In preparing recently for a Silicon Valley trial, I had an opportunity to check out our courtroom. Well, I should say, I made an opportunity, as we typically want to know of any potential “surprises” before they become “emergencies,” and because I was informed that the technology here was new. What I didn’t realize, was that it was brand-spankin’ new, as in had never been used in a trial yet!
It’s a good thing we made time for this visit, since even the court staff was not yet up to speed with everything about the new setup. It’s probably also a good thing that someone like me was involved with the first “user” test, since while I know some very capable attorneys, most are not tech experts. And, we did have some problems.
A few notes on my observations:
First, I will say that this may be the first installation I’ve seen that seemed to get everything right. While part of the solution might just be current availability, all of the monitors were HD wide-screen – not a mixed system like I’ve seen so many times. Everything is set up to run a 16:9 display format, as opposed to 4:3, although you can always “letterbox” a 4:3 display into 16:9, showing a black border on each side. For more info on this, see HDMI v. VGA: Time to Upgrade?
Next, they actually installed enough monitors so everyone can see the evidence! Now this might seem silly, but I have seen many newer courtroom installations with only a couple of 50” displays, expecting that everyone can see it. If it’s in your living room, it might look fine for watching TV. If it’s in a courtroom, and you’re in a jury box sitting 20 or more feet away, it’s a postage stamp. In many “modern” courtrooms, it is still a good idea to bring in a projector and large screen, in order to make sure everyone can see it. In this particular courtroom, monitors were liberally distributed and easily viewed by the jury, judge, witness, counsel, and even the gallery.
The Court Deputy also has the ability to “kill” the signal feeding the jury and gallery, so exhibits may be previewed by a witness prior to being admitted or published to the jury. When we install our own systems in non-wired courtrooms, we generally do this by controlling the projector feed with a kill switch or remote. Now, this is handled by the court staff.
Now if there’s one big potential “gotcha” with all of this new technology, it’s probably the audio. HDMI cables carry an audio signal, whereas VGA requires a separate cable, generally connected to a headphone jack on your laptop. Fortunately, this new courtroom installation offers both. Unfortunately, only the HDMI cable is feeding the audio through the monitors, and the analog cable did not work. The vendor has been notified. It may simply be an issue of switching, but even the court IT person did not know. This alone could have been a disaster for an attorney hooking up via VGA and analog audio. A laptop's speakers aren't quite enough to fill a courtroom -- especially in a jury trial.
My preference for using HDMI video cables in court has always been (and will continue to be) to run your video into the system (HDMI or VGA), but to use a separate audio system for your depo videos. It is much easier to control, and in my opinion, sounds better than listening to several TV sets echoing in a courtroom. The catch here is that you will have to disable the HDMI audio output on your laptop. For more info on that, see: Connected With Court. It would probably be a good idea for new installations to utilize a separate audio system, which would address this issue.