The New York State Unified Court System (NYS UCS), serving as the judicial branch of the state government, has embarked on an ambitious modernization journey to make its 1,540 courtrooms more functional, accessible, and equipped for the digital era. The Courtroom Modernization Initiative (CMI) Team was established in 2019 to actualize this vision; PTZOptics played a pivotal role in the transition along with other key vendors, such as Magewell and Biamp.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 precipitated a swift transition to virtual court operations. Most court hearings, except jury trials, moved to Microsoft Teams. Despite the successful transition, the delay of jury trials, a constitutional right, became a pressing concern. The century-old courtrooms presented a daunting challenge with their outdated infrastructure that lacked the electrical and network capacity to support modern technology.
The CMI team spearheaded the use of audiovisual technology to overcome these limitations. Various innovative solutions were designed and rapidly deployed to facilitate the participation of all stakeholders, which include the judge, jurors, lawyers, and defendants. The courtrooms are now equipped with innovative network-connected cameras, which are used to magnify images in real time on monitors placed in key areas.
The technology deployed included mobile videoconferencing systems, NDI cameras to focus on the witness, Biamp audio mixers, assistive listening devices for acoustically challenging courtrooms, an easy-to-use control system, and NDI encoders and decoders for evidence presentation.
Notably, PTZOptics NDI cameras proved instrumental in enhancing the courtroom experience. They were used to provide “head and shoulder” shots of the witness from over 50 feet away, enabling jurors to observe the witness’s facial expressions and body language clearly. Each PTZOptics camera is powered over Ethernet, leveraging the built-in NDI support to provide a single cable installation that does not require electrical outlets or expensive SDI or HDMI video cabling.
Additionally, the PTZ cameras provide the ability to capture multiple areas of interest throughout the courtroom with a single robotic camera. The main controller is able to move the camera to key points of interest using the NDI Studio Monitor application with their keyboard and mouse on standard Windows computers. PTZ camera presets are also used to quickly position the camera automatically on critical areas of interest with the click of a button.
Furthermore, an HDMI camera was initially used in response to the problem of jurors being unable to see the witness’s demeanor due to social distancing. However, the thick HDMI wires on the floor posed a safety hazard. The solution was found in NDI technology, where devices allowed for utilizing existing Gigabit Ethernet ports in the courtrooms. The network switch eliminated safety concerns and increased efficiency and control over the devices.
To display the cameras on monitors throughout the courtrooms, Magewell Pro Convert devices are used to convert network-based NDI video to HDMI at each display. This allows a controller to instantly switch the video on each set of monitors independently whenever needed. For example, the controller can quickly show evidence on the eight monitors provided to each jury member.
The rapid deployment of this innovative technology played a crucial role in speeding up dispute resolution, reducing case backlog, and fostering trust and confidence in the judicial system during these challenging times. By December 2021, NYS jury trial capacity had increased tenfold, from 26 in March 2021 to almost 300, testifying to the project’s significant impact.
The ease of use and flawless functioning of the technology were praised by key stakeholders such as Rensselaer County’s chief assistant attorney Matthew Hauf, who described it as instrumental in delivering justice in a timely manner.
The New York State Unified Court System’s modernization initiative has showcased how traditional Pro AV technology can seamlessly integrate with Information Technology to create a robust, hybrid court environment that doesn’t compromise stakeholder participation. It has demonstrated that even century-old courtrooms can be successfully upgraded to embrace the digital era with a flexible, creative, and tailored approach. PTZOptics played a critical role in this transformation journey, proving its expertise in providing innovative, efficient, and safe solutions for complex challenges in a time-sensitive environment.