Digital Signage Systems for Hospitals

In an increasingly competitive healthcare environment fueled by the growing number of independent hospitals, patients today have a number of choices when it comes to selecting a hospital. For this reason, administrators in healthcare operations of all sizes are focusing on the influence of patient-satisfaction scores and national rankings with regards to a patient’s choice of facility and that of creating a point of differentiation and competitive advantage. In a recent report co-published by Beryl Institute and Catalyst Healthcare Research, 1,000 hospital administrators were asked their top priority with regards to patient care. Eighty-two percent indicated the number one focus was on improving the quality of the overall patient experience.

Certain qualities—such as cleanliness and security—are baseline healthcare standards and patient expectations, so hospitals must look to ancillary services and features to create a point of differentiation that positively influences patient scores. With this in mind, and considering the increasingly longer wait times in hospitals and treatment centers, survey data in the hospital sector is now reflecting the inherent benefits in creating a more relaxing waiting room experience. One trend in this area is the growth of the use of relaxation-inducing imagery in digital signage systems and installations.

Digital Signage: A Natural Fit

Research backs up the benefits of the calming effects of scenic nature images in urban indoor environments. This concept is a foundation of biophilia, a modern design field that focuses on the calming effects of scenic nature images integrated into urban environments. Biophilia is based around the proven fact that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature, resulting in a natural state of relaxation when this experience is fulfilled.

Further, research has found that when realistic scenic nature images are integrated into urban indoor settings, such as a hospital, lower stress levels can be observed and measured.

In 1984, Dr. Roger Ulrich, a highly-respected figure associated with the field of biophilia, studied the effects of a simulated nature environment (as in images, videos, etc.) in a hospital setting. A key goal of the landmark study was to discover if simulated nature—print and video imagery—had the same calming effect as actual nature itself.

Atmosphere Healthcare Digital Signage

Research has found that when realistic scenic nature images are integrated into urban indoor settings—such as a hospital—lower stress levels can be observed and measured.

(Image: © Atmosphere Healthcare)

For the study, a hospital room was designed with a high-resolution mural of plants and animals in a colorful landscape that incorporated high-resolution images of plants and organic nature. Pre- and post-test patient-stress measurements (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, etc.) showed significant reductions in stress, hostility, and aggressive behavior among patients in this simulated environment.

Edutainment vs Biophilic Content

While the integration of digital signage in hospitals has been happening for years, installing digital signage systems dedicated to showcasing biophilic content for the purpose of inducing calmness is relatively new.

Atmosphere Healthcare Digital Signage

Researchers have found that patients’ stress levels are lowered in a biophilia-centric environment.

This was confirmed by a Cornell University research study that monitored the stress levels of patients in different waiting room environments, including one in which TV news was running continuously. The Cornell study found that most patients widely disliked the news programming, and felt more stressed as the waiting time increased. In environments that included loops of branded edutainment for services performed by the doctor or hospital, respondents were also unenthusiastic. The study found that the display of infomercials during waiting can lead to information and sensory overload, contributing to a heightened feeling of stress and anxiety. Biophilic content, by contrast, did not produce unintended negative consequences. As a matter of fact, the researchers found the patient’s stress levels lowered in the biophilia-centric environment.

The Competitive Edge

The trend in employing biophilia-centric digital signage systems becoming adopted industry-wide in hospitals of all sizes is on the rise, but this trend is particularly noticeable with respect to smaller independent hospitals—those who are seeking a competitive edge over bigger name-brand hospitals. It is the influence of the increasing role patient scores and rankings play on patient selection of a hospital that is leading this trend.

Founded in 2001, Oakleaf Surgical Center in Eau Claire, WI is an example of an independent hospital focused on seeking a competitive edge through patient satisfaction rankings. In 2009, Oakleaf was voted the number one hospital in the U.S. out of 4,500 hospitals surveyed in terms of patient satisfaction. And since then, Oakleaf has remained in the top one or two percent in terms of patient satisfaction in the Eau Claire area and consistently appears in the top 10 or 15 nationally with regards to patient satisfaction scores.

Oakleaf competes for patients in the Eau Claire area with the Mayo Clinic national network of hospitals. The hospital had installed several types edutainment-based digital signage systems in the past, but removed them because of patient complaints regarding distractions and increased worries the content created. After installing a biophilia-centric 4K 8-bit UHD integrated digital signage system in the hospital, patient scores began reflecting the significant relaxation benefits the scenic nature content was fostering. The proof was found in the comments on the patient surveys mentioning the sense of relaxation that the scenic nature content induced in pre- and post-op situations.

Biophilia-Centric Content Solves Challenges

A biophilic-centric digital signage system installed in the hospital environment solves a design challenge that hospital administrators face—knowing that nature has a calming effect on patient care, which can lead to higher satisfaction scores—but needing to clear the hurdle of how to integrate live plant and nature life into the indoor urban environment. A 4K UHD digital signage display system addresses this challenge by displaying vivid true-to-life images that, after research and study, have been proven to have the same calming effects in patients as actual nature. An added plus for systems integrators is the additional recurring revenue which can come from this content that is licensed to be played in hospital environments 24/7.

