InfoComm 2010 highlights changing nature of AV

InfoComm attendance increased in Las Vegas this summer.
InfoComm attendance increased in Las Vegas this summer.

“The AV industry is changing,” said Jeff Singer, marketing communications director for Crestron. “We have to redefine what AV is.”

Singer was speaking at the 2010 InfoComm exhibition in Las Vegas, North America’s largest audio-visual (AV) technology show. He was referring to how the lines between traditionally defined categories of products and services in the AV field are blurring—and never has that been more apparent than at this year’s show.

Unless they hired a systems integrator, for instance, school technology buyers used to deal with one vendor for classroom audio products, a separate vendor for digital signage, and yet other manufacturers for projectors and displays. At InfoComm 2010, however, it was possible to find ed-tech solutions that combined classroom audio with emergency alert, projectors with interactive pen displays, and even podiums with digital signage.

In other words, everything is now interrelated—and it’s all running on a single, IP-based platform.

To make it easier to manage multiple AV systems through a single interface, Crestron has introduced a new control system platform, called Power of 3. “It’s designed like an IT backbone, rather than an AV control system,” Singer said, comparing it to a computer’s operating system—giving users more speed, memory, and user rights in running their systems.

More importantly, Singer added, it can run multiple programs (up to 10) on the same platform simultaneously, independently from each other. That means while you’re making a change to one system, all other systems continue to operate seamlessly in the background.

If you’re a school IT director, you “can’t afford to have the security system or the HVAC system go down while you’re updating your digital signage,” Singer explained.

Solutions aims to ease deployment

Flexibility was a key theme at InfoComm 2010, where a number of companies demonstrated products intended to help schools deploy AV technology more easily.

With more than 60 years of experience in designing furniture that helps students learn, Bretford showcased a number of solutions aimed at simplifying the integration of technology into the classroom. These included laptop carts that can intelligently sense how much power is needed to charge the units and deliver just enough power to meet these needs, as well as a clutter-free system for delivering power to as many as eight computer workstations from a single electrical outlet.

Bretford also unveiled a first-of-its-kind lectern with a built-in, 40-inch flat-panel display on the front, designed to highlight speaker information or reinforce key lecture concepts, and it announced a contest in which it will give away more than $17,000 worth of classroom furniture to one lucky school or college.

Bretford’s next-generation laptop carts can store up to 20 laptops horizontally or up to 30 laptops vertically. Their 270-degree hinges allow for both front and rear doors to fold back against the carts’ sides, allowing for easy access to the machines, and their perforated metal top, sides, and doors give the laptops ventilation while recharging.

But it’s the carts’ “brain” that is their most innovative feature. The “brain” uses microchip technology to distribute power to the laptops proportionately, reducing heat and saving battery life at the same time.

In older school buildings in particular, it can be costly to add the electrical infrastructure needed to set up computers in a classroom. Bretford’s new Juice Power System aims to solve that problem. It allows up to four tables and eight computer stations to be powered from a single outlet, without the expense of hardwiring or the clutter of individual power strips.

The Juice Power System features a “toolless” installation that doesn’t require an electrician or a building modification, Bretford says, so it can be incorporated into a facility for less than half the cost of most hardwired components. The system is available at a list price that averages $150 per table.

Schools and colleges that are still using Bretford products they bought decades ago have a chance to win free Bretford furniture through a new video contest, the company also announced. Schools that send in a video showing their oldest Bretford product in use are eligible to win furniture for a 30-student classroom, including 15 tables, a Presenter’s Assistant for Learning cart, a laptop cart, a flat-panel display cart, and a projection screen. The total value of the giveaway is more than $17,000. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 31; for more information, go to

Another company that aims to make classroom technology as flexible and simple to deploy as possible is Extron Electronics, which highlighted an easy-to-use AV control system for classrooms with only a single display source.

Extron’s WallVault Systems are designed for classrooms with a wall-mounted short-throw projector or flat-panel display. WallVault Systems include all the necessary audio and video switching, sound amplification, system control, source connectivity, speakers, mounting hardware, and cabling for a complete classroom AV solution, the company says; all that’s left to add is the video projector or flat-panel display itself.

Instructors can control their projector or flat-panel display through a wall-mounted controller, switching back and forth between a computer, DVD, VCR, or other media source connected to the display and adjusting the volume as necessary. Or, they can control the system via the school’s network, using a graphical interface on a web page.

