The missing PowerPoint-tool for A/V-technicians
When Microsoft made Powerpoint, I don’t think they had the professional event-market in mind. Because there are some features missing that would make the work of an A/V technician so much easier: If you manage to put all your content into one big presentation, PowerPoint works great. But when you receive 10 presentations and some backdrop-images that will be used for an event, you need a strategy to make sure that the content is displayed correctly at the right time. That’s where APS comes in.
PowerPoint and Keynote has no easy way of switching presentations fast and reliably. When a presentation has ended and a new presenter enters the stage, you must manually close the current presentation before finding the next. For a professional A/V technician, this can be too slow. During tight transitions, when speakers and hosts come on and off the stage, the A/V-technician has so much to think about. Looking for the right presentation in your computer´s file system shouldn’t be one of the concerns.
Using Auto Presentation Switcher (APS), you just need to sort the presentations alphabetically in a folder, and during the show, when a presentation has ended, use the keyboard-shortcut ctrl+rightarrow(PC) or cmd+rightarrow(MAC) to advance to the next presentation. Or you can get these commands and more on Stream Deck buttons and control it over the network through Companion.
The evolution of APS: From automating PowerPoint to emulating hardware-switchers
The first version of APS only had the NEXT and PREVIOUS commands, and it was merely an automation-tool for doing the presentation-switching faster and more reliably than what is possible with manual labor. In a typical AV-setup, you would still need a video-switcher to make sure that the transitions look seamless. And this is still a perfectly fine way to use our software: APS can act as a master remote controller for PowerPoint, Keynote and PDF, making sure that the right presentation is displayed at the right time. It’s a small but indispensable tool as a part of a bigger A/V setup with video-switchers and other video-content.
After we had introduced the first version of APS to the market, I still felt that we could simplify and streamline the setup further by taking more of the features normally found in hardware-switchers and put it into software. We already had control of the presentations. The next step was to take care of what happens when there is no presentation displayed.
When a presentation is finished, there are several things that can be displayed on a screen: you can have a logo or backdrop from the organizer, some other images, or you can jump straight to the next presentation.
The video-switcher normally used in events have some features that come in handy in these situations. For example, Roland XS62, a switcher that I have used myself for presentation-AV, has two slots for internal images, and the freeze-button which will freeze everything that is displayed on the outputs. I would use the internal still-images for general backdrops and images when there is no presentation displayed. And if I wanted to go straight to the next presentation, I could freeze the outputs of the last slide and unfreeze when the new presentation is ready. Thus, for the audience, it would look like a clean cut-transition between two slides.
APS emulates this workflow, using software only. The APS freeze-command will take a screenshot of the presentation-screen, and display that as an image. (This is very similar to how the “Freeze” command works on the Roland switcher.) With the “seamless switching” method, the “freeze” command is used while our software automatically closes the current presentation and displays the next. You will never see the desktop-background or artifacts from opening or closing presentations.
The 10 images that you can store in APS is inspired by the internal images found in hardware-switchers: They are perfect for backdrops and images you may want to display between presentations.
What we then have achieved in APS, is that you no longer need to use the extra hardware switcher if you need to change presentations in a smooth way. APS makes sure that the transitions between the presentations look seamless.
The latest piece in the puzzle was to add crossfade-transitions to all the images and screenshots. At first, I didn’t prioritize this. I thought that if you had a business-presentation of 40 slides, it wouldn’t change much if the transition to the next presentation had a fade or not. But sometimes, when I used APS in my own work, I felt that the cut-transition between presentations was too hard. What I realized was that these transitions can also be important scene-changes, where the event goes from one part to the next. And then it makes sense to have a slower fade-transition. If you compare it to a movie, you can have cut-transitions within a scene, but when there are important scene-changes, its more common to have a slower transition. Then it’s the same with presentations: The 40-slides dry business-presentation presenting data doesn’t need fancy transitions. But when you advance to something else on the screen, a fade-transition can help in making the whole scene-change look smoother.
APS: the software presentation-switcher
To summarize, we can say that APS is an attempt to make a software-version of a presentation-switcher. Unlike the hardware counterparts, APS can actually open and close presentations for you. And to make sure that the transitions between the presentations look glitch-free and seamless, we have the image-viewer that both can display screenshots and stored images.
If you are working as an AV-technician on events, you like to have all the controls readily available on buttons and faders. By using APS, the way you handle presentations is more like what you are used to with media-servers, cameras, and other video-content. And you need a minimum of equipment to do all of this.
In my opinion, APS is an indispensable tool for working professionally with presentations. I’m not sure if I could do one event without this piece of software.