As healthcare operations—such as medical/dental offices and hospitals—seek to attract new patients in an increasingly competitive environment, hospitals need to look beyond baseline patient expectations centered on cleanliness and security. With this in mind, the documented trend in the integration of biophilia into healthcare environments is well supported. The use of high-resolution digital signage systems that loop relaxation-inducing video content in waiting rooms now gives AV integrators and hospital administrators alike a natural path to increased patient satisfaction, recurring revenue, and continued market growth.

Christie MicroTiles LED Unveiled at ISE 2019

Taking the next step in its popular MicroTiles line, Christie debuts smaller, brighter and flexible Christie MicroTiles LED at ISE 2019

Building on its iconic MicroTiles video wall display cube line, Christie is unveiling seamless pixel Christie MicroTiles LED that are smaller, brighter, easier to install and open up video wall design possibilities. The new Christie MicroTiles LED will be on display during Integrated Systems Europe (ISE 2019).

Just prior to ISE 2019, Christie had teased “the next evolution of Christie MicroTiles as the transformative technology platform moves into the future.” Enter a narrow-pixel pitch LED solution.

For Christie product developers, Christie MicroTiles LED marks the culmination of a two-year project. “Our mission was really to make the system much easier to install, achieve a higher level of performance — all while obtaining a very high level of reliability,” says Mark Lemieux, product engineer, Christie MicroTiles LED.

The new Christie MicroTiles LED solves integrators’ and customers’ video wall challenges with a three-pillar strategy, according to Ted Romanowitz, senior product manager, Christie.

Pillar I: Unparalleled visual performance with broad compliance optimized for life
Pillar II: Almost limitless artistic creativity
Pillar III: Maximize LED investment with lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and mission critical reliability

“We’re taking a lot of those design concepts that have been so well received in the marketplace and transitioning that and bringing it to narrow-pixel pitch LED,” Romanowitz tells CI.

As a result, Christie MicroTiles LED delivers P3 color space, fully compliant HDR-10 and patented software that keeps the wall calibrated at 97 percent or greater uniformity, according to the company.  Christie has designed the MicroTiles LED to be suitable for:

Broadcast sets
Corporation venues
Museums
Retail
Stadiums
Arenas
Higher education

It includes a low profile ADA-compliant QuickMount system so displays can be created in any shape and size, including 90-degree inside/outside corners and both concave and convex curves.

“We’ve been working on this. We took the time to get it right. It really honors our customers and solves some of the problems and frustrations that they’ve had.

“We see this as a great way of spurring adoption more broadly of LED technology because it’s going to be a lot easier to design not only on the mechanical side but also from the system design perspective. It will also provide mission-critical reliability and it is easier to install.”
Christie MicroTiles LED: Visual Performance, Broad Compliance

It goes without saying that the narrow pixel pitch LED display market has exploded over the last several years. Christie, armed with input from its dealers, decided it was time to take the next step with its iconic video wall display technology line.

“Christie has been very successful with the MicroTiles brand – end customers and our integrators love it because it makes for an easy creative solution,” says Romanowitz in a press release announcing MicroTiles LED. “With that in mind, Christie took everything great about MicroTiles and brought it to narrow pixel pitch LED.

“This product is why I came to Christie two years ago,” says Christie’s Ted Romanowitz.

Christie sites market research from FutureSource Consulting that shows the narrow pixel pitch indoor LED market with 60 percent year-over-year growth.

“We’re beginning to see the market evolve from mechanical design to focus more heavily on signal processing and the introduction of advanced capabilities such as AV over IP,” says Chris McIntyre-Brown, Associate Director, Professional Equipment and Displays at FutureSource Consulting.

“We will see premier AV manufacturers bring products to market which address real customer challenges, which will in turn spur broader adoption of narrow pixel pitch LED technology in international markets.”

Locker Room Video

Yellow Jackets’ new recruit-attractor.

Although the big news in college football is usually the appointment of a new head coach, a record-setting performance or new, state-of-the-art facilities, this year it has also been about million-dollar locker room renovations. The “wow” factor plays a significant role even in locker room renovations because it enhances the team’s experience and recruiting operations. From a media perspective, key drivers include IPTV and digital signage.

IPTV systems provide many advantages when compared to older, RF-based TV distribution systems. Because they employ ubiquitous Cat5/6 cabling and network infrastructure, IPTV systems offer greater flexibility in the number and placement of screens than conventional RF systems that require dedicated coaxial cabling. And, because IPTV systems inherently support duplex data communication, programming options include full remote control, interactivity, and even the support of two-way video and audio communication. Even when initial build-outs do not require these features, the ability to add functions such as slo-mo video playback for coaching and random access to archival video clips, or even videoconferencing, ensure that the system is future-proofed and will be able to meet the evolving needs of the athletic program.

