One Meeting Planner’s Challenge Post COVID – the Answer is Short

At a recent gathering of professional meeting planners, they tapped into my AV industry experience to discuss how to keep people socially distanced but not have to rent a ton more meeting space while providing a great AV experience. I told them the answer was short… short throw!

I recently had the privilege to be involved in a meeting planner’s conference with a mix of agencies and in-house corporate planners to discuss the business of getting back to in-person meetings. Part of my role at Almo is to help plan and produce our own E4 Experience traveling show among dozens of other smaller tradeshows, events and summits with the help of an amazing events team. As the turmoil of COVID continues to linger, we all compared notes about “how are we going to do it… and SAFELY?”.

One major expense for any event is the rental of the meeting space – it’s usually wrapped into a package with catering and sleeping rooms but when you have a local event like an E4 Experience, the meeting space rental can be pricey. My fellow meeting planners there do not have the advantage of their own “house AV” comprised of many CTS Certified business development managers such as Brian Rhatigan to help spec and design the most effective solution.

The usual gold standard for a meeting is rear projection for that “wow” factor of the big stage with multiple screens without seeing that ugly stand and hoping someone does not walk in front of it, trip on a cable(s)… you get the picture. However, we all know that takes up a lot of space. Now that we have to socially distance six feet apart and still want that wow factor and NOT break the bank on meeting space, we’re lucky to have in our arsenal the short throw projector which, if used properly can still provide the “wow”.

Epson’s PowerLite Pro L series offers a full line of high-bright laser projectors ranging from 6,000 lumens up to 30,000 lumens, all with optional interchangeable lenses including those for short throw applications.  When it comes to rear-projection, a typical projector will require about 25 feet of clearance behind the screen.  This can be reduced significantly by using one of Epson’s short throw lenses shrinking the required distance down to under 10 feet.  For a 75-foot-wide ballroom this gives you an additional 1875 square of usable space while maintaining the clean and clutter-free look of rear-projection.

My meeting planner colleagues were also discussing various ways to produce more revenue for sponsorships or reduce the cost of printing large signs and paying for rigging for, in many cases, union labor (not to mention the environmental impact of all that vinyl in landfills). I introduced them to the Epson LightScene laser projector to empower them with the creative freedom and flexibility to tell the client’s story, in the way they envision it. Forget the old gobo lights!!! Engage your audience by designing a visually compelling and immersive experience.

It was SO great being IN-PERSON with these folks! The ideas flowing, exchanging terrific keynote speakers, wonderful venues – there’s nothing like being in person. As part of the AV industry, I was thrilled to share some new tech with them to help us all get back together.


As the trite saying goes, the only constant is change.  The trials and tribulations of COVID-19 underscore this idea by testing our ability to navigate uncertainties, a continually evolving “new normal,” and pivoting business models.  Our schools are among the hardest hit in all three of these areas.  Safety, new teaching and learning methods, unfamiliar technology, and daily go/no-go uncertainty of in-class instruction dominate many teachers’ and students’ thoughts.  Simultaneously, many speculate on the potential long-term emotional impact on children of the COVID generation.

I am mostly optimistic.  One life-skill contributing to long-term success is adaptability to change, and now is the perfect time to master this skill.  I am not a child psychologist and expect to get some comments on how feeling safe and other factors shape the young mind.  While I agree, I also believe we have an opportunity to favorably influence the long-term implications while building resiliency in our children through the example we set in our responses to our circumstances.  A vital part of the modeling includes the attitude teachers demonstrate for students in the face of challenges.  But teachers need help too.  The AV community can minimize instructor stress and maximize adaptability by suggesting distance learning solutions requiring limited teacher intervention or training.  Having taught for many years at the college level, I know firsthand that instructors and professors have enough on their minds that mastering a new classroom tool can increase anxiety and reduce education delivery quality.  In the process, this stress response potentially adversely impacts their ability to adapt to the new COVID-induced realities and negatively influences students’ attitudes and long-term adaptability.  Conversely, if we maximize teacher comfort in their new HyFlex and distance learning environments, they are more likely to model the adaptability needed for long-term student wellbeing.

