Fewer and Fewer Frequencies

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By: Carol R. Emmens

Last December Times Square was packed with people waiting to hear the World AIDS Day concert. But the organizers were worried; they were not sure the microphones were going to work  – the airwaves were as jammed as the Square – they needed open frequencies. True, frequency congestion is at its worst in New York City but it is a nationwide problem and we have all heard the results: buzzing, signal drop out or static.

Radio frequency interference (RFI) is generally caused by a device “listening” for one signal at a specific frequency and “hearing”, and therefore transmitting, a different one. The growing use of wireless microphones and the proliferation of wireless devices has caused already congested airwave channels to become overloaded. As a result, RFI and intermodulation distortion (IMD) occur because the signals cross when there are too many devises in a limited spectrum. And the problems are only going to get worse.

In 2010 the Federal Communications Commission prohibited the operation of wireless microphones and similar devises on the 700 MHz Band and now it is planning to auction or “repurpose” a portion of the TV band spectrum – the 600 MHz Band, possibly the upper 500 MHz band and two ENG channels (channels used exclusively for electronic news gathering). As the space decreases for wireless microphone users, congestion on the remaining UHF TV band will increase as early as 2016. The transition to fewer frequencies will continue until mid-2019.  It is possible that using your current frequency will be illegal in the future.

Microphone operation is classified as licensed and unlicensed; typically professional sports and entertainment producers are licensed and corporations, theaters, houses of worship, and educational institutions are unlicensed. The one bright note (no pun intended) is that the FCC is going to allow more licenses for professionals who regularly use 50 or more devices at major events or productions. If you qualify, begin the application process now.  To do so, visit the FCC website at this link:

Most wireless users will have to deal with the interference on their own and that can waste a lot of time and effort.  To ensure that your wireless audio and video systems will be as reliable as possible, it is necessary to analyze your environment using a diagnostic tool designed to find usable frequencies in your location such as RF Venue’s Clear Waves software.

Clear Waves helps you detect the presence of the RF transmissions that are the source of interference. It offers RF spectrum analysis, intermodulation analysis and automatic charting of open RF frequencies known as white space. It can be used to adjust wireless microphones, in-ear monitors, security, access control and more.  It is sometimes possible to eliminate the source of the “noise”.  More often it will be best to simply change the wireless frequency.

The software Clear Waves runs on a Signal Hound or RF Explorer which connects to a PC via a USB cable and displays graphs showing the optimal channel assignments in your area.  Clear Waves performs the RF spectrum scan and intermodulation analysis in real time; you can specify up to 160 different frequencies to monitor to allow users to coordinate channel assignments for wireless transmitters and troubleshoot RF interference. It is necessary for frequency coordination to be accurate and fast, so in short, it can save your performance or speech.

No computer at the live event? Combine Clear Waves with the RF Explorer RackPRO, which has a front panel LCD and rotary marker. For live applications, it goes wherever a portable rack goes. It can also be integrated in installed audiovisual equipment racks or sound booths.

Now is the time to review your wireless systems and their use. It is necessary to budget and to prepare, to identify current or potential problems.  If you decide to purchase new wireless microphones, purchase those that use frequencies below 600 MHz.

Wireless audio and video systems are often subject to additional problems such as signal drop out, poor choice of equipment and/or its location; for example, the antenna is top quality but it is not installed in the best location.  For a full analysis of your systems and recommendations or a professional installation of your audiovisual or audio systems, rely on Zeo Systems.  Zeo has just launched a partnership with RF Venue for access to the full line of their products. So, whether you have a temporary or permanent wireless need, Zeo Systems or their sister division Zeo Rental/Retail can assist you in solving it.

Wondering how that concert came out? It was a success. Bruce Springsteen and Chris Martin filled in for Bono, who was seriously injured in a bike accident in Central Park and the audio crew worked feverishly throughout the concert to find available frequencies to use in real-time.

Flipped Classrooms: Wave of the Future.. or Present?

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By: Carol Emmens

Lecture hall seats are often empty now as college and universities increase or initiate “flipped learning” or “inverted” classrooms.  In a flipped classroom what is normally done in class e.g. lectures and what is normally done as homework are switched or flipped. In a flipped classroom, students read materials or listen to audio and view video podcasts before coming to class.