When writing about AV installations in sports facilities, my go-to expert is Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group’s VP, Jeffrey Volk. In a phone interview, I asked Volk about the pace of conversion from RF-based systems to IPTV systems in the college sports market. “We are still early on, with only about 60 percent of pro sports facilities having made the switch to IPTV,” Volk said. “There is still tremendous opportunity for growth, especially when you include the collegiate market, along with upgrades to 4K, HDR [high dynamic range], and interactive systems for F&B [food and beverage] ordering and other retail outlets.”

Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group recently completed work on the newly renovated Yellow Jackets locker room for Georgia Tech. The new AV system includes 17 Sharp commercial-grade flat-panel displays of varying sizes on Chief mounts at key locations, including the entrance, aisle end-caps and hydrotherapy area. A TriplePlay IPTV system and content management system (CMS) takes a clear quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) feed from the campus cable network and transcodes 20 channels of cable television content into IP streams for distribution on the IPTV network. A quad-channel encoder allows for four additional channels of local content to be streamed on the IPTV system. Two channels of digital signage content, as well as two streams of video-on-demand (VOD) content, are also provided. Recruitment sessions and donor-recognition events, as well as fan and family tours of the facility, all benefit from highlight content available via VOD. Sponsorship messaging and brand advertising can also be displayed as full screen or within an L-bar digital signage layout.

“The TriplePlay system provided the best balance for Georgia Tech’s objectives,” Volk said. “It is powerful and it makes it easy to manage digital signage and other digital media distribution. It offers local controls for the remote selection of channels, and it is scalable so that it can be expanded to other parts of the venue.”

A sound system with four higher-powered Danley Sound Labs loudspeakers, powered by a Danley amplifier and controlled by a QSC DSP, provide sound for the locker room. “Audio sources include the IPTV system, Shure wireless microphones and a wallplate for BYOD audio,” Volk noted. “All audio sources are treated as a single zone throughout the space. Local sound is also available on the individual displays.”

A TriplePlay TripleChoice Education Portal allows for the control of the TriplePlay system and all IPTV set-top boxes, whereas a Crestron control processor and 10-inch touchpanel act as the user interface for control of the individual displays (power, channel, volume) and the sound system (source, volume).

Content for the system includes cable television channels, locally encoded channels and digital signage channels, which primarily act as digital bulletin and message boards for the players. A local HDMI input under several of the displays also allows coaches to input a laptop or other local source directly into the display for additional content.

“The new AV system provides a high-tech feel and finish to the Yellow Jackets’ locker room and provides Georgia Tech with the ability to expand,” Volk said.

As with most large AV systems, digital signage is a key part of the total digital media distribution system. That’s why it is necessary for the AV integration team to work collaboratively with both the IT and Security teams. As with most other digital signage projects, clear and regular communication with all stakeholders throughout the design and deployment process is key to long-term customer satisfaction.

With increased television and social media exposure at all levels of collegiate and pro sports, the locker room has become even more of a focal point for fan and management attention. This, in turn, has created significant and interesting opportunities for designers and integrators with the right team spirit.

Maintaining Masking

Looking after the equipment…and the effect.

Open-plan space, modular walls and reflective surfaces, such as glass, concrete and metal, are just a few of the design trends making today’s interiors even more dependent on sound masking for speech privacy and noise control. Ensuring that this technology continues to function as expected over the course of its lifecycle involves not only maintaining the health of the equipment used to generate and broadcast the sound, but also preserving the efficacy of the sound itself.

The Equipment

The components used by modern sound-masking systems require little preventative maintenance. In fact, some networked technologies are able actively to monitor for various types of issues and use an alarm (audible or visual) or an email to alert the client to a service requirement. If the system does not provide this feature, it is prudent to check the following equipment on a routine basis (e.g., annually), when work is done within the ceiling space or if an occupant reports a problem:

  • Power: Most systems use low-voltage DC power supplies. Although those of high quality typically last many years, they can eventually fail. Occupants will likely notice a power failure, but it is wise periodically to verify operation. Some sound-masking systems offer fail-safe power supplies; in other words, if a power supply fails, a second one takes over to ensure continuous system operation.
  • Cabling: Work done on other elements within the ceiling can inadvertently cause damage to the sound-masking system’s cabling or result in the disconnection of its components.
  • Loudspeakers: Loudspeakers are installed in a grid-like pattern within the ceiling space and they deliver the sound, along with paging and music signals (if the system has such capabilities). Some systems continuously monitor loudspeaker performance, thereby eliminating the need to enter the ceiling to check each loudspeaker manually.
Modern sound-masking equipment requires little preventative maintenance.

