New Tools for Your Toolbox?

On August 23rd, at 2 PM the Technology Manager’s Council of InfoComm will hold a quarterly conference call.  This call is particularly interesting because we have invited the Independent Technical Service Providers Council (ITSP) to join us in the call.  Several of us in the planning sub-committee had a conference call with them last week and are very excited about how this council can work together with ours.

The council is made up of service providers who are willing to work with institutions directly, rather than through a consulting firm or architectural firm.  Also, they are SERVICE providers rather than equipment providers.  So, have you ever needed a few extra hands to handle those last minute installs in the summer?  This council can point you in the right direction.  Have you ever run into a design process that is a little over your head?  You can directly hire people from this group to help you with that design, without feeling like you are being sold on a particular product.

So, what if you are very interested in joining in on the call, but are not a member of the Tech Manager’s Council?  Well, join the council!  All it takes is a visit to the Tech Manager’s site and fill out the application form.  In addition to being able to take part in the quarterly meeting, you will have access to a large group of your peers for networking.

InfoComm 2012 Part 1 – The Toys

Like many of you I spent the middle of last month in Vegas at InfoComm. I’m going to take a stab at blogging about the experience.

I think I may get three posts out of it. This is the first – the tech one. In the next I’ll talk about the classes, the events, the alcohol, any good dirt or gossip I can remember, and the alcohol. The third – if the blue helicopters don’t whisk me away before I finish it – will be a post-InfoComm revisit of the whole Extron situation.

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert or industry sage in any of this. I just buy and install a ton of this stuff and have been fortunate enough to get to InfoComm for many years now on the University’s dime. I make a point of walking as much of the show floor as I possibly can. I make notes about the items that catch my attention. I do a write up about the things I saw.

I used to just share it around the office and with close industry friends, a handful of people. Now, through the miracle of social media, I am able to subject – I mean share – my musings with a whole new world, the literally dozens of you who read the blog posts here on

Now this is filtered through the lens of my little AV world at UCLA. Some things I’m just not looking for right now so I didn’t spend much time looking at them. I also just included links where I found a good demo or the product was a bit hard to find online. And with that, on with the show…

1)   Altinex’s Muse is a power, HDMI, and IR over Cat 6 extender. No, not HDBaseT; there is a 120V 150W outlet on the receiver. Hang your monitor, pull a Cat 6, and you are done. No Facilities’ charges. Now you aren’t going to power a projector – yet – but it’s a neat new idea that gives us options in certain situations.

2)   Barco’s ClickShare: I didn’t see this in person. (Barco has been pretty boring the last few years.) It’s a USB dongle with a button. Everyone who is going to share their laptop gets a dongle. Hit the button and you are displayed on the screen. Now the dongles would walk away immediately in my classrooms, but this could eliminate a whole bunch of messy wiring in the right environments.

3)   BMS (Business Machine Security) is a small company that makes a versatile line of security mounts. (They are also very open to custom modifications of their products – speaking from experience.) We use a lot of their projector mounts. They have a new articulating flat panel mount that is completely secure – all the hardware and hinge points are completely enclosed. Mount a monitor on an arm in unsecure areas.

4)   BTX is probably best known for their complete line of solderless AV connectors but they have been adding some innovative new companies to their line like Luxi Electronics and Just Add Power. Their web site is a real clunker though.

5)   Crestron’s CaptureHD, with its one-time hardware cost and no recurring fees, is going to be a cruel wake-up for the capture box companies that want thousands of dollars in licensing fees every year. A lot of us never had the funding model to support that and think this box is going to be big in the world of Higher Ed. Crestron even added live streaming capability to it recently with little fanfare. (And a whole lot of manufacturers could take a lesson on how to cover a trade show from Crestron’s collection of basic, but really useful, short product videos.)

6)   Da-Lite’s IDEA Screen and IDEA Interactive Cart use a combination whiteboard and projection surface that seemed to do a pretty good job of both. And the IDEA Cart is an RP screen on wheels intended to work with most any of the interactive projectors out there now or in the future.

