Canadian Architect

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Present-Tense Presentations

A new generation of audio-visual presentation technologies take advantage of computerization to deliver a sophisticated information package.

February 1, 2001
by Elizabeth Aikenhead

Once upon a time, speakers arrived at the proscribed business forum with carousel trays tucked under their arms, stiff screens were finally tugged down after a struggle, and lights were turned off. Before long the speaker would be stumbling around in the dark desperately clicking the remote, tousling with the slide projector that advanced, unbidden, and inevitably jammed to a halt, effectively defeating the speaker’s will to go on. Even when all goes quite smoothly, static slides and overhead projectors don’t cut it in today’s business environment. The lights are up now–and so is the volume–in the boardroom and the conference centre where multimedia, interactive and collaborative presentations are becoming the norm.

Chris Davies of Dog and Pony Studios–a dynamic, young multi- ple media firm that produces presentations for corporate clients–says that now everyone wants to have broadcast quality product for their presentations. Some of their clients even work with speech coach Elizabeth Hunt and Associates to perfect their pitch. Dog and Pony Studios look at the structure and content of the presentation, which may then be distilled into visual gimmicks that express the newsworthy landmark points and help the presenter engage the audience. Working with software such as Macromedia Director, the presenter’s script is supported with visuals displayed on a large screen.

Davies’ ideal presentation facility would be wired with lots of entry ports to give options on where to situate a laptop computer and position the projector to avoid shadows, or from the ceiling on a scissor drop. Generous ceiling heights are a clear advantage. The space should include a high-end computing network with many portals for teleconferencing. Lighting controls should also be accessible to the speaker, and an exceptional sound system goes a long way.

ICE Integrated Communications and Entertainment Inc. is a digital marketing, communications and e-business company providing a portfolio of strategic, creative and technology services with design, digital and live presentations for a wide range of corporate clients. Director of Marketing Services Gayle Duncan suggests that architectural firms might take advantage of current technological innovations with on-line presentations and COLA (client on line approval) sites. Managing architectural projects on-line is an effective way to slash travel costs and time.

ICE contracts Frishkorn Associates Inc. for the technical aspects of their events and presentations. Pete Kendell, Vice President of Frishkorn, says that the industry is changing in leaps and bounds. Although people still want to meet face to face, they may also want to communicate with involved parties all around the world and from more than one venue. With new projection technologies, they can transfer audio-visual information simultaneously in multiple directions so colleagues in different locations around the world can see and communicate with one another, creating a truly interactive and collaborative virtual meeting place.

In the old days, in order to see the image projected on a screen, blinds had to be closed and the lights turned off. This meant the audience could see the screen but not the presenter, making it difficult to have a conversation or otherwise interact. Now, plasma screens, LCD and Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors are brighter, sharper and smaller than previous generations which means that it’s possible to have ambient light in the room, although no matter how bright the projectors, they still can not compete with direct, natural light. (Although they are extremely bright and effective in certain environments, the LED screens used outdoors for advertising are typically very expensive, poor resolution and available in limited size). Another advantage of the LCD DLP projector is that because of its increased resolution and great light output, it is now commonplace to provide projection imagery that is more than 40 feet wide.

It is important to ensure that the information getting to the projector from the laptop computer is of the highest quality from its source on the Internet, video playback, DVD or traditional videotape playback. The boardroom architecture must allow external information to enter and exit the facility by phone lines, cable, satellite dish or Ethernet. Thus, the screen can be used as an interactive tool during the meeting to handle questions or provide music and visuals. A central switching hub is one solution. These are all important elements in planning a facility for teaming strategies where participants need to access their computer-based information from the boardroom table.

For presentations in large spaces, IMAG (Image Magnification) screens to the left and right of the speaker with multimedia visuals allow the audience to see a presentation from any point in the venue. Large meeting spaces, hotel ballrooms and convention centres should have plenty of evenly spaced, rated rigging points so the AV specialists can safely and effectively hang everything they might need from the ceiling.