The Features

At this time, also take the opportunity to review and adjust customized settings related to various ancillary components and functions. These include the following:

  • In-Room Controls: User controls, such as programmable keypads, allow occupants of private offices and meeting rooms to modify masking and paging volumes, as well as paging channel selection, as needed (e.g., to accommodate videoconferencing). Their zoning, functions and volume limits should be checked and changed, if desired. Also review the time at which the system is programmed to restore the default settings.
  • Paging and Music: Most sound-masking systems also provide overhead paging and background music functions. Zones and volumes should be altered, as needed.
  • Timer: Some systems allow a schedule to be established that adjusts the masking level to suit expected occupation densities throughout the day, week or year. For example, security personnel might want the volume to lower during the night so that they can hear any disturbances. Zones, scheduling and exception dates (e.g., holidays) should be reviewed and updated to reflect changing requirements.
  • Security: Some systems provide various levels of password-protected access to the system’s features and settings, depending on an individual’s role. Permissions should be reviewed to ensure they continue to meet the organization’s needs.

Although modern sound-masking systems provide networked control over zoning related to the above functions, the system’s design might have to be physically modified in certain cases—for example, when newly constructed walls cross existing masking zones, or when major changes are made to ceiling treatments. In such cases, review loudspeaker placement and zoning.

The sound meeting the specified spectrum, and continuing to do so over time, is key to ensuring the client derives the value it expects from its investment in sound-masking technology.

The Coverage

Returning to the site also provides the opportunity to discuss extending masking coverage if, for example, the client recently expanded its space or initially limited treatment due to budget constraints or more obvious acoustical concerns in particular areas (e.g., an open plan).

In the end, the sound-masking system’s role is to control the acoustic conditions throughout the facility, just as lighting and temperature are controlled. Clients typically do not want dark or cold areas within their space; similarly, they should strive to achieve consistent acoustics, rather than having a low ambient level in some areas and an effective one in others.

The zoning, function and volume limits for in-room occupant controls, such as programmable keypads, should be checked and changed, if needed.

Limiting treatment to particular areas also runs contrary to a key design goal: Occupants should forget the masking sound is there. That goal cannot be achieved if there are voids in coverage. People can detect changes as they walk between treated and untreated areas, which can vary by as much as 10dBA to 12dBA. If masking is installed in both open and closed spaces, a uniform level is maintained that, by virtue of consistency, is less noticeable and feels more like a natural part of the space. A less-conspicuous sound can also be set to a level that is more effective.

The Sound

When properly implemented, a sound-masking system is a key contributor to the overall acoustic performance of open-plan areas, as well as to the speech-privacy levels experienced in and between closed rooms. However, the system cannot achieve those goals from the moment it is powered on. Regardless of the system’s design or the position of its loudspeakers, the sound emitted interacts with the facility’s layout, finishes and furnishings.

To deliver the expected effects, rather than simply introducing a background noise, a trained technician or acoustician must tune the sound so that it meets a specific masking spectrum or “curve.” This goal should be set by a third party, such as the National Research Council (NRC) or an acoustician, rather than being set by the system’s manufacturer. It will typically range between 100Hz to 5,000Hz, but it can go as high as 10,000Hz.

The exact tuning method varies by product, but, generally speaking, the technician should use a sound level meter fitted with a calibrated Type 1 microphone to measure the sound at ear height (i.e., the level at which occupants experience the masking effect), analyze the results, and adjust the volume and frequency settings accordingly. Repeat those steps until the curve is met at each tuning location. System designs that utilize small zones (e.g., zones of one to three loudspeakers) offer more test and adjustment points, allowing the specified spectrum to be more accurately achieved throughout the installation. The more precisely and consistently the curve is met, the better the outcome. For that reason, the specified curve should also be accompanied by a “tolerance” that limits the amount by which the sound is permitted to deviate from the goal across the space.

A minimum guideline is to measure the masking sound in each 1,000-square-foot open area, and each closed room, at a height between four feet and 4.7 feet from the floor, and then adjust within that area as needs dictate. Masking volume is typically set between 40dBA and 48dBA, and the results should be consistent within a range of ±0.5dBA or less. The curve should be defined in third-octave bands. Variation of ±2dB in each frequency band is a reasonable expectation, although it should generally be tighter to meet the overall volume tolerance. After tuning, offer the client a detailed report to verify the results and indicate areas where the sound is outside tolerance and why (e.g., unwanted noise from the HVAC system).

Timer zones, scheduling and exception dates (e.g., holidays) should be reviewed and updated to reflect changing needs.

Unlike with older analog masking systems, the output of modern digital systems is consistent over time. In other words, during the system’s lifecycle, it will not introduce variations in the sound; that removes that consideration from the maintenance equation. However, if changes are made to the space (e.g., the layout, furnishings, partitions, ceiling) or its occupancy (e.g., relocating call-center functions to an area formerly occupied by accounting staff), it is necessary to check whether the sound continues to meet the specified masking curve and the client’s needs. Because specialized equipment and training are required, clients should not attempt to make changes themselves; it can be helpful to communicate that the masking curve does not define the system’s volume and equalizer settings, but, rather, the measured output within the space.

