Category Archives: Digital Education

4 Features to Look for When Buying a Presentation Switcher

Have you ever been in a meeting where presenters changed or the input source needed to change? Typically, this involves switching cables and changing the source on a display, which wastes time and creates distractions. The advent of the presentation switcher has made awkward and time-consuming fumbling around a thing of the past. But not all presentation switchers are created equally. Here are the key features to look for when selecting a presentation switcher for your conference room:

1. Easy Connectivity Regardless of Source

It’s very common to have a variety of analog and digital sources that need to connect to a display during a meeting. A presentation switcher that can accommodate a host of inputs, including DisplayPort, is important to maximize flexibility.

2. Seamless Switching

When more than one source is required, it can be inefficient and time consuming to switch in between sources. Look for the ability to switch quickly between sources, like projectors and laptops, without latency. Lulls in a presentation can lead to losing the audience’s interest. Look for a presentation switcher with the most seamless switching capabilities.

3. Built-in HDBaseT Extension

HDBaseT technology enables users to present from remote sources or to transmit to a remote display over existing CAT5e and CAT6 cable. Presentation switchers with built-in HDBaseT extension enable you to take advantage of existing infrastructure saving both time and money.

4. Future Proof Presentation Switching

Technology is always evolving therefore it is important to look for a presentation switcher that can accommodate change. Look for a presentation switcher that supports 4K UHD with the ability to scale signals up or down in order to match the display resolution. 4K UHD is currently the best resolution we have, so finding a switcher that supports it ensures you never encounter display issues. Backwards compatibility is also necessary, as well, as you will most like encounter a variety of newer and legacy displays.

In a technology-focused world, presentations that utilize multiple, multimedia tools are the norm. Presentation switchers have entered the arena to make multimedia presentations more impressive, interactive, and seamless. Not only do they enhance presentations, but they also enhance the collaborative nature of a multimedia presentation. Whether you are switching between sources or switching between presenters, a presentation switcher will ensure the process is effortless.

Find out more about our Presentation Switchers or get an overview of Black Box conference room solutions.

Encourage collaboration with modern huddle spaces and conference rooms

Research shows collaborative environments foster innovation, improve team performance by ensuring everyone is working towards the same goal, and increase employee retention since people prefer to belong to a team and contribute to the team’s goals. Next generation workers and the need for companies to compete on a global basis will drive demand for collaboration solutions throughout the organization, according to a Wainhouse Research study.

Perhaps that’s why, in recent years, a more agile approach to meetings and working in collaborative groups has been embraced by schools and businesses of all sizes. Implementing collaboration solutions such as huddle spaces, or small-space meeting areas, in addition to larger conference rooms is one of the ways organizations are making this change.

What is a huddle space?

A huddle space is a smaller meeting space, which can take place just about anywhere. It typically accommodates six or less attendees. They range from basic spaces to well-equipped and advanced rooms. Basic huddle spaces, with either open area or private closed rooms, may be equipped with a small table, some chairs, a speakerphone, and perhaps a dry erase board. Whereas, well-equipped and advanced huddle rooms may include flat panel displays, integrated AV conferencing, and a wireless presentation system. Huddle spaces do not typically include enhancements such as ceiling speakers, acoustic wall treatment, or AV control system.

What should your huddle space include to promote collaboration?

The way huddle spaces are used varies by organization, location, vertical market, culture, etc. Whether or not a huddle space is effective depends on the given task and requirement of the space. If you’re planning for a well-equipped huddle space, you should also consider your AV technology needs as well.

In general, your huddle space should include equipment that has:

  1. Interoperability with other products you may have in the space such as screens, projectors, panels, or touchscreens.
  1. BYOD support which allows collaboration/sharing of any type of device the meeting participant has. For example, participants could bring a laptop, tablet PC, mobile phone, or netbook and connect with ease.
  1. Content sharing capabilities. For example, a presenter may need to share any number of pieces of content with other participants simultaneously.
  1. An intuitive interface, which will reduce barriers to use. The easier your equipment is to use, the more participants feel comfortable using new technology.
  1. The ability to allow an unlimited number of users to participate. While there is a practical limit to the number of people that can fit in a room or share a screen, facilities change and so do user’s needs. Try not to get locked into limiting systems which only allow 4-6 concurrent users.

In addition to many of the items needed to make a good huddle space, for your larger conference rooms you may need additional AV solutions.

What should your modern conference room include to promote collaboration?

Today’s larger meeting rooms often come with higher expectations. They will certainly start with the same type of collaboration solutions discussed earlier for huddle spaces. Additionally, they must provide support for tomorrow’s technology using today’s design. These rooms often require more types of equipment, which may require support for a wide range of video signals.

In general, your modern conference room should include equipment that has:

  1. Switching capabilities to manage video signals that need to be shown on one or more displays.
  1. Presenter control options for switching. For more efficient meetings, select a switch that automatically switches to a new source when a new user connects a device.
  1. Scaling able to work with a wide range of video signals, both current and legacy, to ensure the display is compatible with anything that needs to be presented.
  1. Reliable video distribution capabilities to send and receive audio, video, control and even power from another room or building.
  1. Video wall capability to display any source from anywhere with switching control.

When designing and outfitting the spaces, it’s important to think ahead and design for AV systems that can adapt and grow as technology changes.

Have a collaboration space that needs to be enabled by AV technology? Call a Black Box AV expert.

