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  • Writer's pictureGareth Dickie

Covid-19 - How AV Can Help

Much to my surprise I've now been an AV programmer for 15 years.

It's a picture of me, in a face mask.
Holding my breath so my specs don't steam up

Being as old as the hills means I often repeat myself, have hair in all the wrong places, enjoy an afternoon nap and often repeat myself. It also means I love an opportunity to go on about the old days. When I started out in AV, most problems could be resolved by either reconnecting a couple of BNCs or by swapping pins two and three on a nine pin d-type (who am I kidding, this is still the case).

Projects rarely had an AV network, video conferencing almost always used ISDN and network connectivity on a control processor was an optional extra. I remember laughing with a colleague when Crestron released the TPS-4L, their first network-only touch panel - "No Cresnet? That's a terrible idea. What are they thinking?!".

A Crestron TPS-4L touch panel,
Hey everyone! Remember me?

Back then, almost a hundred percent of my time was spent on site - often it actually felt like more than a hundred percent. Over time I gained experience, technology improved and integrators became network savvy which meant more and more work could be completed remotely.

So, how does all this misty-eyed nostalgia relate to the current global pandemic?

Well, as I see it, the way the AV industry has developed over time and the technology we work with makes us well placed to benefit from some of the long term changes that Covid may bring about. We already have a lot of the knowledge and working practices that will be needed post-Covid.

What are these working practices and technologies? Here are five examples.

Off Site Preparation

It's proving harder to get time on site. Often scheduled site time is pushed back or compressed. Site time has become more precious so it's important to be as efficient as possible when we are there. We already set up, test and witness systems off site and have done for decades. I've worked on projects where even the client's network switches and lighting and blind interfaces have been shipped to the integrator's offices to be included in witness testing.

Shifting as much work as possible off site has always helped projects get completed on time and now with restricted site time proper off site preparation is even more critical. AV is quite unique in being able to do this, so we should always be taking advantage of it. Can you think of any other technical trades you see on a job site that can do this? Lighting? HVAC? Blinds? IT?

Using a system like Crestron XiO Cloud allows set up of devices before they've even arrived in the warehouse. When the devices are plugged in they automatically configure themselves based on the settings entered on the XiO Cloud website. If you have a lot of devices the time saving with this system can be huge.

Touch-Free Systems

Now that everybody visibly recoils when you try to touch them with your filthy paws I sometimes shake my own hand just to remember what it feels like. You'd think an industry largely based around touch panels and keypads would be in trouble, but it doesn't have to be. Occupancy sensors, HDMI signal detection, wireless sharing, scheduled video and audio calls are all powerful solutions. I've completed many systems that require no user interaction - a user walks into a room, an occupancy sensor detects they have entered, turns on a display and shows instructions for sharing wirelessly from their own device. When the user has finished they leave the room and after some time the display turns off - a zero touch AV process.

A Crestron touch panel alongside an Apple iPhone. Both devices show similar functions for a room system.
Crestron One

Crestron have released an android and iOS app called Crestron One, this app allows you to connect your own mobile device to a touch panel via Bluetooth and control elements of the AV system from your device. By modifying the Crestron program this functionality can be added to existing Crestron systems.

Remote Working

Many more people are now working remotely. Because of Covid businesses have accepted that a lot of staff can still be effective out of the office, but many parts of our industry have been doing this for years.

A woman is shown working at a desk sharing her seat with a baby.
Being effective at home

Of course, some parts of project delivery must be performed on site, but I've completed dozens of

programming projects entirely remotely, never visiting site. Many test and commissioning engineers regularly set up live sessions with manufacturer tech support or ask a colleague with a certain specialism to help out on site via remote desktop. Most of the sites I have service agreements with happily provide me with remote network access, they can see the benefit in the reduced service call response time.

A TV screen showing some social distancing rules
This is what digital signage looks like

Communicating With Staff

As Covid restrictions evolve over time organisations need ways to communicate the changes to office staff. Details need to be updated quickly and easily. Digital signage is an obvious solution for displaying current guidance, however there are also other solutions which may not require new equipment.

Did you know many Cisco codecs have a signage mode? When not in use custom content can be displayed on screen. Cisco devices can also detect the number of people in a room, which we can then use to determine if a room is over capacity. We can show a reminder on the room display as well as the Crestron or Cisco touch panel. We could also leverage wireless presentation devices to remind staff of the rules, the background shown on a Barco ClickShare, Crestron AirMedia or many others can be easily modified to include custom elements. Similarly the background imagery on a room booking panels outside a meeting room could be changed to include a few reminders to staff.

The millennium dome is shown. Above in the sky are some fireworks and 'You're on mute' spelled out in an illuminated drone show.
Part of the New Year fireworks in London this year

Video Conferencing

A lot of us in the industry have been using, installing and setting up video conference systems for a long time. Outside the industry some have only recently started to understand the benefits of video conferencing. During the pandemic people have seen that the technology is reliable and easy to use. Before Covid I didn't realise so many people had never heard of Zoom, Teams or WebEx. Now everyone uses these platforms for work and staying in touch with family and friends.

Staff working from home will still need to dial into real meeting rooms, join board meetings and participate in townhalls from time to time. Cross platform compatibility on traditional video conference systems hasn't always been easy but our industry has solutions, be it installing new systems such as Crestron Flex or Logitech solutions, using bridging services or add-on services from the big players.

This all means the solutions we offer can become more and more critical to business function which in turn should raise the profile of AV within many organisations. The more important AV is felt to be, the easier our jobs will become. Projects that have good support from the client are always the projects with the best end results. There are lots reasons to feel positive about the future. The world will face challenges but AV can help!

Get in touch if you'd like programming support remotely, on site or you just want to reminisce about Extron BNC extraction tools.

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