AMX's MVP-5200i wowed CEDIA show goers in September. This debut suggests that despite system control moving to garden-variety IP peripherals, bespoke (and expensive) touchpanels still carry a certain allure for many users.The graphical user interface is, exactly as its name suggests, the face of the integrated AV environment. From schematics, wiring, programming, to black magic, all the careful planning done by the systems contractor is represented by this one definitive gateway.
With such an integral position, the GUI design must be solid. The fundamentals of good design seem obvious: it should be transparent to the end-user, simplified yet fully functional, attractive yet intuitive. Beauty, brains, and brawn in perfect harmony. The GUI is a two-way mirror with immediate control, feedback, and communication across each subsystem.
An interface should also offer its users quick wins (customized icons of the new puppies, for example), and long-term wins, such as the slow-building trust between user and device. Great interfaces eliminate the guesswork and make it easy to dive right in to the feature set. The relationship must be consistent and reliable even as new devices, satellite channels, or programs are added. The iPhone, with its immense physical appeal, is an example of an interface that ticks all the right boxes: form factor (check), inviting interface (check), convergence (check), source of envy (check).
So if everyone knows the fundamentals, why is it so easy to get it wrong? For one, with an excess of features available, it's easy to overload an interface and bury important controls inside an ill-conceived dashboard. And while Vista is much more Apple-like and touchy-feely, there is also the Windows study in counter-intuition-why go to the START icon to shut down a PC?
There is another complication: in the residential and commercial AV systems markets, control is following the trend of most media, and migrating to computing stations, IP phones, PDAs, and other workaday devices. "Generation 3" wireless standards now allow audio, video, and voice navigation and control on portable gadgets. What this means for the custom interface depends on who you ask.
"We think this represents a tremendous opportunity for our industry," said Glenn Pernick, CTS, Crestron's Advanced Technical Support Group manager.
Crestron introduced the first IP-based control system nearly 10 years ago, followed soon thereafter by e-Control, which today enables customized GUIs via PDAs, PCs, and IP phones. Thus far, experience has demonstrated that user tolerance is a significant hurdle faced by control manufacturers. "While our latest touchpanels provide functions like Windows XP, Skype VOIP, and
An interface should offer its users both quick wins and long-term ones, such as the slow-building trust between user and device. Great interfaces eliminate the guesswork and Microsoft NetMeeting, the interface and control system have to always be able to communicate instantaneously," Pernick said. "An interface has to provide full functionality in a very controlled manner so that users can't, for instance, download something that will lock up the system. People will not tolerate slow response time when controlling components, i.e. volume or light levels. If you touch a GUI button, you expect the lights to come on immediately, not in five seconds."
The popularity of IP-control for AV systems is both real and welcome, observes David Brown, lead technician with the Aspen, CO-based integrator ESC. "Virtually every new system we install includes IP," he said confidently. "We even go back to older projects and offer it as an upgrade."
An opportunity to add even more value to a system elevates a contractor's expertise. Being a premium service provider means creating systems that meet-then exceed-the client's expectations. IP can fit into this deluxe vendor strategy, and with large-scale projects or orders of magnitude common in hospitality or MDU commissions.
Another way to add value is personalization. Some clients request custom graphics for a bit of extra fun, but it's essential to maintain a consistent, repeatable, and reliable experience across every platform. That is where Cloud Systems, the self-proclaimed "next generation" control systems solutions provider, excels.
As its name intimates, Cloud Systems creates atmospheres, not just interfaces, and is open architecture-based. What further distinguishes the San Francisco company, says Matt Barmash, vice president of business development, is that it's "Built from the ground up. We embrace IT convergence. We need IT expertise and AV expertise in this industry; there must be a sharing of talents." He also says that while the company used to sell direct to clients, it has now moved 100-percent to channel distribution in January 2007. Cisco is one of the many enterprise, hospitality, and educational clients who tap Cloud Systems for personal yet accessible atmospheres.
The Cloud Systems control solution is easy to install, Barmash explains. It is as a tool for integrators and contractors to deploy systems quickly. Open architecture is the heart of the solution and the sensibility. "Proprietary is outdated," he said. "We don't sell boxes, IP/IT requires more. Now with IP, the system must meld into the IT ecosystem."
AV used to exist in separate silos, but the future of the space is embracing IT in a more organic and converged manner. A system (and indeed systems contractor) agile enough to blend AV and IT is better positioned for future projects.
There are other companies exalting IP as well as creating personalized interfaces. AMX's Scott Norder explained how a new suite from AMX offers integrators a way to "bring in interface elements from the PC world while isolating users from constant change." With 'user-friendliness' as its mandate, AMX is developing products that offer the highest-resolution images and enabling technologies, because, Norder believes, "motion graphics are the future."
Norder adds that AMX, through its Device Discovery Partners, offers panels and user interfaces which overlay control upon high-quality imagery. This strategy maintains real estate, reduces costs for training and technology, and provides key ways to customize. "The integrator can take graphics-streaming video from multiple sources-and put control over it."
This AMX interface approach, Norder says, is beneficial for commercial customers looking at the true costs of operating AV and IP telephony in larger projects. "Every six months new products and new features come out, and it is expensive," he stated. "We know that change is constant and want to insulate users from that."
Kevin Collins of Microsoft's Consumer Media Technology Group, foresees that IP is essential component of various new products in the residential and corporate environments. But he has one warning: Internet functionality has to be woven in seamlessly so the end user doesn't get overwhelmed. As the evangelist of Microsoft's HD DVD initiative, Collins explains that the web interactivity of next-gen HD-DVDs give the high-resolution playback format an edge. Web interactivity, if it is easy to access, can bring viewers deeper into the movie experience and give integrators valuable ways to differentiate themselves. "Bonus features must be simply, smartly laid out," he noted. "If the viewer can't see what is available during that film, how can they enjoy it?"