Using capture systems and video conferencing, lectures and PowerPoint presentations are stored remotely in a “cloud” and made available online, generally through the Internet. Homework such as problem solving and essay writing is done in class with both professors and peers guiding the students.

Now scores of classrooms resemble corporate huddle rooms or medical and scientific labs. Class time is reserved for hands on learning, discussions in small groups and collaboration instead of note taking. Flipped classrooms provide an opportunity for students to ask questions and to apply what they learned in the online lecture. It also provides students with more time to use scientific equipment in class and to utilize healthcare simulation labs which prepare them for real life health problems and emergencies.

There are two aspects to the “flipped classroom:” online learning and classrooms with the audiovisual equipment to allow content sharing and analysis. Professors usually create their own video lectures.  Although it takes time and skill to do a video, it is becoming easier as manufacturers bring new equipment for video capture and dissemination to the market.  The equipment is becoming easier to use and numerous, affordable storage solutions are readily available. In addition to their own videos, videos by publishers, and professional use apps;  course materials are often posted to YouTube or managements systems like Blackboard.

Flipped Classroom Image2Retrofitting classrooms for the digital world is likewise becoming easier. There are products that make it possible to connect devices with different signals and connectors, multiple control options, and interactive flat screen devices and whiteboards.

Video podcasts or video courses are audiovisual files distributed via the Internet. They are not the sole source of instruction and differ from MOOCs or massive open online courses. MOOC’s such as those offered by MIT are often open to anyone not just enrolled students.

Because clouds based storage makes it easy to store and share information, many universities are members of consortiums such as Unizen which includes the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Colorado State University, Penn State, the University of Florida and others. They share lectures, lesson plans and research and make course materials and information available from the best minds in education, organizations and corporations. The authorships are noted.

The Open Cloud Consortium (OCC), which is one of many worldwide, operates a cloud to support scientific, medical and health care research; it members include the University of California (Berkeley),  Florida International University, Johns Hopkins, NASA,  international universities and organization such as AIST (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology).  OCC, in turn, has joined Matter, a workspace in Chicago with all types of rooms and AV/IT resources. Matter is a partner with the American Medical Association, and shares the same goal: to bring entrepreneurs and physicians together to “collaborate and test new technologies, services and products.”  Research universities are among those that benefit the most from flipped classrooms.

Technology, used effectively, is not a mindless way to teach but a way to open minds and to create paths to success. When flipped classrooms are introduced, both professors and students are often skeptical but not for long. They often flip their opinions on flipped classrooms once they have experienced the positive results:  grades and attendance go up, retention increases, team skills improve and applications of the course materials are discussed, analyzed and demonstrated.

Zeo Systems expertly trained technicians can assist you in determining the equipment you need to adjust today’s classroom to today’s technology. Flat panel displays, video and projection systems, microphone and voice systems, or complete control systems; No matter if we are integrating new technology to an existing system or building a new one from scratch, you can count on Zeo Systems to help you capture or record lectures and to design the audiovisual systems needed for your institution to successfully implement flipped classrooms.

 

Can You See Me Now? Tips on Video Conferencing

By:  Carol Emmens

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In this day and age, everyone is frustrated by the hassle of travel especially frequent fliers who travel for business. That is a key selling point for video conferencing.

Telepresence rooms do not replace face-to-face meetings but they come close; unfortunately, their use is usually limited to high level executives due to their cost (usually from $200,000 to $300,000). Telepresence rooms are fully outfitted with state of the art equipment and furniture and are sometimes shipped as a “room in a box.”

There are rooms devoted to video conferencing but there are downsides to them: the need to learn how to use them and the need to schedule them. Consequently, the rooms are often booked in advance but left unused and empty. Ironically, however, video conferencing use is now increasing rapidly. Why is that contradiction occurring?

What has changed is the use – often on the fly – of video conferencing in conference and collaboration rooms; there is a need to meet “now.”  There is an increase in the use of desktop video conferencing by remote workers; those who use video on home laptops, tablets and phones want to use those devices to connect with their colleagues at the office.  What makes that possible is that all types of rooms and spaces with Wi-Fi can be used to do a video conference in a “cloud”.  In essence, a laptop, software solutions or apps offer video conferencing, online meetings, and mobile collaboration on one platform.

