ISE 2017 – A Programmer’s Perspective

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I remember attending a cozy little trade show in Geneva Switzerland in 2004. Over the years I’ve watched ISE grow and grow and grow. Infocomm should consider a certification for navigating all the new halls that each year brings. There are two simple take aways from all this growth – the AV industry is growing and Mike Blackman got skills.

The best part of this year’s show was hands down Infocomm’s Future Of Integration Summit. There were a lot of empty seats, which is a real shame for everyone that was not there. But for me it was an incredible experience. There were times it felt like a personal consultation with some of the most thoughtful and in-the-know people in the AV industry. The openness and generousity of the presenters showed a side of our community that we could use a lot more of.

Julian Philips of Whitlock explained that enterprise customers buy platforms and services not necesarilly to save money, but to remain agile. He also hinted that his projects that include a particular software suite from Microsoft are three times bigger with 10% more profit. Yeah, you shoulda been there.

Daniel Rogers of AVI-SPL shared some experiences and knowledge in providing cloud solutions. Most businesses already have a digital business strategy, but do not have the skills to execute it. Partnerships will be a critical part of implementing the cloud. I lost count of the number of times software was mentioned during the summit.

When asked what it will take to change the legacy mindset so prevalent in AV, this amazing panel perked right up and offered lively, insightful and practical advice. Watch out for the new breed of consultants everyone.

The summit was wrapped up with a warning for anyone tying their company’s success to any one manufacturer’s product line. Imagine what could happen to your business if that company was ever bought for it’s customer list and not the products.

The influence IT is having on AV was also dominant on the show floor. Even Crestron released some video over IP products.

QSC was giving “historical” presentations in their booth with the presenter’s audio being processed by a Dell server. That same server handles the control too, which can be programmed in Lua in case you were wondering (I was).

For some reason, my sure-footed friend Tim Albright at AVNation thought I could pull of a decent interview and asked me to talk to Itai Ben-Gal of Kramer’s iRule on camera (don’t know why I look so suspicious – I actually think Itai is a cool guy and role model for business-minded programmers). Itai told me how Kramer Control was rebuilt from the ground up. They still have an online designer but I think you know what I was curious about – can I use a real programming language? Yes. Lua – again.

The most exciting new technology in my book is SDVOE – Software Defined Video Over Ethernet. You know they had me at Software Defined. The initial training was standing room only and while I could listen to Justing Kennington rap about disrupting the 8 billion dollar matrix switcher industry all day, Larent Masia of Netgear surprised and delighted my inner nerd with detailed and concise explanations from the IT world. If you ever see this guy at a trade show, ask him a question.

In the SDVOE Master Class on Friday Matt Dodd brought the OSI model to life by having his potentially sleepy students throw crumbled pieces of paper around the room to demonstrate network traffic. After a dropped packet or two we were all in top form and ready to soak up some dynamically presented networking knowledge.

My conviction in the ongoing IP armegeddon was rounded out with a visit to the booths of Utelogy and Barco. Utelogy’s attitude and business model echoed many points discussed in the Future Of Integration Summit. Simply put, software rules.

And after patiently listening to a presentation of Barco’s new control solution, I got to the heart of the matter for my programmer’s mind – device drivers are written in Javascript.

While recommending any kind of advice is way above my pay grade, I think it is safe to say my integrator friends should at least start thinking about new business models. Programmers might want to get familiar with non-proprietary programming languages and for my homeys out in the field – it’s time to get your Wireshark on.

How To Make An Interlock With Simpl# Pro

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An Interlock is something every Crestron programmer is familiar with from Simpl Windows.

In this lesson, we set up a touch panel with four buttons and write some simple code that works just like an Interlock.

The following topics are covered:

  • Control System Constructor
  • Construct a touchpanel
  • Subscribe to touch panel signal changes
  • Register a touchpanel
  • Create a Signal Event Handler Method

How to get Visual Studio 2008

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It is not that easy to purchase Microsoft Visual Studio 2008. But any platform that uses Microsoft Embedded CE will need VS 2008 for development.

MSDN Subscription

The easiest (and most expensive) way to get a copy is with an MSDN subscription. Here is a link to the MSDN Subscriber VS 2008 download page. Click on Details to see exactly which subscriptions make VS 2008 available.


If you have a company that is “less than 5 years old, is privately held, and earns less than $1 million annually“, you qualify for Microsoft’s BizSpark for Startups. This will give you free access to VS 2008, among many other things. Definitely worth checking out if you qualify.


The final alternative is to search for a used copy on eBay. That is how I got my copy.

Free Trial

But you do not need to decide right away to get started. You can download a free 90 day trial version of Visual Studio 2008 here. That will download an iso file that you will need to burn to a disc and install, or use a program like WinRAR to extract the files. Here are the steps for the second option.