7)   Drawmer is someone fans of odd little niche audio companies should check out. They make an eclectic line of rack mounted audio processing equipment. I thought their SP2120 Speaker Protector – complete with key lock on the faceplate – was pretty slick.

8)   Element One offers a line of very stylish metal wrapped monitors and keyboards. They get built into furniture and then rise up or flip up from the surface with the push of a button. I need to find an app to try these on.

9)   FSR’s Top Shelf is a different take on the ceiling equipment boxes these folks and others have made popular the last few years. Top Shelf mounts to the wall at the ceiling externally. It has the same rack mount and power facilities as their other ceiling boxes and is enclosed by a fiberglass cover that can be painted to match your decor. This could be handy in rooms where you need to install a bit of equipment but are stuck with one of those old-school stick-on tile ceilings, or hard plaster. It’s not on their web site yet – which is a real turkey anyway.

10)   InFocus was showing a videophone they plan to start selling next year. They also had a whole fleet of Mondopads on display. Those came out last year but they are very trick – a combination interactive whiteboard, computer, and VTC unit. I’ve tried to talk a couple of campus departments into buying one.

11)   Kaltman Creations is a great company to know if you coordinate the wireless mic frequencies at your facility. They make a wonderful set of RF test and measurement tools. Their most recent spectrum analyzer software package offers a plethora of functions for tracking, logging, and even monitoring multiple RF signals.

12)   Klipsch was at InfoComm for the first time, complete with a line of commercial install speakers. They didn’t have a demo room, relying instead on the largess of their neighbors during brief near triple-decibel demo sessions. From what I could tell they sounded like a Klipsch speaker should – awesome. They were also giving away little yellow buttons – copies of the one Paul W. would wear. (Look it up.)

13)   Kramer: We may not have had the blue defensive fortification traditionally erected by a former InfoComm exhibitor, but with white walls and white uniforms Kramer’s huge, open, Narnia-like palace took the visual lead in the world of little AV boxes. And with their continued incremental additions, Kramer’s product line is looking more like a serious threat to their absent competitor every year. They also offer some great travelling training classes. The schedule is on the web, although finding products on their site is pretty confusing.

14)   LED Lighting: Not a company, an observation. Wandering through the rental and staging area it was amazing how much of the world of lighting effects and fixtures has been taken over by LEDs. I really wanted to stop and talk to some of the folks there but just have no app for that sort of gear at all.

15)   Liberty AV is doing a great job creating a synergy between the smaller companies they have brought into their fold. Now you can get custom Panelcrafters panels where the connectors are the inputs or outputs of integral Intelix extenders mounted on the back side of the panel.

16)   Listen Technologies (and also Williams Sound) are now offering telecoil hearing assist systems. This is a system capability that I expect we will all hear more requests for in the future.

17)   Mediatech makes a wide range of AV carts, furniture, and lecterns. Their WorksZone Interactive is an odd combination of a wheeled whiteboard and an interactive projector. The board can be tilted, allowing the setup to be used vertically like an interactive whiteboard, horizontally like a table, or anywhere in between.

18)   Optoma had a WXGA 6KL video projector complete with interchangeable lenses and a list price just under $4K. They are just the latest manufacturer known primarily for smaller projectors to jump into the world of bigger and brighter.

19)   Panasonic had their prototype entry into the laser/LED hybrid projector world on display. Preliminary specs list it as greater than 3KL with a lifespan greater than 20K hours and available in both WXGA and 1920×1080. The really trick feature, however, was the HDBaseT input it will come with. I’m not sure, are they the first projector manufacturer to do that? In any case they won’t be the last.

20)   Penveu had a really slick little portable pen and interface box (that doubles as a carrying case for the pen) that can turn any projector into an interactive whiteboard. The pen also works at a distance from the screen and can even double as a mouse. It also doesn’t require any special software.

