The AV Technologically-Challenged
By Greg Bronson, CTS-D
As we wind down the calendar year, here’s a light-hearted column on one of the AV Club pet peeves. That being, some end users just don’t get it — AV technology, that is.
While their seemingly naive attempts at using AV technology may be innocent enough, the impact ranges from embarrassing (mostly for them) to resource-wasting (mostly of other’s), as they flounder about cursing the “thingies” that fall short of having mind reading auto pilot “easy” buttons. The good news is, in our video-saturated world, their ranks are diminishing in comparison to those with no AV anxiety.
Of course, we in the AV Club know the idea of ProAV is to facilitate communications and/or entertainment for a group of people, not to cause a frustrating experience for any individual. And, the vast majority of end user presenters using AV for entertaining and/or communications recognize that with some reasonable allowance for Murphy’s Law the AV “payback” is typically proportional to their own technological aptitude.
While having lunch recently with an old friend and former coworker, I was reminded of an extreme case of the technology-challenged. As bench techs at a regional secondary education AV equipment repair depot, we saw many variations in both the technology and end user AV sophistication. But our jaws dropped at what came in the door one day.
Like most shops, we used multi-part work order forms in order to track the repair work. To keep the service work orders attached to the equipment, we recommended tying “toe tags” to the equipment handle or cord and then stapling the multi-part form to that. Overtime, many folks, including ourselves, found we could skip the toe tag and just fold the service tag form over once and around the power cord, handle or similar appendage then stapling it against itself. There were times when one of us described this method over the phone, when asked: no big deal, or so it seemed.
In comes an (presumably faulty) external computer disk drive. The drive, as was typical at the time, used a flat ribbon cable with an almost equally flat connector on the end. The cases with an “orange peel” finish were near impossible to get tape to stick to. While a challenge to make sure the service tag stayed with the device (many industrious people, unprompted, would put them in a box and tape the tag to the outside), this individual interpreted our “instructions” to staple the form to … and to be clear – I mean through … the flat ribbon cable. And not just one staple: there were also remains of several unsuccessful attempts (staples half falling out).
Granted, we all had a hearty laugh, and made fun at being this clueless about the cable’s function. But the underlying issue was: could someone be this technology challenged as to the function of the cable (and contemporary technology)? After an interesting phone call, which included making sure they were “good for” a new cable assembly before we even diagnosed the original problem complaint, we were satisfied they were in fact clueless.
Clearly, this individual should not have been in a position of being responsible (in any form) for handling or supporting technology. And while more resources, besides the fatal wound to the costly cable, were wasted in explaining how they could have kept the service tag with the device, they were simply not suited to dealing with technology — period. This can also be said for the occasional real end user that is similarly AV technology challenged. However, least we all take license to “write off” real problems with end user incompetence, it is the AV professional’s role to always help those willing to be helped.
This story is proof positive that the customer is not always right. No matter what level of common sense is assumed, sometime the technology challenged can’t be helped. But, we must also be aware that this doesn’t give us a “buy” on removing barriers to intuitive and effective use of AV communications and entertainment technology.
In the end, if the technology-challenged must draw off our limited resources, let’s hope they see some benefit to AV technology. And if we’ve, in good conscience, determined there is no hope adapting the technology or their usage of same… we can always hang the remnants on the wall for years of fodder to techie talk and amusement!
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors’ employer(s), past or present.
Greg Bronson, CTS-D, applies AV technologies in the development of innovative learning spaces for higher education. Greg spent the first 10 years of his career as AV technician and service manager, with the past 12 years as an AV system designer and project manager. Bronson currently works for Cornell University and has also worked for two SUNY (State University of New York) campuses as well as a regional secondary education service depot. Bronson is the originator of concept for Infocomm’s Dashboard for Controls and has had completed projects featured in industry publications. You can reach Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Setting Expectations, Part One
By Scott Tiner, CTS
What are reasonable expectations for the reliability of an AV system?
Bates College has been keeping careful track of the usage of our AV systems, including failure rates, for the past several months. The results of this exercise have been intriguing. In particular, I was surprised at the reliability of our AV systems. Over the first three months of classes this year, we have had 4,285 individual uses of AV technologies in our classroom, with 42 reported technical problems. That is slightly better than a 99 percent success rate of the systems. While that makes me want to scream success from the rooftops, I can not ignore the fact that there were still 42 times that that the technology did not work. If you happened to be the presenter or instructor one of those 42 times, then the 99 percent success rate does not impress you very much. After all, it did not work when you needed it!
This leads me to one of those rare moments for me when I go back and forth on how I feel about an issue. As a technical person, who understands that sometimes technology fails, and that it's nobody's fault, I think that a 99 percent success rate is remarkable. Yet, as a person who has given presentations and taught classes, I understand the devastation of having your hour-plus talk threatened by failing technology.
In environments like colleges and corporate settings, where there are multiple rooms with AV that are used very regularly, what are reasonable expectations of the reliability of an AV system? I think that the expectations will be different for every institution with budget and staffing playing a role in setting expectations. However, here are some thoughts to keep in mind while thinking about expectations:
1. Electronic equipment will fail at some point. So, unless you are willing to install redundant systems in every space, then you have to accept some rate of failure.