Using WinRAR to install VS 2008

Once the VS 2008 iso image is downloaded and WinRAR is installed, open WinRAR and drag the iso file into the WinRAR window. This will show you all of the files contained within the iso image.

visual studio 2008  visual studio 2008

Then find the 
autorun.exe file and double click to install it.

visual studio 2008

Then follow the instructions to install the program. If asked what environment to optimise for, select C#. You should run Microsoft Automatic Updates after installing, and expect this process to take some time.

Installing the Simpl# Pro Plugin

You will need to have a dealer or service provider account with Crestron to use Simpl# Pro.

Once Visual Studio 2008 is installed, close the program then download and install the Simpl# Pro Plugin.

Now you’re ready to start coding!


DIY Huddle Room

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Ah, the huddle room. Such a funny name for such a useful design.

Small spaces where a few people can quickly bounce around a few ideas, make a plan then break out and take action. Interior design, furniture, lighting, acoustics and of course technology are the ingredients that determine their effectiveness.

Picture yourself and a few compadres crowding around a laptop or even worse – passing around a phone and you get the idea why technology plays such an important role in the huddle. Now imagine having 5 or 10 or more of these rooms and being responsible for making sure they always work and the complexity of these simple rooms starts to be clear.

The Whiteboard
At the bare minimum, a few pieces of paper tacked to the wall can be considered a collaboration system. Nothing beats a whiteboard for quickly penciling out ideas in a group though. These works of art can be photographed and stashed in a project folder for future reference. Electronic whiteboards make it even easier by storing and recalling sessions to the network.

TV at Work
Inevitably, somebody will want to show something from their laptop, tablet, phone, network, internet – you get the idea.

A short throw projector or flat screen display will prevent a lot of eye squinting. How big? A general rule of thumb is to divide the distance to the furthest viewer by 5. This will give you a target screen height. Screens are measured diagonally, so you will need to convert that height into something useful. Here is a handy tool for that.

If the furthest viewer will be ten feet from the screen, a 50″ display will do nicely (10 ft / 5 = 2 ft, a 50″ 16:9 display is about 2 feet heigh).

A nice touch is to install a lift that retracts the display into a piece of furniture when not in use. A big blank video screen detracts from the interior design and can distract participants. In spaces designed to encourage focus, hiding uneeded technology just makes sense.

Sharing is Collaborating
So how do you get your stuff onto the screen? The easiest way is to plug your device directly into the display. You can use a single HDMI cable as long as it is no longer than 20 or 30 feet. Cables can also be extended to the table with any number of connectivity solutions. But phones and tablets usually require some type of adapter which you can count on not being there when you need it.

Wireless is a convenient way to share your screen. A wireless media distribution system streams a users screen onto a network, where it is received by a device that is usually connected directly to the display. The network configuration, user management and usability should be carefully considered.

Consumer solutions like Apple Airplay and Google Chromecast are familiar to most, but present some challenges when deployed to multiple rooms. The user needs to select the receiver to send to, which makes it all too easy to select the wrong one and send your video to another room. There are ways to manage this, but it can quickly turn into a full time job. Deployment on an enterprise network can also be time intensive, with little in the way of support.

Professional grade solutions, such as Crestron’s AirMedia, transmit the user’s screen over a wireless network. An application will need to be installed on the user’s laptop or mobile and the device will need to be on the same network as the receiver. An on-screen display gives clear instructions to the end-user on how to connect. There is also an enterprise application available for group deployments that lets you modify room lists. This gives you the chance to limit the number of receivers that are visible to particular users.

The Mersive Solstice Pod is another interesting solution for transmitting screens wirelessly over a network. It has a built in wireless access point that allows you to keep all of that video off your network. There are plenty of configuration options and useful collaboration features that you may find useful.

Barco Clickshare uses a USB dongle to transmit a laptop screen to a receiver over it’s own network. As long as the dongle doesn’t grow legs, it makes for an easy to use solution. Mobile devices are supported with apps or mirroring depending on the receiver model.

This Wireless Solutions from Gefen uses a dongle that connects to a laptop’s HDMI port for video, and requires an extra USB connection for power. Because it uses the devices video output, no software or drivers need to be installed. But again, the dongle needs to be there when you need it and the extra USB cable makes it a touch more difficult for the normal end user to understand.

If your content is in the cloud, on your network or anywhere online, you could install a built-in PC like an Intel NUC. It can be installed behind the display and controlled with a wireless mouse and keyboard. This is by far the simplest solution, but also the least ergonomic. Using a mouse and keyboard with an over-sized display that is not right in front of you is not an efficient way to work. But if you just need to navigate to a PowerPoint and click next 90% of the time, it is worth considering.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives you some ideas on how to handle huddle room technology. Some other topics to consider are audio, videoconferencing, automation, control and monitoring. If you are interested in learning more, drop a note in the comments and let me know.

