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Watson Consoles Blog

May 09, 2017 Future-Proof

Future Proofing the 21st Century PSAP with Multi-Monitor Arrays

Multi-monitor arrays at PSAP Dispatch Center

Technology evolution continues to be a large part of planning and maintaining efficient PSAPs and Operations Centers. Over the past few years we have seen an increased need to provide immediate monitor array solutions that will also work for imminent upgrades. Here are a few of the top questions our customers ask:

  • What new monitors are other PSAPs using?
  • If my monitor technology changes, how do I incorporate it into my existing console array?
  • How should I position my touchscreens for best user interface and focal depth?

In this first installment about tech trends we’ll share what we’ve discovered about monitor trends and some of the learning other dispatch teams have shared with us.

The ever-expanding demand for pixels at communications center workstations

Busy police dispatcher workstationThe number of monitors used in today’s security, network, and dispatch operation centers is mind boggling. In the past five to ten years, the size of a typical workstation’s multi-monitor array has doubled and sometimes tripled. Not only that, the configuration of monitors varies widely from center to center.

Ten years ago, three to four monitors was near the maximum, while today six to eight monitors is typical, and some applications call for as many as twelve screens at a single workstation. In recent years, we have had several customers request vertical screens alongside horizontals, and to stack large screens over smaller units.

There is a definite need for consoles to support the weight and sprawl of multiple monitors, in varying shapes and sizes. In the changing landscape of today’s operations centers every application is unique. Creating a monitor array that works ergonomically for operators of different heights and ages requires specific planning - and some new thinking.

Upgrading monitors

The first issue to consider is monitor size. Monitor depth is really no longer a problem since flat screens dominate the industry. Smaller screens, however, have proven impractical as functional and technological needs continue to expand. 

PSAP Dispatcher at Console Monitor ArrayThe amount of information being transmitted to each of the screens from the individual applications requires higher resolution. And more applications require more real estate. Not only are there two to three times more monitors than there were in the past, they need to be bigger. Additional real-estate accommodates expanded mapping, Smart911 applications and other deployment software. If the monitor is too small, the operator simply cannot read the screen and properly utilize the data.

One solution is the partitioning of screens: instead of one application requiring three 24-inch screens, an operation may have one 42- or 46-inch screen partitioned to accommodate multiple applications. As you might imagine, however, it doesn’t take many 46-inch screens before the available monitor space is filled.

Consider the challenge of touch screens

Touch screens are one of the new monitor technologies that many PSAPs and Operations Centers are integrating into their displays. In some cases, a touchscreen is required to fully utilize software features. Many centers are stocking 24-32” touchscreen monitors to fill this need.

Adjustable workstation manufacturers should now consider the utility and ergonomics of touch screens. And your team should think about if you need them and how you can integrate them into a conventional monitor array.

Some centers may opt to securely place touchscreens on an adjacent work surface - where they will be within arms reach as needed and will not compromise the focal depth adjustment of the main array.

4K is here (and it’s curved)

Though not yet widespread, curved 4K displays have been a growing consideration among PSAPs and Operations Centers.

curved 4K display for PSAP Dispatcher Consoles

To know if this upgrade is right for you, consider how you will blend the curved screen with existing flat panel displays. 4K monitors tend to be larger than conventional units and are concave in shape. The combination of size and shape differences can be difficult to plan. As a result, workstation designers and space-planners must always consider how the operator will be using the workstation so that curved surfaces won’t obscure flat screens, or vice versa.

This is a challenge that manufacturers like Watson Consoles consider with every new space plan. Be sure that your console provider raises attention to these details.

Solving the complex issue of “monitor build-up”

The siloed nature of security applications coupled with an increasing number of technological solutions means the demand for additional monitors per workstation is likely to continue to grow. What’s typical today (6 to 8 monitors) may seem modest in five to 10 years.

All manufacturers should address monitor build-up because it’s part of providing the best value with your console purchase. Watson has chosen to respond to the ever-changing needs of multi-monitor arrays in a (perhaps) counterintuitive manner: by making them less complex.

Reducing complexity

For years, especially in the public safety sector, adjustable workstations have been built with an independently height-adjustable monitor surface and an independently adjustable input surface. The input surface typically houses the mic, keyboards, mouses, and any other devices necessary to the job. While making every surface adjustable may seem like a good idea, in practice it doesn’t add value.

single arrays simplify monitor adjustment

The additional moving parts add mechanical complication that are prone to breakage. Workplace interviews with dispatch console users reveal that an adjustable input surface is cumbersome and interferes with ancillary equipment placement. Speakers, desk-top environmental controls and headsets have to be repositioned to allow free movement of the platform — the constant shuffle becomes a barrier to maintaining as efficient workflow.

 

Focal depth and eye strain

proper distance from monitor to avoid eye strain

Other manufacturers mount monitors to a wall attached to the backside of the work surface. This allows the monitors to move up and down with the surface. However, in order to adjust your focal depth, you have to individually move each monitor. This makes shift changes inefficient for users who share consoles and have different ergonomic needs. And, for centers that value wellness practices, wall solutions may discourage users from otherwise engaging in eye-strain prevention exercise that recommend frequent array adjustment.

That’s why the newest Watson Consoles adjustable workstations feature only two adjustable zones. It makes array adjustment a breeze. The entire work surface (the “desk”) can be power-adjusted vertically allowing personnel to use it when sitting or standing. The work surface, with monitor array intact, also moves horizontally allowing the user to adjust focal depth. The second zone adjusts the monitor pole mounts up and down. The monitors attach to the array with individual articulating mounts so they can be tilted to achieve maximum visual acuity.

Two adjustable zones means users have maximum adjustment for posture and focal depth without the headache and disruption of a moving input platform.  

Future-proofing multi-monitor arrays

As multi-monitor arrays grow in size and scope, adjustable workstations must adapt by creating systems that can support the size and resolution of today's frequently used monitors and the monitor trends of the future. Future-proof console solutions take into consideration many factors:

  • Easy access for repositioning and exchanging technology
  • Flexibility for accommodating vertical creep when additional or larger monitors are added to an array
  • Maintaining an unencumbered work surface to promote smooth daily operations
  • Monitor array and mount solutions that offer optimal focal depth
  • Mount solutions that provide tilt adjustment for user comfort and focus

Watson’s solutions are helping to future-proof workstations. Whether the future is dominated by touch screens, 4K, or some other unique monitor development, our rack-mounted monitor solution will ensure good ergonomics in a compact and usable space.

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