Microsoft Teams Room Systems front of room displays — can I control them?

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So you purchased a Microsoft Teams Room system and you want the front of room displays to turn on and off with the system as this is one of the requirements of the conference room systems. Whats the answer and how do I figure this out?

WHAT DOES MICROSOFT RECOMMEND?

Microsoft does reference CEC (Consumer Electronic Control) on their Microsoft Teams Room documentation, that it has put out and you can find that blurb here.

A consumer TV used as a front of room display needs to support/enable the Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) feature of HDMI so that it can switch automatically to an active video source from standby mode.

So it does say that the front of room display need to support/enable CEC, but the truth is that there is not CEC control in any of the Microsoft Team Room system hardware currently.

The bottom line is there are 2 limitations that exist currently at the time of writing that prevent CEC from working with the room systems.

  1. CEC is a hardware item as seen below that it needs to be on pin 13 and the current hardware does not support this feature.
  2. CEC is a “best effort” technology that exists and although it had potential, display manufacturers have not always had the same interpretation of that control protocol

CEC as you can see from the wikipedia link has a large amount of different names from different manufacturers.

Each manufacturer interprets the CEC protocol to work with their own other equipment

Without getting into the weeds of what the protocol is and how the different manufacturers interpret it, lets just take the examples of ON and OFF and explore how that simple state might be misinterpreted.

When the device issuing the command tells the display to turn OFF, what does that mean? Well some manufacturers have interpreted this as the display goes off and shuts down the HDMI board which in turn means the display cannot turn back ON by CEC. Some have interpreted this as the backlight goes off but the rest of the display is powered on. And others have even gone ahead and said just show a black screen, but leave everything else on including the backlight of the display. So as you can see there are tricky things with all of these as they are interpreted differently. This challenge has been around since the days of RS-232 control in the display world. So while CEC has its potential, do not think that it is the cure to this problem as this has existed for a very long time.

HOW DOES THE MICROSOFT TEAMS ROOM SYSTEM DEAL WITH THIS?

On the Microsoft Teams Room guidance documentation, Microsoft recommends here that you can use devices from Crestron or Extron to get the desired behavior, but if you refer to the above, it will do its best but might not suffice for every single display in the market currently.

Crestron HD-RM-20-C-E and Extron HD CTL 100

There are even others that are less expensive such as the Pulse 8 device, but they are all subjected to the display responding to the CEC command and acting appropriately.

Some partner solutions might ship with what customers have called a CEC injector, but I have not seen it myself to comment on it and I would be subjected to guess it is just a Pulse 8 as they have been the low cost leader in this homegrown injector solution market. On the Microsoft community pages there have been some whom have had issues with this solution, but as everything above shows you, CEC will be “best effort”.

The other option is to stay with commercial level displays which many times have what are referred to as PC settings. These settings allow the display to turn off when it does not see a video signal and to wake up when it sees a video signal. *****ALL MTR DEVICES WILL SHUT OFF THE OUTPUT WHEN THEY GO INTO STANDBY MODE AND TURN ON THE OUTPUT WHEN THEY EXIT STANDBY MODE*****

There is a favorite saying of mine when people ask “How do I know if I have a commercial display?” My response is usually “If you can buy it at Best Buy, dont!”

That doesn’t mean that every commercial display will have these settings and some might require you to enter installer mode to enable them, but know that the MTR system will follow the protocol of turning off its output when it goes into standby. You can do a google search for your display and look for something similar to Sony Pro Mode that many times has these settings behind an IR code combination.

Even a third option would be to go with something like the Crestron Flex units which offer the ability to pair with a Crestron control system and can control the displays through a variety of ways and will provide the confidence of always turning the displays on and off at the appropriate times. This can be done through programming, but adds devices to the room which some might view as adding complexity to the room that might not be needed.

DO I NEED A 4K DISPLAY AT THE FRONT OF THE ROOM?

So you’re a relative novice to displays and the resolutions and the other specs that are thrown around when it comes to these front of room displays and you are asking “I should get a 4k display for these systems right?”

The answer is no, there is no need for a 4k display. Many of the device hardware of the MTR systems are capable of doing a 4k output, but the MTR application that runs is only at 1080p. This means that you might be able to find some lower cost solutions for the front of room screens that would allow you to then spend on the commercial level of displays that I would personally recommend.

CONCLUSIONS

As you can see, this is a complex topic which does require some explanation of the challenges to understand why it has been a difficult task to undertake for conference room solutions. If you have any tips that you have found helpful, please leave them in the comments section so that others might also benefit from your experience. I myself have found that sticking with commercial displays and making sure that you stay brand consistent will result in a much better experience for users and conference room managers.

ADDED INFORMATION:

Recently Crestron Electronics, a Microsoft MTR partner, started testing specific displays with their reactions to the MTR systems. You can find the full list here with the results and if needed, purchase these displays with your Crestron MTR systems to provide reliable working systems.

With over 20 years of experience in AV and IT roles for a well diverse combination of employers, I have a specialty in devices and solutions for meeting spaces.

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