If adjustments are not made—or are not expertly handled—the overall volume might be too low in some areas, affecting speech privacy and noise control, and too high in others, affecting comfort. Although occupants can readily identify the latter issue, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to tell subjectively whether the sound is providing the expected level of masking. To make that determination, one has to take measurements. One can usually expect a 10-percent reduction in masking performance for each decibel below the target. Spectrum variations can also mean substantial losses in acoustic control.

Maintaining the masking effect is key to ensuring the client continues to derive full value from its investment, and it is of particular importance in situations in which the system is relied upon to provide speech security (e.g., military environments) or confidential speech privacy (e.g., healthcare facilities), or where it forms the basis of acoustical design.

Conclusion

The likelihood that changes will occur during a sound-masking system’s 10-to-20-year lifespan is almost certain. Therefore, organizations simply cannot take a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach when it comes to the equipment or the sound it delivers. The need for maintenance also highlights the importance of the original design. The system’s layout—in particular, the size of zones offering independent volume and frequency control—will heavily influence not only initial masking performance, but also the technician’s ability to make adjustments easily in response to the client’s diverse and changing needs over time.

Endnote

For more information about this topic, see this author’s “Reversing The ABCs Of Acoustics: Using sound masking as a design platform” in Sound & Communications, December 2017

Who owns the Code?

I thought this issue was resolved years ago, but apparently not….

Recently, a fellow consultant mentioned to me a project he was called in to fix. It was the usual—did not work right, never worked right, poor workmanship, client was not happy. He was also told it could not be resolved by the integrator (design-build). So, the client looked to an outside source instead.

The consultant did mention the name of the integrator (which I am withholding), and he said one of the issues was the control system not functioning properly. However, the client did not have the uncompiled code that would enable him to make the necessary adjustments to the program (rather than starting all over).

Coincidentally, a longtime friend and associate had just started working at the integrator. Immediately, I volunteered to try to help. I would reach out to my friend, see what he knew and see if he could help get the code. I didn’t feel bad about reaching out, because my friend always calls me for help—sometimes design, sometimes pricing, sometimes for a second opinion—and I always help him out (mostly just because I can). I thought it would be no issue. As you’ll see, I was so wrong!

Anyway, as I said, I figured he could help…that it was just a misunderstanding I definitely had some questions, though. For example, why was the system not being serviced? After all, the system was only nine months old! I thought to myself, “Isn’t a one-year parts-and-labor warranty standard on installations?” I have always given a one-year warranty on parts and labor on projects I have sold and installed.

My friend and I met for lunch to discuss the situation. It had been a while, and I got the dirt on why he had left where he was working and gone to this company. In addition, he was looking to get some leads on possible upcoming projects on which he might be able to bid. And you know what? Before I knew it, I was driving back to work—and we never discussed the issue at hand!

So, I gave him a call a few days later. My friend was not familiar with the job, but he said he would ask about it and get back to me, which he did. He verified that the project was done about nine months ago, but he claimed no one knew about any difficulties with the project. The integrator was paid in full and all was well, he told me! The information source was the account manager who’d sold the job, and who’d been working there for many years. But the thing is, I knew with absolute certainty (from my consultant friend on site) that the system was not working!

And here’s another wrinkle: The integrator only gives a 90-day warranty. After that, you have to pay—or you have to purchase an extended warranty to complete the first year (and/or add more years). I was flabbergasted! Ninety days?! Are you kidding me?!

However, my friend said to me that, nowadays, that is common. Frankly, there is still a race to the bottom in our industry, and, my friend said, because they are lucky to get 18 points on a project, they just can’t afford more than that.

OK, so the picture was becoming clearer, but I still had some questions. My friend on site had told me the integrator was unresponsive to service calls, but he might not have been given all the information. It sounded more like the integrator wanted to charge the client an arm and a leg to come back, because the project was out of warranty!

The next call I made to my integrator friend, I finally had to ask the real question: Did they/would they provide the original programming code to the client? The answer? A big, fat no! And why should they? It’s the company’s intellectual property. So, if the client wants some work done, it has to call that integrator. And why not? The integrator did the original job, and the client is its customer now! If they chose not to come back, they’d just have to pay for the system again. Ouch! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But my friend just fell back on, “We don’t make enough money to do that,” when I asked him about broader, longer-lasting coverage.

Of course, I disputed that point of view to no end. First, no matter how much—or how little—the integrator makes, the client is paying for that firm to write the code and install it in its space. Why should the client have to pay for it again? “Intellectual property,” my friend replied. He really believed that the client was not entitled to use the programming code as it saw fit…that it should be locked up—unless the client arranged in advance for transparency and paid for it.

Ultimately, he said, this was someone else’s job and he could not help. Alternatively, he suggested having the client get in touch and request a service call. Although that conversation ended my involvement—I told my consultant friend I could not help to obtain the code—it really irked me. I mean, how many people know to ask upfront to have the programming code included in the required close-out documentation? I would say almost none!

