Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Campus Technology: How to Create an AV Standards Document

I wrote an article for Campus Technology magazine in June that describes the importance of higher ed AV support departments taking the time to write a document defining all of their AV design and technical standards.  Taking the time to assemble such a document now will save you countless hours and headaches later, when you're in the middle of the busy season for AV installations on campus.

June 10, 2015:
written by: Mike Tomei
Audiovisual technology is becoming increasingly complex and important in today's classrooms. And with higher education IT departments being tasked with the design, installation and support of instructional AV systems — areas in which IT staff may or may not have expertise — it's extremely important to develop, define and enforce AV system design/technical standards on campus.
The easiest way to do so is to create a comprehensive audiovisual design and technical standards document that can be referenced by all the parties involved with classroom AV installations. The goal of this document is to standardize AV installations across the institution, as well as streamline the design and construction process for these systems. A standards document will also help your IT department make progress toward the institution's audiovisual strategic goals.
Why Write This Document?
Some higher education institutions have a centralized department that's responsible for standardizing AV technology across campus, but many don't. Many institutions leave AV design and support up to the individual departments and/or schools across campus, resulting in a hodgepodge of different AV systems being installed with varying degrees of usability and installation quality. Others might exclusively outsource all of their audiovisual design and installation duties to consultants and systems integrators. In both cases, it's all the more important to develop an audiovisual design/technical standards document that all parties can rely on.
Every higher education AV support professional has experienced a situation where he or she is brought into a classroom construction or renovation project long after many AV-related system-design and infrastructure decisions have been made. Rather than issue costly change orders to fix what the general contractor and electricians have already incorrectly done, the school's AV department is expected to make compromises to systems to work around infrastructure issues. This almost always results in more work and AV support headaches in the future. If your campus's construction project manager had provided the project's architect with an AV standards document on day one, many of these problems could have been prevented. Architects are most likely provided with a similar document defining campus construction and interior design standards, and the AV standards document needs to be included.
Many readers from state schools will recognize this scenario: A different audiovisual design consultant and systems integration firm are chosen for each project, based on the lowest bid. You end up with a revolving door of AV professionals installing equipment on your campus. They have very limited knowledge of your existing classroom systems, and what direction you're trying to go in with new installations. This is a great reason to have an AV standards document written and ready to hand to these individuals at the beginning of a project.
A common thought is that if you hire an AV design consultant, that individual will perform a comprehensive needs analysis, review your existing systems and benchmark comparable systems before starting the system design process. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and some unmotivated consultants will just slap their boilerplate technical specifications on your design, not taking into account any of your standards. Even an excellent consultant still needs guidance to meet your standards. Your AV standards document will be necessary to get the unmotivated consultants on the right path, and the great consultants will appreciate the information as a starting point for their design.
Remember, an AV standards document defines the design rationale that dictates the technical specifications of an audiovisual system — it's not the same as the technical specifications document an AV consultant writes when a project is put out to bid. Rather, it's one of the building blocks for the consultant's technical specifications document.
Who Should Write It?
As important as it is to write a standards document, it's more important to write it properly. Incorrect, nonexistent or vague information provided in the document can cause just as many problems as not having the document in the first place. It's imperative that you look to an individual who really understands audiovisual system design to write this. Better yet, pull together a group consisting of campus AV and IT professionals, your academic technology support staff, your school's construction project managers, the campus's interior designer, facilities staff, etc., to help cover all angles of AV system design and installation. Ultimately, you want an InfoComm CTS-D certified individual to write most of this document, with someone who has a CTS-I certification contributing to the technical specifications. If those qualifications don't exist within your staff, hire an AV consultant to assist with the writing. Relying on someone with these certifications will make sure you're starting with a baseline of industry standards, then building on them to customize for your campus's needs. This will be a constantly evolving document that adapts to past AV installation lessons and mistakes, as well as changes in technology and teaching trends, so pull your group of contributors together every year to revisit these documented standards.
What Content Should Go Into It?
Your AV standards document content will be all-encompassing, defining every technical, infrastructure, aesthetic and environmental variable that will affect your AV installation. Specifics are needed to clearly define your standards. For example, "Projection screen shall be properly sized for the room" leaves way too much room for interpretation. Replace that statement with "The projected image height should be no less than one-sixth the distance from the screen to the farthest viewer," and you're starting to get into the kind of measurable specifics that will ensure you get the AV system you need. Include pictures of properly installed equipment and infrastructure-related items to reinforce what you've written.
These standards documents can run long, but properly organizing them will go a long way. Making the document easy to read will result in more parties using it and referring back to it as they work on the AV system designs that you'll ultimately have to support. A quick online search of other schools' standards documents shows a mix of properly organized documents as well as others that simply threw their ideas on paper in an unorganized fashion.
Your standards document should also include codes and regulations that affect AV installation. Even though you assume that architects, engineers, general contractors and electricians have a good understanding of building to code, you still need to clearly define these standards. Include standards that make sure your AV installations are adhering to ADA Standards, National Electrical Code, etc.
Who Should Receive It?
Now that you've spent the time to write your comprehensive AV standards document, it's time to get it out to the public. This is one of those situations where the more publicly accessible this document is, the more apt people are to reference it. Send it to your campus's construction project managers, each department/school's technical support representatives, interior designers, electricians, facilities managers, AV integrators, architects and engineering firms. Post your standards document publicly on your department's Web site for download. Ask your facilities department if your AV standards document can be included with their construction and interior design standards that they have most likely already created for the campus.
It may seem like a daunting task assembling a standards document like this, but a little bit of work on the front end will result in a noticeable improvement in your campus's future audiovisual installations.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Middle Atlantic: A Room With a View - What factors weight most heavily in the choice between displays vs. projectors?

