Last month in Part 1, we mentioned devices that allow for seamless and, ultimately, a fresh view on presentations. In Part 2, we tie it together by visiting the past while looking to the future. For me, the past is today, and the future is tomorrow. To explore the future, we must first study the past and understand the technologies at hand.
Rudimentary control of AV functions advanced from IR to RF and then to RS-232 which entails written code. Even if your "specialist" writes in "C" or understands Cobalt, every service call is time-consuming and potentially profit-negating. That is today.
A new emerging option, which Bill Gates calls, "plug-n-play," will replace Crestron and AMX systems in boardrooms across the world. Not today, but if you want an ergonomic handheld remote, with a built-in colored LCD screen, that automatically (via the IT) grabs all your codes and finally solves the remote boondoggle, the future is starting today.
Take a look at the new Logitech Harmony 880 remote, which brings me to another huge issue facing every installer and consultant in our world-the iPod universe. And with all due respect, if you don't know what I am referring to as it relates to your everyday business, then you, my friend, are from another galaxy. History and the past advanced the quest for high-quality audio and video at any cost. Every day is the beginning of a new future, especially with regards to technology, and the quicker we all accept the iPod world, adapt our business models to it and do not dwell in the past, the quicker we'll be on our road to success.
Why bring this up in a presentation article and review of AV gear? Please go to www.startech.com/mp3airlink and look at what wirelessly sends audio files through the classroom or the boardroom (at $92.99 MSRP, it's something to really think about for the future). Wait, the cynics are carping that the range and the quality are not worthy of these pages? Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you of the "blazingly fast" 26K US Robotics modem of less than 10 years ago. A T-3 line from Verizon is just $30 a month, bandwidth issues are being explored by all, wireless video projectors can be purchased for under $2,500, and you still think you don't have to explore the future today?
In addition to projectors reviewed, additional offerings abound, from companies like DigitalProjection, Christie, NEC, Panasonic and Toshiba that we will explore in future months. As of this writing, I just received a new Toshiba TDP-TW300 DLP unit, which has some very interesting connection options for the installer. In the end, your needs, combined with a unit's options and controls, balanced by price and the information we provided should allow for a calculated choice.
I posed a series of questions to video-screen manufactures to support this series. Speaking with two leaders in screen design today, I found some reinforcing similarities. When Draper's Terry Coffee was queried as to the most popular configuration specified today in the commercial market, his reply mirrored Da-Lite's Matt Tevan-4:3 NTSC, with Tevan adding that 4:5 (computer) and HDTV (16:9) were gaining momentum. Both had similar replies concerning screen materials, with high-contrast fabrics garnering less interest with the brighter projectors today. Both echoed a similar sentiment that it is most important to consult with a qualified installer, choosing a screen material and subsequent size based on the lumens projected, room size and ambient light anticipated. Both agreed that the predominant sale was motorized with varying options of LV and RS-232 control for AMX or Crestron use.
Da-Lite's Tevan made an interesting point regarding an area of growth he sees in mid-sized to larger rooms: "We are seeing more fixed install screens in larger sizes, combined with rear projectors. It alleviates an interaction between the light output of the projector and ambient light producing a more uniform picture, and reduced projector noise." You can read my reviews of the various screen options in last month's SCN. Both companies make a wide range of products with Draper, a family run operation since 1902, and Da-Lite, the inventors of the projection screen.
Definitely looking at the future is Adobe, whose products define the creative world of digital arts today. Adobe Premier Pro 1.5 was easy to grasp and produces effective, professional and polished results within a very short time frame. In fact, taking an older company video and making it look, and sound like it was created today is relatively simple. With Premier Pro, just assemble the timeline, set a "punch-in and a punch-out" time, add a marker and drop in the new clip, and you have a new up-to-date video.
What about the changed audio, the verbal instructions and the missing time line? No problem, just import or create an audio file, match a time code and seamlessly your audio and video is new again. Is it that simple? Yes and no, but with a little practice, some reading of instructions and watching the Adobe informational video, you too can be a producer. This is a very powerful creation and editing tool, but suffice to say, whether you want to scrub an existing audio track, add a stereo track, or split out 5.1 channels on screen and further manipulate to down-mix with special effects for syncing to the video you either just spliced together from assembled clips and or images you created in Photoshop CS2, Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 should be in every marketing department's kit as well as many in our field of systems contracting. Premiere Pro 1.5 will be an integral part of my software library many years to come. So, tomorrow is today.
Having an instruction manual, employee handbook, product tips guide, or other data on videotape poses a challenge. Does every new office include a VCR? I think not. Then Plextor's PX-TV100U is your ticket to the future, by way of the past. "Very simple-to-use, easy-to-understand software and almost painless setup allowed for conversion of videos (VHS) direct to DVD burning with great results," commented Kevin Dolnick, VP of operations at Computer Generated Solutions. "With the only caveat being that the time it takes to render a file is painful." A must-have, and a very inexpensive solution to most video conversion needs.
Putting these files on a computer takes space, lots of it, and Western Digital's Passport has options. To say setup of the Passport was effortless is an understatement. Plugging the supplied USB2 cord into the drive, which, by the way, is about half the size of a paperback book, and then to my IBM, I clicked "Backup All," and I was in business. Why you need this for presentations is simple. Did you ever get somewhere and forget a file, or realize the data you thought was in your PowerPoint, never migrated from your desktop into the "updated" file? Well, with a Passport from Western Digital, that never has to happen. Just make sure you keep everything in clear folders, and you are ready for anything.
We also tested another device-the Western Digital Dual-option Media Center and combo external storage unit. Connection via USB or FireWire, an 8-in-1 memory card reader on the front of the very sleek "box" that you can vertically place, a Kensington security lock connection and a USB hub are part of the package. It allows you to store a whopping 320 GB of data.
If you prefer a shiny silver disc, then the Plextor PX-716UF is your ticket to freedom. Connection was straightforward via the USB2 port on my IBM Thinkpad. Playback of a "stamped" commercial video was perfect, with quick loading and what appeared to be no latency issue. If making DVDs are a part of your clients' future, this is definitely worth a look.
Which finally brings me to a piece of software that can never be overlooked in any office, educational facility or, of course, marketing house-Adobe Photoshop CS2. This new version amplifies what we in marketing have known for years: Adobe is the leader in this field for a reason.
In 2006, a controller still decides what you watch, how you hear it and how you control the action in one, two, three or more rooms. The Lexicon MC-12B addressed almost every possible need in this review and then some. The only shortcoming of this unit, and this is only minor relating to large installs of HDTV systems, is the omission of an HDMI jack. This in no way dilutes the quality of the RGB video signals controlled through the I/O BNC jacks, which, in 99 percent of the installations, are sufficient. Why I liked this unit had to do more with the neutral sound that was output from the balanced XLR jacks and the broadcast quality video I measured via the RGB jacks.
Now that you have a unit to control your sound, you need speakers. While I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the magnitude of the offerings, I have included a couple of standouts. I received three Genelec 8030 monitors to merge into my system. They are not warm, not bright, not forward, just wide-open neutrality. I had the ability to hear these transducers alongside their brethren at the recent AES Show in NYC. What was simply astounding to me was the almost equal "voicing" all of these units have.
A lower-priced alternative is the M-Audio BX8a monitor built around an 8-inch woofer made of Kevlar and a 1-inch silk-domed tweeter with a built-in, biamped power source.
The choices we have today are phenomenal, the quality exceptional. But always keep an eye on the horizon.