Experienced Crestron Master Programmer, automation expert and founder of Clever Rooms, Cliff Stammers introduces EI to the maker’s brand-new commercial focused Crestron Flex range.
Crestron have got to be about one of the busiest companies that operate in our industry today. The people that populate their research and development department probably last saw their families sometime back in the nineties, as they continually strive to produce technology that not only impresses upon release, but quite often changes the rules of the game.
With Crestron Flex, and more predominantly with the supplementary, IoT-based deployment and management service, Crestron XiO Cloud, it looks like they have gone and done that very thing again. Only this time they’ve chopped away the brambles and planted some new ideas in the over populated garden of Unified Communications.
So, what is Flex all about then? Well, Crestron Flex is a host of products which, when looked at in their entirety, very definitely follow the same concept that has held Crestron in good stead for many years now: that is, taking an idea and simplifying it over and over until it is stripped bare of all superfluous complexity and simply focusses on its intended application.
Crestron Flex is a no nonsense, one-touch Unified Communications platform that natively hosts Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and, Zoom Rooms applications.
It succeeds in consolidating a host of third-party software packages, and representing it in a single, all-encompassing whole. And if the idea of bringing together a huge variety of third-party products and making them all behave under a single umbrella seems familiar, well that’s because that’s the very nucleus of what Crestron does and has been doing for nearly half a century.
So, in essence, Crestron Flex is a true and faithful reflection of a third-party automation company in the software-centric twenty-first century.
A sound idea
There are four distinct tenets around which the Crestron Flex product has been developed. In order to give you a proper insight in to the product right away, I’m going to focus here on their smart soundbar offering, the B100 Series, which sits in the middle of the range, catering as it does for between four and twenty people.
The M100 Series, incidentally, is a desktop version of the B100 Series, and anyone that’s seen the Crestron Mercury conferencing system evolve over the past few years will already be familiar with how the M100 Series is intended to work, being as it is, a reimagined Crestron Mercury.
So, the Crestron Flex B100 Series is a smart soundbar product that sits at the front of any meeting room and pairs with a ten-inch touch screen hosting a configurable interface that be selected via the Crestron XiO Cloud service and as such can easily accommodate Microsoft Teams or Zoom Rooms making things nicely predictable to operate.
It also means that if you encounter any niggles throughout your entire experience with the product, there will be a support person available that won’t be relying on guess work to understand how your system has been programmed, as he or she will already know due to the native user experience of the interface.
The B100 Series, like the M100 Series, supports beam forming microphones that can pinpoint a voice accurately, even if it’s the shy guy who is timidly whispering from the back of the room, holding his shaking hand in the air.
The Camera on the B100 Series is a wide-angle, 4K Huddly IQ auto-zoom camera that was developed in conjunction with Intel specifically for conferencing applications.
Video runs at 1080p 30fps latency, which is not at all bad but doesn’t give you time to kill the feed to the far end if you’ve accidentally made an insulting gesture to someone! Plans are being made to make this camera upgradable to 4K in the coming months.
The M-Series comes in two flavours, an M150 AV one and an Audio only one: the M100. Both of these products support 360° arrayed, speaker and microphone set-ups.
Content sharing, too, is very simple insofar as you really do just connect your source input (which Crestron are probably correctly assuming will be laptop based) and then you can easily manage when to share content with a single button-press from the touchscreen interface.
A Crestron telephone?
A little further back down the scale is an interesting innovation from Crestron that is quite a surprise to see, and that is a desktop telephone with a touchscreen attached to it.
This is the Flex P100 Series and this too runs Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business natively, which together with all your existing contact and calendars makes for a very neat, centralised and quite personal place to reach out to multiple parties simultaneously.
Then at the top of the range is a further innovation, the flagship product Crestron Flex C100 Series. This takes the same concept but expands it to cater for enterprise installations all the way up to the size of auditoria.
The cream of the crop
But one thing I’ve not even mentioned yet is something that is, to my mind, the crowning glory of the entire Crestron Flex product concept, and that is that Flex products are infinitely manageable through the developing Crestron cloud-based management platform, the Crestron XiO Cloud.
And it is this utility, built in conjunction with Microsoft and using the predominant Azure platform, that holds some impressive power for consumers of Crestron products going forward.
Crestron XiO Cloud hosts some extremely intuitive tools and utilities to support the provisioning, the management and the scalability of devices right across the range of modern-day Crestron products. But that, as they say, is another story for another day.