Leading up to InfoComm 2015, I contributed to a couple articles written by Middle Atlantic employees.  This article discusses the projector vs. flat panel debate in classrooms.  Full disclosure:  I wasn't paid by Middle Atlantic for this work, and I have no affiliation with Middle Atlantic.

June 2015
written by:  Megan Knedler, Director of Marketing Communications
When it comes to video in classrooms, it’s still a price and size game, and projectors continue to have the lead in terms of value. Flat panel video displays may be coming down in price and going up in size, but they still don’t offer the big-screen experience necessary for educational use. 
“Flat panel displays have made their way into many conference rooms, but still haven't pushed projectors out of classrooms,” observes Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting, a firm specializing in education projects. “Projectors still provide a larger image at a cheaper cost for a typical classroom AV system design.” 
Furthermore, some of the arguments formerly made against projectors are becoming less valid, he adds: “Lampless projector technology is now eliminating some of the service issues that previously made projectors more undesirable.” 
Whether flat panels are still in contention or projectors are the absolute choice, the factors that determine video configuration settings remain constant: 
Size of the classroom
Ambient light in the classroom
Wall space 
In terms of size, Brock McGinnis, sales manager for Westbury National Show Systems Audio and Visual Solutions Division, provides a good rule of thumb for deciding whether to go with a flat panel or projection setup: “Viewing distance should always determine screen size. After that it’s cost. Single displays are only financially advantageous to 80 inches or 90 inches diagonal. Tiled narrow-bezel displays (or video walls) can extend that to 110 inches (2x2 55-inch) but the cost, at that point, is significantly higher than projection. 
Ambient lighting factors in to the classroom size versus display size question: Can a display and content be acceptably viewed clearly by the entire class? 
And as far as wall space goes, Tomei mentions some pretty inarguable features in favor of projection: “Faculty members can never have enough whiteboard or chalkboard space in a classroom, and installing a large flat panel display in the middle of the front wall eliminates a board. A projection screen can be raised to expose a board, or an image can be projected on a writable surface.” 
Other considerations pertaining to the ever-present quotient of budget include, according to Brad Thomas, general manager of products and higher education for AVI Systems: 
Installation costs
Downtime (i.e., Does the panel manufacturer have a three-year, 48-hour exchange program? Is the institution capable of de-installation and re-installation upon potential failure?)
Purchased consumables sitting on the shelf
Total cost of ownership (TCO)
The presence of a plan to move from analog to digital 
Then Thomas mentions the biggie: Price. “As size goes up and price comes down, campuses will further debate projectors versus displays!” 
So there you have it. When choosing between projectors and displays in classrooms, all of the above must be considered, but ultimately, the answer is price. 

