Most court clerks and technical support staff do not have a good understanding of the difference between our “analog court world” and our “digital court world.” For 80 years, electronics engineers have attempted to model analog worlds with digital electronics. By example, today it has become easier to sample sound from microphones in analog, but immediately transmit its content in digital formats. Electronics does it at lower cost. And systems often determine transmission rates for best performance automatically.
It is this kind of example that leads engineers to sample the analog world and transfer the information into a bunch of zeros and ones into a digital world even in courts for electronic transcription and recording. All those acoustical waves our teachers told us were like ripples in a pool are now more like the backdrop from the movie The Matrix, fully digital.
What this means now is that every part of the audio, video, and visual chain is now digital other than the sound coming into the microphone or the light reflected into the camera lens. And now as the introduction described, even the microphone is itself becoming a digital device that in several years will be completely converted to USB or IP (using USB2 or SIP) even for courtroom use. And, of course, cameras already use pixel imaging devices. If you're following me, this makes the microphone’s condenser or ribbon element, as well as the optical lens on a video camera, the only things remaining “electronically analog” in our world. And poof! Simple analog transistors, like vacuum tubes, are a thing of the past.
Why does this matter? Because everything today is now digital and does not integrate or play nice with older analog equipment. It would be like comparing a Blu-ray player to a VCR (video cassette recorder). It's simply a poor media, necessitating one to move on. Not unlike the old pocket cell phones, smart phones are the equal to the new digital systems that contain protocols, standards, timing sequences, IP addresses, network communications, and software development kits; some standard, some proprietary.
Here are two examples. One is courtroom technology used in the justice system and the other is sound and lighting. Both are consulting practice and equipment specialties of PSE.
Courtroom systems now contain digital wireless microphones, small self-contained digital amplifiers for attorney’s tables and podium, digital annotation tables which automatically interface with visuals, multi-channel USB connections to support court recording systems, and sophisticated micro-computer controlled touch screen command stations to integrate digitally controlled audio signal processors, video switchers, and lighting elements. The only thing analog are the speakers (and even they have decreased in size) and the microphone capsule itself. For good measure, let's throw in the lens on the video projector, if you even have one anymore. So, only three things in the courtroom remain truly analog.
Sound and lighting are even more remarkable in their significant technology leaps. Literally, in the last eight years lighting and sound have become 100% digital other than those same three elements identified above: microphone capsules, lenses on video projectors, and the loudspeakers themselves. That's it. No more dimmers. No more clunky dimmer racks, switchers, and lighting using cold fluorescents, costly Edisons, hot tungsten, and metal halide lights. Even the electrocution danger of lights is gone. Instead, LEDs with RGB color and built-in dimmers are replacing Edison bulbs and fluorescent fixtures while reducing power loads by up to 80% and improving color rendition and clarity. All while providing extraordinary programmability, better safety, and brighter, more clarity and color, while maintenance is reduced by 75% (and costs).
Is digital new or has it been around longer? What else is digital in our world? As it turns out, from long ago, one of the oldest things we know had to be digitized to work. Analog clocks have analog “faces” with hands, but are digital in nature. The ticking clock has to convert energy to a fixed (digital) time slice to move the hands accurately. Hence, a multitude of digital “slicing” or “sampling” methods: pendulum, toothed gears, spinning weights, and worm gears, just to list a few. This is true in our “analog” wrist watches as well. Whether battery, solar, or self-winding, the mechanism has to break up the time into a small but accurate time slice to keep time within one minute for each year for an error of less than 1 in 3,679,200 minutes for very fine watches. In exceptional timepieces, an error of 1 in 10 million minutes may be expected.
So, for hundreds of years we have actually been “digitizing” our world. It is only recently that we’ve been able to harness extraordinary electronics power to put even more analog “conversion” to better uses. In our courts, adding productivity, efficiency, advanced electronic recordkeeping, and ability to transmit digital content are but a few of the improved “sustainability and greening” aspects of electronic court improvements. Now, would you believe that the only things remaining analog in your car are five wheels? The one in your hand and the four on the ground? But, that’s another story.
Jerry 'Dutch' Forstater, is CEO of PSE, a planning, design, and project management firm with over 35 years in communications and acoustically-controlled environments. He brings continuity and world-class engineering to federal, state, and local court environments to improve articulation, communication, visual presentation, lighting/controls, recording, translation, teleconference, and touch-enabled mixed media presentation systems. You can contact Jerry 'Dutch' Forstater at 215.661.1600 x107 or by email @