Despite a trend toward multifunctional AV devices, sometimes the best choice is a box that does just one thing. Here are the 10 best single-function audio and video devices you can't live without.
MOORE's LAW, DIGITAL SIGNAL processing, and other technology trends have given product developers the green light to cram together as many features and functions as they can possibly fit into an electronics chassis — all in the attempt to differentiate their offerings.
Kicking off this “Swiss Army Knife” approach was the release of Peavey MediaMatrix back in 1993. It's the best example of the drive to create the ultimate “all-in-one” audio DSP that still continues today. After all, who wants to buy multiple boxes when there is just one box that does it all?
Turns out, a lot of people do. In fact, there are many manufacturers out there with catalogs full of dozens — even hundreds — of products that do just one thing. These products remain so popular because they do that one thing very well, perhaps better than the same function included in one of those universal boxes. As a result, we continue to buy them.
Sometimes multifunctionality isn't everything. On the following two pages are 10 of the best single-function audio and video products nominated by PRO AV readers and editors. These products made the list for one or more reasons. Maybe it's a standard that's been around forever. Or it may be the best-selling product in its category. Still others are included because they balance the price/performance equation better than anything else on the market.
In every case, these products prove that sometimes the best solution is also the simplest.
Here's a common scenario: Two presenters want to give a PowerPoint presentation using their own laptops. They fumble through the unplug and re-plug routine, hoping the machines synch quickly while making stage patter to cover the awkward tech moment. A solution to this problem? The VP-211DS from Kramer Electronics is a high-performance switcher for computer graphics video signals and unbalanced stereo audio signals. When configured as a standby switcher, the device will switch to the secondary input upon loss of the primary input. The product also features high bandwidth (300 MHz or -3 dB), looping input, selectable input signal termination, automatic or contact closure, ID bit control, and automatic standby switching (switching from secondary input to primary input when a signal is detected). The VP-211DS' small price (under $200) and small size makes it a tool that a professional presenter might want to consider making part of his or her laptop travel kit.
MIXING ON A BUDGET
Despite the buzz about digital mixers, sometimes a simple analog mixer is the most cost-effective solution. A good example is the RM67, priced at $280, from Rolls Corp. The single rack space mixer combines three balanced microphone inputs with four stereo sources to mono or stereo balanced outputs. The XLR microphone inputs have mic/line level switches, a send/return insert jack, and individually switchable +12 volts DC phantom power. Priority talkover is available on one microphone for paging and on one source input for use on a jukebox, telephone system, etc. Each microphone input has a level and tone control, and each source input has a level control. Bass and treble controls have been provided for all sources, and a master output level control adjusts the level of all mixed signals. On one input, there's also a front panel 1/8-inch input for MP3 players.
COMING TO TEN SCREENS NEAR YOU
COMING TO TEN SCREENS NEAR YOU
Supporting both audio and video signals, the 1:10 HDMI distribution amplifier from Gefen is geared toward users who need to send one source of digital high-definition video to multiple displays simultaneously. HDMI's recent popularity as the digital interface of choice makes this single-function device an important one for many pro AV applications. The unit is HDCP-compliant, making it appropriate for use with all HDMI displays, DVD players, and satellite set-top boxes. Video amplifier bandwidth for the product is 1.65 GHz with an input video signal of 1.2 volts p-p. The unit can achieve resolutions up to 1080p and computer resolutions up to 1920x1200.
Radio Design Labs has an entire catalog full of great single-function specialists, but the ST-CL2 has become somewhat of a classic in their “stick-on” series of products. Like other products in RDL's stick-on series, the ST-CL2 is so small and light, it can be attached to the smallest space in any rack or to larger components using double stick foam tape or Velcro. It's a high-performance line-level compressor/limiter designed to maintain a constant average output level and effective peak control over a wide range of input levels. Trimmers provide adjustment for all usual professional and consumer audio input and output levels. Compression is controlled by three timing circuits, each with a threshold and slope detector responding to signals of varying amplitude and energy. The ST-CL2 features soft-knee compression with a ratio that automatically adjusts to the program material. LED compression indicators are provided to facilitate adjustment. Two modules may be strapped for stereo. ST-CL2s are intended for applications demanding effective level control or higher average audio levels without sacrificing audio transparency, such as amplifier or recording device inputs.
