Volume 3, Issue 5 — May 25, 2010
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By Greg Bronson, CTS-D
This month’s topic is a bit personal; but no worries, it’s not that personal. Actually, the full title should be: What’s your test media? Of course there is no right or wrong answer; it’s a matter of personal taste and often seems to default to what ever is handy. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, the media that you pick to test an AV system is not worth losing sleep over. But it’s come across my radar again recently, while preparing for a seminar titled Technology Manager’s Toolkit 2010 (that I’ve been asked to present at Infocomm), and felt it worthy of covering here.
Let’s be honest. How many times have you (or someone you observed first hand) worked on an AV system that’s worth more than the down payment on your house, only to pull out some crummy copy of an unwanted movie to test it with? Adding insult to injury, an arbitrary 20-second clip is played for a quick go – no go test. If something resembling a picture is made and sounds were heard, it was time to move on.
If your answer is some form of, “been there, done that…” then I want to be the first to congratulate you! Yes, that’s right, while the AV Club is about to take some issue with how this is done, it shouldn’t overshadow that making the effort to replicate what the real end user does day in and day out (playing real media) is to be commended. This kind of thing goes a long way toward keeping them happy and complaints at bay. Yet, as AV Pros, we expect more of the systems than just, “It works!” <insert trunk slam sound here>…Right!?
Practically speaking though, short of setting up thousands of dollars worth of test gear to conduct niche tests (which may well be warranted, as determined by the Pros) each time, how is a higher level of expected performance ensured? What more than a go – no go test can, or should, be accomplished? The answer lies in using the best test instruments an AV Pro has available — our eyes, ears and touch! And, contrary to popular belief, doing so doesn’t require “golden” ears or eyes. What is required is appropriate test media, as well as intimate experience with how good (or bad) that same media can look, sound and be manipulated.
Starting with selecting the media, let’s first remind ourselves we’re in agreement that the test media best be PG (or lower) rated. Also, we’re not suggesting that popcorn get popped for some extended viewing in the field that’s disguised as “a test.” OK, with that out of the way, let’s get to some specifics.
The format the media is available in is a practical consideration; ideally, it allows the use of the same, familiar content across the many formats being supported. Next, the selection should be heavily influenced by the degree to which it “exercises” the system. For example, a video clip should have some dark scenes, with small differences in contrast. Or, an audio clip should have a transition from a very quiet to loud passage, as a dynamic range example. Lastly, pick content you enjoy, since you’ll have lots of chances to play it.
For video, we have two primary content classifications — motion video and graphics. On the motion video side, I like Coral Reef Adventure. It’s available on DVD, Blu-ray and even online (in the form of downloadable digital trailers), not to mention it’s natively shot in the ultimate gold standard: IMAX. There are many dark underwater shots that challenge display contrast ratio as well as vibrant color that demonstrate color saturation. While not exactly an action thriller, there are a number of scenes sufficient to evaluate motion artifacts. For graphics, there is the good ole’ “poor man’s test pattern” — a simple Word page filled with the capital letter H over and over again. This works really well for gross evaluation of uniformity of focus and convergence.
For audio, we’re concerned with both speech intelligibility and program audio reproduction. On speech, this really needs to be a two-person test, with one to speak into the microphone (being the live “media,” and reading aloud what ever is handy) while the other listens. It’s best to then flip roles and compare impressions (for a summary critique). When another live voice (you can’t talk and listen at the same time) is not available, I like some CBS Radio Mystery Theater radio dramas. Picking one that has a range of characters (including some with challenging dialects) works really well to listen for intelligibility throughout a space. For program audio testing, one of my favorites is a Dire Straits album. They have good (wide) dynamic range and distinct (and wide) frequency elements in many songs. We’re listening for overall frequency response and minimal distortion here. But the testing gets a bit more interesting with kicking up the volume several notches to check for buzz/rattles.
A final note, relates to the “touch” sense, i.e., how it is manipulated. Consider the media’s use of both regular and special commands. For example, on a DVD, the basic stop, play, FF, etc., must work. But in many cases, the end user needs ability to access deep menu structures, so this test disk need incorporate a full range of menus and features. Don’t forget to also make sure it has closed captions encoded.