Things Without Internet

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No InternetHave you heard of the internet of things? Thought so. 

Some day, all devices will be able to communicate securely and intelligently with each other. Throw in a dash of artificial intelligence and they will even learn our preferences over time. As promising as it sounds, there are quite a few things that need to play out before we get there. 

Until then, there are still plenty of useful things without a network connector. Communication with infrared, serial, contact closures and voltage sensors are found in plenty of consumer and professional products alike. So how do we get them on the network? 


The answer, of course, is to use a converter. A good LAN converter will have a well documented and easy to understand communications protocol, some helpful software tools to get you started, and be reasonably priced. 

The hardware enclosure should also be considered. Will it be installed in an equipment rack? Mounted directly on another device? Or simply sit on a shelf? 

Finally, the device will need to be powered. An external power supply, POE or USB from a neighboring device are some typical options. 

We have had great success in this area with products from Global Caché. A quick internet search will also give you plenty of alternatives. 

We Have Assumed Control

Once you get your network-less thing online, you’ll want to send some commands to it. For testing, you can fire up a terminal program like PuTTY. But for day to day control, you’ll want a friendlier interface. 

Programming modules for all of the well known control manufacturers can be found online. But if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of coding, control on a budget is within reach. 

This guy wrote some web server code to open his garage door with his phone. Setting up a web server with Arduino or Raspberry Pi are low power, budget friendly options for always-on, local control. 

Goin’ Mobile

If you happen to know an app developer then you can skip the extra hardware and go mobile. Using an app to control devices directly over the network has a few interesting advantages:

  • It uses existing infrastructure (your phone or tablet and WiFi).
  • When using a docking station, you cannot tell the difference from a traditional control system.
  • End users can manage their own B2B app deployments.
  • Mobile devices can be ordered online, making replacements easy to get.

Is Wi-Fi good enough for room control?

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Have you ever gotten a call when your phone was plugged in and charging? Then you quickly realize what makes mobile devices mobile – wireless. The convenience of wireless is also the biggest argument against using mobile to control a room. Nothing beats a hard wired interface for reliability, right? There are generally three reasons to choose a wired network over wireless. Speed, latency and interference. For device control on a local network, the speed and latency of modern wireless systems are not a concern. 

Interference can be problem. What happens if the office next door gets a new wireless phone system? What if the neighbors have a baby phone that they use once in a while? Interference happens and can be unpredictable. The only thing you can do is be prepared to troubleshoot issues when they happen. 

Here is an excellent article on Wi-Fi interference from Cisco. In the end you will need to weigh the convenience and cost savings of wireless against the reliabilty of a wired network. Or you can install a mobile device with a wired connection like this wired iPad solution or use a docking station such as those from iRoom.

Integrating the Internet

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I used to roll my eyes whenever I read about IOT. Anyone who has been in AV long enough knows we’ve been networking Things for decades. Most of the time those things were never designed to work together. But we made it happen.

Then I watched a video about Node-RED and realized I got it all wrong. Whoever came up with the words Internet Of Things didn’t quite nail it either. It should be The Internet And Things. That is what this technology is really about. Bringing together internet services and real world devices.


This opens up a whole new way of thinking about systems. Let’s start with the user interface. Instead of pushing a button what if your system reacted to Facebook Likes or Twitter Hashtags? In a store-front Digital Signage installation this could be a nice way to add value. Whenever the Facebook page of the business gets liked, you could fire a “Thank You!” video clip to the storefront display, or flash the lights, or do some kind of show control, or – you get the idea.

What if your system communicated with the internet? Sure there are proprietary monitoring systems available today. But what if you could roll your own in the cloud and make it do exactly what you want. A projector or control system could open a tcp socket and send the lamp hours to your cloud service once a day. The cloud then sends an email to Bob the support tech when more than 2000 hours are reported.

When Bob goes on vacation, you can easily log in and have the email sent to Joe instead. Or send an SMS, or turn on a siren in your office, or automatically send a PO for a new lamp and schedule a maintence call.

The internet is now open for integration. And it is ridiculously cheap. You can run a service on IBM Bluemix with up to half a gig of memory for free. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are some other options. Or you could build a simple appliance and install it on site. But if you are interacting with web services anyway, why bother?

Could it really be that easy? Check back in a week or two for a full report.

If it is, all we need to do is get equipment manufacturers to start adopting standard connectivity protocols, like MQTT. The first projector manufacturer to do this gets my vote for innovator of the year.