To Touchpanel or Not To Touchpanel by Joey D'Angelo

We’ve all seen some pretty extensive rooms with and without touchpanels before.

  • Oftentimes, 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.
  • 4. 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 an install.
  • 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.
  • 6. 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.

Joey 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.

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