To Touchpanel or Not To Touchpanel by Joey D'Angelo
We’ve all seen some pretty extensive rooms with and without touchpanels before.
I feel that designers, consumers, and resellers are all too eager to
buy, sell, specify, or install a touchpanel-based control system. My
cutoff for providing or not providing a touchpanel in a system in a
corporate environment is videoconferencing. By and large, a simple
keypad with six to eight buttons should be able to meet the control
requirements of a basic presentation system. The bottom line is that a
well-designed AV system, below a certain threshold of functionality,
does not require one, and in most cases benefits from not having one.
Here are several reasons why:
1. Touchpanels, no
matter how well their user interface is designed, are still hard to use
for many people. I’ve seen people have a hard time simply pushing a
“yes” or “no” button on a touchpanel. We’ve all also sat on a Virgin
America flight and watched nearby passengers fiddle with the “Red”
touchpanel based entertainment system for countless hours. There is
just something about a tactile button that gives tangible feedback
about the success of one’s button-pushing efforts!
2. A simple push button panel such as Crestron’s MPC series product or Extron’s MLC
are generally easier for a wider range of users and have buttons that
are very easy to label. Not only are they very easy to label and use,
they are cost effective.
3. Touchpanels despite
their perceived fanciness, require a custom designed user interface and
lots of custom developed code to run properly. This adds a significant
amount of cost to your project in terms of programming labor.
If you use a touchpanel, it needs to have a processor located
somewhere, which is usually rack-mounted. This means that you’ll need
a rack located somewhere nearby, which also means you will need space,
power, ventilation, and the usual cast of characters for that type of
5. If you are using a good control
panel with a decent selection of 232, IR, and contact closure
connections on it, then you can avoid needing a rack, and the
programming burden is drastically simplified.
Sometimes, the addition of a professional teleconferencing system is
used as justification for the employment of a touchpanel. The thinking
is that the touchpanel is needed for dialing. But most professional
echo cancellers have options such as dial pads, or an easy way to
interface with traditional table top conference units. Using these as
an alternative to touchpanels is always a good, user friendly, and
budget conscious route to go.
7. Another reason to
think twice about using a touchpanel is that they are almost always
targets of theft. I usually only use wireless touchpanels in
residential projects or in auditoriums where there is administrators
involved. If you leave a wireless touchpanel sitting on a conference
room table, people think they are something that they can use at home
so they get stolen. Or sometimes they can simply be misplaced and you
will be left with an inoperative system!
There will always be a
time, a place, and a budget that accommodates the use of touchpanels,
but sometimes it’s a good idea to think about whether one is really
needed, despite their “high tech” appeal.
D’Angelo is Principal Consultant of Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc,
in San Francisco, and frequent contributor to Systems Contractor News
and AV Technology magazine. What are your thoughts on touchpanels? Leave a comment in the comment box below.