AMX JetPack JPK-1300
Education technology requires a couple of attributes – it needs to be easy to use and robust enough for its environment. Myke Ireland checked out AMX’s new offering and was impressed by what he saw.
I think one of the things we have come to recognise with technology is how quickly you can judge its quality by how it feels in your hand.
Try this: close your eyes and imagine yourself walking down any high street past a watch store perhaps; a stunning gold watch catches your eye, it’s one of those hybrid type watches with a genuine analogue chronograph, and a digital display on the face.
You step into the store, ask the vendor if you can have a closer look; she passes you the watch, and the very minute the weight of the watch is transferred from her hand to yours, it’s over. You know in your soul that this is a cheap watch.
It flails around in your hand like a piece of costume jewellery, it’s not present, it doesn’t reassure you that this device has had the best engineers trying to cram as much goodness into a tiny package as they could, which at the end of the day is the only thing you want.
So what’s this got to do with AMX’s new switching, transport, and control solution? Well, I’ve always felt that there’s a strong correlation between the mass of a piece of technology and its ability to deliver. When you take the JetPack out of the box your first thought is: “Wow, this feels solid”.
Given that the solution is primarily marketed at the K-12 arena its going to have to be solid, so that’s a big tick straight out of the gate. However, we’re not trading in pork bellies here so let’s dive a little deeper…
Out of the box
You’ll need to supply two CAT 6/6a/7 cables as per the user manual for system connectivity. I did test a 5e cable for fun, and it worked, but if it’s going into a new build, don’t take the chance.
All the standard control functionality is included: there’s RS-232, Telnet, SSH, and a web GUI that can be accessed via a standard web browser, or via the Jetpack manager application. The web GUI is very basic but gives you quick access to all the functions you’d need should something go wrong with the controller.
It’s also a handy tip to install that IP address as a bookmark on a user’s PC or mobile phone. There are some further device management options in the dedicated management application.
I’m not entirely sure where the name ‘Jetpack’ comes from, but if has any connotation to the speed at which you can get it installed, then props to the marketing team.
The system comes in three main parts: the keypad controller, the I/O plate, and the “brain” or main switching box. Both the controller and the I/O plate are powered by what has now been inclusively referred to as “PoC” or power over cable. From what I understand, power has always been over cable, but I digress.
What it means is that you need a single GPO for the “brain” or receiver, which would be located at the projector/display, and a daisy chain CAT connection then powers both the I/O wallplate, and the keypad controller.
Unfortunately, power to the two wall mounted devices doesn’t quite leave enough juice to charge a USB-C connected laptop, but again it’s a very small trade-off. Dependant on cable runs and general site access, you should be able to install a system like this in about three to four hours, with set-up and configuration in 30 minutes. For one installer, that’s two systems per day.
Boiling down to video connectivity, the I/O wall plate is equipped with two HDMI connections and one video over USB-C connection. USB-C is still rife with compatibility issues in the AV space, so for anyone using USB-C to present video, I’d highly advise you download and install the latest DisplayLink drivers for your individual operating system.
I tested the rig using a Microsoft Surface Book 3 and an Intel Mac Book Pro, both with updated DisplayLink drivers, and neither had any issues presenting over the USB-C connection. The Mac did wig out from time to time using HDCP managed content, even though the box is intended to support HDCP 2.2, but this is just the reality of dealing with Macs, I’m afraid.
Audio options on the JetPack include a 2 x 25W amplifier supporting either 4 or 8Ω, and a two-channel analogue output for connecting to additional amplification. For what’s its worth, the audio is decent quality with nothing obviously lost or distorted.
However, it might have been nice to offer a balanced output option in case of long cable runs. The microphone input doesn’t offer phantom power, so dynamic microphones are the only option which, again, seems like one of those oversights that could be easily fixed without adding much cost to the box. It’s a minor oversight but all the best desktop mics are condensers and teachers don’t carry SM58s around the classroom.
It’s also worth noting that the volume control on the wall plate is for system volume only which means that the only way to address the gain of the microphone is via the software GUI. This is good for the most part (because let’s just leave gain alone if we don’t know what we’re doing, ok?) but can also cause that issue of someone delivering a presentation comfortably on the mic until they decide to play a video on laptop, and everyone ends up with early onset tinnitus.
So let me round out with some green and red flags:
I’m a big fan of the stepped, endless rotary encoder, which is also accompanied by a six step LED section to inform of current volume status. Stepped encoders feel precise, especially for non-AV people.
I’m also very happy with the display control buttons – if you close your eyes and concentrate really hard, you can picture yourself at the cockpit of the Apollo 12 readying for launch, and I’m almost certain these buttons would hold up under the same conditions. Nice big satisfying clicks affirming every button press and accompanied by an LED backlight that follows the active input. It’s as robust as you need for any education space.
What do I wish it had?
I would have liked to see it boasting 4K – 4:4:4 because why not? I do respect the intended audience as one that likely will never need above 4:2:0, but its one of those products that would cross over so well into full commercial use, if not for that colour space limitation. If this was 4:4:4, you could drop it into almost every medical suite, healthcare facility and consulting room you’d like. Even in its current form, it’s an interesting space to explore with a system like this.
Ethernet pass through to the wall plate would also be nice. Let’s say you’re a guest presenter and are struggling with WiFi access; or if you always have a dedicated PC next to the wall plate, it’s so much simpler to patch a hard-line to the PC via a box that’s already getting network from a switch.
Finally, it could benefit from a 100V Amplifier – constant voltage in a classroom just makes more sense. Classrooms aren’t just square boxes that face frontward anymore, so a standard left-right speaker next to the display doesn’t always offer the best room coverage. I’d much rather be able to deploy eight 100V speakers across a classroom, so every student gets the same audible experience, as opposed to roasting the poor child at the display, while Sally in the back row struggles to hear.
The JetPack 1300 is probably the best value for money, easiest to install, out of the box classroom solution on the market at the moment. While its form factor and features are diverse enough to see it used in spaces adjacent to the K-12 classroom, there are one or two key features that may exclude it from wider verticals such as healthcare and tertiary.
It is quick and easy to install, even quicker to program and commission, and given its robust build quality, will easily stand up to the type of punishment you’d expect in its intended setting.
The interface is straight forward, easy to understand and ticks all the boxes with the most commonly used forms of video connectivity in the generalised market today.
AMX, since being acquired by Harman, and subsequently Harman being acquired by Samsung, had somewhat left the market wondering what innovation would look like coming from a much larger design pool. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, it was worth the wait.
Innovating AV for daily use is quite simply about just making it easier for people to use and, on that note, the JetPack is a win for me.