Regardless of how the videoconference is conducted, there is still a need for everyone to see and hear what is being presented in the meeting room. There are four audiovisual essentials for video conferencing:

  1. Display Device(s)
  2. Camera(s)
  3. Microphone(s)
  4. Speaker(s)

Video: Display Device/Camera

The size of the room and the number of participants govern the selection of a display device: projector or flat screen. If you share information such as PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, product specifications, a second display or a non-glaring white board is highly desirable.

The camera dictates the quality of the image and needs to suit the goals of the video conference; a webcam is acceptable for desktop conferences, but a good camera or even a high definition camera is needed for meeting rooms.  Important features to consider are: the zoom capabilities, viewing angles, focus presets, and lenses. The placement of the camera is critical as well.

A top notch camera is still not a guarantee of good video; it will be unable to compensate completely for poor lighting. Ironically, sunlight is not good for a video conference as it can cause glare and interfere with the camera or the monitor. An interior room is preferable but it is possible that the lighting will need to be changed or enhanced with additional lights. It is also important for the lighting to be evenly distributed.

Audio: Microphone(s)/Speakers

Despite the name video conference, the video is sometimes less important than the audio.  Distortions or glitches in the video are more easily tolerated than poor sound or squealing noises. If the sound is not clear and understandable, your conference could be a dismal failure.

The number of microphones and the placement of them on the table or in the ceiling are based on the dimensions and layout of the room and number of participants.  An excellent microphone placed too far away from the speaker is all but useless; for example, a high ceiling is not appropriate for microphones. Table microphones, on the other hand, can pick up the fan noise of laptops that are de rigor at meetings.

The acoustics of the room affect the quality of the audio too. The room needs good sound adsorption and insulation because sound bounces and reverberates, creating echoes that are transmitted. Sound absorption materials such as carpet or curtains or absorption panels greatly improve the quality of the sound but avoid absorption clusters which could potentially muffle the sounds you do want heard. Eliminating or cutting down the sound coming from outside the room and paying attention to the sound coming out of the ventilation and air conditioning systems is also essential. Those sounds cause hissing at the other end if not dealt with properly.

Another consideration is the installation and use of assistive listening devices. These devices are not only for those who may have a degree of hearing loss. At times, individual headsets will assist in assuring all attendees to a video conference or meeting will be able to hear all presentations effectively. In addition, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), requires certain types of businesses to have a number of these devices installed to be compliant with the law. The experts at Zeo Systems can assist you in determining if your business must comply with the ADA and to what extent.

There are many options depending on whether you use a video conferencing system or a cloud based solution, your budgetary constraints, the number of employees who may be involved in a particular conference, etc. No matter the situation, Zeo Systems can assist you in selecting the the best equipment to support its uses while staying within your budget.

 

Escape – To A Huddle Room

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By: Carol Emmens

Open space floor plans are now the norm in corporations. According to the International Management Facility Association, approximately 70% of all employees in the U.S. work in open offices, which were popularized by hi-tech companies such as Google. Open spaces are viewed as a way for the employees to interact and to innovate.

In practice, open spaces often buzz like a beehive and make it difficult to concentrate or to collaborate with a team. Consequently, architects and facility managers are designing and constructing small rooms for team work. The rooms are often called huddle rooms and they are in use in almost every industry ranging from finance to technology to healthcare and they are also use in universities and colleges. They create an atmosphere for collaboration and for brainstorming, which help teams deliver (in theory) better performance in sales, marketing, research and productivity.

Typically huddle rooms are small to encourage everyone, even those who are normally less vocal, to participate in collaboration. Technology is the key to making a huddle room popular with employees; a highly used huddle room has the audiovisual equipment and IT access which makes collaboration easy by allowing information within the room and outside the room to be shared and displayed. Both audiovisual companies and IT companies were quick to develop equipment for use in huddle rooms

The majority of huddle rooms are equipped with only the basics: A 42” or 50” flat panel screen with an overlay to encourage annotation or a short-throw projector and a whiteboard. But that is only the first step. For employees using a wide variety of devices, a huddle rooms requires a wide range of connectors (HDMI, DVI, and VGA). Employees use iPhones, laptops, and tablets daily at home so they bring them into the work place. They expect to use their own devices as well as company computers; BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is commonplace.