When we first moved to remote models, leveraging Zoom got remote classes up and running quickly.  Many schools rapidly adapted, and teachers learned the new technology.  But as time progressed, they discovered they needed something more.  The wish list and questions raised included several of the following items:

  • Zero teacher interaction – Start class and the technology works.  When teachers need to remember to start recording, then the recordings often do not happen.
  • Minimal training requirements for the teacher – The more training needed, the lower the retention, adoption, and proper utilization, and the higher the stress
  • Reduced resource impact on teaching computer – Who thinks their computer is fast enough?  Presenter PCs sometimes bog down.  Running capture, streaming, or soft codec software on top of presentations further stresses the machines.
  • If the instruction PC seizes or needs a restart, what happens to the stream and recording?  Does the instructor need to remember to restart the application?
  • After class, how does content get to remote students?  Does the teacher need to upload the lecture content to an LMS or provide a link to students?
  • Could the network experience bandwidth issues while uploading content to the LMS during peak times?  Does this potentially interfere with live classes running concurrently with the uploads?
  • Does the recording contain tags to simplify playback and searches?  If so, what are the post-production requirements to embed the information?
  • How can we create student experiences similar to the classroom, where the students can individually control what they view and when?  For example, sometimes they want to see the teacher, sometimes the content from the presentation computer, and at other times the whiteboard.  Globally switching the content may cause some students to miss content when they need to see a source longer than presented.
  • What if the teacher moves around the classroom?  How do you maintain their image on camera while ensuring they have good audio pickup?  Speaking of audio, how do you pick up questions from students in the classroom well enough for far-end participants to hear?

Each of the items above represents a potential stress-inducing pain-point, reducing instructional quality and the student experience.  Finding an ideal solution that addresses all of these issues could take a rack of equipment, control systems, and programming.  Additionally, while there are technical solutions to address all of the above questions, how do you do it all without breaking the bank?

Frankly, in some cases, you can’t do it all without the end-user spending money.  But, there are methods to make it more palatable.  First, identify the priorities.  Sometimes schools want everything but are willing to accept some trade-offs.  Understanding your customers’ priorities can save you time hunting for the unicorn solution that fits their budget too.  Second, familiarize yourself with some of the potentially lesser-known options on the market with user- and integrator-friendly feature-sets designed to address schools’ preferences.  Some of the items to familiarize yourself with include:

  • Cattura CaptureCast – A recording, streaming, and publishing appliance that automatically captures classes, tags the content, and posts to an LMS with zero teacher intervention or burden on the presenter’s PC.  The choice of HDMI or SDI inputs makes them source agnostic, and student controlled multiview playback emulates the classroom experience from the far-end.  Remarkably affordable for the value.
  • Stem Audio ecosystem – Broad coverage or a controlled, narrow pickup area, Stem provides ceiling, wall, and table, mics with speakers and integrated DSP, in a simple to design and implement format.  A couple of units cover most classrooms, while PoE convenience, USB connection to a soft-codec, and system self-tuning help the budget while ensuring intelligibility for all participants.
  • VDO360 AutoPilot and CompassX – An auto-tracking camera that does not require a lanyard or third-party control, along with a decent conventional PTZ camera.  With the Autopilot covering the teacher, the CompassX on the content and connected, to a CaptureCast (with Stem Audio), provides the “killer app” in lecture capture.

It seems like I have the same conversation with integrators daily.  They have a school system that tried the lowest cost mic and camera connected to the presenter PC, but now they need something better.  They need something easy to integrate and low stress for the teacher that provides a positive learning experience – and all three of the items above, along with new other options, frequently receive favorable responses from all parties.  Most importantly, however, is the impact on students.  As a father of three remote high school students experiencing varying Covid-19 outlooks, and teacher influences, I appreciate students’ need to see role-models successfully navigating today’s challenges.  Technology in the new-classroom can enhance or impair the teachers’ experience, and by extension, the students’.  So, the next time you are working on classroom projects, remember your design may impact the teacher experience, and by extension, the long-term resilience of the students in their charge.

I welcome your insights.  Please share your thoughts on balancing quality distance learning solutions with teacher comfort and budget constraints.  What are your views on how the teaching experience can impact student adaptability and the long-term resilience of the COVID generation?  Feel free to comment below or reach out to me at [email protected].