So, your test media should be something you know very well, which likely is not some “B” movie that should have been tossed years ago. Ideally, you’ll have opportunity to really appreciate it on the highest performing AV system(s) as well not so hot ones. Speaking of high performing AV, hopefully you’ll be making it to Infocomm. If you do, and also make my seminar, be sure to introduce yourself as a fellow AV Clubber!
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 email@example.com
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Extron Classroom A/V System Grant Programs Near $2.0 Million Milestone
Last month, Extron said that so far it had granted over $1.8 million in classroom A/V systems to U.S. school districts. More than 580 pilot classrooms have been granted to enable district technology leaders, administrators, and instructors to evaluate and define audiovisual system standards that can be implemented in additional classrooms. The main goal of the Extron grant program is to provide increased visibility and expanded access for K-12 classroom A/V technology by supplying selected pilot classrooms with advanced audio/video solutions at no cost to the district. Each grant award includes installation of Extron classroom A/V system technology, VoiceLift microphone, and complete training.
Extron offers several grant programs for qualifying institutions. The PoleVault, WallVault, and VoiceLift Grants award complete classroom A/V systems, while the GlobalViewer Enterprise Grant provides Extron's server-based, A/V system monitoring and resource management software. All equipment, installation, and training are provided free of charge, with no required commitment for future purchases. Extron backs each grant classroom with a 5-year warranty and industry leading S3 support, which provides 24/7 telephone assistance and a nationwide network of specialists. In addition, grant recipients have access to the Extron K-12 Web site which offers additional resources, including product information, manuals, white papers, How-To videos, case studies, and more.
Here’s a demo of both the WallVault and PoleVault Systems: http://www.extron.com/company/article.aspx?id=wallvaultad
Some program, eh? Safe to assume no company stays in business by giving stuff away, but must calculate the degree to which recipients will buy in. I haven’t a clue… but, observing what many places call “AV,” this gives them a chance to experience what it can actually look, sound and interface like.
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InfoComm Expands Training at 2010 Show
Syn-Aud-Con Expands to Three-Day Seminar at InfoComm 2010
For more than 35 years, Syn-Aud-Con has been devoted to providing practical, in-depth training seminars on the principles of audio and acoustics. On June 6-8, Syn-Aud-Con’s Pat Brown will be teaching Sound Reinforcement for Technicians. This seminar covers the theory behind how systems work, and demonstrates how to use instrumentation to look "under the hood" to troubleshoot systems. Advanced topics such a crossover adjustments and equalization are presented in a technical, yet practical manner. Completely revised and expanded to a three-day seminar in 2010, this class now includes "hands-on" exercises. Attendees will use a tool kit that includes meters and other items needed to test and troubleshoot systems. They will also learn how to use modern dual-channel FFT measurement platforms and perform a complete setup of a three-way triamped loudspeaker, including polarity testing, equalization, crossover selection and signal alignment.
Visit http://www.synaudcon.com for recommended prerequisites and additional details.
As a Syn-Aud-Con grad, the “best test instruments an AV Pro has” concept I referenced in this month’s column is one I came to truly understand and appreciate from Don Davis (Syn-Aud-Con founder). From what I’ve heard (no pun intended), Pat’s team hasn’t skipped a beat (again, no pun intended) in connecting the technically complex with sound (OK, pun intended) practical application.
CompTIA Network+ Training Offered at InfoComm 2010
InfoComm is offering the CompTIA Network+ Training. Sign up for course CT1. This course is designed to provide network technicians and support staff with the foundation-level skills they need to install, operate, manage, maintain and troubleshoot a corporate network. This course assists in preparing students for the CompTIA Network+ certification examination. Log in to http://www.infocommshow.org, select “Education & Certification” and search for CompTIA to find out more. Register today so you don’t miss the chance to train for this certification while you’re in Las Vegas.
Kudos to Infocomm for making this IT cross training available. As anyone who has been knows, the main problem with attending Infocomm is drinking from the fire hydrant of education, exhibits and professional networking opportunities available.
