The future is flat - the move to flat screens in control rooms

March/April 2004 Surveillance

Flat screens based on plasma or LCD technology are increasingly becoming a feature of commercial and consumer environments. With the market being driven by consumer electronics and a growing demand by a range of industry applications, production volumes and costs will make these increasingly accessible to users over the next few years.

Already, large flat screens are starting to become more common in high end control centres. Electricity, water, telecommunication, and transport control operations are using flat panels seamlessly put together to create huge screens which are capable of displaying entire grids or systems. The trend is filtering through to CCTV control rooms as well, but more slowly. I recently visited a major European police centre which had gone for a fully flat screen environment for monitors used for the control software and CCTV viewing.

At IFSEC last year there were a number of control consoles displayed by one of the major console manufacturers in the UK. There was only one using flat screens and this was displayed at a combination security/reception desk. Several other consoles were in the old style of using CRT screens placed within large wood or metal structures.

So why have flat screens not taken off more at this stage? Cost has been a factor in the past, but they have become increasingly more affordable. Early screens also suffered from an inability to display rapidly moving graphics, resulting in ghosting of images. Brightness and apparent resolution were also concerns, as were limitations in the angle of vision (viewing from the side or from above or below the screen). However, I am increasingly seeing the use of flat screens in a number of control rooms. These are already starting to show the opportunities for innovative designs not tied to the conventional solid console structures.

Advantages of flat screens

Flat plasma or LCD screens have a number of advantages that are likely to see their increased use within CCTV environments. Primary advantages are based on their relative thinness and weight.

The versatility of this is probably best seen in the new Apple computer where the screen is on an adjustable arm that can be positioned virtually anywhere in space in front of the person using it. Flat TVs are another area where consumers are taking advantage of large and high quality pictures but in slim designs that can be more easily accommodated within living conditions.

Control rooms often face a similar space issue, and console design itself is often based around accommodating the boxy design of conventional CRT monitors. Other advantages of flat screens include reduced glare from lighting, greater versatility in mounting, relatively easy portability for repositioning, and less heat generation.

Large flat screens are becoming increasingly popular for displaying multiple camera views or operational resources on. This way of 'integrating' a number of scenes or aspects of information together is likely to become increasingly popular and will be further facilitated through digital systems which can change screen configurations at a touch of a key or mouse click.

Innovation in control room and console layout

We can also expect much more innovation in control room and particularly work console layout as flat screens provide opportunities for more efficiency and flexible design and use of space. This use of space will include desktops, suspension designs, and even recessed screens available to be retrieved as needed. We can look forward to some exciting control room layouts in future.

However, in pushing new designs, one thing needs to be ensured, general ergonomic principles of usability should apply just as much as before. Also, not all screens are created equal. Issues such as brightness, response time, colour reproduction, display of movement, and quality (eg dead pixels) among others still need to be checked out for your application.

Like any equipment, I suggest you evaluate flat screens in your own operations before committing yourself to a purchase decision.

For more information contact Craig Donald, Leaderware, 011 787 7811, [email protected],

Dr Craig Donald is an industrial psychologist and specialist in human factors in security and CCTV. He is the co-developer of the Surveillance and Monitoring Assessment Exercise (SAMAE) for the selection and placement of CCTV operators and presenter of the CCTV Surveillance Skills training course.


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