Cloud Systems creates "atmospheres" that provide multiple ways to control the client's environment.
Last month, AMX came out of the CEDIA gate swinging with one of the biggest residential product launches in years. Its new 5.2-inch Modero ViewPoint widescreen touchpanel (MVP-5200i) is part of the company's next-gen Modero line and marries a subdued, elegant design with a bevy of enabling technologies, high-resolution graphics, and wireless mobility. Digital intercom functionality and extended battery life are other talking points that remind us why niche touchpanel control systems will always have a place in the game.
Savant Systems, U.S. home automation manufacturer with an "open platform," has created the first Apple-based coffee table surface product. The ROSIE Coffee Table touchpanel controller supports all the capabilities of the Savant suite of ROSIE In-wall touch panels plus interactive multimedia capabilities such as integration and interaction with iTunes multimedia content, digital cameras, IP network cameras, business card readers, and additional niche devices. Victor Saverino, Savant's director of product management, says, "The ROSIE Coffee Table brings the converged functionality of a touch panel to an interactive surface technology that is practical on the one hand, entertaining and exciting to use on the other. The ROSIE Coffee Table is truly the evolution of interactive technology-it can seamlessly download photos from digital cameras, play music, movies, and TV shows as well as accomplish complete home control all from within one elegant forty-inch interface." Savant plans to offer the ROSIE Coffee Table in a number of different furniture styles ranging from contemporary to traditional.
Crestron, one of the industry's best-known automation and control providers, keeps rolling out new solutions for home and commercial integrated environments. The new TPS-6L was introduced at CEDIA, offers two front bezels and can come with an optional 12 programmable, soft-key pushbuttons. Inside its Liliputian footprint the TPS-6L packs enhanced functionality, including a 5.7-inch touch screen with 16-bit Isys graphics, 640x480 resolution, and video window display.
Crestron's new TPS-6L offers two front bezels and can come with an optional 12 programmable, soft-key pushbuttons.I
Morganville, NJ-based Aurora Multimedia takes repeatable IP control to another level with the latest version of its GUI creation tool. The YIPI (which stands for Your IP Interface) 3.0 is not only free, it is designed to expedite the integration process by creating graphic control pages for automated environments. It is ideal for both sales and engineering departments, the company says. The new YIPI will be available from the WACI control system forum at waciworld.com or at auroramultimedia.com.
Super-Size GUIs With Web 2.0
For the integrator working in the hospitality sector, a robust yet personalized GUI that seamlessly connects with other hotel amenities is a challenge. How can you synch 100 guest rooms to all look the same and offer videoconferencing controls with a consistent user experience? Cloud Systems' Matt Barmash says the key is to provide a multi-standard interface then layer customization on top of the interface. And that is his company's philosophy. He elaborated, "We design our interfaces from left to the right with rich internet applications [in mind], like any other dynamic Web 2.0 experience."
Web 2.0 is the next phase of internet life--the web being used not just as disconnected pages but as a platform for personalization. Subsequently, the next crop of control interfaces must reflect this heightened level of interaction and move away from basic information retrieval or client/server applications. Web 2.0 is not static, Barmash enthused, "It understands your presence and responds to you with the more information you provide. Personalization is key."
By providing multiple ways to control clients' environments, the user becomes more comfortable in their personal space, the highest achievement of a custom system. Like the art of drama itself, Web 2.0 is about relationships, not just cause and effect. Commercial systems must offer a similar level of dynamic interactivity.
GUI Products 2007
The new TPS-6L is the latest Isys wallmount touchpanel from Crestron, featuring a 5.7-inch high-contrast color touchscreen, 16-bit Isys graphics, 640 x 480 resolution, and a full-motion, fully scalable video display window. TPS-6L bezels are available with or without 12 programmable softkey pushbuttons, and offer custom engraving for pushbuttons along with a choice of solid or backlit text. Pushbuttons are positioned to align with dynamically changing text and graphics onscreen, supporting context-sensitive menu functions such as digital media titles, channels, or lighting presets.
AMX's newest touch panel, the MVP-5200i, combines a stylish design with wireless mobility, digital intercom functionality, extended battery life, and high-resolution graphics, including streaming motion-JPEG video. The compact, power efficient touch panel supports up to eight hours of continuous use and four days of standby time and features an integrated kickstand and navigation wheel for levels and functions. It also incorporates the highest wireless network security standards, including WEP, WPA, WPA2, EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, and PEAP.
Cloud Systems atmospheric
atmospheric is Cloud Systems' flagship product. The application delivers true enterprise control and central management of AV technologies through a single, powerful interface. For a traditional presentation or videoconference, individuals lose time to administrating increasingly complicated systems and hardware. Once virtual rooms are created with atmospherics, the software automatically generates intelligent UIs, compatible with IP-driven devices like standard browsers, IP phones, or PDAs. Thus, an atmospherics user can enter a room, press a single button on the control device, and immediately access the necessary system and device controls. The result is improved performance, automation, and speed, for any AV system tasks.
Aurora Multimedia IBZ-1041W and YIPI
The IBZ-1041W is a 10.4-inch wireless touch panel with the power to handle many applications. This panel is a thin client tablet PC that is compatible with most browser based IP control systems. Unlike most products in its class, the IBZ-1041W has the ability to run Macromedia Flash movies, which are the most popular format for touch panel interfaces. Aurora Multimedia has also released the latest version of its free GUI creation tool. YIPI is software designed to help AV integrators create graphic control pages for automated environments, and it will be a valuable tool for both sales and engineering departments.