With offices in 20 cities, Montreal-based TELAV International Simultaneous Translation Systems is Canada’s largest supplier of conference communications services and offers a progressive approach to the audio-visual and simultaneous interpretation business. Although audio-visual needs often don’t come up until the end of a project, TELAV’s David Lepine encourages architects to consider these at the outset of a project. He says that as projectors get smaller, better and offer more features at lower prices, more and more facilities are fully equipped. As companies invest more money in training, he’s seeing more well equipped classrooms in business environments.

The data/digital projector (also known as an LCD or DLP projector) is often used to project text, spreadsheets and video clips from the speaker’s laptop. Organizations are moving away from using portable projectors for travelling staff because many facilities now permanently install projectors with a well networked computer so that collaboration tools are always available. In addition, where travel was once a necessary evil of project presentations and process, now there are plenty of alternatives for communication, collaboration and quick decision-making in the new business environment. Audio conferencing features a telephone with several microphones throughout the room with full-duplex audio (standard phones have half-duplex). Data conferencing shares text, images and data in real time.

Advanced Presentation Products is an integrator of presentation products and services and provides technical expertise for business, government and education. They’re also one of Canada’s major resellers of plasma displays or flat screens. These are still pricey but they’re increasing in popularity. Mark McPherson, managing director of Advanced, says “The product itself is not complex. It’s basically a large monitor that can show different degrees of resolution and happens to be quite thin. The combination of its size and its very high-tech look make its applications virtually limitless.”

In addition to the new technologies available for large formal presentations, there are a wide variety of products that address in-house meeting needs. SMART Board software by SMART Technologies of Calgary is designed to work with conferencing applications such as Microsoft Net Meeting and is used to link two or more locations with telephone or data lines to transmit audio and video. They offer hardware and software for meeting, teaching, training or presentation situations. The SMART line includes interactive whiteboards (combining computer, a LCD/DLP projector with a traditional whiteboard), mobile multimedia cabinets, interactive overlays for plasma display panels, meeting information management software and classroom instruction and computer-control software.

Notes written on the interactive SMART Board are saved to a computer file and the touch-sensitive surface of the board can control projected Windows or Macintosh applications and multi-media materi
als such as CD-ROMs or the internet directly by touching the surface and using your finger as a mouse. The SMART Matisse is an interactive overlay for Plasma Display Panels and renders the PDP into a touch-sensitive interactive tool. The SMART Board software that goes along with these saves the handwritten notes including those written overtop of the software projected onto the board because it recognizes handwriting. It directly puts the notes into the computer which can then be printed. SynchronEyes allows instructors to see up to 16 students’ screens on their own and can broadcast to each screen. Another SMART product, Hawkeye, uses a boom camera to record images from a conventional whiteboard and transcribes the information into a .jpg computer file that can be distributed by e-mail or posted on a Web site.

Egan & TeamBoard also produces an Electronic WhiteBoard and Interactive Touchscreen. The manufacturer also recently introduced new software that includes a SlideSorter and Virtual Keyboard, AutoLaunch, faster Draw and Annotation and easier and more accurate Calibration which are all Windows 2000 compliant. The TeamBoard is an excellent tool to communicate visual data between the architectural office, client and site as well as to home office computers. The electronic white board is also making moves into the educational forum. The interactive touch screen is a dramatic and effective way to present and explore information and keep the audience focussed and involved rather than busy note-taking. Microsoft NetMeeting or other data conferencing packages allow virtual conferences where colleagues can participate from around the globe. Notes are captured in the colour with which they are written and can be printed, emailed or put onto a disk. The system facilitates distance learning and could also be a valuable tool for health care practitioners, especially those in isolated regions. The Woodbridge, Ontario-based company now also offers a Portable Presentation Kit that includes a TeamBoard, detachable stand, accessories and software which fit in the TeamBoard bag.

There are loads of AV consultants and plenty of quickly evolving products for dynamic and progressive presentations, so stash that carousel, things have got a lot more lively!

Elizabeth Aikenhead is a Toronto design journalist.




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