The employees’ device cameras are used to connect to colleagues and industry leaders located elsewhere for impromptu FaceTime or Skype. For most rooms, however, higher quality wall mounted speakers and cameras are needed to create an atmosphere of eye to eye contact and collaboration.

To minimize the plugging and unplugging of devices from the display, high speed switchers allow the participants to hook up all at once and to switch easily from laptops, tablets or Smartphones. A high resolution switcher/scaler allows multiple images to be displayed on one screen or multiple screens.

Content sharing including information online is the number one objective and huddle rooms often have Wi-Fi. It is often necessary to connect to information on the network or in a cloud based storage system such as Drop Box. Wi-Fi is sometimes slow or unstable; a router or a bridge in the huddle room provide the teams with faster and more reliable way to access information and to provide more security, which is a priority to protect confidential information. A top notch huddle room requires the audiovisual team and the IT department to work together and to understand what each is doing to avoid blocking a network set up for the room.

Frequently corporations require multiple huddle rooms which are earmarked for specific activities such as videoconferencing (check our February blog for more information) or project meetings. On occasion a room is used for one team of experts drawn from cross cultural fields to work together on one project from start to finish. These have been dubbed “scrum” rooms and they serve as the primary work space for the members of the team.

There is no typical huddle room, and no typical budget. The budget needs to be based on the number of rooms desired and the objectives of each. A modest budget of $3-4,000 is the norm for the vast majority of the rooms and it is usually sufficient as the costs for technology continue to drop.
Whatever the cost, users agree that huddle rooms are necessary and that benefits are enormous in terms of generating innovation, critical thinking and problem solving. Forget the water cooler – the huddle room is where the action is.
To learn more information click here to download the ‘Tech Managers Guide to Huddle Rooms’ from AV Technology by New Bay Media.

Test Your AV IQ !

AV Knowledge Quiz Blog ImageFlat screen TV’s projectors, cameras, tripods and more will soon be piled under the Christmas tree so this is a good time to take a stress break and test your audiovisual IQ.

 

 

1. What do the abbreviations LCD and LED stand for?
2. What manufacturer developed flat screen TV’s?
3. What company introduced the first hand-held portable audio device?
4. Who invented television?
5. What network aired the first color TV show?
6. How is sound measured?
7. At what decibel does a constant noise cause hearing damage in the average person?
8. How many frames per second are recorded by a camera?
9. What is the name of the iPhone assistant?
10. What is Ham Video?

 

 

Answers
1. LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, which use two sheets of polarizing material with a liquid crystal between them.
LED is a light-emitting diode, which is a semiconductor that emits lights when it is activated. It is also used for showing the time on digital watches, answers on calculators and more. The first LED’s were used in 1962 and were limited to the color red.
2. Although General Electric (GE) engineered a proposal for a flat panel TV’s, it did not produce them. There were flat panel displays by as early as the 1950’s, but the University of Illinois is credited with inventing the first plasma display in 1964. It had one cell versus millions of cells today. The first color plasma screens were invented in 1992 and finally marketed to the consumer by Fujitsu, then Philips, followed by Pioneer. The first LCD’s were sold by Sharp in 1988 and they were 14”. The quality was roundly criticized.
3. The first hand-held portable personal cassette play was the Sony Walkman in 1979; they followed portable reel-to-reel tape recorders that were introduced in the 1950’s and that were primarily intended for reporters.
4. Philo Taylor Farnsworth (1909-1971) is generally credited with inventing television and he demonstrated it at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on August 25, 1934. He actually built upon the work of many engineers and inventors in several counties who were able to transmit images.
5. The first color broadcast was by CBS on June 25, 1951 to four cities: Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC and it was a variety show called “Premiere.” Color television was first patented in 1925 by the Russian Vladimir Zworykin, but it was not until December 17, 1953 that the first color television system was authorized by the FCC and based on a system invented by RCA.
6. Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB) and conversation is usually about 70-80 db.
7. If a sound is over 85-90 dB for an extended period of time e.g. working with a bull dozer all day without ear protection, permanent damage can occur. The sound for a personal music system used with earphones can easily reach over 100 dB and can cause damage hearing after just 15 minutes a day over time. Noise is a hazard today and it is estimated that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of sound regularly.
8. There are three frame rates for TV and digital cinema that are widely used: 24p, 25p and 30p. There are also several that are used for special applications.
9. Siri is the virtual assistant for iPhone; Siri was introduced with limited abilities on the iOS; many argue it is the best “assistant,” but Google keeps improving its own assistant.
10. Ham Video or DATV is digital amateur television and it is installed on the Columbus module of the International Space Station; Ham Video, often called Ham TV, was an outgrowth of amateur ham radio and it was developed by the Italian company Kayser Italia. It is a downlink system or a one way broadcast system. The astronauts can hear – but not see – viewers using ham radio headsets. Ham Video is expected that to be used by students to talk to the astronauts from schools everywhere.

