EZPro experience centre, China

Hurrairah bin Sohail explores the EZPro Experience Centre, a space that is not only geared to highlight the best hardware the AV world has to offer but also focus on how intelligent software can create better outcomes.

The EZPro Experience Centre is geared to showcase modern technology solutions. In particular, the space focuses on highlighting how EZPro’s integration services can help communication and collaboration spaces with hardware and software coming together for modern applications.

The main section of the EZPro Experience Centre is a training room along with connected meeting spaces and rooms. The experience centre seeks to demonstrate how technology has progressed to providing uniquely adept functions for communication and collaboration.

Kane Zhang, networked AV chief technology officer at EZPro, starts the conversation with a discussion about what the integrator wanted to achieve: “In a training room environment, or even meeting spaces, you can’t always guarantee where people will sit or stand. They can be packed tightly, or they can be far apart. But the core function of technology remains the same, people want to be heard clearly and seen clearly.

On the audio side, microphone technology has evolved to make sure that all the space is covered. But on the video side, we have primarily been using camera tracking which is the camera just pointing in different directions and changing as needed. We have started using a different term, ‘intelligent director’. Just swapping from one view to another is not enough. You have to frame the speaker and the content to convey the information and the scene, much like a director would frame a shot for a movie. You not only have to get the person in the shot, but you need to be able to follow them if they are moving, if they are writing on a whiteboard you need to get that content in frame as well. You need to do things smartly. And what we want to demonstrate in our training room is that this smart application is possible.”

Audix microphones are used across the EZPro Experience Centre. Like Zhang highlights, providing comprehensive audio coverage for today’s meeting spaces is a solved problem. Zhang delves into the specific reasoning boundary microphones have been used: “Boundary microphones look tidy, there is not much table space taken up. But boundary microphones, when compared with gooseneck microphones, will pick up more noise. In a training room environment, which we are trying to simulate, users will be typing on keyboards, moving papers around, maybe put a water bottle on the table. With the directional pickup of a gooseneck microphone, we can reduce the amount of unwanted noise that gets picked up.”

Completing the audio chain are IPS speakers, Powersoft amplifiers, and a Symetrix DSP. The choice of DSP is pivotal in building modern meeting spaces. Zhang talks about what Symetrix brings to the table: “The strength of modern DSPs is that they are crucial to the ecosystem, and specifically with a strong software layer you can use them to build the technology systems that end users need. Scalability is also important, because we need systems to go from being small to being large based on how the customer needs evolve. The strength of the Symetrix DSP, in my opinion, is the sound quality and the dynamic range. It has great A to D and D to A converters, the best on the market. And it is robust and stable because it is hardware-based and uses FPGA.”

The DSP was also key for the development of a critical part of EZPro’s offering which the experience centre is designed to highlight. Intelligent Director is not just a phrase, but the name for the smart camera and speaker tracking module that EZPro has developed in-house and offers to clients to improve communication and collaboration spaces.

Zhang says: “All the intelligent things are happening on the DSP. And the important thing for us is being able to program in Lua. Lua is a simple coding language, allowing us to talk to the machine directly. It allows us to create a direct conversation between hardware and software. Lua was used to build the engine that we call the ‘Intelligent Director’.”

Zhang provides details on how Intelligent Director is a step forward for AV’s technology offering: “Right now, there are three major ways we accomplish camera tracking and speaker tracking. The first is channel recognition, where we accurately recognise which microphone is being used and use that to send a command to the camera to point to the microphone being used. The second is space recognition, where you try and understand where the person is physically located and use that for camera tracking. And that last is using image analysis and AI, using body language to recognise the human and point the camera at that. In my opinion, for the perfect outcome all three approaches need to be mixed together into an all-in-one solution.”

Zhang also details why EZPro, in the capacity of a solution provider, is the right party to work of improving camera tracking and speaker framing outcomes: “A manufacturer will not be able to do this because they have their own expertise and their own areas of proficiency. But we are solution providers. Our job is to work with products from all different vendors and bring them together. And that is why we created Intelligent Director. The core of our technology is on the Symetrix DSP, and we are very proficient with DSPs. The choice of the end point, whether it is a microphone or a camera or a switch, does not matter. Sure, there are products that are easier to work with. But at the end of the day, it is the Symetrix DSP which we have chosen to be the platform for our Intelligent Director software and we can integrate any end point with it.”

Zhang talks about how much work has gone into developing Intelligent Director: “I have been thinking about the problem of camera tracking for many years. Intelligent Director is currently on version 3.0. It took us about a month of programming to build the first version. And then to go to version 2.0 is took us three years because we must make sure that the system is stable. And now we are at version 3.0 which we believe is solid and ready to be deployed for users.”

He elaborates the challenges being faced at the moment: “The biggest challenge for us now is putting the system to test in actual projects. We have been offering the Intelligent Director to our clients and it has been deployed. But the number of rooms where an AI camera is required is a small part of the total number of meeting spaces where PTZ cameras are usually sufficient. We need to receive feedback from real-life deployments to further improve the capabilities of the system.”

He continues: “The secondary challenge lies with cameras. Right now, Intelligent Director is designed to work with Aver cameras. And the problem we are facing is that the wider set of cameras on the market do not make their APIs available to us to have that deep control that we need for Intelligent Director. We need to talk to manufacturers on a case-by-case basis so that they release the control and we can execute.”

Zhang concludes: “On the whole, Intelligent Director requires the DSP, microphone, and camera to work together. We can do this, but we need the industry to come together as a whole to realise that we need to make sure that products work together. The end users want their technology to work at the click of a button. It is our job, as solution providers, to make this happen. And we need support from the manufacturers and vendors and solution providers to make this happen.”

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