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Extron Introduces VN-Matrix Encoders and Decoders for A/V Over IP
Last month, Extron launched their newest product in the form of the VN-Matrix 200 Series and VN-Matrix 300 Series – their first encoders and decoders for real-time transmission of high resolution AV content across standard IP networks. Unveiled under the Extron banner for the first time since the acquisition of the Products Division of Electrosonic, the VN-Matrix Series is meant for live viewing, collaboration, storage, and playback of high quality A/V signals. With the scalable VN-Matrix system, you can start small and add additional encoders and decoders later to turn your IP network into a virtual routing matrix switcher that is practically limitless in size. The VN-Matrix 200 Series enables streaming of DVI and RGB video, while the VN-Matrix 300 Series supports SDI, HD-SDI, and 3G-SDI video. Both VN-Matrix Series can be used on uncorrected networks and provide visually lossless picture quality for large projected images and high-resolution graphics.
VN-Matrix Systems encode video or graphics sources at resolutions up to HD or WUXGA, along with bidirectional audio and data signals, and decode the content back to the original source resolution utilizing Extron’s PURE3 Codec, a unique wavelet-based compression technology. The PURE3 Codec is specifically designed for network transmission and provides an unmatched combination of bit rate efficiency, low latency, and high image quality. PURE3 exceeds many of the performance characteristics of existing compression formats and provides exceptionally robust protection against network errors, making it ideal for quality-critical applications.
For complete specs, go to: http://www.extron.com/product/es6100vnmatrix.aspx
Keep in mind I don’t do product evaluations folks; rather, I pass along my general observations here for your consideration. That said (and FWIW), I’m increasingly convinced, as an industry, we can’t get to a fully “IP” (for loss of a better term) AV transmission and routing topology fast enough.
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SMART Technologies Buys NextWindow
It's a classic case of corporate romance: first you fight, then you fall in love.
Recently, SMART Technologies has announced they will acquire NextWindow — an interesting move since in April of 2009, SMART was filing a lawsuit against NextWindow to enforce its DViT (Digital Vision Touch) technology. Both companies use optical imaging touch technology, their target markets are different. NextWindow must have defended itself so well that SMART CEO Nancy Knowlton now likes NextWindow’s consumer-facing business model.
SMART is the leading provider of interactive whiteboards, which are mainly used for education/training applications. It has both resistive and optical imaging touch technologies. They are here: http://www.smarttech.com/us/We+have+made+some+changes+about+us
From New Zealand, NextWindow makes optical imaging touch technology for integration. NextWindow is here: http://www.nextwindow.com/
Really not familiar with NextWindow; I wonder if the romance here is an arranged business-like marriage or one where an underlying passion in technology overcomes all?
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Little-Known CyberResearch Develops Sunlight-Readable Display
CyberResearch is announcing the CyberResearch CyRAQ 1000, what they say is a sunlight-readable outdoor digital display with portrait, landscape, and wall-mount options. Specified at 1080p native, the LCD displays include a series of 23", 32", and 40" pylon-mounted digital signage displays that the company says are built for use in all-weather outdoor video or digital signage applications.
The CyRAQ 1000 LCDs use AR-Bonding to reduce excessive light reflections when used in sunlight and increase contrast ratio. Apparently AR-Bonding also provides extra mechanical support to the LCD and eliminates the problem of air-gap glass fogging from condensation.
You can see all the specs at: http://www.cyberresearch.com
While I don’t have an outdoor application at my fingertips that’d suggest using a product like this, I must say the techie in me is curious. Hope it’s safe to assume I'll get the chance to see it at Infocomm.
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NEC Adds New S-Series to LCD Monitor Line-up
Last month NEC Display announced its new S Series, featuring the addition of the 40-inch S401 and 46-inch S461 LCD displays. Replacing the renowned M Series, the S Series is ideal for those customers with digital signage and entertainment applications running for extended operation times. These types of environments can include airports, hospitality, boardrooms and public areas.
The 1080p native displays offer a variety of new features compared to previous generation models, including DisplayPort and Ethernet connectivity and an ambient light sensor for automatically setting brightness based on existing lighting conditions. The displays spec a contrast ratio of 4000:1, an increase from its predecessors, while maintaining the same level of power consumption, according to NEC. The S401 and S461 have the ability to be tiled in a video wall matrix up to 10×10 (100 displays), which is an improvement from the previous 5×5 capability of the M Series. Brightness is spec’d at 250 cd/m2 and the S401 and S461 will be available for April 2010 shipment listing at $1,399.99 and $1,799.99, respectively.
You can see all the specs at: http://www.necdisplay.com/Products/Series/?series=653ca4d2-9a8e-4e04-a614-b9c94ddd8c19
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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.
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