So, finally there’s the most advanced level of taking your AV into your own hands (without a remote), rolling your own control either using more professional systems or rolling your own. I can only apologise for the delay in this post, but there’s been a few new things that have been announced and released during the writing of this little series that I wanted to clarify before I wrote about them.
Programmable Pro AV is often designed for commercial, educational and more complex systems, sometimes of which could be used in a home environment if the complexity of your setup demands something that the previous solutions couldn’t quite provide.
These systems aren’t necessarily designed for the home, so if you plan on hacking away at a custom system on your own, be prepared to put in some investment
But before we get into the down and dirty, let’s talk preconfigured. Companies such as Pure AV, Richer Sounds and Inspire AV are regularly commissioned to plan, design and install systems large and small. This is the costliest option understandably as you not only pay for the equipment but for the parts and labour of installing, configuring and testing the system too. The advantage of taking this route is the after sales support that is often offered following installation. If a product is faulty and is in warranty, the replacement service is often free by the company too – however, be prepared to pay for maintenance and repair costs too if something breaks that’s not in warranty and didn’t just spontaneously fail.
The second approach is to buy the working components and to program the system yourself. If you’re in the trade or can buy them through resale, companies such as AMX, Extron and Crestron are some of the largest providers of professional grade AV switching, scaling and processing equipment. These systems often communicate with visual and auditory devices either through infared (the same technology as remote controls and programmable home systems) or through RS-232 on pure copper cores, serial or 1/8″ jack cables.
Each manufacturer handles the configuration and programming differently.
My experience of AMX based systems involved scripting through their own scripting languages of Axcess and Netlinx. These languages aren’t the easiest to pick up so I’d advise a little experience and reading this guide before you tinker with your next eBay purchase. Thankfully, the GUI for their range of touchpanels can be easily created and edited through their TPDesign software. It’s also advised that many of their software downloads require an AMX trade account to gain access (no pun intended) to.
Extron on the other hand play many different hands. Their older control surfaces were recommended communication through specific software for each controller which took commands in many languages (often translated to ASCII codes onscreen). If commands weren’t your thing, Extron developed a series of pre-compiled codes paired with English names all packaged in “Drivers” for a growing number of manufacturers’ devices. The more modern approaches included their own simplified RS-232 command system known as the Simplified Instruction Set and later moved into a more graphical approach (through their Product Configuration Software) and more phrasal programming in Global Configurator (using “Actions”, “Commands” and conditional logic in verbal blocks). If you like to monitor and tweak your devices a little furter, the configurator family software can also compile another tool called GlobalViewer allowing you web based access to your devices, with a server based enterprise version for large campus-wide and above networks of instllations. This year, Extron closed the gap in flexible programming by also allowing scripts to be written in Python and applied to their software. Finally, Extron also have touchpanels with customisable GUIs through use of GUI Configurator.
Most of their software is available to download for free to Extron Insiders, however beyond the basic commands Extron require you to take their free (with exception to the entry AV Associate program) courses in order to license yourself access to their Pro level tools (such as Global Configurator Professional and Global Scripter).
Finally, Crestron also like to take a user friendly approach to configuring their devices through their Toolbox collection of software. As well as configuration, the package allows you to run diagnostics on built systems for troubleshooting and allow you to communicate with any Creston device should you need to perform fixes. If code is more your thing, there is a command line tool in there too.
Like Extron, Crestron also has monitoring software for their devices and have partnered with manufacturers to implement complementary firmware to it for devices (such as Projectors) using their RoomView suite.
Like both compaines above too, you need access to an account to gain access to the software (which I sadly don’t have on this occasion).
There are other companies out there too that allow control such as Control4 that aren’t as freely available to develop with unless you’re an AV Pro. If you are and you’d rather not make use of the 3 above, don’t be scared to say hello and find the platform that suits you best.
So in conclusion of this part, Control systems are fantastic if you like to tinker and you have a complex system with multiple rooms, screens or equipment that requires lots of commands and conditional logic, then this may be the route for you, however if it could be done a much simpler way for less and it’s not just a hobby project, you may want to think twice before signing up for a lot of work just to power on your TV, TiVO box and surround sound system.
In the second part of this post, we’ll take a step further and look at how you can roll your own using programmable boards.
Happy Programming and don’t forget those semicolons!