A 24-bit signal processor from Behringer, the Shark DSP110, combines a mic/line preamp with a variety of signal processing options, including the company's feedback destroyer circuitry, gain control, a delay line for speaker time alignment, and a noise gate. Switchable +48 volt phantom power, 24-bit A/D and D/A converters, and professional connectivity round out the package, adding to the unit's ability to adapt to various applications. The device also features a delay line with up to 2.5 seconds of delay (adjustable in meters, feet, and msec), level conversion from line to mic level (and vice versa), and a subsonic filter with adjustable cutoff frequency. Plus, they're small; you can put five units side by side in just two rack spaces. So, if you're looking for a small, feedback eliminator the Shark may just your catch of the day.
Walk into almost any corporate boardroom or conference space, and it's there in the middle of the table. That ubiquitous triangular-shaped pod is the SoundStation2 conference phone from Polycom. According to the company, users can be heard up to 10 feet away when speaking in a regular voice thanks to the unit's high microphone sensitivity. Available in three models (SoundStation2, nonexpandable; SoundStation2, non-expandable with display; and SoundStation2, expandable with display), the product features a large backlit LCD that shows console phone number, number called, duration/progress of call, and supports worldwide caller ID. Display models include dynamic noise reduction (DNR) that provides maximum microphone sensitivity, while reducing distracting room and background noise. The applications port allows users to connect the SoundStation2 to a mobile phone and to a computer for making calls over the Internet. Optional extension microphones expand coverage for larger conference rooms on this unit, which connects into any analog phone jack and a PBX with an analog extension.
Rane is an audio company that's long been known for high-quality, “price/performance” category leading products. The Rane AC 23B Active Crossover is somewhat of an industry standard analog crossover that can be configured in stereo 2- or 3-way, or mono 4- or 5-way. The unit employs fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley filter alignments to minimize phase difficulties in the critical crossover region. In-phase outputs are mandatory for proper acoustic summing of common signals from adjacent drivers in the crossover region. The fourth-order filters provide steep 24 dB-per-octave rolloff slopes, which guarantees that drivers produce only a specific range of frequencies, preventing them to be driven past their limits and minimizing distortion and driver fatigue. Adjustable-delay circuits appear on the low and mid outputs of each channel to compensate for any physical misalignment of the drivers. Time correction ensures the mechanical phase alignment of adjacent drivers will be acoustically correct, thus maintaining the integrity of the electrical phase alignment of the crossover's filters.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
The Epson PowerLite 83c projector has become a best-selling projector in the education market for one reason — it produces a good, bright image for under $900. Sure, it does a few more things, but as projectors go, it's a fairly stripped-down single-function image maker. For elementary, middle, and high schools, this is really all they need. Plus, as an added benefit, the projector has built-in network connectivity. The PowerLite 83c uses 3LCD projection engine to produce 2200 lumens of brightness with native XGA resolution. Positioned and priced for the school market, Epson has wisely included a necessary anti-theft feature, using a convenient anchor bar for installation security.
GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES
Extron entered the audio realm only within the last several years, but already its new loudspeakers and electronics have helped position the company as a true A and V powerhouse. A good example is the MPA 122 integrated mini power amplifier, which provides stereo amplification for speaker systems in classrooms and other applications. It is an ideal step-up from a basic classroom system using built-in video projector speakers. The MPA 122 delivers 11 watts rms per channel into 4 ohms and 7 watts rms into 8 ohms. Optimized for driving four 8-ohm ceiling speakers (two in parallel per channel), the MPA 122 accepts balanced and unbalanced stereo inputs, and provides outputs as stereo or dual mono audio signals. Front panel controls are provided for bass, treble, and input level. The front panel also features switches for stereo/dual mono operation and a limiter switch that automatically reduces the gain to prevent distortion or amplifier clipping. The MPA 122 features remote control capability for volume adjustment and muting.
TV One offers several models of “anything-in/anything-out” video processors that bundle many features and functions, but it knows that sometimes users just need a good basic scaler. The 1T-C2-200 video scaler provides high-quality up conversion from standard video formats to computer or HDTV signals in a compact package (supporting NTSC and PAL video standards). Inputs can be Composite or S-Video. According to TV One, the output is selectable as any computer resolution up to 2048x2048 at any vertical refresh rate and all HDTV resolutions up to 1080p. A wide variety of computer signal formats are available to support PCs, Macs, and Workstations. All functions can be controlled via the front-panel push buttons, an infrared control remote unit, or an RS-232 connection. An on-screen display is available to assist in setup. Variable zoom (up to 10x) allows users to enlarge any part of the video image to fill the entire computer screen, and position controls allow them to navigate to any area desired.