Middle Atlantic: Education Essentials - What are three hardware elements that are a must for today’s classroom?

Leading up to InfoComm 2015, I contributed to a couple articles written by Middle Atlantic employees.  This article discusses AV hardware that should be considered during system design.  Full disclosure:  I wasn't paid by Middle Atlantic for this work, and I have no affiliation with Middle Atlantic.

June 2015
written by:  Tim Troast, Middle Atlantic Director of Product Management 
Get ready to take plenty of notes on new classroom AV solutions at InfoComm 2015. There will doubtlessly be a multitude of new hardware and software offerings aimed at engaging today’s generation of “digital natives,” but given a realistic budget, what are the absolute essentials that every classroom needs today?
While the number of technology offerings can be overwhelming, classroom technologies can really be filtered down to four essential categories:

Source selection and display control remain top priorities in today’s classrooms, necessitating a user interface of some kind in every place where classes are taught. Faculty members place heavy emphasis on reliability in this category, and a user-friendly push-button controller or touchscreen are still the front-runners in achieving this goal.
“Using a classroom audio visual system should be as easy as flipping on a light switch,” observes Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting. “User interfaces and well developed control system programming behind the scenes allows for standardization across multiple classrooms, giving faculty the same user experience regardless of what classroom they're teaching in.”

Projectors are still king in classroom AV systems, Tomei says. “Flat panel displays are taking over conference rooms, but classroom systems still rely on projectors. Projectors can deliver a large enough image to meet system design best practices, and meet the budgets of schools looking to deploy them in multiple classrooms.”
But the type of projector varies from K-12 to higher education. Interactive projectors/displays are a must in K-12 classrooms, whether taking the form of ultra-short-throw interactive projectors mounted above whiteboards, or flat panel displays with touch capability. “Students respond well to the interactive elements of the curriculum that's supported by these types of projectors/displays,” he notes, but draws a distinction when it comes to higher-ed. “Interactive whiteboards typically aren't necessary in the higher-ed world, except for select departments like elementary education.”
But in the midst of all this talk about video, don’t forget the audio, adds Dave Ruddy, an account executive from CompView’s St. Paul, Minnesota office: classrooms need sound for video and also voice enhancement in many cases.

Wireless Network
As is the case just about everywhere today, true wireless connectivity is essential to enabling classroom technology and devices that students and instructors bring to the classroom to work seamlessly. To this end, Ruddy recommends, “Wireless connectivity that provides for 30 frames per second video at a reasonable cost.”
The BYOD factor Ruddy mentioned, and a hardware/software solution to accommodate it, is a critical element of classroom specification, adds his colleague, Brad Thomas, general manager of products and higher education at CompView: “Students expect to organically use their devices to communicate and collaborate in the classroom. Educational institutions are rapidly working to supply a robust wireless network able to support at least two devices per student.”

