On the big screen

By GovTechReview Staff
Tuesday, 01 March, 2011

On the big screen

Big is beautiful when it comes to displays, but Adam Turner explains that screen inches aren’t just about bragging rights: choosing the right monitors, projectors and digital signage for your organisation can enhance productivity and significantly improve communication with stakeholders.

In an age when we’re constantly surrounded by screens, it’s easy to become complacent when deploying displays across your organisation. The rise of cheap consumer-grade displays might be great for homemakers prone to impulse purchases, but not all screens are created equal.

A successful rollout of monitors, projectors and digital signage throughout your organisation requires the same planning and management as any other significant IT project. It can also offer significant returns. A few extra inches on the desktop can offer a major productivity boost, as can a well-designed meeting room. Meanwhile digital signage can significantly enhance services offered in a retail environment.

Large monitors aren’t just about bragging rights: several studies have shown a correlation between screen size and productivity. Workers using 24-inch monitors complete tasks 52 per cent faster than those using 18-inch monitors, according to research by the University of Utah – funded by NEC and cited in the Wall Street Journal.

Less time spent switching between applications is a tangible benefit of deploying larger monitors, says Matthew Hayler, Consumer Brand Manager for software and peripherals with Dell Australia and New Zealand.

“Information workers are expected to juggle tasks,” Hayler says. “For example, using a word processor while jumping between their email client, instant messaging and a web browser. A larger screen eliminates the need to flick between them, which is obviously a time-saver.”

A 22-inch widescreen monitor is large enough to view and edit two A4 documents side-by-side. Monitors of this size tend to offer a native resolution of 1920x1200.

“The higher resolutions are obviously important to those working with graphics or multimedia,” Hayler says. “Even if you don’t need that kind of detail, the extra screen real estate allows the use of larger fonts - to reduce eye strain - while still offering plenty of space to work in.”

Choosing the right monitor requires more than a measuring tape. Bulky, power-hungry cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors have given way to liquid crystal displays (LCDs), but there are several LCD technologies with differing characteristics. Twisted Nematic displays offer low response times – meaning less blur – but aren’t as bright and can be hampered by poor viewing angles and colour accuracy. Monitor makers have moved toward Vertical Alignment (VA) displays which offer better brightness and contrast, as well as In-Plane Switching (IPS) displays which offer improved colour accuracy and viewing angles. Backlighting technology also varies, with new LED-backlit LCD monitors offering lower running costs thanks to improved power efficiency compared to traditional CCFL backlighting.

There are also health and safety features to consider. An adjustable stand lets users raise the display to the correct height to reduce neck strain. Also look for tilt and swivel options, including the ability to turn the monitor 90 degrees from landscape to portrait mode. Most monitors should feature Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) standard mounting points on the rear, for mounting them on a wall or monitor arm.

On the big screen

Project yourself

Choosing the right audio visual technology for an office environment covers not just desks but also meeting rooms and the boardroom.

A “short-throw” projector casts a large image over a short distance and may be the best choice for a small meeting space. Unlike a long-throw projector installed at the back of the room, a short-throw projector mounted on the ceiling won’t shine in the presenters’ eyes or cast shadows as people walk around the room. The trade-off is that short-throw projectors struggle to match the picture size, resolution and quality of a decent long-throw projector.

Resolution is the next factor to consider when choosing a projector. Don’t bother with low-res SVGA (800x600 pixel) projectors, which gave way to XGA (1024x768). Currently WXGA (1280x800) is the sweet spot for a meeting room projector – using the 16:10 aspect ratio favoured by computers (as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio favoured by widescreen home theatre projectors).

You might want to look to higher resolutions such as 1680x1050 or 1920x1200 if you require fine detail, such as projecting maps, plans or schematics. High-resolution 1920x1200 projectors can be costly but should become more affordable this year.

Brightness is another factor to consider. A high brightness rating, measured in American National Standards Institute (ANSI) lumens is particularly important if you won’t be dimming the lights or if you require the audience to see fine detail. If you’ll be projecting on a wall rather than a screen, you’ll also need a brighter projector to compensate. Be warned, the trade-off for higher brightness is often noise and heat.

