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Control Systems

What role do control systems play in an A/V setup?

An A/V solution is nothing without a reliable control system behind it. Control systems are the brains of the operation, linking components together and ensuring they operate within configured parameters. Appearance-wise, there's nothing special about them, most are a nondescript box with an array of ports and features only interesting to an IT or A/V professional. However, they are essential to every A/V solution as they allow for easy management of the entire system.
Control systems consist of a couple components. The primary component is the box, which contains a processor and numerous ports and indicator lights, allowing for a quick status check. Though this component is the system's engine, it isn't something that most people will interact with. In fact, it should only be handled by a knowledgeable professional. What users will interact with is the control system's interface, which usually comes in the form of a touch screen, though it can also be a set of switches. The touch screen is placed in an area that is easily accessible, often mounted to the wall or installed on a desk.
Control system interfaces are extremely flexible and designed to fit into any setting. In a meeting room, a classroom, a lecture hall, a performance hall or in a council chamber, control system interfaces can be effective and intuitive even while remaining unobtrusive.
As control systems are sophisticated pieces of A/V technology, there are only a few manufacturers that design and develop them. These are A/V specialists who are well-known among integrators for their reliable and flexible technologies.

What are some of the best control systems available?

The swift rise of integrated A/V solutions now demands the use of effective control systems. Even the most established companies in the space have only been designing control systems for a few decades. But though the technology may be relatively new, it's still reliable and easy to use.
The ideal control system will usually depend on the other A/V components in place. This is a decision best left to an A/V expert, as control systems set the pace for the rest of the A/V solution. Among control system manufacturers on the market, these are some of the most respected:
1. Crestron - Crestron is the control king of the A/V industry. It has the most expansive control system product lineup around, including both control interfaces and processors. Take the CP3 control system, for example. Its feature list is exhaustive and impossible to put in a single page, but there are some highlights. For one, the CP3 is built on IP technology, so it offers superior networking capabilities. Its high-speed Ethernet connectivity means IP-controllable devices can be easily integrated into the control system. Crestron's XPanel feature also leverages this connectivity, allowing users to turn any laptop or desktop into a Crestron touch screen for device control purposes.
Control system integration is scaled up further once the CP3 is merged with the Crestron Fusion Cloud. Once in the cloud, Crestron control systems, including the CP3, can be remotely managed, allowing users to schedule, monitor and control entire rooms from a single location. If the CP3 is given control over shades, lights and climate control, integration with the Crestron Fusion Cloud can enable major energy savings.
Perhaps most impressive, Crestron control systems like the CP3 are designed with a modular programming architecture, allowing tech personnel to run device-specific programs for various room features, including security, lighting and the like. Each program's function is optimized and each program can be modified without affecting any other. As a result, it's extremely simple to upgrade and scale up Crestron control systems.
2. Extron - Extron is another manufacturer of control systems, and like Crestron, it develops both control processors and interfaces. Though Extron's control processors are an excellent choice for many A/V applications, its control interfaces are particularly impressive.
The TouchLink Pro series is its standout touchscreen control product, and the TLP 1720MG is a favorite among A/V professionals. It's one of the largest touchscreen control interfaces on the market, with a 17-inch build and the ability to output 1920x1080 resolution. It is intended for wall mounting, and it's an edge-to-edge touchscreen, so maximum screen real estate is available for control purposes.
It offers video preview inputs at high definition and can take HDCP-compliant video from Extron XTP devices and HDMI. The TLP 1720MG is powered and networked using a single Ethernet cable, and is easy to network using standard infrastructure. It is intended for use with component-heavy A/V solutions and can take on a range of sources with little burden. Its sleek design and aesthetic means it can blend into any setting while providing a professional, sophisticated look.
The TLP 1720M's UI is customized using Extron's proprietary software, which is packaged with plenty of resource kits. As such, it's easy for companies to develop the interface they need.
3. AMX - The AMX brand is under the Harman label, and both are major names in the A/V industry. AMX is one of Harman's most prolific brands, and is particularly accomplished in device control and management.
AMX manufactures a complete line of control system processors, prioritizing scalability and security in a compact package. Among its control system processors, the NX-4200 merits close attention, as it is laden with plenty of features. It is a versatile piece of control equipment, suitable for education, professional and government applications.
Like Crestron products, the NX-4200 is designed with a flexible architecture that allows for future upgrading and is designed around IP. Further, the NX-4200 is built with a redundant power source for additional reliability and extra security features. One of those security features is cryptographic support, adhering to FIPS 140-2, a government computing security standard developed for protecting sensitive data. Unsurprisingly, this makes AMX control systems ideal for applications that demand maximum protection from possible intrusion.
Control systems are the lynchpin of any A/V solution, so they should be prioritized when setting up A/V components. Given their importance and intricate involvement with the network, it is highly recommended that a trusted A/V integrator assist with both the selection and installation.