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Tablets as GUI

Jul 24, 2013 5:28 PM, By Patrick Barron

Consumer technology revolutionizes pro AV control systems.

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Many functions that both AMX and Crestron tablet interfaces perform are functionally identical to a touchpanel. All standard operations of a touchpanel can be implemented on a tablet using similar methods as a normal touchpanel. Buttons can be pressed, graphics can be loaded, and variable text and bar graphs can be used just like a normal panel. Subpages and popup pages can be used in a similar fashion, and the same development environment (VTPro for Crestron and TPDesign4 for AMX) is used to develop pages. From a programming standpoint, a software developer who is familiar with designing a standard touchpanel will have no problem developing an interface to use with an iPad. A project created in VTPro or TPDesign4 can easily be converted for use on an iPad. This maintains consistent styling and functionality between all touchpanel interfaces in a system.

While development is similar, significant differences occur when loading programs to a tablet device. A traditional touchpanel can be loaded directly from the touchpanel designer application. The process for loading a tablet is different but not difficult using Crestron’s version. Loading an AMX NVX-300 virtual touchpanel is identical to loading a normal panel once an NXV-300 has been set up properly. The process for loading a TPControl application onto a tablet is relatively easy, as well, provided that a live Internet connection is available on the jobsite.

A few limitations should be considered when using the iPad as a primary control interface. One particular factor can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. The fact that an iPad is not a dedicated control interface can be a disadvantage when trying to make a quick adjustment to a parameter on the AV system, such as volume. With a traditional touchpanel, a quick tap would wake up the panel, and buttons to control the system would be immediately available. When using an iPad, the control interface is an application. Users might have to scroll through multiple pages to find the app. Then they would have to launch the app and wait until the app connects to the control system master processor. After the control screen comes up, the user is able to access the desired buttons to make adjustments. In a time-critical environment where a quick audio adjustment needs to be made, the delay of several seconds to initiate the application could be detrimental. Another factor to note is how the basic operation of the screen and button presses on an iPad feel different than using a dedicated touchpanel. Because an iPad is designed primarily for a different type of use and has multi-touch capability, the standard button press is not quite as responsive as using a standard AMX or Crestron touchpanel. The press of a button has to be more deliberate for the press to register. Some commands, such as volume ramping or moving a camera, might be more difficult for a user who has become accustomed to how a touchpanel feels when being used.


Just as how an iPad not being a dedicated control interface can be a problem, the fact that it is a multi-purpose device can be a significant advantage, as well. There are literally millions of applications that have been developed for both iPad and Android tablets. While playing a game with friends on your tablet, you can check the Internet for the latest sports scores or stock market updates, and in the next moment, you can change the channel or fast forward a movie without leaving the couch. The power available in such a small device to allow so many functions is something that can be utilized to enhance the ease of use of a control system.

There are undeniably a large number of positive aspects to using an iPad or Android tablet as a control interface. In commercial and professional settings, iPads offer longer battery life, better ergonomics, and a sleeker form factor than a traditional touchpanel. A significant factor is the cost of the tablet device compared to a touchpanel. An AMX 9in. wireless touchpanel of comparable size to an iPad has a MSRP of $5,500. A large 8in. wireless Crestron touchpanel has an MSRP of $3,800. Compare this cost to the price of a 9.7in. iPad 2 for $399 or a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1in. with a price of $349. Another advantage of using a tablet is that many customers already have their own devices, so hardware cost is negligible.

The cost of substituting an iPad for a touchpanel goes beyond the actual price of the device itself. Costs of software applications used on tablets vary depending on the manufacturer. With Crestron, the Mobile Pro application is $99. Mobile Pro will allow an iPad to function as an independent touchpanel. For this cost, an unlimited number of iPads can be set up to operate as touchpanels, provided they are all on the same iTunes account. In schools, corporations, or even residences with a consolidated iTunes account, this could mean dozens of touchpanels for less than $100 in total cost if the iPads were previously owned by the client.

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