Zoomtopia 2019 – Out of this world

This past week, Zoom hosted their annual user conference in San Jose, California.  The reported number of registrations for the event was double that of last year and was listed at 2600. From employees dressed as Astronauts to Snoop Dogg, this event was in a world of its own. Read on to hear one man’s journey to Zoomtopia.

New Tech Unveiled

Zoom’s CTO revealed some new features already available and some currently in beta.  We will soon be able to convert speech to text while conducting a video conference call and have that text be searchable.  This is not new technology and has limited use in my opinion.  Another feature that will soon be available is language translation.  In real time you can speak to a colleague from another part of the world and both speak in your native languages.  They provided a demonstration of this with English, French and Spanish speaking guests all communicating together.   I was impressed with this feature until the demonstration when they showed two additional individuals on the active call who were human translators.  I don’t think I want a total stranger on my calls, live-translating my business dealings.  Another feature relates to virtual backgrounds.  This functionality exists today, though soon you’ll be able to add a motion-enriched virtual background. The demonstration of this was an individual with a beach scene behind him.  At first the waves and palm trees were still images, and then once activated the waves began to crash onto the beach and palm trees sway in the breeze.  Personally, I think all virtual backgrounds look like an elementary school aged child’s first attempt at Photoshop.  This feature in action is even more distracting! The Zoom Phone was also a heavily discussed topic as it attempts to disrupt the traditional VOIP phone market.  A new feature demonstrated included an employee who received a call on her Zoom phone, placed the call on hold, transferred it to her cell phone, then found an available Zoom room and once she entered the room transferred the call to that system and continued on with their discussion.  This sequence of events may seem simple as I’ve described it, however nothing is simpler than stating, “I’ll call you back from the conference room.”

Workshops and Conferences

After the keynote and several hours of working the joint Avocor/Almo booth, I jumped into a session labeled, “Deep Dive into the Future of Zoom Rooms.” The description did mention a guest speaker from Poly, Tim Root and Zoom employee Jeff Smith, but no one else.  A representative from Neat was added last minute, which turned this into a 45 minute sales pitch on Poly vs. Neat.

The troubling part of this was that Poly had been promoting their partnership with Zoom for months leading up to the Zoom user conference and Neat hadn’t even been announced until the opening keynote a mere 4 hours earlier.  The heavy investments made by Poly, Logitech, Crestron and others appeared to be dismissed for this new brand which Zoom has invested into.

I attended a session titled “Going advanced with Zoom Rooms for ProAV,” where I was joined by several supporting audio visual integrators.  If you’ve been in the AV industry for any length of time, you would have been able to teach this course.

Discussions included panel and camera placement, the need for confidence monitors and table top mics vs. ceiling mics.  This did not accurately represent ProAV.

I anticipate those who began to read this have since stopped and moved onto another article or dove back into their inbox.  That’s ok. They’ll not be at next year’s Zoom conference, but if you’re still reading, I hope you will consider attending! For as harsh as I’ve been about this conference, it included some amazing interactions. While demonstrating Avocor’s 65” & 75” displays with Zoom kits including Logitech, Huddly, MXL mics, Lenovo and JBL, I was engaging with high level execs from Fortune 500, oil & gas, universities and various startups in tech and biomedical.  In addition, many of AVIXA’s top integrators were in attendance to better understand how to engage with this fast growing company.

In Closing

Zoom may not have released a fancy new widget or enhancement and that’s ok.  Those are not the reasons why this platform has been so rapidly accepted.  It’s been adopted because it just works as expected! For new users, there is very little instruction needed to get up and running.  Of course, if you are looking to deploy a Zoom Conference Room, you will need the assistance of a Professional Audio Visual Integrator.  Many of the end users I spoke with complained about the all-in-one solutions on the market as having a bad camera, mic or insufficient audio enhancement for their space.  Although Zoom is sending mixed messages to end users about the need for our industries expertise, end users seem clear on what they need.  They want Zoom and they want the best display, mic and speakers for their specific space.  Sure, some customers will look to deploy Zoom Rooms themselves, but there will always be DIY end users.  Almo has prepared kits with Zoom certified hardware for various room needs and sizes.  These kits come complete with all the essentials and allow our integrators to purchase all brands from a single source.