All of the Above: Collaboration
It may be a hot buzzword now, but collaboration has always been central to classroom learning. What’s new is how it’s being done. Look for a simple interactive tablet solution, Thomas notes. “Instructors want to annotate from within the classroom, and students are simply accustomed to using a tablet solution to create and complete lesson activities.”
The wireless network, video display, audio, BYOD and tablets come together in the sum total trend for classrooms right now: active learning environments. Often, collaborative AV systems and mobile device projection/display can be handled by one piece of hardware, notes Tomei, “but there's no magic bullet solution out there that's a clear winner in this area yet. AV support staff want to find hardware that can be integrated with the classroom's control system, work well on enterprise level wired and wireless networks, offer security features, cover all tablet/laptop/mobile device operating systems, and offer full screen mirroring. That's a lot of features to ask for, and manufacturers are scrambling to meet these needs.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Campus Technology: 3 Key Trends in Campus AV Technology

Campus Technology Magazine interviewed me for an article about 3 Key Trends in Campus AV Technology.  I also discuss "4 Tips for Campus AV Buyers" at the end of the article.

June 3, 2015:
written by:  Dennis Pierce 
In colleges and universities from coast to coast, classroom learning environments are becoming more active and collaborative. Students are contributing to discussions and presentations, and the days of the "sage on the stage" are waning. This development is having a profound effect on the deployment of audiovisual technology in education.
"Classroom AV technology plays a big part in facilitating active learning environments," said Mike Tomei, an independent audiovisual consultant who designs and installs AV systems for classrooms.
Makers of AV equipment have responded in kind, developing new products that support more active and collaborative learning. Here are three key trends that illustrate this concept.

1)  Projectors and displays are becoming increasingly interactive, with more touch points to support multiple users at once.
Interactive projectors have shown steady growth since they first hit the market in 2009, said Linda Norton, vice president of PMA Research, a high-tech market research firm that specializes in the projector market.
According to Norton, U.S. sales of interactive projectors jumped 36 percent last year, from 63,042 units sold in 2013 to 85,813 units sold in 2014. Although Norton's firm does not track sales by vertical market, it's safe to assume that many of those sales were to colleges and universities — and she said there is no reason to believe this growth won't continue in 2015.
New options for interactive projectors continue to emerge, with more devices supporting touch interactivity with a finger instead of a pen. In April, for instance, Mimio upgraded its projector line by adding a touch-enabled device. The MimioProjector 280 series now includes a conventional, non-interactive model (the 280); a pen-based interactive model (the 280I); and a touch-enabled model (the 280T).
The 280I allows for the simultaneous use of up to 10 interactive pens, which is a significant increase in functionality over the dual-pen operations of other models, Mimio said. The touch-based 280T supports up to 10 simultaneous touch points.
How might this be useful in the classroom? On MimioConnect, the company's online community of educators, one educator suggested projecting four incomplete equations on the board. Have four teams of two to three students each come to the front of the class, and assign each team an equation to solve. Then, compare and contrast the different strategies that students used to solve each problem, and ask the class to discuss the pros and cons of each method.
"This makes learning fun and game-like," the educator wrote. "It encourages the students to work together to solve the problem, just how problem solving is [done] in the real world. And it also brings the entire class into the learning process, so it isn't [just] one student up at the board."
Many schools look to interactive projectors as an alternative to interactive whiteboards in classrooms, said Tom Piche, a marketing executive at Epson America, which makes the BrightLink series of interactive projectors for education. With an interactive touch area ranging from 60 inches to 100 inches diagonally, these projectors give educators some flexibility in terms of classroom installation, he said.
Touch capability is increasingly important, and many customers now expect this instead of pen-based interactivity, Piche noted. "With iPads, iPhones and tablets, people have gotten so used to swiping with their finger," he explained. "That has become the expectation at the board as well." 
Interactive flat-panel displays also are catching on in education. During the Texas Computer Education Association conference earlier this year, BenQ demonstrated its new 70-inch RP702 high-definition interactive display, which features 10-point multitouch technology and a built-in whiteboard app called QuickNote for annotating on the screen. And the Australian company Electroboard Solutions made its U.S. debut by demonstrating Prowise interactive flat panels for education, ranging in size from 55 inches to 84 inches diagonally.
From a cost perspective, interactive projectors or whiteboards will be cheaper than large flat-panel displays, Tomei pointed out. However, there are some benefits that might make interactive flat panels worth the money.
For instance, even when using an ultra-short-throw projector, there will still be shadows on the projected image when users are writing on the board or interacting with projected content, Tomei said. Also, projectors can be bumped out of alignment, requiring a technician to realign and calibrate the image — and they require lamp changes when the lamp burns out.
"You don't run into either of those issues with flat-panel displays," he noted.