Church AV Needs For The Holidays

by: Carol Emmens

church av needs for the holidaysAs the holidays approach, the spotlight—sometimes literally—will be on how houses of worship communicate and how they present their pageants, holiday shows or services.

The audiovisual systems will be more important than ever. They will be expected to have the highest level of resolution and fidelity in their stereo systems, projectors and flat screens, and even their own phones, tablets or digital cameras.

They will be expected to be easy to use, and to offer the capabilities of video capture and distribution. Often that is not easy to achieve because of the challenges of a house of worship’s design and construction (e.g. hard surfaces and high ceilings).

Now is the time to evaluate the equipment that the church owns and to assess whether or not it needs to be retrofitted or enhanced based for how the audiovisual systems will be used:

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Rebate Offer – dbx DriveRack PA2

dbx DriveRack PA2“Setting up a PA can be challenging even under the best of circumstances, and with the introduction of the DriveRack PA2, local musicians, weekend warriors, semi-pro players, wedding bands and even established artists and venues now have a remarkably effective tool for getting better live sound than ever before,” said Noel Larson, Market Manager, Portable PA, Tour, and Recording at HARMAN Signal Processing.

The dbx DriveRack PA2 is termed a ‘Loudspeaker Management System’ and that is exactly what it accomplishes. It manages the input & output of your system’s speakers to provide you with the optimum sound quality for the room in which the system is installed. It automatically adjusts the EQ with it’s improved proprietary AutoEQ™ and limits feedback issues with the built in AFS™ (Advanced Feedback Suppression). All this can be controlled via your mobile device or laptop using Ethernet control via an Android®, iOS®, Mac®, or Windows® device.

Through the end of 2014, if the PA2 is used as a part of a Zeo Systems installation or is added to your current system, you can fill out the form for a $100 rebate!!

Common Core State Standards

AV and Common Core Educational Standards

by: Carol Emmens

We at Zeo Systems pride ourselves on being at the forefront of changes in the AV world. At the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, new educational standards known as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were launched nationwide. Because of the wide discrepancies in educational standards from state to state, educators across the country established Common Core as a national set of standards and testing for math, science, and English for grades K-12. Pennsylvania is one of 44 states to voluntarily adopt the standards.

Common Core’s main objectives for students set the bar high:

  1. To Be Prepared for College or Work
  2. To Succeed in a Global Economy
  3. To Develop Critical Thinking
  4. To Solve Problems

To achieve those goals, schools everywhere are instituting new methods of teaching or “blended learning”, which involves using technology including the Internet effectively. Technology, at its best, enables students to use information to compare, contrast, and analyze data to help develop lifelong skills.

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Gremlins Are Waiting To Strike – Is Your AV System At Risk? Part 2

by: Carol Emmens

AV System Service and Solutions
Last week we addressed some possible places gremlins could cause problems within your audio, video or lighting systems.

This week, we will feature a few more potential places gremlins can show up and how they can be addressed and conquered to ensure the successful marriage of AV/IT systems. Zeo Systems is your solution.

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Gremlins Are Waiting To Strike – Is Your AV System At Risk? Part 1

by: Carol Emmens

AV System Service and SolutionsStop waiting for the convergence of AV and IT – it is here. Used effectively, the combined power of audiovisuals and networking improves communication, inspires creative thinking, impacts learning, provides entertainment and on a practical level, increases sales.

But gremlins are always waiting to strike, patiently biding their time to cause problems and mishaps. Gremlins need to be addressed and conquered to ensure the successful marriage of AV systems / IT systems wherever and whenever they are used. Zeo Systems is your solution.

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