Contrast is more of a concern for home theatre projectors than corporate projectors, as high contrast is more important for video clips than PowerPoint presentations.

Planning a highly productive meeting space can extend to considering video conferencing, interactive whiteboards, annotation tablets and the ability to switch easily between video sources, says Alan Moffat, Technical Director at audio-visual system integrator Credible Audio Visual Solutions.

The ability to use a ceiling-mounted short-throw projector to run both presentations and an interactive whiteboard offers an economical way to fit out a high-tech meeting space. Epson’s EB-450Wi and Dell’s S300wi are short-throw projectors with built-in interactive whiteboard features, both offering 1280x800 resolution.

“Whiteboard take-up was traditionally driven by the education market, but it’s making an impact in the boardroom,” Moffat says.

“New models let you use your finger or a stylus to interact with the display and we’re even seeing multi-touch, gesture-driven controls. Now we’re starting to get into annotation tablets as well, letting all the meeting’s participants draw on the screen.”

Wireless projectors

There’s a push to keep clutter off the boardroom table, using wireless links to connect notebooks to projectors. Such set ups make it easy to switch between notebooks during multi-speaker presentations, generally requiring a passcode to connect.

Wireless links are only one part of the wider control system – the “magic box” which lies at the heart of a meeting room AV system. This is the secret source of a successful meeting room, Moffat says.

“Many clients don’t appreciate that it’s worth spending the money on a good control centre,” he says. “This covers connecting devices, switching between audio and video sources, controlling the lights and blinds and operating the video conferencing system – all important elements of an efficient meeting.”

“The challenge with meeting spaces is designing an AV system so someone can walk in and use it without any training. The world’s greatest meeting room isn’t much use if your staff can’t use it effectively.”

Digital signage

The productivity benefits offered by display technologies aren’t just restricted to the office. Attention is turning to the effective use of digital signage to significantly enhance services offered in a customer-facing environment.

Digital signage is an effective way to convey up-to-date information to customers in a retail space. An enterprise-grade digital signage system comprises three key components – the screens and player, the backend control/content management system and the actual content. Screens can feature built-in media players, or they can be separate boxes.

One of the most effective uses of digital signage is in combination with a ticketing system, to notify customers when it’s their turn to be served, says Chris Panzetta, Managing Director of digital signage system integrator Be Digital.

“Integrating a ticking system with digital signage can reduce perceived waiting time, unlike when people are standing in a queue,” says Panzetta.

“The extra benefit of such a system is that people are regularly looking at the screen, so you have a captive audience. This makes it easier to communicate useful information, for example new rules or changes to procedures. The great thing about digital signage is that it’s captivating but not invasive and it doesn’t require any technology on the end users’ part.”

It’s important to use commercial-grade panels which people can read clearly, Panzetta says, rather than cutting costs with consumer-grade televisions and monitors.

Most panel makers provide digital signage control systems, such as Sony, NEC, Panasonic, Toshiba and Sharp.

While display manufacturers offer basic all-in-one digital signage solutions, third-party content management systems such as Scala, Navori and Ryarc tend to offer advanced functionality and greater flexibility. Such systems let you narrowcast to various demographics according to location, time of day and other factors - particularly useful if you’ve deployed a large, multi-site digital signage network. Panel makers are starting to partner with the major digital signage platforms.

“I think it pays to go with an established platform,” Panzetta says. “A lot of systems are web-based and claim to be scalable, but unless it’s been tested and deployed on thousands of screens I’d be very wary about partnering with them.”

“You want a system that can cater to your organisational structure. Management of roles doesn’t receive much attention but is one of the most important issues. If a local manager wants to update content, you need to be sure it doesn’t have implications for the wider system. Quality control becomes an important issue.”

As with any major IT project, start with considering your business objectives rather than focusing on technical issues up front.

“Don’t start by wondering about how big your digital signs will be,” Panzetta says. “If you start with your goal and work backwards, most of the other technical questions answer themselves.”

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