2. You have to look at hard data, not empirical data. You cannot let the person who yelled the loudest when something broke cloud your judgment. You need to develop a tough skin and remember that when AV fails, it has the potential to ruin an event and make the presenter/lecturer very upset. Therefore, just because six people called your boss over the past six months to scream about AV not working, does not mean that campus-wide AV does not work.
3. If AV and IT have integrated on your campus, leverage that partnership. Talk to end users to help them realize that AV is IT. Reasonable users recognize that their computers will sometimes malfunction, that is why there is a help desk. They also realize that sometimes the network will have hiccups, phones won't work perfectly, etc. Talk to your IT colleagues about how they set user expectations.
4. Be very open about failures and your plans on how to avoid them or fix them if they happen. Just like a power supply that dies in a computer is not the fault of the computer tech, a power supply in a projector that dies is not the fault of the AV tech. You should not hide that this has happened, but be very clear about what has happened and how you are prepared to repair or replace quickly.
5. Finally, be very clear about what the costs of higher expectations are to your organization. If more preventative maintenance is required to lower the numbers of failures, then that costs staff time. If you are expected to have hot swaps on hand, then that costs money to purchase the extra equipment. You have to make sure your organization is being realistic in terms of budgeting when setting these expectations.
When this work has been done, make sure that you talk publicly and regularly about expectations, and the reward for this work will be realized. You will have bosses who look at failures as rare occurences, rather than as regular occurences. You and your bosses will have actual data to share with presenters/instructors when they experience a failure. Last, but far from least, you will have the satisfaction of knowing the expectations of your campus, and being able to meet those expectations.
Next time, Setting Expectations, Part 2: What are reasonable expectations of end users of AV systems?
Scott Tiner, CTS, has worked in the AV/IT field in public K-12, private K-12 and higher education institutions. As a trained educator he has a deep interest in the use of various types of technology in the classroom. Currently, as the Manager of Digital Media and Event Support at Bates College, Scott designs the technology for learning spaces and works with faculty on innovative ways to use technology in these learning spaces. He also is responsible for the digital video and audio editing support on campus. He can be reached via email@example.com
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Smart Technologies is Going Public
Bloomberg reported last week that they think Smart Technologies is going public. Although there aren’t many companies in our market who have gone public and continued their success (e.g., AMX), this could be different as they have a very niche product. And, now everyone will finally know the size of the electronic whiteboard market…Ã¢â‚¬Â¨Ã¢â‚¬Â¨
Here’s Bloomberg’s story on the IPO: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aWBLFd2U4THg&pos=7
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Extron Ships TouchLink Cable Cubby
Extron is shipping the TLP 350CV TouchLink Cable Cubby with a 3.5" Touchpanel – the latest addition to their configurable control system family. The TLP 350CV combines AV system control with cable management in one package. It features a tilt-up, full-color touchscreen in a metal enclosure that can be mounted securely into a tabletop, lectern, or other flat surface. In addition, ten customizable backlit buttons provide expanded control capabilities for everything from system macros to something as simple as volume up and down.
Setting up a TLP 350CV touch-screen layout is quick as Extron supplies customizable design templates or you can start from scratch and design your own layout using their GUI Configurator touchscreen design software.
To learn all about the TLP-350CV, go to: http://www.extron.com/company/article.aspx?id=tlp350cvad
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HaiVision's New MAKITO Is HD H.264 Video Encoding with Component and DVI Inputs
HaiVision launched their latest MAKITO, an HD H.264 encoder that now supports both component analog and DVI inputs. HaiVision says the MAKITO delivers low latency, full frame rate H.264 encoding of high definition video up to 1080p60, or computer graphics resolutions up to 1280×1024 (SXGA).
For more info, to go: http://www.haivision.com/products/makito
It’s nice to see support for legacy analog (component) as well as digital (DVI) on the “ingest” side of the encoder. And, similarly support for legacy standard definition video right on up to HD and computer graphics on the output.
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Extron Debuts New Digital Audio Matrix Processor
Extron Electronics announced the availability of the DMP 64, a 6×4 audio matrix mixer featuring Extron ProDSP, a digital signal processing platform for audio signal routing and control. The DMP 64 features six mono mic/line inputs, each of which can be mixed into any or all four mono line outputs. ProDSP has tools to control level, dynamics, filters, delay, ducking, loudness, and feedback suppression. The DMP 64 is ideal for presentation applications that require advanced line and microphone audio matrix mixing with DSP in a small form factor.
Extron says their ProDSP is engineered from the ground up using a powerful 32/64-bit floating point DSP engine and studio grade 24-bit audio converters with 48 kHz sampling. It is managed by Extron's DSP Configurator Software, a PC-based application featuring an easy-to-use GUI that allows for complete audio system visualization within a single window. Audio designers and system installers can access the power and flexibility of ProDSP by using this software for access to audio processing tools and audio matrix mixing from a single screen.
