The main display and user interface are critical elements of a good audiovisual (AV) solution that should not be compromised for the sake of cost savings. For some organizations installing new AV systems, getting approval for the lowest cost solution is often the easiest path. However, the initial cost is only one part of calculating the overall value. The lifetime cost of ownership and possible impact on users should also be factored into the equation. Equipment failures, service calls, and poor installation quality can add up to hefty costs in the long run, especially if the system does not meet the needs it was designed for. How a system is really going to be used must be considered during design. In-depth analysis before technology selection is required because the most important aspect of any system is how well it serves the end-users.
The key goal in selecting the right components is maximizing up-time and room utilization. Keeping meeting participants waiting 15-20 minutes while technical support troubleshoots the system wastes time. Time is a bigger investment when senior executives have to wait for technical issues to be resolved. Even user frustration with video and audio quality can lead to poor discussions, lost opportunity, and user avoidance of meeting spaces.
To avoid an AV system that causes frustration and unhappy clients, there are certain technologies that can create issues if compromises are made. Parts one and two of this extended blog will deal with avoiding pitfalls when planning the front end of an AV solution, the hardware that everyone notices the most. The third will cover pitfalls to avoid in the back end of the system because what you don’t see can still trip you up.
Part I – The Things You See
When you walk into a meeting room (or any space with AV), the first thing you’re likely to notice is the display. For the end-user, the display, speakers, and microphone appear to be a full AV solution. If you work in facilities or IT, you know this is just the “front end” of a more complex installation, but this is often the place to start when specifying a system. Here is some advice on important considerations.
When selecting a display, there is a wide variety of options including the choice of going with lower-cost consumer-grade electronics versus professional displays designed for commercial use. The key here is to get a realistic understanding of how the system will really be used. On-time ratings, settings, manageability, and warranties differ significantly from consumer to commercial products.
On-Time Ratings – If the display is going to be used less than eight hours a day, the cost-savings of investing in a monitor from your local big-box store or retail outlet might be worthwhile. Commercial displays are designed to perform anywhere from 16 hours per day, five days a week, to be in service 24/7. They are built to be reliable and long-lasting. Quantifying how often a screen will be used and the importance of particular meeting space can take some probing. The longevity of a display system has value because, while less costly consumer models can be frequently replaced, there is downtime to consider. First, a user notices that the display is flickering, but that goes away. The next user notices the problem worsening but isn’t sure if it is the connection or the hardware. Then the display drops out in the middle of a meeting and disrupts an important negotiation. Add several days for a replacement to be selected, processed, delivered, and installed. The business impact of this downtime could be significant unless a backup system is available.
Settings – To tune your display to the brightness, contrast, and color balance that works in your space, professional displays have more refined settings. They provide more precise adjustments and enable experts to tune pixel-level dimming, high dynamic range formats, and tone-mapping to get the best possible clarity for the use case. Many displays present more than PowerPoint and video. What else will be displayed, such as product designs, research results, or other data that requires high fidelity reproduction?
Manageability – How will the user interact with the display? Is a control system used? Many consumer displays are only intended to be controlled with the included remote via IR. They cannot be controlled with more robust forms of communication such as serial or network controls. Professional displays are designed to connect with serial or into local area networks so they can be centrally controlled when needed and can accommodate multiple input devices. These two-way communication options create troubleshooting options for determining hardware issues when equipment fails as opposed to the lack of response that one-direction IR creates. Serial communication also opens the option of a touchpad interface, which is very useful when multiple inputs and collaboration connections are available.
Warranties – There are major differences in the warranties available for professional displays versus consumer products. Usually, consumer displays come with a one year warranty, while commercial displays can have up to a three-year warranty. Extended warranties are available for either type of system and an installer or system integrator might also provide some guarantee that the display will operate as expected. Don’t forget to look closely at warranties. They make a difference in protecting your investment and they mitigate the frustration of having no recourse if a system fails just a year after purchase.
The User Interface
For most professional conference room applications, AV systems will utilize a control system and an interface/touchpad for users to operate the system. At a minimum, the user interface design needs to be intuitive enough for any user to boot up and begin a presentation. Switching sources and controlling multiple displays adds more complexity. For high-end systems, your integrator can help you create a dedicated touchpad that adjusts lights, displays, shades, and telecommunications for typical events. In cases where a dedicated professional will always be on hand to operate the system, less programming in advance is required. Regardless of who is using the system, planning the interface is extremely important. Consider the use-cases for each room type. Identify the sources and how often each is accessed. How many clicks will be needed to get to critical information or control screens and audio? Again, the goal is simplicity and to enable users to run systems independent of technical support calls.
System integrators and the organizations they serve need to weigh all factors when selecting equipment that will enable goals to be met. The visual ‘front end’ components in this blog are just the beginning. The next blog will address the importance of audio, followed by a blog about ‘back-end’ component considerations for optimizing the value of every AV solution. Stay tuned for Part II – The Things You Can Hear.