most people watching the Legislature in action don’t realize what they see through the Internet or elsewhere is coming from what amounts to a television studio hidden on the building’s third floor.
The system manages sound and pictures for all 11 meeting rooms in the Legislature as well as what’s happening on the Senate and Assembly floors during session. It also handles video-conferencing of those meetings to the five meeting rooms at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, to Elko, Ely and the University of Nevada, Reno.
It’s a system used extensively not just by the Legislature but by executive branch agencies throughout the state and even some non governmental groups.
“We’re really a small version of C-Span,” said Dan Dalluhn, who runs Broadcast and Production Services.
That studio is being completely remodeled and modernized this interim — a project that’s costing nearly $1 million but which moves the system from relatively low definition analog sound and pictures to high definition digital.
Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said the total upgrade is necessary because the expensive core of the equipment called “the matrix” is outdated and is no longer supported or repairable after the end of this year.
”It’s out of warrantee and at the end of its useful life,” he said.
In addition, he said the man who programmed the current system and has kept it running for 15 years is retiring.
“So we made the decision that this was the time to replace everything.”
He said the control room and all its equipment, committee room cameras and monitors will all be replaced with new high-definition digital equipment. The cameras on the Senate and Assembly floors also will be replaced but not the huge TV screens in those rooms.
The cost as approved by the Legislative Commission: $973,110 from unappropriated money in the Legislative Fund.
Combs said the project is needed not just for the legislative session but every other agency in the state as well.
“The executive branch and other agencies use us like a convention center during the interim,” he said.
He said better cameras and larger monitors will enable those watching a committee to actually read the power point presentation on screen.
“What you really see more than anything else is the depth of the color,” said Dalluhn.
When the Legislature is in full swing, that control room has a technician managing the sound and pictures of every committee meeting in progress, making sure the viewers are listening to is the person whose face is on screen.
And viewers can watch on the capitol complex’s in-house TV system or on their computers from anywhere in the state.
“Broadcasting to the net has a lot of advantages in terms of the public for their participation in the process,” said Combs. “When it really gets going with interim committee meetings and executive branch meetings, it’s really not a whole lot different than during session.”
When everything new will be installed and the system fully up and running, Dalluhn said eight meetings will be handled at once and will have room to expand beyond that if necessary.
But during the installation process, he said there will be times when LCB will be unable to provide full service to everyone. At present, there are control boards for up to four meetings in the temporary control room in the LCB employee break room.
But he said there will be a period in January when they won’t be able to video-conference meetings between Carson City and Las Vegas at all.
While the system will be fully HD, Dalluhn said the audio-visual services will still have to be provided in a way those Nevadans without broadband Internet can receive.
“There are still quite a few AOL customers with dial-up modems out there,” he said, a reference to the fact many rural parts of Nevada still don’t have access to streaming Internet service.
Dalluhn said the installation work is all being done by his crew of nine AV technicians, resulting in “a considerable cost savings.”
Combs pointed out that’s far from all Dalluhn’s crew handles. The crew maintains and repairs more than 100 security cameras and the system that operates them, manages the electronic entry system for the building and does everything from video web updates to slide shows for special projects.