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Technology Showcase: AV Control Systems

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

A wide variety of AV control systems to suit your production needs.

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AMX NI-700 NetLinx Integrated Controller

AMX NI-700 NetLinx Integrated Controller

There are a number of factors that make the selection of an AV control system a critical choice — one that requires careful consideration and research. First, there is the decision of whether to go with a more proprietary control approach or to opt for an open-system model. It is important to note on this aspect that the selection need not be totally exclusive. The trend over the past five years or so has been toward using the more generic control protocols even among those manufacturers that strive to provide a complete solution within their own product line and use a proprietary protocol such as AMX AxLink or Crestron's Cresnet for communication between the various hardware elements. This communication typically is made over a special cable containing all the color-coded wiring needed for power, ground, and control signals.

Another vital and basic factor comes in the decision to use hardware buttons and switches on a dedicated control panel or to go with soft buttons on a touchpanel. The obvious advantage to touchpanels is that through display pages, manufacturers can incorporate many more controls in a small space but the trade-off here is complexity of operation. One has to know all the navigational features of the touchpanel. With modern hardware panels, however, the various buttons can be programmed to change color and even show different function labels after changing modes. Many non-techno-savvy users tend to be less intimidated by hardware panels.

Among the systems in their product lines, some of the leading AV control system manufacturers also provide the choice between networked and non-networked connectivity. The more basic systems have local control only, but normally these can be augmented later with a hardware add-on in the form of an IP-linked interface. Some of these can extend complete control to a central office, while others only extend control of the display device and provide some monitoring of power status and usage hours. The selection between these devices requires careful evaluation of the equipment to be controlled and the technical expertise of the users. The fewer wiring connections involved, the more reliable the system. If eventual networked control is planned, it can be a wise investment to incur the greater initial expense and install an AV control system that incorporates network connectivity in the original hardware.

Finally, the number and types of control connections must be considered to match the present and, to a degree, future device control needs of each room system. If projectors are the primary display devices, at least one RS-232 terminal and the appropriate driver must be available, but if the rooms will have a large number of consumer-level DVD and other media players, multiple infrared control channels will be required to avoid the need for external add-on hardware. IR controls may extend to motorized display screens, although contact closure is frequently used here. Drapes, lifts, window shades, thermostats, and lighting normally use the contact-closure terminals, and the maximum voltage level specs on these must be matched to the control system's contact-closure specs.

The good news is that there is a wide field full of choices in AV control, so the selection challenge — while daunting at first — is a good one. In our present survey, a wide range of control devices is included. Everything from tiny control-protocol translators to touchpanels to hard-button devices is included. While only one product or line from each manufacturer is mentioned, most of the companies listed offer a wide range of AV control products.

Altinex MultiTouch panel CP450-012

Altinex MultiTouch panel CP450-012

Altinex, the maker of the MultiTasker control system, has introduced the MultiTouch line of touchpanels that include all of the hardware connections right on the bottom panel of the touch unit rather than using a proprietary control line between the touchpanel and a central rackmounted processor. The CP450 series touchpanels sense touch from a finger, stylus, pen, pencil, gloved finger, or other tool. Through their two COM ports, they can control RS-232 equipment directly or operate a separate hardware controller. This in turn connects via RS-232, IR, or contact closure to the various devices to be operated. The touchpanels boot to the control application, and for security, they do not allow direct initial access to the Windows XP operating system. The GUI may be customized using the AVSnap application on a PC and transferred to a CP450 through a USB connection on the bottom panel. Also available along the bottom of the units are two LAN ports for centralized connection and control. The units also sport a pair of internal loudspeakers; enhanced write-filter protection; Bluetooth personal-area-network (PAN) connectivity; and stand-, wall-, or rackmounting options.

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