It doesn’t feel like that long ago that network connectivity in AV hardware was an idea more noted in the breach than in the observance. But times have changed. What started with lighting control and other automation hardware eventually migrated into mainstream AV products.
Honestly, once you’ve got those features, there’s no going back. Luxuries soon become necessities. That said, AV equipment’s network connectivity even now can be kind of a mixed bag. Thus, it’s important to deep dive into what various pieces of hardware will and won’t do.
At one end, some AV surround receivers only use their network connection to connect to online music services or access the music folder on PCs in the home. These are the sort of features that clients are most likely to get excited about.
At the further end of the spectrum, AV receivers in lines dedicated to the AV pro install channel allow for remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. That’s something that the AV pros are inevitably more excited about than anything else.
And, broadly, most network-enabled AV hardware allows for control programming via IP, which, like I mentioned before about luxuries becoming necessities, once you have that power, you’re going to be reluctant to deal with IR or serial control anymore.
It’s far from perfect, however. As I just mentioned, there can be some big differences between what some hardware will and won’t do with your network, and there remain pieces of equipment in your client’s systems that remain obstinately un-networked (to this day, most HD-PVRs from the cable companies remain almost perversely un-networkable). In that context, the needs of the networked hardware you specify into your client’s systems ought to be addressed appropriately, pun fully intended.
It’s important to lay the groundwork in order to make best use of networked AV gear.
For a start, plan for plenty of bandwidth. You really can never have enough bandwidth on the network. Think about how much network traffic your average single-family home has today versus ten years ago. The safe bet is that will only increase. Wire accordingly.
It’s also as important as it ever was to inform and influence your client on their choices of broadband provider.
They’re not all created equal, and in markets where the client can choose from more than one, you as the AV pro will have your preference. Since you have ownership over all of the functionality of the gear in the client’s home, and are dependent on the broadband connection for its contact with the outside world you have a mandate to speak for both your best interests and the clients.
This is extra important to consider when dealing with rural broadband options. One local dealer I know installed a half a million dollar project in a massive dream home on a lake in, quite literally, the middle of nowhere. There are a surprising number of those in my area. Options were limited, and they were unaware of the shortcomings of the local broadband until the finishing stage — at which point that they learned that the speeds were worse than dial-up. In that instance, more research would have saved them a lot of hassle.
Remember, proper preparation prevents poor performance.
NOTE: This editorial’s title is dedicated to this track that’s been stuck in my head for weeks.