Get It Under Control

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with AV controls.  We love the power (think Tim the Toolman, grunting sound) of having room and AV automation at our beck and call.  But, we hate the frustration with not-so-easy planning and programming to make “easy to use” interfaces. For the most part, though, the end justifies the means.  This is a ProAV professional’s reality.

The real end user’s relationship with AV controls is considerably different, with potential to shift to the hate side of the equation.  The best of implementations, may invoke a “hey, I like this!” or “that’s pretty neat!”  But, don’t hold your breath for these more affectionate sentiments — just settle for an absence of complaints.  Really?  

Yes, really.  You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever experienced the wrath of a real end user who has had bad experiences with AV controls.  The underlying sentiment in these “discussions” is how can something so easy be so complicated?   Well, unfortunately, once you get past Power On/Off, Input and Volume, it actually becomes pretty complicated.

Mix almost equal parts of dealing with legacy (outdated) hardware, new not-fully-bug-free hardware, DSP functions increasing at the rate of Moore’s Law, multiple abstract programming languages, feature rich media, human factors (including mind reading), etc., and… well, you get the idea.  But, paramount to all these complexities is the building an interface that promotes a common look and feel.

All that was “wrong” with AV controls was etched into my techie psyche years back, when after much hard work on developing a touch panel for a department of computer science project (again, need I say more?), success was not at hand.   While we were thinking we had “nailed” the touch panel, a faculty member pretty much sliced and diced the result, ultimately citing the real end user’s AV Controls mantra: how can something so easy be so complicated?  I, as project coordinator, concluded  privately — that yes, it was pretty complicated — but maybe, just maybe, others in the industry would agree to band together to give us all a fighting chance.

Around the same time, I came across this decommissioned touch panel.  It ended up becoming my poster child for the problem at hand; a touch panel that has a worn out sign taped to it advising: “Do NOT Touch – unless you have been trained”.  This seems to only perpetuate the real end user’s mantra.

The rest, as they say, is history.  If you’ve been in this industry for at least 6 years you, of course, know about the Dashboard for Controls.   Yes, we the ProAV experts know about the power and pitfalls of AV controls.  But that’s not really why I wrote this column.

It’s because I’ve recently faced a sad truth about the relative long time (~ 5 years) since the Dashboard was released.  While even I, torch carrier for the Dashboard, became sick and tired of hearing about it, one of the highest priorities remains seemingly underachieved.   That is: to promote a common look and feel to ProAV controls.   Snooping around the web and looking at trade show exhibits suggests a plateau of adoption of the “control panel” touch panel style layout template.  And, to my surprise, I’ve seen only one button panel model manufactured (produced by a lesser known company) that showed obvious Dashboard influence.

At a critical juncture during the Dashboard development, I presented to Infocomm International?s leadership committee.  Responding to a number of questions/comments resistant to the concept, I expressed my unvarnished opinion: either we get this under control ourselves, or another industry will do it for us.  Meanwhile the real end user gravitates to the familiar, whether or not the full power of ProAV communications can be harnessed.

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