Your event is tomorrow and your images are not showing up on the monitor. It’s late, you traveled all day, and the AV tech is nowhere to be found. There are some simple things that can make or break your next event that we should all know. From who to call in the event your hardware is not working, to why the same thing you successfully tested at the office is now not viewable at the show. However, no one wants to ask what may appear to be an obvious question.
We recently attended an AV training session with some of our technicians where they shared key tips on how to ensure your AV functions in your booth. Below are some of the tips I gleaned from this session.
1. Always have your content ready well before the show. At a minimum, make sure to test it on the same model of computer or TV that will be used at the show. If your exhibit provider will be staging your booth in advance, send them the content ahead of time so they can incorporate the AV into the staging, if possible, and play your content at that time to ensure there are no issues with incompatible file types. Bring all the same cords you used to test the AV during staging to the show.
2. Know your file types. Find out what file type(s) you have and what file types your devices can play in advance, then communicate with the exhibit provider, AV rental or installation technicians so they know what kind of hardware you will need. Basic file types include MOV, AVI, MPG (MPEG), WMV and MP4.
3. Know the size and ratio of your TV. Determine whether or not the overall outer width & height of the TV will obstruct any graphics on your exhibit and if the size is compatible with the content you will be playing. 4:3 was the standard height/width ratio used in old CRT monitors and early flat screens, but today the standard for both TVs and monitors is 16:9.
4. Plan your internet connection well ahead of time. Whether you choose WiFi, Ethernet wired access or install a hot-spot in your booth you should have a backup. Also remember to evaluate costs depending on your needs and have some standalone content or another way to access or download data if the internet connection fails. Cost varies widely from show to show and a wired connection is often more expensive but may be worth it due to the issues that can arise with other options, especially in a large show venue.
5. Do you need a computer, flash drive or another device? Content may be playable simply by inserting a flash drive into the TV, but not all TVs have built-in flash drive readers and not all content can be played this way. Find out in advance if your TV and/or media will require a computer or internet access. Mini computers can often be purchased at a reasonable cost if you plan in advance.
6. To loop a video or series of photos, check the TV specifications Make sure the monitor you are using is capable of doing so and bring instructions on how to do that if needed. Some TVs have a built-in capability to loop a slideshow of images. Ensure yours does before leaving for the show. In order to loop content, the monitor must be in the appropriate setting. Some models must be in “Demo mode” while others must be in “Home Use mode.”
7. Make sure that your exhibit provider is aware of who you are hiring for AV Many exhibit providers already have AV rental or will arrange the setup with a preferred vendor if they can’t do it themselves. Either way, you will want to ensure the AV provider has all the appropriate tools and any necessary mounting hardware.
8. Bring an extra converter to hook up your laptop to your monitor. Extra cords don’t cost a lot, don’t take up a lot of room and won’t add a lot of weight to your bag… but they can be life savers! When in doubt, throw in an extra HDMI cable, USB cable and duct tape for wire management. While you are at it bring extra flash drives with all your content and upload that content to the cloud too.
9. Know your cords. Yes, I know, the sight of a jumble of cords makes me nauseous too. But here are some invaluable cord facts:
- HDMI – High Definition Multimedia Interface cords are the standard for connecting high-definition equipment. It transmits video, audio, and data. According to HDMI.org, virtually every TV sold today has at least one HDMI connection. At long runs (over 25’) an “active” HDMI Cord, a repeater or an amplifier will be needed.
- USB –Universal Serial Bus is a cable that provides charging and data connection to devices. Depending on the device you use you may need a different type of connector. There are 4 different types: Micro, Mini, Type A and Type B. The most common ones for AV are the Mini or type A or type A Flash drive. Make sure you double check what type of plug is needed on your device.
- DVI – Digital Visual Interface. Used for passing digital video signals from a computer to a monitor.
- VGA – Video Graphics Array 15 pin connector. This is a technology that is on its way out but is still used to transfer a signal from a computer to a TV.
- Ethernet Cable – Used to connect to the high-speed wired internet.
- Mini Display IEEE 1394 ports (also known as Firewire® or Thunderbolt™). Used for Apple products. Note that sizes vary depending on the machine you are using.
- Display Port. Used with computers and HD displays. Can also be used in multi-display splitting. It can be converted to HDMI using an external adapter if needed.
- RGB component cords or RCA connectors. On older projectors, DVD players or older TVs, multi-channel connectors are still used, so having a number of adapters is always your best bet.
From left to right: Mini B, B connector, A plug, B plug
For a great resource on everything you ever wanted to know about cords and more. Check out the crutchfield.com site Home A/V connections glossary.
10. Consider wire management. You don’t want your clients tripping over the connection between your laptop and the power source or the TV, so make sure nothing is obstructing traffic. Ideally, make sure cords are hidden and bring duct tape and zip ties just in case.
11. Make sure you have adequate cases to protect electronics from damage or theft. If you are bringing your own TVs, your exhibit house should be able to rent or sell you crates if you need them. At the very least, plan to have nondescript boxes with good quality foam to protect your investment.
12. If you will not be attending the show, make sure you discuss your content with staffers in advance. Share not only what content you will be playing on any monitors or portable devices, but also provide them with written instructions on how to connect and play everything, just in case there are issues during the show. AV talent varies in different cities.
13. If you are renting a monitor, try to specify the model or find out which model you will get. We find that Samsung smart TVs work well for our needs. Note that when you rent, the profile and weight of monitors varies greatly depending on the type and model of monitor you get. Be especially careful when incorporating touchscreens as they can be extremely heavy. Inform your exhibit house ahead of time if you are planning to use them. If at all possible use the same hardware and software you plan to have at the show to test your content. Sometimes the same TV model number can have a different menu or interface depending on the year it was produced or the same type of computer may not have the same software that was used for testing if it is not the same machine.
14. If you are having issues with your touchscreen, try unplugging your USB first. Unplug both the USB and the power cords then plug them back in. Surprisingly, this often resolves the issue.
15. Have an AV specialist on site. If you are not a technical person, ensure you have either someone on your team who will be there or who can remote into your laptop during install. Better yet, hire a supplier who will have experts on site. Ask for a copy of the written instructions provided to your AV tech team if your supplier does not already provide them to you as part of their service.
16. Consider purchasing or renting a portable media player. This is especially important if you are not sure what type of TV you will have at the show. Some of our offices swear by Micca Speck HD Portable Digital Media Player. It is a small (3” x 2.5”) box that provides the ability to play photos, music and video formats on a TV and includes a remote. This device will accept USBs and many content formats. It will also connect to your TV using an HDMI cable. There are other similar media players in the market such as ZEN BOX, Western Digital, etc.
17. Using PowerPoint? If your PowerPoint is not playing on your TV, try to export it as a video file (either MP4 or MOV file) so it can be played on the TV without the need for a computer.
18. Make sure that if you are using PowerPoint that you keep the content on each slide to a minimum. Focus on communicating through visuals. Check out this funny video by Don McMillan, Life After Death by PowerPoint. You may want to consider having a video produced by a professional instead. If you are concerned about the cost, consider other ways video could be used throughout your organization. This may allow for the opportunity to partner with other groups or departments to help pay for the production cost. Also, consider the lifespan of content. Single-use, exhibit-specific content can be seen as far too expense for the immediate ROI, however, if your content can be used on your website and on social media then it will have a much greater impact and return over time.
Thank you to Ted Spies from our Skyline Exhibits and Graphics MidAmerica office, James LaCour III from Skyline Gulf Coast, Cathan Murray and Jason Gilmour from Skyline 360 and many others for their great AV tips.