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MAKING IT EASY
What’s New and Cool in Room Control
BY LINDSEY M. ADLER
Summer 2014 41
onference rooms are where a great
deal of this magic is made, making
conference room control systems
essential to business communications.
Tese systems used to be limited to
more basic automation features.
But with the convergence of AV
and IT technology, room control
has led visual collaboration to a
golden age of collaborative, unifed
communications. “When it comes to the technology itself, the
control system is there to provide a high level of automation
programming,” says David Torson, senior manager, programming
and architecture for AVI-SPL’s Technology Solutions Group.
All in the GUI
Control systems design places top priority on providing an intuitive
experience for the end user, creating a clean, uncluttered and
consistent look and feel. “Far too many visual collaboration
environments are complicated to operate, which leads to a ‘tax’
at the beginning of each meeting in setup and connection time,”
says Sean Goldstein, vice president of marketing at Crestron. “A
control system can eliminate that complexity, making a room that
is incredibly easy to use.”
Ease of use can make or break a conference room control system.
Joe da Silva, director of product marketing for Extron, says such
systems should have a low-impact, consistent and intuitive user
interface—technology that’s as transparent as possible. “Te
control system needs to allow users to concentrate on their
meetings instead of being distracted by the technology,” he
says. “Just as a quality telepresence provides consistent meeting
experience, control system designs and user interfaces should
present a comfortable and familiar experience for users from
room to room, across the enterprise.”
AVI-SPL uses extensive standards for defning usage parameters,
including graphic design guidelines to make users comfortable
with a system’s interface at frst glance. Ofen, their interfaces are
designed like popular consumer interfaces and websites. AVI-SPL
employs fve diferent GUI themes, from a fat design common
on mobile devices to a more photorealistic theme. Te company
has also developed a program called AIR (automation interactive
ranges) to help defne the type of user a system will be engaged
with. AIR identifes three types of user based on experience level:
autopilot, copilot and pilot. Copilots may want to select what
technology they wish to receive a call on. Pilots, running the
presentation or meeting, are typically hands-on enough to run a
highly technical room. “We’re talking about the end user before
we’re talking about what the system should do, or what technology
is in the room,” explains Torson.
When AVI-SPL built their Cameleon Telepresence solution,
one of the features that drew the most praise was the custom
designed control system.
No matter what type of user,
sometimes less is more, and a
key panel with 10 buttons will
suffice. Thorson describes the
concept as don’t clutter the user
with what they don’t need, “but
don’t limit them either.” He says
a good control system should be
very customizable. A dashboard
solution founded of an InfoComm
standard is the most adaptable
option AVI-SPL ofers users, ideal
for both copilots and pilots.
A bad interface can put the whole
success of this major technology
investment at risk, says Frank
Pellkofer, co-founder and CEO of
Utelogy, an open-standards, cloud-
based AV control and management platform. “Making it easy to
use and ubiquitous throughout your enterprise not only ensures
success, but invites new value for the enterprise, encourages
innovation and diferent thinking on collaboration and using
the technology behind it,” he says.
The cloud-based Utelogy platform provides room control on
commodity tablets with rapid changes that can easily be
pushed out to every room.
Pellkofer believes control system GUIs are headed for global
standardization. “You can carry your presentations, your unifed
communications platform, or whatever with you on your control
interface as you go into a telepresence room, regardless of where
in the world that room is located,” he explains. “You still have
the same interface in San Francisco as you have in your London
and Shanghai ofces. Gone are the days of many diferent user
interfaces around the world within the same organization. Today,
a standard UI delivered in moments to any corner of the world is
real, easy and afordable. Total control of not only the telepresence
system, but all of the AV, all of the room environment and all of
the sofware-based things that I, as a user, may want with me on
a given day is possible.”
One of the features common to all the major control system manufactures is variety.
Small, medium, large, wired or wireless, on the table or on the wall, portrait or landscape.
Here is Extron’s line up.
“New York is on the line,” the secretary called.
“Do you have to put them on the contraption?”
Tat cringing response came from slimy ad man Pete Campbell on a recent
episode of Mad Men that brilliantly portrayed the early struggles of conferencing
technology in 1969. Communicating between bicoastal ofces has surely come
a long way since the days of Sterling Cooper and Partners. America’s favorite
television ofce team would be amazed at the simplicity and clarity of today’s
conferencing capability. It’s a far cry from huddling around a phone and yelling
over each other amid constant gripes about the bad audio from across the line.
People now share pitch-perfect audio and crystal-clear video from pole to pole
with the click of a mouse, tap of a fnger or swipe of a hand.