The DMP 64 features a dual matrix design. The primary matrix routes the six mic/line inputs to the four output line signals. With the secondary matrix, selected inputs are routed to four "virtual" buses. These buses are then routed into the four outputs via the primary matrix. The virtual buses add powerful versatility to the DMP 64, enabling designated inputs to be grouped and processed together as an ensemble. Audio processing tools, including Filter, Dynamics, Loudness, and Gain, are available on each virtual bus. This dual matrix design can easily be visualized within the DSP Configurator Software.
To learn more, go to: http://www.extron.com/dmppr
As an “audio guy” from way back (who has become, over the years, more of a “systems guy”), I get into seeing products that help make better sound. In this case, it’s even better with a company like Extron, bringing it into the mainstream of AV systems.
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Crestron Ships New Media Presentation Audio Amp
According to Crestron, the MP-AMP30 is a low cost audio amplifier for applications in which audio from source equipment is directly connected to and switched by the video projector. The MP-AMP30 amplifier drives the audio signal from these sources directly to external speakers. The surface-mountable MP-AMP30 is 15 watts per channel and can drive one or two pairs of 8-ohm speakers or a single pair of 4-ohm speakers.
To learn more, go to: http://www.crestron.com/products/show_products.asp?type=commercial&cat=1008&subcat=1374&id=2001
And more on the same theme… a well known, and established, “systems” manufacturer in this case rolling out new product to enhance audio for a common shortcoming of video projectors.
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Optoma's Next Gen Pocket Projector
Optoma has launched the next generation of its pocket projector, Pico PK102.
Although not an education-type product, it’s worth mentioning since this tiny pocket projector has a memory card, a VGA input port and is aimed at small presentation environments. The transfer and storage of photos, movies or PowerPoint/Keynote presentations onto the Pico PK102 is straightforward using the built-in Pico PC software and the 4GB of internal memory. Pico PK102 has a rechargeable battery capable of giving up to 2-hours of use on a single charge.
But, the Optoma PK-102 also includes an external VGA input, something most other pico projectors don’t have.
To learn all about it, go to: http://www.optomausa.com/pico.asp
Glad to see this news items included; LED projectors in any form (in this case the “pocket” type) are well worth keeping tabs on.
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NEC Launches ED Projector
NEC Display announced this month a VGA resolution (1024×768) NP610 entry-level installation projector aimed at the ED market. With a brightness spec of 3500 lumens (not ANSI)and a 500:1 contrast ratio, the NP610 includes inputs for DVI-I, VGA, 3 audio inputs and variable audio out), integration into classrooms, they say, is a breeze. Why? Using their lingo, “the NP610 provides integrated RJ45 connection and remote diagnostics, which enable the administrator to monitor and make adjustments to the projector via the network from a remote location.” Translation: It’s network enabled! Yay!
Its virtual remote technology allows communication over the VGA cable to control the projector directly from a computer, without the need for cables. The list is going to be $1499 and you can read all the specs at: http://www.necdisplay.com/Products/Product/?product=38662c26-8894-4672-b2a5-94902b3cb801
A projector with what seems to be otherwise bread and butter features/specs, gets kicked up a notch by being network enabled and having projector control over VGA!?
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Extron Announces New MediaLink Keypad Controller
Last month, Extron announced the immediate availability of the MLC 62 RS D MediaLink Controller, a keypad specifically designed for controlling AV equipment in classrooms and meeting rooms. The MLC 62 RS D features eight customizable backlit soft touch buttons providing control capabilities for common A/V functions including display power, input switching, and volume control. The new controller serves as a replacement for a display's handheld IR remote, providing user-friendly control for a projector or flat panel display, and eliminating problems related to misplaced IR remotes, confusing menus, and dead batteries.
The MLC 62 RS D offers IR and unidirectional RS-232 for universal display control, two relays for controlling screens and lights, and a digital input for interfacing with switches and sensors. The controller includes black and white Decora faceplates.
Visit the Extron website for more information: http://www.extron.com/company/article.aspx?id=mlc62dad
The last sentence, of first paragraph, in this piece hits the nail on the head for “why” simplified AV control systems are necessary. The rest describes the “how” of applying, what looks to be a flexible yet simple product, to various systems and environments.
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Well, that's it for this edition of rAVe! Thank you for spending time with us as we muse the industry's happenings. To continue getting my newsletter, or to sign up a friend, click the link below. To send feedback, don't reply to this newsletter – instead, write to Contributing Editor Greg Bronson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Publisher Gary Kayye at email@example.com or Editor-in-Chief Sara Abrons at firstname.lastname@example.org
A little about Gary Kayye, CTS, founder of rAVe and Kayye Consulting. Gary Kayye, an audiovisual veteran and columnist, began the widely-read KNews, a premier industry newsletter, in the late 1990s, and created the model for and was co-founder of AV Avenue – which later became InfoComm IQ. Kayye Consulting is a company that is committed to furthering the interests and success of dealers, manufacturers, and other companies within the professional audiovisual industry.
rAVe Pro Edition launched in February 2003. rAVe Home Edition, co-sponsored by CEDIA, launched in February 2004. rAVe Rental [and Staging] launched in November 2007. rAVe Ed [Education] began publication in May 2008.
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