Douglas Kleeger

Office Design: Balancing Capability and Usability

The modern workplace has been transformed by the rise in remote workers, causing a shift from permanent offices, cubicles, and dedicated meeting rooms to transient, multiuse work areas. This trend, paired with the increased desire for collaboration by the millennial generation, results in reduced fixed office space and more huddle spaces, open floorplans, and flexible meeting areas.

A byproduct of fewer workers reporting to the office is a decreased need for office space and less justification for dedicated conference rooms and complex AV installations. As a result, technology managers are being tasked with more closely managing the costs and justifying the investment and return on technology purchases. As needs change and less money is dedicated to permanent office space, there is a greater focus on equipment and solutions that can satisfy more requirements and provide greater value, yet offer consistency, reliability, and ease of operation. These shifts in needs present challenges for technology managers, AV service providers, and manufacturers alike; however, they offer new opportunities for ingenuity, creativity, and innovation for products and solutions.

As organizations are doing more with less office space, technology has to support greater flexibility for multipurpose use, reconfiguration, and a variety of applications. Fixed installations of furniture and wiring are giving way to movable surfaces, wireless connectivity, and more centralized equipment. Additionally, with the adoption of software-based solutions for conferencing, collaboration, and control, paired with the increase in network-based audio and video transport and control communication, the demand for complex wiring and proprietary, single-purpose equipment is diminishing. To support this changing demand and maintain effectiveness, the AV industry needs to think differently, invest in understanding users’ and stakeholders’ needs and objectives, and adapt to the new way of working.

AV systems are not what they used to be. In some respects, they are becoming simpler with less equipment, less wiring, and more basic operation. In other respects, they are becoming more complex with the need to support multiple applications, configurations, and user needs.

Here are a few thoughts to consider when designing and planning for multipurpose AV spaces.

One area that faces challenges resulting from flexible spaces is audio. Audio systems work best in fixed environments, where ideal microphones and speakers can be selected, placed, and tuned to support the design and acoustics of the space. When spaces are repurposed, the focus of the room changes and technology cannot be permanently installed around furniture; the result is that sound quality, intelligibility of microphones, and echo cancellation of conference calls suffer. One particular example is the use of ceiling microphones with ceiling speakers. Despite the flexibility ceiling microphones provide, they present challenges that require careful consideration in order to optimize performance.

Leveraging the network for audio, video, and/or control signal transport to simplify installation and provide added flexibility provides great upside value. But it is also not without its own set of risks and responsibilities. As we move further away from our closed AV ecosystem and rely more on the client’s IT network, we forego control of our own destiny and the path to success becomes less clear. Working on the client network requires coordination, planning, and trusted relationships between the AV service provider, technology manager, and IT. This is especially true for high-bandwidth functions like video transport or control communication that are verbose or require specific security settings; requirements should be defined upfront and IT buy-in is a must. Additionally, the responsibility of commissioning and troubleshooting endpoints and configuring network switches requires proficiency that is not inherent in all AV service providers.

The user experience stands to be the most challenged by the need to support multi-use spaces. Although sensors can be used to identify room configurations and control systems can support varied modes of operation, the ability to provide an optimal user experience is jeopardized by the requirement of flexibility and adaptability. When systems are sole-purposed, the ability to design and program a simple, straightforward, and easy-to-operate user interface is much easier than when provisions need to be included to support multiple applications, modes of operation, and likely varying types of users and needs.

Typically, the tradeoff for flexibility is ease of use. Thus, it is important to understand that the best way to provide user-friendly operation is to manage system capabilities and requirements. It is easy to get caught in the lure of needing to accommodate any possible configuration or need from a single user interface. Despite the perceived value and security in knowing that the operation of the space can be truly maximized, the 80/20 rule can be a great reminder: 80 percent of the system use will likely come from 20 percent of its capability. Trying to support all of the possible needs and outcomes from a user operation standpoint will not only be detrimental to the user experience, it will also increase cost and likely have a negative impact on reliability. Ideally, user experience for a multipurpose space should provide the same comfort, simplicity, and ease of use as a single-purpose space.

All hope is not lost in the effort to maximize capability while maintaining usability. A few ways it can be done is by designing purposed-based user interfaces that support subsets of capabilities and operation. Either by defining “presets” for typical user applications or supporting the ability for a technology manager or support staff to configure the user interface for a specific use on a case-by-case basis, the simplicity of the system operation and optimization of the user experience will be maintained. This concept can be carried out through the use of backend configuration tools programmed into the control system that allow the user interface and operation to be adjusted by a “user,” rather than requiring a programmer.

As an industry, it is important to understand that we need to adapt to the changes in the workplace, so that we can continue to support the ways that our clients conduct their business. Understanding workflow is one important part. The other is getting to know the users better. We have to listen more closely to them and offer solutions that support the way they work and live, rather than trying to push them to adopt what we provide.

The changing workplace is a reality, and it is important that the AV industry demonstrates humility by listening to requests, responding to needs, sharing expertise, and responding to the changes that are being presented. Although the needs are changing, AV professionals possess the experience and expertise to satisfy the new requirements and offer value as long as we recognize the need to work with users hand in hand.

Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.

Transforming Meetings With Smarter UC Solutions

Biamp’s Devio DCM-1 ceiling pendant microphone uses beamtracking technology, allowing meeting room participants to move around freely while maintaining consistent speech intelligibility.

The metric for measuring the success of a meeting and collaboration space is changing. In the past, when a technology manager had 10 rooms to outfit, the mission was straightforward: stay on budget and on schedule. Now, with the ability to glean device usage and room activity information from the connected systems in place, success runs deeper. Technology managers now need to ensure AV solutions produce ROI that shows users are consistently benefitting from the installed technology within the space every day, week, and quarter.

Despite the growing requirement for content sharing and video in collaboration, audio is still the top priority and every meeting space needs to be well equipped to provide clear, intelligible audio. This means all rooms must perform well, especially on behalf of remote participants. Engineering users may need to get up and write on a whiteboard, or in the case of business managers and creative teams, participants may join the meeting for specific topics, sharing and collaborating on documents. By taking steps to understand these different users’ collaboration needs and expectations, technology managers can equip the room with the right technology and increase the value of the meeting space.

In many UC applications, beamforming microphones are emerging as a preferred technology for capturing the conversation in the room for delivery to the far end. Beamforming microphones contain multiple microphone elements that work together to form a single, spatially distributed microphone that can be steered to cover the areas where meeting participants are most likely to be located, providing the best coverage of the space.

However, traditional beamforming microphones are limited in their coverage. The person speaking must be within the predetermined beam area to reap the full benefits, and it’s possible that not every location can be covered. Ensuring that each location within a meeting room is covered is a lofty expectation, especially for more robust collaboration spaces where people are moving around and holding a more dynamic meeting.

Beamtracking microphones take it one step further. With the advent of more intelligent DSP, it’s now possible to have microphone technology with beams that are flexible and adaptable to the movement in the room. The “beams,” or polar pattern, of the mics can be controlled and shaped through the DSP, allowing them to be aimed at the people speaking in the room, even as they move around while talking. Essentially, the participant talking determines where the beam should be, rather than the beam determining where the participant should be located within the room. Potential dead spaces from the initial setup are effectively eliminated. Other advantages include the microphone not needing recalibration in multipurpose rooms or where furniture moves around, depending on the meeting requirements. What’s more, if the microphone can generate multiple beams, it can cover multiple people simultaneously.

These attributes make beamtracking microphones an excellent option for spaces with UC, as they accurately capture people talking and deliver the conversation naturally. In larger spaces where more than one beamtracking mic is used, it’s critical that the DSP intelligently utilizes the microphones to provide continuous clear audio pickup as people move around the room and among the microphones.

With installation success measured on the room’s frequency of use, participants can’t be expected to work around the shortcomings of the AV solutions that are essential to their productivity. Beamtracking technology represents a shift in more intelligent, and intelligible, conversations. It customizes the collaboration experience, where the technology is transparent and gives the people what they need to work more efficiently and most productively.

Rob Houston is the unified communications product manager at Biamp Systems.

Updating Enterprise Meetings with Laser Phosphor Displays

Seamless, super-sized interactive video wall displays get clients excited and staff engaged

PowerPoint presentations used to be cutting-edge and exciting. So were VCRs, Walkman tape players and brick-sized mobile phones—back in the day.

But today’s sales teams need better. Their audiences are increasingly bored, sitting passively through slide deck after slide deck, and then forgetting whatever they heard as soon as they leave the briefing room.

What can salespeople do to update their presentations, close more deals and score more wins?

The key is to use immersive presentation tools, like the Laser Phosphor Display (LPD) 6K Series, recently introduced by Prysm, a leader in display and visual collaboration solutions. These seamless, super-sized interactive video displays offer sales teams new ways to deliver standard content, be more authentic and draw audiences in. More specifically, sales teams that use this innovative technology can:

  • Easily incorporate several types of content, from multiple sources, even in real time
  • Amplify a point by moving, re-sizing and annotating content on a single digital canvas (which isn’t possible in PowerPoint)
  • Invite audience members to come up, touch the screen and interact freely with the video windows and their contents
  • Deliver customized experiences that truly impress, particularly when used on a video wall

By manipulating simultaneous video windows on a panoramic, ultra high-resolution display, presenters can create an immersive experience that draws audiences right into the action on the interactive touch screen. There are no distracting bezels to break up the 6K by 2K video image, and the LPD 6K Series’ intelligent light engines deliver consistent and sharp images, with over one billion discrete colors and truly deep blacks up to a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1.

This 2:21 video shows the LPD 6K Series working with Prysm Collaboration Solutions to engage and excite viewers.

“LPD 6K Series displays will capture your audience’s attention and hold it throughout the presentation,” Hannah Grap, Prysm’s VP of Marketing, said. “Coupled with creative interactive scripts and visuals, the LPD 6K Series will put the wow factor back into your presentations.”