Additional Resources:
Content sharing: Wireless Presentation systems
See our AV and Multi Media solutions
Storage and charching of mobile devices

Black Box ISTE 2015 Recap

ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia
ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia

Are cloud services and 3D printing the next wave in EdTech? After just a few days at ISTE 2015 I’ve noticed a prevalence of 3D printing and cloud services. 3D printing is an exciting new technology to bring into the classroom. Many learning concepts can be hard to visualize. By enabling students to take their work and create a tangible, physical object that they can manipulate the learning experience improves significantly. It used to be that you had to pay thousands of dollars for the ability to do this, but the influx of competitors has made the opportunity more affordable. It’s a win for students and educators.

Black-Box-ISTE-2015Cloud services have been around for quite some time, but they really seem to be coming into their own. From classroom and device management to collaboration and presentation tools, almost everything you need can now be handled from the cloud. It’s a great way to involve parents and allow students to continue to work from home. The ability to collaborate with other students around the world is also a fantastic opportunity that I wish I could have experienced. However, with the movement towards cloud services comes increased pressure on schools to improve their infrastructure and bandwidth. Luckily, many funding resources like the e-rate program have noticed this trend and are pushing more and more money towards network infrastructure upgrades.

As your school moves toward more cloud-based options and brings in e-learning devices such as iPads or Chromebooks to enhance student learning, you’ll need a secure place to store and charge the devices. You may even need to transport the devices from classroom to classroom.

Black Box has you covered with storage and charging solutions for the entire e-learning device spectrum – from small iPad minis to larger 15.6” Chromebooks. At ISTE 2015, we showed the attendees our deluxe and standard charging carts for popular e-learning devices. Most were excited about the safety-first design (no pinch points, no ledges for children to climb on, no sharp edges, and internal electrical components) and the low-cost options. And, many IT administrators I spoke with were excited to see the rack mount rails on our deluxe charging cart. The flexible rack mounting system means that you won’t have to replace your carts every time you change or upgrade your electronic devices. As technology changes, the carts can be easily reconfigured to fit your needs.

As the new fiscal year starts, get in touch with one of our education specialists! Contact Black Box  to discuss your needs. Ask about our custom designs, too.

Additional resources
White Paper: 12 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Tablet and Laptop Cart
ISTE: 10 Ways to Get Started with 3D Printing
ISTE: The 9 Hottest Topics at ISTE 2015

6 steps to planning Digital Signage

Schools worldwide use digital signage to alert, inform, and educate students and faculty. Applications vary. For example, schools use digital signage to: promote events in schools; aid in instructional efforts or wayfinding; communicate important, up-to-date information; broadcast emergency alerts and instructions; and centralize the distribution and production of content.

With the many available digital signage solutions, finding the right one for your school might seem like an overwhelming task. But taking some time to research and understand your options will be well worth the investment. Follow these key steps.

  1. Define your goals and objectives.

What do you want to achieve? Also, think about scalability. For instance, how do you want the system to serve you long term? Putting up a screen in your school’s lobby certainly constitutes a big step in improving communications in your institution. But how will that hardware expenditure work when you want to expand? Approaching digital signage deployment in piecemeal fashion can be fiscally problematic.

  1. Clearly define the content.

The success of any digital signage system starts, of course, with the content. It must look fresh, exciting, and professional. Who will create it and how will it be presented? Do you have internal resources and expertise, or will you need to outsource content creation?

A good source of creative and editorial help can be found in aspiring graphic designers chosen from the student ranks, in addition to your school’s art department, yearbook and newspaper staffs, and TV studio (if you have one).

  1. Invest the time to understand your options.

Once you’ve decided on content, you need to consider the infrastructure that will deliver it and study your display options. For example:

  • LCD vs. plasma
  • Zones
  • RSS feeds
  • Live video
  • Dynamic content
  • Remote management
  • Playback verification

The options will seem limitless, so taking time to sort through them is important.

  1. Involve all the appropriate stakeholders.

The communications/information department should be involved at the start, considering that your digital signage will likely be used for external community relations. In addition to your district’s administration (superintendent, principals, and purchasing personnel), don’t forget to include instructional technology staff. This includes the AV department; maintenance and security staff; your curriculum, athletic, and cafeteria directors; and key school board members. Digital signage implementation also involves all the usual IT suspects: network and database managers, webmasters, and infrastructure engineers.

  1. Figure out how you’re going to pay for it.

When it’s used to simply advertise or promote school events, digital signage can be seen by some as a luxury item—particularly with shrinking school budgets and rising instructional expenses. However, since it can also be used as a tool for emergency communications and notification, administrators can easily make the case to their school boards that digital signage is a must-have component of any crisis plan—especially in this era when school violence incidents capture news headlines. Consider government and private sources of funding for your digital notification system.

And whether it’s kept entirely as an IT expenditure or distributed across multiple departments in your budget, you need a spending roadmap in addition to a developmental one. The hardest part with this may be determining the total cost of ownership over the life of the system, including any nickel-and-diming with ongoing licenses and upgrades.

  1. Decide how to implement the solution.

Based on your deployment size and scope, decide if you can implement it in-house or if you need the help of a professional integrator.

A number of “out-of-the box” systems can be set up with relative ease. But the more dynamic and complex the system, the more complicated the implementation and ongoing management—and the more likely you’ll need outside help.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?

Black Box offers digital signage products that range from plug-and-play to highly scalable, sophisticated solutions. If you’re considering a larger deployment with a fully integrated network solution, enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer, or comment below.