42 www.TelepresenceOptions.com Summer 2014 43
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You could think of this functionality as a high-end concierge
technology. “It’s now possible to deliver a white glove video
operator/concierge button to a GUI for a given meeting with
the button and then going away afer the meeting is over and
regular room use resumes,” says Pellkofer. “Basically, if you can
think of a service, it can be pushed to a user instantly. And with
an enterprise platform for control, those solutions can be pushed
globally in an instant.”
Top Tier Capabilities
For Chris Neto, a consultant at AV design and engineering frm
AV Helpdesk, high-quality video equipment and data capabilities
are essential, but that managed white glove service diferentiates
these spaces from traditional videoconference rooms. Tese are the
most high-end, posh rooms, where, “users expect to walk in and
not touch anything,” says Neto. “Everything is driven by this white
glove service that sits in the background and makes everything
run. It’s not a Honda, it’s a Ferrari.”
When it comes to advanced capabilities, control manufacturers
all have their own bundles of features to wow users. For AMX,
one of the most important advanced features is for the system to
be IT-friendly. “A modern room control system cannot stand as
an island outside of the corporate IT network—it must by fully
integrated, secure, and be maintainable by IT staf,” says Mark
Wilson, AMX senior product marketing manager. “Furthermore,
AV assets like control panels need to be web-capable, giving
meeting attendees the ability to access and share information
from virtually anywhere, and securely.”
AMX has also made security a major component of its Enzo
platform, which purges all downloaded fles and cached data
when a meeting session concludes. Tis lets users enjoy “bring
your own device” freedom without worry of repercussions.
Te BYOD trend has been changing room control on a broad
scale, says Extron’s da Silva. “For years, we’ve dealt with dedicated,
fxed-location control interfaces,” he says. “Ten designated iPads
or tablets that could be misplaced or lef uncharged.” Extron’s
LinkLicense lets participants use their own device as a primary
control interface within a visual collaboration application without
having to customize or program the device any further.
Crestron offers a range of solutions for BYOD to a meeting.
AirMedia provides wireless presentation of PowerPoint, Excel,
Word and PDF documents, in addition to personal images from
an iOS or Android device, as well as PCs and Macbooks. Other
presentation interfaces from Crestron include the Connect
It and FlipTop, to provide wired connectivity for HDMI and
Full integration of Microsoft’s Lync with Crestron’s RL
room control solutions brings IM, voice, video and desktop
presentations straight into the conference room. Crestron has
also recently worked with Cisco to develop Smart Space, an
open architecture conferencing and infrastructure solution that
includs AV switching, touchscreens, codec, cameras, DSP, as
well as a built-in program for system confguration and control.
It also automates room acoustics for remote videoconferencing
and local meetings.
SMART Technologies has built a reputation on interactive
whiteboard solutions, yet its SMART Room System for Microsof
Lync is noteworthy for the way it brings in local presentations,
adhoc whiteboards, phone calls and videoconferencing
capabilities. It also comes with its own touch-sensitive control
panel. Te SMART Lync Room Systems are comprised of an HD
videoconferencing camera, an embedded appliance, either one
or two large format SMART Board interactive displays, tabletop
microphones, speakers and the control panel. “Customers have
told us that this all-in-one approach creates compelling and
productive meeting, while not compromising on consistency
and reliability,” says Frazer Couzens, director of SMART Room
Systems. “However, SMART acknowledges that not all meeting
Expanding out from the Control Panel – Crestron RL – the company’s Lync Room System brings Lync and control into
the conference room.
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Te University of Toledo case illustrates one of the ways a room
control system is well worth the investment. Quite simply, time
savings is a meaningful metric in an education environment as
much as in the corporate world. When meetings are more efcient,
they start on time without technical hiccups to troubleshoot. “IT
departments spend inordinate amounts of time chasing issues with
older, non-networked AV systems; companies can save considerably
by implementing more modern AV infrastructure that can be
monitored and maintained over the IT network,” says AMX’s Wilson.
Wilson cites energy savings as well, from using sensors and other
automation features that power the systems down when not in use.
Between the energy, IT support costs, and time efciency provided
by a room control system, “we have seen payback calculations
ranging from as quickly as six months up to two and a half years,”
says Wilson. “Regardless of the situation, the ROI on room control
is always positive.”
AV Helpdesk’s Neto points to the robust nature of room control
systems and their ability to provide many real metrics to companies,
from occupancy sensors, to lights and shades and room usage
information. It’s easy to now see how a certain type of room is being
used, all day, every day. “Even in small spaces, you can see how many
times people check into those rooms,” he says.
Neto sees Near Field Communications technology playing a big
role in control and designing business spaces in the future, though
he acknowledges the technology is not quite there yet.
Te ROI ties into the end user experience for AVI-SPL’s Torson.
“To me, the most important ROI is end user satisfaction. People are
going to use the system because it’s easy, and it does what they want.”