21)   PowerCreator is a Chinese company that has jumped into the lecture capture world with an interesting collection of hardware and software solutions. There is an English version of their web site, but even with that many of the product descriptions were a bit hard to follow.

22)   Premier Mounts has a track system that simplifies the use of monitors or interactive whiteboards alongside existing whiteboards or chalkboards. It has a track at the top, has rollers at the bottom, straddles the existing boards, and lets them move horizontally as required.

23)   Sharp’s AQUOS Interactive Whiteboard debuted last year in Orlando but they just updated the software with some new drawing tools and also a new half-screen mode – half-whiteboard half-computer. That seems very useful with those boards getting as big as they are.

24)   Screen Innovations brings a new idea to the projection screen world, not usually a hotbed of exciting new products. The screen assembly (which is nicely low profile to begin with) lowers down on a pair of wires and then the screen unrolls from it. The screen is actually attached to the upper housing and the tube unrolls down, acting like the batten when it gets to the bottom. You don’t need any black drop above the screen. You can position the screen surface – and little else visually save the black border – wherever you need it.

25)   SoundTube has an interesting new line of ceiling can speakers that connect via Cat 5. They have internal 40W amps. The software lets you address each speaker individually (or the whole group) and also offers a bunch of control and monitoring options. They also have a 35” 3-way line array speaker.

26)   Stewart Filmscreen has come out with a line of low-cost screens, obviously intending to go up against their “Brand D” competitors. They come in a selection of standard sizes. Previously everything from Stewart was made to order. I haven’t seen any info on how big that selection is, and there is nothing on the web site yet, so I think the jury is still out on this idea. I like their screens but they are a difficult company to work with.

27)   SurgeX has the most versatile line of IP controllable power centers available right now, useful with more and more of us getting pressed for detailed power usage statistics and control. Their Cervella server system offers the ability to monitor, control, and even map usage in real-time to an impressive degree.

28)   Vaddio is another company making lecture capture easier with all the novel USB hardware they have introduced recently. Their HD PTZ USB camera and AV Bridge (video and audio in – USB out) are both pretty cool.

29)   Vivitek’s display of six edge-blended short-throw HD projectors (three above and three below the screen) creating a single high-resolution image was pretty impressive.

So there you go. That’s my take, what’s yours? If you saw something significant at the show that I missed please chime in and tell us about it.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s that time again. The day AV boys and girls wait for all year. That morning we’ll wake up, jump out of our hotel room beds, and run down to the show floor all a buzz with anticipation, wondering what magical new AV toys the manufacturers have brought us this year. It’s Christmas in June – it’s InfoComm time. (Not to mention the coming of a savior to listen to many of the marketing claims.)

I won’t even try to cover the anticipated “must sees” this year. You are probably getting the same avalanche of show promos I am. There are enough bloggers and magazine hacks out there – most far more industry savvy than I – to provide an overwhelming stream of analysis. What I did feel inspired to share about, however, was some of the lesser-known things going on at the show…

If you have the time Tuesday, InfoComm’s Technology Managers Council will be putting on the Technology Managers Symposium as a Super Tuesday class.

Yes, InfoComm has a Technology Managers Council. A bunch of us AV-1 regulars are on it. And despite what it may seem like at times, it is in fact not a secret organization. If you have joined you are exactly who the TMC is intended for. If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, or just want to support the cause of Technology Managers in the industry, consider joining. There is more info about the council (and membership info) on the InfoComm website, or just corner one of us at the Symposium. We’ll also be having our annual council meeting Friday morning.

The Technology Managers Symposium is the first attempt by the TM Council to put on an InfoComm class specifically for Technology Managers. Here is a link to a list of the topics being covered:

After class many of us are going to head over to the Opening Keynote and Opening Reception.