Christie Powers Upgraded MicroTiles Video Wall at Perelman School of Medicine

When New Era Technology of West Chester, Pennsylvania, was asked to upgrade the video technology driving a Christie MicroTiles wall at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, the integrator chose the Christie Spyder X80 multiscreen windowing processor.

The Christie MicroTiles wall, located on the first floor of the Smilow Center for Translational Research, had previously employed a Christie Spyder X20 processor. Located in a high visibility area outside of an auditorium, the multifunctional wall displays pre-recorded content and handles overflow video from events taking place in the auditorium. It also shows content provided by other groups wanting to benefit from the public space.

“Everyone with business in the Smilow Center sees the wall,” said Scott Randinelli, project manager, New Era Technology. “The new equipment is part of a lifecycle upgrade that eventually will lead to upgrading the wall itself. Now the video wall offers Spyder X80’s advanced capabilities, including stepping up to 4K and 8K content.”

The project marked the first Spyder X80 installation by New Era. “We have had a relationship with Christie that goes back close to two decades under our previous company name, Advanced AV,” said Randinelli. “It makes a lot of sense for the X80 to be the vehicle for future upgrades for any high profile display.”

“The flexibility, power, and simplicity of the Spyder X80 make it a wise choice,” said Jason Wines, sales engineer, content management and processing, Christie. “With the X80, customers are future-proofing their investment since there are no limits in processing power for the next-generation of display. They can also choose any size, shape or arrangement of display technology today or in the future and not worry about programming or the back end configuration. The new Spyder X80’s megapixel canvas makes integration with current source formats and ultra-high resolution displays quick and easy.”

New Era Technology also put in place procedures to support content supplied by special user groups and the exporting of video from the auditorium to the MicroTiles wall. New Era Technology Senior Engineer Frank O’Hara worked with the Christie team in the beginning of the project to engineer the upgrade allowing New Era Technology field engineers Jeff Daddario and Steve Rogers to collaborate with programmer Eric Howell of Christie during the commissioning phase of the project. Eric Capozzoli from the Perelman School of Medicine was project manager.

Using 4K to Make a Better UCC Room (But Not Because of Resolution)

Everyone who’s anyone in AV knows that 4K provides four times the resolution of 1080p. 1920×1080, commonly referred to as ‘Full HD’ was the industry’s high-resolution display platform for over a decade and has recently been usurped by 4K — which in ProAV-land is known as UHD, or 3840×2160 (or in DCI-world, 4096×2160) is, in actuality, four times the resolution of 1080p. So, four times the pixels. Thus, four times the image clarity.

But, in reality, for nearly every ProAV system out there — especially those using screens that are 130” diagonally or smaller — the real advantage of 4K isn’t the resolution — it’s pixel density. That’s right — the density of pixels on the screen is truly the killer-app of 4K.

Think about it this way: If you’ve taken the AVIXA basic CTS course, you’ll recall learning the standards for room design. Those covered things like screen placement, height and width based on where the least-favored viewer (those sitting in the back left and back right corners of a classroom, for example) was as well as where (or, how close) to seat people to the screen. This is important as seating someone too close means that he or she will start to see the pixels (or picture-elements) that make up an image. In DLP, these are round and in LCD, these are mostly square.

But now with 4K, thanks to its pixel-density (not necessarily its resolution) if all things are equal in a room and all you do is replace a projector that’s 1080p with one that’s 4K (or replace a 65” LCD monitor that’s Full HD with one that’s 4K UHD), you’re actually increasing the pixel-density of the display to four times what it was. So, in the same square inch, you get four times the pixels filling the same area.

A light bulb should have just popped-on on your head. Yep, you got it. Since you’ve increased the pixel density, that person — or that entire front row, actually, can now be moved much closer to the screen because they won’t see the pixels any longer!

This changes everything. Everything that we once thought about or used for standards in room design is now different. In fact, in many cases, we can move the front row to right up against the screen — like IMAX movie-style. Think “full immersion.”

Thus, as an industry, we need to start to rethink the design of all our rooms. 4K didn’t just bring us higher resolution imaging, it brings pixel density like we’ve never seen before. And, this isn’t just relegated to large rooms and giant imaging either. In fact, the principles of room design need to change for even the smallest of meetings rooms too — rooms like huddle spaces, conference rooms, ad-hoc meeting spaces. In all of those cases where you might have a 55”, 65” or even 75” display hanging on the wall, you can actually seat attendees right up against the screen. Check it out for yourself. You’ll see the difference. If you’ve got a 65″ 1080p display installed, notice that if you’re closer than about 6’ away from the screen, you can see the pixels from the LCD structure that make up the monitor. But, switch that same monitor out for one that’s 4K and you can seat someone as close as 2’ away and you still can’t see pixels.

This changes everything. And, not just front row placement. This should force a change in presentation design, camera placement and field-of-view, furniture placement and layout and even lighting.

Yes, of course 4K gives us better quality images. But, with a higher pixel density, 4K gives us a better room, too.