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Three key developments in school AV technology

BenQ’s ‘SmartEco’ technology automatically adjusts a projector’s lamp settings based on the ambient lighting and the nature of the content being displayed.

The “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon has exploded in popularity among K-12 schools, as educators look for cost-effective ways to leverage technology in the classroom.

Developers of audio-visual products are responding to this trend as well, making it easier for students and instructors to collaborate and share their presentations wirelessly from a wide range of mobile devices.

Support for BYOD initiatives was one of the key developments in school AV technology discussed at InfoComm 2013, the world’s largest AV trade show, held in Orlando earlier this month. Here’s more information about this development, as well as two other AV trends worth noting.

AV responds to BYOD

BenQ, Panasonic, Christie, and Vaddio were among the many companies at InfoComm 2013 that have introduced technologies aimed at helping schools and other customers take advantage of BYOD.

BenQ’s QPresenter app, available for both iOS and Android devices, allows students to share their files through a wireless BenQ projector, directly from their handheld devices. And BenQ’s QDraw 3.0 software allows up to 40 smart devices to collaborate on the same presentation by marking up the projected file.

In collaboration mode, the instructor can see who’s connected and can transfer control of the presentation to any of these participants. Access to the projector also can be password-protected if administrators want more security over the process.

Panasonic also demonstrated software that enables support for Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android devices. Up to 16 users can connect simultaneously to any of Panasonic’s 16 wireless projector models from whatever device they’re using, the company says.

A “Live Mode Cut-in” feature enables real-time collaboration and can be turned off for teacher-led instruction, and password protection controls who has access to the machine. As with BenQ’s software, Panasonic’s does not yet support live video streaming from an iOS or Android device—only still images for now.

Meanwhile, Christie previewed a new meeting-room product that will enable up to five users at a time to share their screen or run a presentation—including full audio and video—from any Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android device easily.

Called Brio, the product will be available for purchasing this fall. It consists of a hardware node that can be connected to a projector or large-screen display. The software that runs the system includes interactive whiteboard functionality, so users can add notes to files and mark up presentations. And, because it’s connected to the school’s network, Brio supports whatever network security rules are already in place.

Vaddio introduced a similar concept with two new products called GroupStation and HuddleStation, hubs for connecting a user’s laptop or tablet to a presentation or video conference.

“In today’s world, connecting a mobile device into [an] AV system is one of the biggest pains—and it shouldn’t be,” said Vaddio CEO Rob Sheeley in a press release. “HuddleStation and GroupStation … empower users to simply connect their mobile device to the dock and open their application of choice to start a meeting, presentation, or video call.”

GroupStation consists of a table-based MicPOD dock and a wall-mounted sound bar that incorporates an HD camera in its center. The MicPOD dock functions as a microphone, speaker phone, user interface, and laptop/tablet dock. Users can connect their laptops or tablets via HDMI or VGA connections to share video on the room display.

HuddleStation is identical to the GroupStation, but it’s tailored for smaller meeting rooms designed to accommodate 4-6 people. As a result, HuddleStation has a very wide-angle camera lens (82 degrees) to get everyone into the camera shot. Also, the MicPOD dock’s audio system has been tuned to eliminate the echo and increased room noise that occurs in smaller spaces, Vaddio said.

Longer lamp life, more energy efficiency

New developments in AV technology have resulted in projectors with lamps that last much longer and that use less energy, which can slash the machines’ total cost of ownership.

At InfoComm, BenQ promoted its “SmartEco” technology, which automatically adjusts a projector’s lamp settings based on the ambient lighting and the nature of the content being displayed. This innovation can extend the projector’s lamp life from 4,500 hours to about 10,000 hours, BenQ said, while reducing power consumption up to 80 percent. It will be available on the company’s M Series and S Series projectors beginning this month.

Hitachi offers a similar lamp power control feature, called ImageCare. In previous Hitachi projectors, there were two power options, Normal or Eco mode. Eco mode drops the power by 35 percent, which dims all images. While this saves power and extends lamp life, users might miss some details on images that need to be projected brighter.

ImageCare adds an Intelligent Eco mode that allows the projector to sense dark and bright projected images, automatically lowering the power by 35 to 70 percent accordingly. There is also a Saver mode that drops the power to the lamp by 70 percent if the projected image doesn’t change within a predetermined amount time, much like the screen saver on a computer.

Canon’s AISYS technology, short for Aspectual Illumination System, is a lighting engine available in all of the company’s REALiS projectors. It creates a very compact light path that reduces power consumption up to 25 percent when compared with similar models from other manufacturers, Canon says.

Casio was the first company to introduce a “lampless” projector back in 2010, using a hybrid LED/laser “solid state” light source designed to last 20,000 hours (about 18 school years) and eliminate the need for costly lamp replacements. Now, many other AV companies have followed suit—and at InfoComm, several companies introduced lampless models of their own.

Sony unveiled a lampless projector, the VPL-FHZ55, that uses a laser light source to achieve 4,000 lumens of color light output and deliver up to 20,000 hours of maintenance-free operation, the company says. The VPL-FHZ55 offers WUXGA resolution (1,920 by 1,200 pixels) and will be available in August.

Though it wasn’t present at InfoComm, Acer America—better known for its computers and tablets—also has announced a hybrid laser-LED projector that lasts up to 20,000 hours. Acer’s K520 offers 2,000 lumens in standard mode and a high 100,000-to-1 contrast ratio, the company says. It supports 3D technology and sells for a suggested retail price of $1,599.

Mobile video capture

As video plays an increasingly important role in education, another key development to emerge from InfoComm 2013 is the ability for students and educators to capture video from a smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device and upload it into a lecture capture system, a cloud-based video platform, or even a live video production stream on the fly.

For example, the latest version of Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite video platform now supports mobile video uploads from an iPhone or iPad—and this functionality will be available soon for Android devices as well, said Renee Thomas, vice president of marketing.

“The day is quickly approaching where everything that’s important on your campus … will be documented with video. With Mediasite Enterprise Video Platform, we’ve engineered a video ecosystem that’s secure, searchable, easily managed, and open to multiple content sources,” said Rob Lipps, executive vice president of Sonic Foundry, in a press release. “We’ve helped our customers … achieve comprehensive capture, regardless of the video source.”

And Broadcast Pix, which offers live video production tools, announced new software that connects any of the company’s video switchers and production systems to Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, or any cloud-based resource—giving users access to graphics, animations, and video clips saved to the cloud during live video productions.

That means users can ingest video content uploaded to the web from a mobile device and use it in a live video feed, said Broadcast Pix CEO Steve Ellis. The software is available as a free upgrade to Broadcast Pix customers who are under service agreements.

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