While still relatively small, Zoom managed to draw an impressive crowd to this user conference.  The size allowed for sufficient engagement and there was genuine interest in expanding this platform across the globe. Zoom is expanding into various global markets like Central and South America, Europe and Asia Pacific.  To be successful, they will need Professional Integrators to deploy professional enterprise solutions that can all be found at Almo!


As Almo Professional AV prepares to celebrate 10 years in operation as business unit of Almo Corporation I feel grateful and proud to be part of this great organization. Looking back to 2009, at the origination of the division we had no vendor partners and no customers while today we have thousands of loyal customers and amazing partnerships with approximately 50 of the most desired manufacturers in the industry.

While many key factors have contributed to our mutual success with our customers and vendor partners, one key driver is our intentional strategy to keep our line card relatively narrow and focused compared to other distribution companies. When it comes to displays and projectors we aim to partner with a wide range of vendors to support the demand in the marketplace, however in other product categories we have chosen to partner with only a small number of manufacturers that we feel to be the best in class. This strategy has helped Almo to remain important to our existing partners as well as enabled us to better support a more narrow set of vendors.

With this, you won’t see very many new vendor partnerships announced by Almo each year.   However, when it makes sense for a new partnership in the eyes of Almo and the potential vendor and we feel the partnership will bring value to our loyal customers then we will move forward with a new product offering.   The last six to nine months we have found ourselves in a situation where there were several new partnerships taking place including D-Link, Ecler, VDO360, and Vivitek.

If you have had the opportunity to attend any of our recent E4 Experience events you likely heard our keynote speaker Gary Kayye talking about the emergence of AV over IP solutions. If you think about it, all sorts of professional A/V products now have a network port and can live on an IP network. The addition of D-Link now gives our customers the ability to include the networking solutions (i.e. switches, wireless routers, etc.) along with the rest of the gear they are sourcing from Almo for their given project.

Ecler, while probably not a familiar name to you here in the United States has been providing high quality commercial audio solutions in Europe for over 50 years. Through our partnership as the exclusive distributor in the United States Almo can offer our customers high quality proven products including loudspeakers, amplifiers, DSP, mixers & more at competitive pricing all while helping dealers to maintain healthy margins on their projects.

When it comes to soft codec based video conferencing, Zoom has taken the world by storm so it’s only natural that manufacturers are offering products that integrate with soft codec platforms. One of the challenges is including different components from different vendors that may or may not be tested or certified by Zoom potentially leading to support issues post installation.   One of the things that attracted us to VDO360 was their single SKU, single box ZoomRoom kit that includes the camera, audio conferencing, PC, tablet controller and all required cabling, leaving out only the display.

While we were already well served with our existing projector manufacturer relationships, the addition of Vivitek adds a little more depth to our line up and will provide our customers with quality projector hardware at price points that may have not been previously available, with strong programs to enhance dealer’s margins.

Please visit or contact your Almo Account Manager for additional details on these solutions. Next stop, InfoComm 19.  Register with code ALM123 for a free pass.

A Free-Standing Interactive Kiosk Installed with Content in 30 Minutes? Yep!

Would you be interested in installing a free-standing, 55” portrait kiosk with touch and Wi-Fi connectivity?  This kiosk would support a simple interactive directory board, which an end-user can easily update and manage using a cloud-based CMS.  All this for around $5,500 retail with an estimated $120/yr. cloud-based CMS fee?  And better yet, install it in 30 minutes?

I think I just heard a collective YES!!!!!!!!!!

The opportunity has arrived and is available to dealers regardless of digital signage content experience or having an extensive company.

Introducing the Peerless-AV KIPICT555 “All-in-One” portrait, free-standing kiosk.  This kiosk solution is literally ready  to go out of the box with a low suggested retail list price of $3,375.  It ships complete and assembled with a 55”, 24/7 display that has six simultaneous points of interactive touch, a BrightSign media player and Wi-Fi/RJ45 connectivity.  An integrator just unpacks the kiosk, moves it into position and plugs it in.  Once powered, simply follow a few on-screen menu instructions and the kiosk is ready for a digital signage application.

