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Tough Tablet to Follow

Crestrons Isys i/O Reinforces its Total Home Technology Commitment

Technology: if you cant live with it, then we can do without it. Its Fred Bargetzis motto that to truly understand, you must first live with it. As vice president of technology for Crestron Electronics Inc., its part of Bargetzis job to live with technologysome completed, some in the process of being completed and some diamonds in the rough.

Such was the case during the beginning stages of the development for the companys Isys i/O TPMC-10 WiFi Touchpanel. One of the latest additions to Crestrons line, this product received the Manufacturers Excellence Award for Best New Product this year at the CEDIA EXPO in Indianapolis, Indiana.

I lived with this in my house for almost a year to experience what the typical family would experience with this panel, Bargetzi reflected, noting that the best feedback came from his own family. The real test was leaving this thing lying around and making sure that they could operate it in a reliable manner that they think is easy to use, without really teaching them how to do it. Living with the product is key.

Bargetzi said that part of the inspiration behind Isys i/O was Crestrons pre-existing e-Control 2 technology. I was researching the feasibility of using Web tablets as remote control devices, he explained. We had introduced our e-Control 2 software, which allows you to take a web tablet or wireless device, like a PDA, and turn it into a remote control device.

While e-Control 2 has proved to be successful for Crestron, Bargetzi believed that it could be developed even further if he and his team were able to re-configure a web tablet for their explicit purposes. There were a lot of less-than-desirable results that I discovered when running a software application off of a standard, off-the-shelf web tablet, he admitted.

For example, Bargetzi realized that when the panel is activated, it doesnt make sense to boot up through Windows. That process essentially meant that an application must be launched to execute an extremely simple command, such as turning on the television. If I have a panel that is primarily going to be used as a remote control device, I want it to be my remote control device first and foremost, and then second of all, perform all of these peripheral functions. One of the biggest criteria for me was that this is a convenience feature, and the reason that you buy a Crestron remote control is for convenience.

The result of a partnership between Crestron and ViewSonic, Isys i/O combines wireless touchpanel control with mobile computing through the use of a ViewSonic web tablet and Crestron engineering prowess. A Windows operating system is embedded into the display, enabling the use of various PC applications such as Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Microsoft Inbox, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat, in addition to providing the functions traditionally associated with home control, including audio/video distribution, lighting, climate control and security.

With a regular Windows or Linux device, the way that they transmit and receive commands is not necessarily desirable from a remote control perspective, Bargetzi said, noting that under these systems, commands are stacked within the operating system before being sent out over WiFi. If you walk out of range with your panel, you may not have 100 percent coverage wherever you are.

This means, Bargetzi explained, if you are adjusting the volume for your home audio system, two things can happen. One, the command is lost and the volume continues to ramp up while the user is out of range, providing for an unwelcome auditory surprise once the unit is back within range. Two, the command is delivered while out of range and the user hears nothing happening. Its natural to continue hitting the volume up button and once the unit is back within range, the volume would be exceedingly high.

To ensure that the system is secure, Crestron has locked down the Windows operating system to prevent viruses or the chance that the user might mistakenly overwrite files. The unit is WiFi compatible, capable of delivering two-way, high-speed communications through any 802.11b or 802.11g wireless network.

By embedding Windows into Isys i/O, Crestron got around these issues. All of the negatives associated with a PCviruses and hard drive contaminationcant occur because a user cannot put anything on the hard drive. The same goes for security, where Crestron has used its commercial products experience to protect its systems.

On a cosmetic level, Isys i/O was designed to offer optimal viewing at any angle. The device operates through four programmable buttons and an integrated thumb pad, which enable control of volume, channel selection, OSM navigation (DVD, DSS, etc.), and pan/tilt cameras. The unit is charged through a docking station and can be easily accessed while charging. Additionally, the Isys i/O comes equipped with a built-in tuned port speaker system, microphone and stereo headphone output for mobile entertainment applications, or the use of a wireless intercom system.

According Crestron, the introduction of Isys i/O is in keeping with the companys decision to offer a broad package of complementary products. The concept started with a control system and a touchpanel. Next, they added a lighting solution, called LightSource, along with thermostats, audio and video distribution solutions and digital home theater products. The next piece logical addition was a touchpanel that is WiFi compatible, secure and does most of the things that a PC can do. It all adds up to what the company has coined Total Home Technology.

Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) works from her office in Vancouver, BC.