Torson also cited the big data efect in terms of ROI, providing real
measurements in dollars and cents. Crestron’s Fusion RV and AMX
RMS are server applications that pump data in the background, so
an administrator can see how many times videoconferencing was
used in which room on a daily, monthly or annual basis. Businesses
can also demonstrate how much a travel budget goes down as a
result. “People that approve the budgets can say, ‘this makes sense,
we want to build more [of these systems],’” says Torson.
Speaking from personal experience, Torson says, “I use them seven
or eight times a week. It keeps me out of the skies and my wife happy.”
Now there’s an ROI to write home about. TPO
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lindsey M. Adler is associate editor for
Systems Contractor News, Residential Systems,
and Healthcare AV. She frequently writes
about new products in both commercial and
residential AV, unifed communications, home
automation, and energy management, as well
as efforts to engage a younger generation of
spaces have the same needs; therefore, SMART ofers the ability
to extend its platform to further room control.”
SMART ofers the Microsof Lync Room System Administrative
Web Portal to manage room equipment remotely, along with
its System Center integration for setting up automatic alerts.
As an example, the system has a proximity detection feature,
which senses if a room is occupied or not. SMART exposes this
knowledge, via the standards-based RS232 protocol, to let system
integrators control other elements of the
room, such as lighting, temperature and
shades. Additionally, SMART has released
a new feature called Room View, which lets
administrators confgure what video sources
are eligible to be shared in the Lync Room
System, like Apple TV, document cameras,
permanent computers, etc.
Gesture technology brings the “wow” factor
in the most advanced telepresence rooms
that AVI-SPL installs, Torson says. Mobile
devices have created the expectation among
users that any touchpanel should be gesture-
driven. Torson also cites streaming video
to the touchpanels and AMX’s panoramic
Modero X G5 as other advanced features.
Voice control is another feature starting to
roll out in the newer control systems. Users
will be able to walk into a room and say
“Call Dubai,” for example, and the control
system will take care of the rest.
Truth in Action
The most effective means to establish
how a room control system can make
communications more successful is to take
a look at a few of these environments. Te
Moftt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, has
a total of 112 conference rooms in nine
buildings across fve campuses, holding more
than 5,000 videoconferences every year. One of
the most impressive features of this project is
that just two people support all of these spaces.
Te systems were designed and integrated by
AVI-SPL, employing control hardware and
sofware from Crestron, including DigitalMedia, Fusion sofware
and the AirMedia presentation system.
Most of the rooms use a DMPS-300-C presentation system to
combine AV controls, an audio amp, a six-channel microphone
mixer, an audio processor, switcher, and Crestron touchscreens.
Since they are all HDCP compatible, users can plug in a Blu-ray
player or other media player. Crestron’s Cisco Digital Media suite
is the backbone for videoconferencing and streaming. Meeting
participants can stay at their desks and log-in to the conference
using Microsof Lync.
As AV manager at the Moftt Cancer Center, John Maass says
he rarely trains a user for more than fve minutes. “We do have
individuals who need extra special care, but for the most part,
we don’t spend much time on training.”
For beginners, the system is much like using an ATM machine, a
comparison that “people warm up to,” Maass says. “Te Crestron
systems take people step by step through each process, much
like the ATM telling you to swipe your debit card. When we
fnish going over the control panel, we
encourage them to go into an empty
room and see what they can do.”
Within the Ohio State system, the
University of Toledo, College of
Engineering, connects with a partner
college electronically using telepresence.
An instructor can lecture from either
location, share slides or video content,
and students can communicate and
collaborate together in real-time.
“We knew we needed some kind of
control interface, and we knew we
needed to think about compatibility for
the future and how to make it continue
to work as technology changed,” says
Jonathan Rethorn, a high-performance
computing specialist at University of
Toledo. “Supporting the faculty in these
rooms was a huge challenge because
the control was not easy to use, nor
was it easy to maintain. In fact, it
was proprietary, which meant it was
also expensive to maintain. Another
hardware-based solution would leave
the college in the same situation again
in the future.”
Utelogy’s software-based platform at
University of Toledo was up to the task,
performing control, AV switching, and
touch-to-talk. The result has been easy
and more affordable. “This software-
based control solution resulted in
a savings of more than $40,000 that
would have been required to purchase
the hardware for control and swap out some other hardware
that was no longer compatible,” Rethorn says. “Not only did the
solution provide capital savings, it also resulted in operational
savings as it doesn’t require nearly as many support calls because
it is easy to use. We feel the solution has helped us to be on the
leading edge and given us a solution for the future. There are
some capabilities we don’t have today, like lecture capture, but
because we’re using a software solution, we can implement that
and other pieces whenever we want.”
The AMX Modero X Series G5 can
be mounted portrait or landscape
depending on the application and/or
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