Here’s a video of Earl Naegele, Managing Director at Peerless-AV explaining this Kiosk at a 2018 E4 AV Tour Stop.

And, Almo’s content creation services stands ready to provide dealers with content solutions for their customers.  Almo provides dealers with standardized and custom solutions utilizing HTML5 cloud-based content and an easy-to-use CMS for end-users.  This includes end-user training to fully complete the project.

BTW, did you know that Almo recently acquired Insteo, a specialized digital signage content and creative company?  Check it out!

Dealers now have the abililty to offer the ENTIRE digital signage solution and control the entire transaction.  In turn, Almo has the Peerless-AV KIPICT555 in stock and our content creation team ready to provide solutions to meet your customers’ visions.

Almo’s E4 AV Tour will be making stops this fall in Boston, MA on September 21 and Nashville, TN on October 26.  Don’t miss your chance to see the Kiosk and other exciting technology from your favorite manufacturer partners and register to attend now!

Audio – Twenty Years Ago. One Almo BDM’s Fond Memories and Meager Beginnings

Hello Almo Customers!

As the New Year begins, I thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself, as I am one of the newer Business Development Managers here at Almo.

My name is Steve Alexander, I came on board with Almo in July of 2017 to help grow the audio offerings we provide to you, our customers. I’ve been involved in professional audio since the early 1980’s, graduating from the music business program at Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Click Image to Listen  

Like many of you, while in school I did various jobs to supplement my meager student existence. My first “real” job in pro audio was working in a Music Row recording studio making cassette (you remember those, don’t you?) tape copies for songwriters and publishers wanting to pitch their songs to artist to put on their next release.

I eventually made my way to the control room, wrapping cables, setting up mics, and observing everything I could in order to have a chance to sit in front of the mixing console. During my tenure, I managed to work in various studios around town, eventually making my way up to chief engineer.

A number of years later I am still in love with audio. I’ve had gigs selling equipment to broadcast facilities, did some IT work as a Cisco engineer, and ran a team of AV pros supporting AV & VC technologies at the World Bank in Washington, DC.

I eventually married and settled in beautiful Annapolis, MD. Annapolis is blessed with a great number of talented musicians I got to know over time and thought, what’s an audio guy with an unfinished basement to do other than make the basement into a studio! Now remember, this was twenty years ago. So with a small budget I got to work. I triple-walled the control room and performance space to ensure as little noise as possible, made it into a performance space and built out the control room and vocal booth.

I decided to stick with a tape based system as a full blown Pro-Tools system was out of my financial reach at that time. So I decided on three Tascam DA-38’s synced together using their RC-848 transport remote, a Behringer 24×8 console was my recording desk, and I had a good bit of outboard gear to supplement what the Beheringer didn’t offer sonically, a Focusrite mic-pre & EQ, a number of dbx compressor/limiters, urei leveling amps, a Hafler audio amp,  JBL monitors and Auratone’s for my car audio mix. All this was tied together using Whirlwind TTL patchbays to route signals.  Over the years I had assembled a nice collection of microphones, from Shure SM57’s, to Sennheiser 421’s, and AKG D10, C391B’s, 414, etc.

One of my favorite projects was a compilation Christmas CD featuring local Annapolis artist. That CD provided the impetus for the still running two night live show of “An Annapolis Christmas” that occurs every December at our local music venue the Rams Head on Stage.

I’ve included a mix of “This Christmas” as performed by the Annapolis based band, Majesty 12.

No, it won’t sound as if it was recorded at Capital Studio A, but it ain’t bad considering it was recorded in my basement… ahh, my salad days…

Twenty years later, the technology is exponentially better, just to say you don’t need a million dollar budget to put together a decent sounding recording facility. This translates into the install and integration markets as well. With the convergence of AV and IT, the possibilities are truly endless. It’s an exciting time to be an AV professional. Almo ProAV is dedicated to helping our partners provide the best in class solution to their end users.

I hope you will allow me to assist you with any upcoming projects you have that involve audio.

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