Wednesday 9:00 to 10:00am – or Thursday 12:30 to 1:30pm – Panasonic will put on their Higher Education Briefing:

It’s basically an hour long presentation on their product line. Full disclosure, I have a lot of Panasonic projectors and I like them, although I think most of the big projector companies put out some great products. This is, however, one of the few Higher Ed targeted functions I have seen. Besides, free food. I know how us techies love a free meal.

Wednesday (and Thursday) at 5pm – after the show floor closes – InfoComm is trying something new, an hour long Beer and Pretzels session. The idea seems to be an hour of informal short talks by some of the biggest names in our little AV world. Kudos to InfoComm for trying something new like this. I think it’s a great idea. Go to the class listing on the InfoComm12 web site. (I can’t find a good link to a description.) I would bring the beer and pretzels just to sit around and listen to most of these guys for an hour.

Now you all jumped onto Twitter after my blog post about tweeting, right? If you have, or do so before Wednesday, and want to meet some of your new found #AVTweeps in person, Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30pm there is an informal AVTweeps Happy Hour get-together at the LVH:

See, you can’t grip about not having something to do the first night of the show after all. I’m kind of over appetizer platters and 80’s cover bands anyway.

Are you a Crestron fanboy (or fangirl)? Thursday morning from 8:30 to 10:30am is the Crestron Partner Breakfast Meeting. If you are a Crestron A+ partner this is probably a great way to get ready for a long day of walking.

(If you are an Extron fan, did you know they are exhibiting right down the road at The Mirage for UBTech (formerly EduComm)? )

Continuing the Crestron theme, the Crestron Owner’s Group will be meeting at 10:30am in room N250. This is primarily a LinkedIn group. If, however, you work with Crestron equipment in any way I highly recommend it. It is an independent end-users group, although we enjoy very active interest and participation by a number of Crestron employees.

Thursday at 5pm is the second Beer and Pretzels session.

Also Thursday at 5pm is the IT Professionals Reception. And while I still consider myself primarily an “AV guy”, I’m thinking most of us have been “converged” enough the last couple of years that this little get-together is fair game.

Thursday night from 9 to 11pm is the Drunk Unkles charity concert:

Women in AV and rAVe Publications will also host a Tweetup at the concert:

Beyond that, get out there on the show floor and have a blast. Enjoy some of the Vegas sights and nightlife. Although, seeing as much of the show as possible is even tougher after excessive quantities of adult beverages. This is you best chance of the year to see a huge cross section of everything in the AV world, you can drink to excess anywhere. I was in the Navy, I know this.

Wear comfy shoes. Drink plenty of water. I find a bag of trail mix in the show bag helps keep the energy up and the mind sharp for a long day of walking. Plus it can help skip, or at least delay, a visit to the long food lines at lunch.

Now, as always, your turn. Is there anything you are making a point of seeing or attending that may have flown under the pre-show hype radar?

It’s Like Christmas Every Day

One of the things I love about my job (and this industry), is that it is never the same.  I can truly say that from day to day I never know what new project is going to be requested of me and my team.    Every day is like Christmas morning, you never know what is in that wrapped box.

At the end of 2011, Bates College announced our new President.  We wanted to make a splash, so we kept the name secret until the last minute.  Our communications offfice wanted to stream the event, and wanted a nice production.  That led to the purchase of a NewTek Tricaster, contracts with Content Delivery Networks, and all types of coordination with firms we hired for the video portion.  Some may have complained about the short notice (we had about 9 days) but for me it was a thrill.  Check out what we did.

And that is only one example.  We have also started projects in classroom capture (using the new Crestron Capture HD platform and Sony Vaddio Cameras), are in the process of transitioning to digital (I think I could write a book, never mind a blog on this issue) installed a digital signage network on campus (we use the server version of Tightrope Media Systems) and continue to find ways to support our users in their daily use of campus equipment.  For all I know, tomorrow, I may be asked to design an audio and video installation for a field house style gymnasium, with terrible acoustics.  Oh wait, that was last Friday I got that request.

