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POV: Seeking Standards

When I was appointed independent programmers liaison to the Manufacturers Council for InfoComm International in 2005, my first order of business was the

POV: Seeking Standards

Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM,
By Frank Damiano

When I was appointed independent programmers liaison to the Manufacturers Council for InfoComm International in 2005, my first order of business was the Roadmap for Control.

The Roadmap for Control was one of the original objectives of John Campanella, CTS-D, a longtime independent programmer who helped form the Independent Programmers Council. His goal was to develop an official relationship between programmers and manufacturers, leveraging our field experience with various equipment to encourage manufacturers to create products that could be more easily integrated into AV systems.

Every day, independent programmers struggle with equipment communications issues. For example, when we program a system to control a TV, cable box, or projector, we often can’t tell through the third-party controller that the device being controlled is on unless we ask, and some products don’t even allow us to ask.

Often, even with top-of-the-line equipment that costs thousands of dollars, not enough attention has been paid to the device’s communications protocol. As a standalone product, it may be top-notch, but as part of a system playing with others, it just doesn’t work well. The fact that a system can’t be effectively integrated and controlled may actually detract from its reliability and effectiveness.

The Roadmap for Control is a set of recommendations, guidelines, and suggestions designed to address these issues. It’s not dictating a protocol, nor is it mandating a standard — it is simply programmers suggesting ways manufacturers can improve their devices’ communication. The first of the guidelines in the roadmap is that a device should provide unsolicited feedback on basic operating information, such as whether it’s on, and if so, what channel it’s on. Another is that manufacturers should provide clear documentation on their communications protocols. The third is concerned with the “humanization” of code. We’re not asking manufacturers to give every device the same “power on” command; we just ask that they choose commands that make sense.

We will not institute an official certification process for adoption of these guidelines. Instead, we hope that manufacturers will recognize the importance of the document and voluntarily comply. We envision the roadmap serving as a line item manufacturers can add to their products’ marketing specifications, showing that not only is the product RS-232 or IP-controllable, but it also conforms to the standards set forth in the Roadmap for Control.

Although we each play different roles in the industry, we all benefit from products that are easier to integrate and control. This basic concept adds to everyone’s bottom line. This document is geared as much toward consultants and integrators as it is toward manufacturers. We want everyone to embrace this, because if consultants and integrators begin to ask for equipment that conforms to the Roadmap for Control standards, the manufacturers will be more inclined to follow these standards.

The first draft of Roadmap for Control was released at the 2005 InfoComm International Fall Leadership Forum. The amount of interest generated, especially from members of InfoComm’s Independent Consultants in Audiovisual Technologies (ICAT) Council, exceeded my expectations. Consultants loved the idea of having something that would make the selection of their products easier. Members of InfoComm’s Sound, AudioVisual, and Video Integrators (SAVVI) Council liked it because they realized it would help their bottom line. Even manufacturers showed interest in participating.

We’re currently in the process of reviewing the Roadmap for Control document. The final version is scheduled for release at InfoComm 06 in Orlando, Fla. We hope at that point we can all recognize the necessity of these standards, and the industry can move forward on this together. We believe these guidelines can go a long way toward improving how AV products work, allowing jobs to be done more effectively and cost efficiently to fulfill the needs of the client.

Frank Damianois a member of the Steering Committee of InfoComm International’s Independent Programmers Council.

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