Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer
Touchpanel controls AV devices wirelessly.
Crestron touchpanels certainly have a solid reputation when it comes to controlling audiovisual devices, environmental elements, or just about any accompanying electronic switch. However, aside from the inherent sharpness of the touchpanels themselves, you probably would not think of them as particularly smart devices. After all, those touch-panels are really just pretty faces to a separate Crestron processor that's actually sending the control commands.
That's how Crestron's new TPMC-10 Isys i/O wireless touchpanel ($3,800) works, too, only now the interface isn't just a pretty face. On the surface, the TPMC-10 is a custom version of ViewSonic's Airsync V210 touchpanel monitor, but with both the expected Crestron control code and a Windows CE operating system that offers some new functionality. Shedding the cables and going wireless makes it even prettier.
MORE THAN AV CONTROL
The TPMC-10 is built on a 400MHz Intel XScale processor and features a 10.4in., 16-bit TFT active-matrix LCD display capable of rich color graphics, with SVGA resolution (800x600). It also has a built-in microphone, a headphone jack, and 10W biamplified speakers with built-in volume control buttons on the right bezel. The speakers can be used for playing multimedia files. You can use a stylus or a fingertip to operate the touchscreen. There are two programmable buttons on the left-hand bezel, as well as a four-way programmable thumbpad on the right. There's a pop-up software keyboard for typing, or you can connect a USB keyboard and mouse for greater facility.
Like any other Crestron panel, the TPMC-10 needs to be programmed with Crestron's familiar VisualTools Pro-e and SIMPL coding interfaces. Because dealers program every TPMC-10 for a custom class or conference room environment, every unit in the field will look and feel different, with different graphics and design elements, and will control whatever specific AV equipment is at hand.
In that way, the TPMC-10 functions exactly as any other Crestron touchpanel. However, it is actually much less expensive than, for example, Crestron's proprietary 10in. TPS-4000 ($4,600), thanks to the larger economies of scale allowed by ViewSonic's general-purpose hardware. (Although the TPS-4000 panel does have motion video input and a tilt/swivel base.)
By building on top of Windows CE and 802.11b/g, Crestron has opened an otherwise straightforward touchpanel to new usage possibilities. For example, a TPMC-10 can be programmed with a CE version of Internet Explorer, allowing a user to reference Web pages wirelessly — just use the built-in WiFi 802.11b/g coupled with an off-the-shelf 802.11 access point/hub.
Reader applications put even more information literally at your fingertips. These handle a variety of standard files like Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and Adobe PDFs. Also, Microsoft's Inbox email program is included.
The TPMC-10 has 64MB of built-in flash storage for uploading presentation files or other data, although about two-thirds of that is likely to be used by the Windows CE operating system that runs the panel and the SIMPL programming code that's needed to interface with and control AV devices. For additional storage, the two USB ports can read USB drives, and there's a Type 2 PC card slot. Either of these can be used for holding files to be viewed directly on the panel.
All of that might make the TPMC-10 feel a lot like a Windows Tablet PC or a Windows CE-based PDA, but that really isn't the case. The Windows functionality ultimately takes a backseat to the core Crestron control functionality. Like any Crestron control system, the TPMC-10 has to work as reliably as a light switch when it comes to controlling AV and environmental devices like projectors, plasmas, or pull-down screens. Any Windows functionality, including the browser and the reader applications, must be consciously added and programmed into the panel.
What's more, Crestron needs to walk a fine line between adding features and creating a touchpanel that's too cluttered with buttons and options to serve as an efficient control device. So it's no surprise that the default setting is to not allow any of the functionality, including the Windows features, to be minimized or toggled — thus possibly obscuring any control features.
That first-generation decision minimizes the possible effectiveness of the new platform in a presentation setting. While it is possible to run a complete PowerPoint slide presentation from the panel — going out through the 15-pin VGA port to a projector or other display — there's no way, for example, to toggle between a PowerPoint slide presentation and Excel spreadsheets, or any environmental controls, during a presentation. You'd have to close PowerPoint, open Excel, then close and open PowerPoint again, paging through your slides to find where you left off.
Of course, with that the TPMC-10's functionality is no worse than the “PC-free” options in many projectors. But leveraging more of CE's functionality, including CE's admittedly modest Start Menu/Task Bar, could make the TPMC-10 even more powerful. Crestron says that it is heading in that direction for future versions of the TPMC-10's firmware, but I was not able to test it. However, the idea of walking into a conference room with just a small hot-swappable USB drive and having access to a full array of presentation applications, including access to the Web, could be very liberating.
With the TPMC-10 panel I tested, the best presentation solution is to use CE's Remote Desktop feature, another function that can be added using SIMPL's Windows CE shortcuts. The Remote Desktop function, designed by Microsoft as a helpdesk and troubleshooting aid as much as anything, gives full visual, mouse, and keyboard control of another networked computer. In this case, that control goes to the touchpanel, affording full control of any application and file on a networked computer.
Of course, if a simple wireless touch-panel is all you need, your programmer could always just omit any of the Windows functions. But chances are a client purchasing such a unique touchpanel would probably like access to it all. After all, that's what much of the enthusiasm for the TPMC-10 is all about.
Though the first version of the TPMC-10 is probably just a first step toward broader touchpanel functionality, Crestron is still offering an exciting new interface for doing a lot more than simply pushing buttons to control an environment. Instead of simply sending touchpanel input commands to a central processor, the interaction is now two-way. The TPMC-10 can send control commands as always, but also receive information wirelessly and even participate in AV presentations. And that makes for better communications all around.
Graphic Engine Isys i/O engine, 16-bit non-palette graphics, 65,536 colors, Synapse image-rendering algorithm
Company: Crestron; www.crestron.com
Pros: Controls AV devices and drives presentations wirelessly; features Windows CE with reader versions of standard office applications.
Cons: Default settings allow no toggling between applications.
Applications: AV-equipped rooms that host presentations.
Price: $3,800 (optional docking station, $500)
Display 10.4in. TFT active-matrix color LCD
Resolution 800×600 SVGA
Brightness 230 nits
Illumination Edgelit fluorescent
Viewing Angle ±60° horizontal, +35/-65° vertical at CR>10
Touchscreen Resistive membrane
Internal Memory 64MB flash, 128MB SDRAM; expandable via PCMCIA card slot
Audio/Video Formats WMA, MP3, WAV, WMV, ASX, ASF, MPG, and AVI through Windows Media Player
RF Transceiver IEEE 802.11g WiFi 2.4GHz two-way RF 11/13 channels (2400-2483MHz), DHCP/DNS or static IP, 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, WPA-ready, EAP passthrough; requires third-party 802.11b/g wireless access point and Ethernet-enabled Crestron 2-Series control system
Wireless Range Up to 328ft. at 54Mbps
Audio Feedback (WAV) 8- and 16-bit PCM, mono and stereo, 8-44kHz sampling rates
Battery Lithium polymer 4S1P, 14.8V, 2000 mAh (included); 4 hours use at full brightness
Power Supply/Charger 60W (3.16 Amps at 19V DC) universal 100~240VAC 50/60Hz power supply included
Connectors Mini-VGA port out (DB15HD cable included), RGBHV (VGA) output; 3.5mm TRS microphone mini jack (not currently implemented); 3.5 TRS headphone mini jack; 2 type A USB; 1 mini B USB (not currently implemented); 1 Type II PCMCIA PC card slot
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