Control By Intuition

As Internet Protocol (IP) continues to revolutionize control systems and the devices that integrate with them, the features sets available to the end-user are growing increasingly complex. At the same time, manufacturers are endeavoring to make the installation of their products easier, resulting in systems that are simpler to operate.

"One of the big things that has changed, from our perspective, is that we are putting devices on the network and the end-users are starting to realize why this is a benefit to them," said Fred Bargetzi, vice president of technology at Crestron Electronics in Rockleigh, NJ. AV, he observes, is not an option anymore. "In the old days, you would have one conference room in a facility. Now you have presentation rooms and meeting rooms, and every one of these spaces has electronics and they need support." A company like Microsoft, which just standardized on Crestron worldwide, boasts 800 meeting rooms on its campus in Redmond, WA. "If you put 800 audiovisual devices on that network, how are you going to manage and maintain them? That is where networking is starting to come into play."

Matthew Barmash, director of business development at Cloud Systems in San Francisco, CA, notes that utilizing AV equipment to help achieve a communications goal should be a transparent service to the end user-something that has yet to be truly achieved. "With videoconferencing, we have started to reach part of that goal, by helping people in different geographies interact, but we have also increased complexity of the environment," he said. "The visibility of the AV technology, such as videoconferencing, is still very high when the end user utilizing the technology, as opposed to being able to walk into a room and have everything available to help facilitate the business communications at hand."

Barmash attributes this to a lack of standards. "As an industry, we are getting better at working toward standards, but I would hardly call this a standards-based industry," he said, conceding that things are, however, improving. "More manufacturers are working together to provide interoperability and standards. Once standards between manufactures occurs, the entire industry can work off of them and provide better solutions to our customers."

Instead of using control systems to manage the complexity of the environment, Barmash emphasizes, they should be regarded as a tool that facilitates the operation of all of the devices integrated with it. "One problem is that we try so hard to make everything work because the technologies are so complex, and we don't find enough ways for the control system to help simplify the experience for the end-user," he said.

Robert Noble, chief technology officer at AMX in Richardson, TX, notes that it's not always necessary to show off all the potential features to the end-user. "Many times, dealers that have a very technical mindset want to expose all of the features of the devices that are in the solution, when in the end, all the end-user wants to do is walk into a conference room, and press: presentation, single projector, computer," he illustrated. Good systems designers think through what scenarios the end-user wishes to execute, and how to offer those functions with a minimal amount of button pressing.
Recognizing that the number of devices in presentation environments is considerable, Crestron has endeavored to minimize this a bit with its Multimedia Presentation System (MPS), which brings supporting devices like audio switchers, video switchers, amplifiers, volume controls, and mic mixers together. "The MPS puts everything in one box," Bargetzi explained. "You get a box that is in a much smaller space. Now you don't have to wire in between all of these devices, which cuts down on labor during the installation."

AMX strives to facilitate the installation of its systems with a number of initiatives, including Dynamic Device Discovery, which is developed through partnerships with other manufacturers. By embedding a beacon device into their protocol, AMX partners allow the control system to announce the exterior device's make and model, eliminating the need for the integrator to find the module or driver that controls it. "The beauty of that, from the end-user's perspective, is if that projector needs to go in for repair, they can install another projector-even from another vendor, if it has this technology-and they don't have to re-do their code," Noble explained. "In the past, a dealer would come in with a new projector, open up the control code for the system, put in a new module or driver for the new device, recompile it, load the code, and hand it off to the user."

"You see more and more of what was communication and IT technology and what has been AV technology converging," Noble continued. "We are getting some pretty innovative pieces out of that: some better integrated systems, and some systems that are easier to use." The challenge, he says, is being able to integrate systems that offer these features to the end-user. "As with anything, as technology marches on, if you don't stay on top of it and informed, sometimes you don't know what is in your toolkit that you can use."

As manufacturers continue to improve upon the application of IP in their products-and systems contractors grow savvier on how this technology can be integrated into complete systems-true communication between devices is taken up a notch. "Videoconferencing and control systems are two of the technologies in our industry that can use IP technologies best," Barmash said. "It's not just running over a cable; it's how you deliver services and how you interact with other technologies. Once the distribution of technologies happens, we get to see how IP technologies work together."