Lamp-Free Projectors: A Bright Idea?
Solid-state illumination can save on the total cost of projector ownership.
Projector lamps can be expensive, and it can be a hassle to replace them when they burn out. Properly disposing of mercury lamps isn't easy, either. For these reasons, a small but growing number of organizations are opting for lamp-free models when buying projectors.
Lamp-free projectors, which use solid-state illumination (SSI) instead of traditional mercury lamps for their light source, include LED projectors, laser projectors and hybrid projectors that use a combination LED/laser light engine. Since Casio launched the first hybrid projectors in 2010, a number of other manufacturers have introduced SSI models as well.
When lamp-free projectors first came out, they were more expensive than similar models with traditional light sources, and the colors were slightly off, said Mike Tomei, an independent AV consultant for education.
"Now, we're either at or really close to the point where these are comparable," he said. "I think, in the next few years, most schools will be buying these."
Sales of projectors with solid-state light sources instead of lamps are on the rise. PMA Research expects an 8 percent growth in sales of projectors with laser/LED hybrid light engines in the United States this year, said Vice President Linda Norton. She attributed this growth, in part, to falling prices.
"In 2014, the average selling price of laser/LED hybrid projectors was $1,322, and we expect the average price to be $1,280 by the end of this year," Norton said.
Earlier this year, Casio introduced a new hybrid projector that sells for about $700. The EcoLite XJ-V1 is powered by Casio's fifth-generation LED/laser light source, with an estimated lifespan of 20,000 hours. It produces 2,700 lumens of brightness and boasts XGA resolution (1,024 pixels by 768 pixels).
While PMA doesn't have figures that are specific to education, its 2013 end-user survey showed that 54 percent of projector buyers in the corporate market found solid-state illumination to be "very important," and 38 percent said SSI was an "absolute must" for their next projector purchase.
Norton cited the convenience and lower total cost of ownership of lamp-free projectors, as well as their "green factor," as reasons for this support.

2)  New apps and devices allow multiple users to collaborate and share content wirelessly at the same time.
A number of new AV systems allow for wireless collaboration between instructors and students, enabling an ever-larger number of users to work together on projects and share presentations.
The ShareLink 200 Wireless Collaboration Gateway from Extron allows multiple people to present content from a laptop, smartphone or tablet on a shared display. The device enables up to four people to display their slides, documents, graphs, photos and other content at the same time, without needing a cable. It is compatible with Windows and OS X computers, as well as Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. It also includes a moderator mode so the instructor can control whose content is displayed.
Sharp's Aquos Board line of interactive displays, available in sizes ranging from 60 inches to 80 inches diagonally, includes software called Touch Display Link that can communicate with iOS, Android or Windows 8 devices running the accompanying TD Link app, according to the company.
Up to 50 mobile devices can connect to an Aquos Board at once, and when the teacher writes on the display, this content appears simultaneously on students' screens. What's more, by choosing an option called Host Control, students can add to the presentation from their own device — and anything they write will show up on the Aquos Board.
A growing number of AV manufacturers are integrating Miracast technology into their devices, enabling users of Windows or Android tablets to mirror their screen on a display. For instance, many Panasonic projectors and interactive flat panels include Miracast, allowing users to show content from their own device wirelessly — provided they are using a device that supports the Miracast screencasting standard, such as a laptop or tablet running Windows 8.1 or Android 4.2 or later.
Epson recently introduced free software called Moderator, which enables instructors to control multiple presentations at once. Up to 50 students can connect to an Epson projector simultaneously from a laptop, iOS or Android device, using Epson's free iProjection app — and with Moderator, which runs on Windows or OS X, the instructor can display up to four student screens at the same time.
Instructors can see who is connected from a list on the left side of their own computer screen. To show a student's screen, the instructor simply drags that student's user ID to the center of his or her screen. In controlling what the entire class sees, instructors can choose from among single, split-screen or four-screen views.
Systems such as ShareLink, Moderator and Touch Display Link are designed to take advantage of the "bring your own device" phenomenon in education. But Tomei recommended that campus AV buyers involve their network services team when planning for and evaluating systems that enable wireless collaboration, to ensure their networks can handle the anticipated demand without any signal interference.