No day is ever the same for someone in a job like this, and I think that is why we love it. However, I have to go now, I have to do some research on scissor lifts for that gym project. Merry Christmas!

I Guess We’re All Free Wednesday Night

Well my Wednesday night InfoComm dance card just opened up, as I’m sure it did for many of you. I was as surprised by Extron’s announcement as anyone, although, after some thought, their exit doesn’t seem that crazy to me.

The Extron booth was a pretty low priority for me at the show. I’m familiar with their product line, plus they send out news and product information constantly – electronically and printed. They also have one of the best web sites in the industry.

It will be one less chance to catch up on their new products, but most of those were often the better part of a year from shipping. Kind of makes them seem a better candidate for “new product” next year, but I’m just a tech guy, what do I know?

My time at the show was better spent with other manufacturers, the smaller AV companies I don’t know quite as well, the folks I won’t see in glossy full-page magazine ads every month. (Not that we don’t appreciate those – helping to keep those magazines in print.) Those smaller companies are usually where I have found the products that have made the biggest changes to the systems we build. The big booths – let me guess: this year is smaller, lighter, brighter, faster, cheaper, or higher resolution. Am I right? And I’m kind of over the 3D and telepresence demos.

Of course the big thing everyone keeps talking about is The Bash. Sure it was fun, but how do you justify a huge party like that business-wise? Besides, wasn’t it just an exercise in “my Wednesday night party is bigger than your Thursday night party”?

I am disappointed that they aren’t going to be doing any classes or training. The Extron classes at InfoComm were consistently exceptional. This is probably the most short-sighted aspect of their exit in my eyes. With their size and eclectic product line they are in a key position to provide valuable industry training. I would have liked to have seen a bit more largess in this area and for training (open to the great unwashed AV masses) to continue at the show, not just for private invitees to the home office.

In retrospect I think they had no place to go. They set a very high bar for themselves – the biggest booth and the biggest party. They would jump the shark every year. That’s a tough act to sustain. What do you do for an encore?

For a long time they were the little guy who had something to prove. Once their size and key role in the industry became second nature to all of us, what was the rational for a huge booth and party? And to back down from either of those – to do anything less than this complete cut-and-run – would have had us all speculating far worse than the “they think they don’t need InfoComm” that most opinion seems to be boiling down to.

That’s my take, what about you folks? What do you think about Extron deciding to no longer participate in the InfoComm show?

AV-1 Insiders Initiative Announced

Since 2001, AV-1 has grown into a global community of thousands of leaders and learners, teachers and techies from more than 500 institutions (K-20, corporate, municipal, and military), all sharing a genuine commitment to measurable success in the art and science of communications and learning technologies.

AV-1 is where we seek guidance and freely share our experiences and our tools, so that our colleagues need not reinvent the wheel. It is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Continue reading

Vulnerability in Video Conferencing Systems

I started reading and realized quickly that as AV and IT merged and intermingled, our disciplines have yet to successfully communicate and at times understand each other. The network, security, server and the AV trades are all in the same boat and from the early rifts, I think we have come a long way in understanding what each discipline brings to the table, but we still seem to fail continuously when working with each another. This seems to be a classic example of how the AV implementations can jeopardize the network and act as portal into your systems. Clamping down on the AV systems in response to perceived threats means hampering the communication within the organization or with customers and clients.

I have had hacking attempts on my gateways from many countries but mainly from China. None have yet to manage to make a relay through my system or into it (or at least I have not found evidence in logs) but fact of the matter is that we are just as vulnerable as everyone else connected to the network/internet….

What’s our combined future? Obviously neither discipline will go away or lose in relevance. Will AV guys end up having to understand networks and security or is this a new field of AV security on the horizon? How about the encryption or the privileged doctor-patient or lawyer-client relationships that we may have to protect or the implementation of campus wide IPTV systems that live on the network and as such could become targets of infiltration attempts… We have seen the infiltration of roadway signs, will large digital signage systems or advertizing networks become the next targets?


