own volume knobs to adjust. About $600 is required for each wing to have its own box, and prior to installation the new device must pass multiple tests.

“Eventually we want to come to a point where all classrooms are replaced with the new system because it’s more accurate, easier to repair, can send specialized notifications to each room,” he said. “But I don’t have a timeline of when we could get it into individual classrooms.”


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