3)  Web conferencing offers a more versatile option for making video connections.
Nearly everyone is familiar with Skype or Google Hangouts, but there are other Web-based conferencing systems that enable educators to connect with remote speakers without the need for expensive videoconferencing equipment.
These services, which allow users to participate in a video chat or conferencing session using any device with a Web browser, are more scalable and reliable than ad-hoc calls using a free system such as Google Hangouts — but colleges and universities don't need high-end equipment to use them.
For instance, Pexip offers a scalable, cloud-based platform for videoconferences and meetings, called Pexip Infinity. The service allows schools to create "virtual meeting rooms" in which students and instructors can join using any smartphone, tablet or other device with a camera and a Web browser.
Pexip Infinity takes advantage of the new WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) two-way videoconferencing capabilities built into the Google Chrome and Firefox browsers. It also uses a distributed architecture to optimize bandwidth: Only the person who is talking uses the full amount of bandwidth, while the others who are connected use just a small fraction. What's more, there is no limit to the number of users who can join a call or meeting, according to the company.
Users can choose from among different formats. These include a "virtual auditorium" mode, in which the current speaker is shown along with smaller images of up to 21 other participants, and a "lecture mode" showing just the speaker.
Pexip Infinity is licensed based on the number of ports used per month, and a yearly enterprise option includes an unlimited number of ports.
Another Web conferencing service, Vidyo, offers its own cross-platform systems for hosting videoconferences, lectures or meetings on any device.
The VidyoDesktop app brings videoconferencing to Windows, Mac and Linux computers, letting users connect from wherever they are. The VidyoWeb browser extension lets participants join conferences from within a Web browser on desktop or laptop computers. The VidyoMobile app brings videoconferencing to Apple and Android tablets and smartphones through a wireless broadband or WiFi connection.
Tomei said traditional videoconferencing codecs work well, but you have to know what technology is used on the other end of the call.
"If you know that and you need a reliable connection, this would be my recommendation," he said. But if you connect to many different sources and don't know what technology they will be using, "then Web conferencing would be the better choice."

4 Tips for Campus AV Buyers
Independent audiovisual consultant Mike Tomei designed AV systems for Harvard University (MA) and Ithaca College (NY) before striking out on his own. He now works with schools and colleges nationwide to help them develop standards and a strategic plan for their AV installations.
Here are Tomei's four key recommendations for planning successful AV projects:
1)  Think ahead. Make sure the systems you design will support your future needs. For instance, while 4K video displays might be too cost-prohibitive for some schools to install today, "I do specify video switching that can handle 4K," Tomei said, "so when you're ready to upgrade, you can."
2)  Focus on design. Spend most of your time on doing a needs analysis, and talk with instructors about how they want to teach. "AV shouldn't hinder teaching and learning; it should facilitate these," he advised.
3)  Include enterprise management. Your tech staff should be able to remotely monitor and troubleshoot AV equipment. "AV staffing doesn't increase proportionally with the amount of classroom technology," Tomei noted, "so remote access and support is critical."
4)  Don't overlook staff support. Schools need to offer academic tech support as well. "You have to teach instructors how to use these systems, because they will require new pedagogies," he said.