WallVault Systems use Cat 5 twisted pair cabling for carrying the audio and video signals between the wall plate input and switcher. Twisted pair cabling is lighter, smaller, and more flexible than coaxial cable, Extron says, so it is easier to route through walls and pull through small conduits. What’s more, all the necessary switching and amplification is housed in the projector’s wall mount itself, thereby securing these electrical components and hiding them from view.

Yet another company whose products are intended to give educators greater flexibility in how they deploy AV technology is Draper, which has sold projection screens to schools for more than 50 years.

Last year, the company introduced a product called Stage Screen, a completely modular framing system (with optional legs) for creating truss screens ranging in size from 5’ x 8’ all the way up to 30’ x 40’ for large outdoor displays. School personnel can use Stage Screen to build projection surfaces of whatever size they need, for either temporary or permanent use.

Draper President John Pidgeon said customers liked the idea of Stage Screen, but some said it was too expensive for smaller installations, such as classrooms or boardrooms. So at this year’s InfoComm, Draper unveiled a smaller, more economic modular screen framing system, called Focal Point. It works just like Stage Screen, but it’s smaller (supporting screen sizes up to 20 feet wide) and costs about half as much, Pidgeon said.

Projectors becoming more interactive

Earlier this year, Epson and Boxlight made news when they introduced projectors that can turn virtually any surface into an interactive whiteboard (IWB). The development meant that schools no longer have to buy separate hardware to enjoy the benefits of IWBs, whose interactive surface and ability to engage students have made them popular in classrooms.

Now, Texas Instruments has developed a similar ability for projectors that use its Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology, while taking this ability one step further: TI’s new technology gives users the ability to interact with a projector’s beam of light from anywhere in the room; on virtually any surface without the need for cumbersome calibration.

“My mom is a teacher, and I heard her frustration expressed more than once about the limitations of being tied to the front of the room when teaching—she couldn’t help kids out in the back of the class without stopping the lesson and having kids out of their chairs creating a disturbance,” said TI engineer Marshall Capps, who invented the technology. “I thought of a way to remedy these issues and created something that allows presenters to spend more time sharing information in a collaborative way.”

The technology allows users to make notes digitally on the projected image with a handheld pen device. Digital patterns from the pen are detected and then sent to the projector over a radio frequency. All information is passed to the computer in the same way as any other mouse or pointer device, and instructors can use the technology with any software, on any surface without purchasing any additional hardware beyond the pen and projector.

Unlike that of other interactive projectors, TI’s technology doesn’t require calibration steps and doesn’t tie the presenter to the screen or front of the room, the company said. The instructor can move around the room, or hand the pen to someone at the back of the room to interact with the projected content.

“The value of an interactive solution is undeniable,” said John R. Martin, director of learning resources for Tarrant County College’s Northwest Campus. “When people have the opportunity to be a part of the presentation, information seems to be better understood and retained, making a DLP projector more of a collaboration tool than before.”

The technology already has been incorporated into certain models of DLP projectors from manufacturers that include Acer, BenQ, Dell, InFocus, and ViewSonic, TI said.

As for Epson, it debuted the PowerLite S9, a $499 projector for education that features 2,500 lumens of brightness and SVGA resolution. The PowerLite S9 is intended to replace Epson’s PowerLite S7 model, which cost $529 and offered 2,200 lumens of brightness.

Epson also introduced an ultra-mobile series of PowerLite projectors, the 1700 series, that are only 1.7 inches tall and weigh about three pounds. There are four models in the series, ranging from 2,600 lumens and XGA resolution to 3,000 lumens, WXGA resolution, and full networking capabilities. All offer USB plug-and-play connectivity, Mac compatibility, and horizontal and vertical correction (which is automatic on the higher-end models), Epson said.

Samsung has introduced what it says is the first LED projector that uses 3LCD technology, the F10M. It’s also the first LED projector to offer 1,000 lumens of brightness, Samsung says. The LED lamp is extremely energy efficient, with a reported lifespan of 30,000 hours—or more than seven times that of a traditional projector lamp. The F10M features XGA resolution and projects an image of between 30 and 400 inches. It also offers instant on/off functionality, requiring almost no warm-up time and producing a nearly instantaneous image, Samsung says. The list price for the F10M is $1,299, which is more than the cost of an entry-level projector—but it could save schools money in the long run by eliminating the need for expensive lamp replacements.