AV Anxiety

Many of us suffer from anxiety when running a live show of any type. We constantly run though our minds of all the possible problems and we plan ahead for anything that can go wrong.

However, I wonder, who else has ever suffered from anxiety during a show for which you are not even responsible.  Whether it is at a local basketball game, a church service or even watching the Oscars last night, I find myself a little stressed out.  At the basketball game, I hear some feedback and think, oh man, that headset mic is too hot, they gotta bring the gain down.  During the Oscars when they shut off the mics when a thank you speech goes on too long I think, man, I am glad that I did not have to shut that off during this gal’s one moment!  At the church service when a mic crackles I wonder if they are going to turn to me and ask me to do something.

Am I alone in this, or are there others out there who suffer from this affliction?

AV Hearts a Twitter

Yes, I am going to talk about Twitter. Yes you should read this, because you can learn a lot about our industry with it. And if you aren’t the sort constantly on the lookout to learn something new, you made a very odd career choice.

I know, you are thinking: Twitter? Isn’t that where millions of people drone on incessantly, generating inane streams of completely irrelevant information, all of it in obnoxious 140 character bursts? Well, yes, but only most of it is like that.

There are some very smart people on Twitter, and if you find them – and follow them – you can learn a lot. You don’t need to say anything. And you can follow or unfollow anyone at any time.

The first thing you really need (after an account) is a “Twitter client.” The actual Twitter interface page, in a word, sucks. (Ah, see, the sort of detailed and insightful technical perspective you have come to expect here at AV-1.)

There are a number of fine ones out there, I happen to use and like TweetDeck. Aside from just being a much nicer interface with which to follow others, they really simplify your ability to follow “hashtags.”

Twitter “handles” begin with “@” – I am @AVGreg for example. Twitter hashtags begin with “#” and are how Twitter allows users to create groups around a common interest. If you tweet and include a hashtag everyone following that hashtag sees that tweet. In a Twitter client like TweetDeck you can add these hashtag groups and they just appear in new vertical columns.

That brings me to my whole point tonight. (I know, about time.) There is usually an AV Chat at “#avchat” (Go figure huh?) every Thursday at noon Pacific Time. This week the topic is classroom technology – the common thread most of us share.

If you tweet – or have just been thinking about it – jump in and check it out. Come spend some time with your AVTweeps.

Surely You Gesture

Integrated Systems Europe 2012 was held two weeks ago in Amsterdam. One of the more interesting items to come out of it was a demo by Crestron that showed a Microsoft Kinect integrated with a control system – in this case controlling the PowerPoint and lighting. Here is the link. Go watch it. I’ll wait….

Cool huh? Sure it’s pretty basic, but could this be the predecessor of our future control systems? It is Crestron dabbling in this after all; I don’t think that’s insignificant.

One advantage I have heard mentioned is no more gunky touch screens. (Do you really have people who clean them periodically?)

A gesture based system may allow for control from a wider range of locations. I am assuming, like mine, your faculty relate to AV control locations the way cats relate to patio doors: the other side would be better.

Many of us have wondered where touch-sensitive monitors are going. Are they going to take over for interactive whiteboards and give us something easier to integrate into an auditorium? If gesture control develops fast enough could it steal some of that thunder and let us turn any image into an interactive whiteboard? I think that level of annotation and interaction, coupled with the ability to wander around the teaching area, might just be the “killer app.”

Voice control? I don’t know. Siri seems to be having quite a bit of trouble with accents. I’m sure the algorithms will get better, but most of our campuses are quite the eclectic mix of nationalities. I can’t help but think we will be a difficult application to master. Besides, how much error-free consistency do you want to see in a control system before you install it in a room? With voice control the first one they yell at is the system, and you know who the second is….

I think it’s intriguing. I think it’s something we are going to see more of. I think it has some great potential. What do you think? Is this the (ahem) wave of the future.