Samsung also touted its new palm-sized pico projector—known as the SP-H03—which features an integrated multimedia player and a high-resolution LED output that is suitable for presentations in smaller classrooms. The six-ounce device easily can be carried in a pocket or briefcase, and educators can present images of up to 80 inches to their students, according to the company. As with the F10M, the SP-H03’s LED lamp is designed to last up to 30,000 hours.

Digital signage solutions

Black Box Network Services demonstrated its line of iCOMPEL digital signage players for schools that want to alert or inform faculty, staff, and students in the hallways or on campus. Black Box’s signage comes with a ticker loop that can announce cancellations, sports scores, and schedule changes, among other announcements. And schools won’t be short on technical help: The company offers free, unlimited tech support, and it guarantees that calls will be answered in 30 seconds or less. An entry-level option, iCOMPEL UltraLite, is ideal for schools looking for single-screen applications or multiple screens displaying the same content, starting at $1,245. Black Box signage also comes with a 45-day unconditional return policy.

RidgeLogic Development’s SceneStudio is a standalone digital signage messaging system with a range of applications. The system allows students, faculty, and IT staff to create digital signage content on a media player or from any computer on the college’s local network, providing greater flexibility for digital signage messaging. SceneStudio also allows users to split the screen into defined regions, which can overlay one another for creative design.

Interactive whiteboards and displays

SMART Technologies’ 685ix interactive whiteboard system was designed to eliminate shadows, glare, and projector light that can prove distracting to students. Teachers will have 20 percent more workspace with the 685ix model, and they can write with the whiteboard’s pen and erase the writing with a swipe of their hand, according to SMART. The whiteboard has a lifespan of 2,500 hours in standard mode and 4,000 hours in economy mode.

Wacom introduced two new interactive pen displays, the DTU-2231 and DTU-1631, with direct pen-on-screen input. The DTU-2231 features a 21.5-inch screen widescreen HD display with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, while the DTU-1631 features a 15.6-inch LCD screen with 1,366 x 768 resolution. Each model includes an internal USB hub for connecting a flash drive, web camera, or other USB device. A video pass-through feature allows the work done on the pen display to be shared directly with a secondary display.

Video capture and editing

Broadcast Pix demonstrated its Slate and Granite series of control panels and switchers for producing live video. The units allow schools to create compelling live video productions of sporting events, assemblies, news programs, and other events, without assembling an expensive control room and hiring a big team to run it, the company says.

At InfoComm, Broadcast Pix introduced a streaming bundle that couples a Slate or Granite video production unit with streaming video equipment from ViewCast, allowing users to stream their video feeds live over the internet or a school’s internal network.

The company also highlighted its Slate Portable unit, which it describes as a “control room in a briefcase.” Slate Portable packs all the features and functionality of the regular Slate unit into a 45-pound box on wheels. The lid opens to reveal a keyboard on the back side, but you also have the option to edit video on a touch screen—controlling camera feeds, creating transitions between shots, and so on.

Another recent innovation is the iPix panel, a $195 application that lets users operate the controls of the Slate or Granite systems from an iPad, Broadcast Pix said.

Sonic Foundry introduced its “slimmer, sleeker” ML Recorder, billing the device as “the most portable and quickest to set up full-screen recorder in its class.” The ML Recorder combines high-quality video and audio, and its lightweight design makes it ideal for transporting from classroom to classroom. The ML Recorder weighs just 13 pounds—nine pounds lighter than its predecessor. That will make it easier for college faculty who have lugged around heavy lecture-capture systems to conferences and commencements, for instance.

TechSmith’s Snagit 10 is the latest version of the company’s industry-leading screen capture software. Released in May, Snagit 10 lets users capture their entire screen, a portion of the screen, a window, or a scrolling window—all with a single hotkey or mouse click. Snagit 10 also enables 360-degree text box rotation and includes editing tools that let students tweak elements such as text color, font style, and size; add cut-out or page-curl effects; and customize the background.

Students at Penn State’s College of Medicine use video capture and recording technology from VBrick Systems, which provides video-over-IP solutions for the school. Penn State’s medical students now can view streaming video of live medical procedures and communicate with surgeons in real time, VBrick said. The medical school has used VBrick’s technology to create a video library that faculty can use to show their students specific parts of recorded procedures.

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