Acquisition Summer: Some Thoughts on the Latest Goings-on in the World of Commercial AV

Greetings, friends and followers! My apologies for the various obligations (professional and personal), side-projects, and secret adventures which have kept me away from these pages for the past week. After a weekend off the grid at an undisclosed location I’m refreshed and ready to dive into all of the news in AV-land on this, the last fortnight before InfoComm 2014. You can expect more book reviews, at least one technology piece (sneak peek: the first half of my working title is “In praise of analog: a visit with…”) , some more words on behalf of my team at SMW at ExpresSHENs (those reading this for the AV posts should really stop by there; in addition to my occasional words there are posts from some of the brilliant people with whom I’m luck enough to work), and, perhaps, a surprise or two. Then, a fortnight from now, I’ll be off to InfoComm. First, the news.

Kramer Buys Half of Wow Vision

I’ll start with what would have been a minor bombshell any other month: Kramer Electronics’ acquisition of one half of Wow Vision. Kramer doesn’t have quite the profile or perceived place in the industry as the “big three,” but they’re a very capable manufacturer with a diverse catalog of products, mostly in video switching and distribution but also with more than a toe-hold in the worlds of control and audio. With the purchase of Wow Vision, they are teasing the premier of two new products, to be launched at InfoComm.

This allows Kramer to neatly and quickly fill the wireless collaboration/BYOD hole in their product lineup. I’ve gotten my hands on a Wow Vision Collab8 to play with and evaluate. Thus far it presents itself as a fairly powerful device with quite a few options and capabilities, but with a handful of limitations and some awkwardness in its interface that prevent it from being a great universal solution. This is fine; there are few universal solutions in the world. Wow Vision’s product does fill a role for a certain kind of project, and I’m quite curious to see how Kramer wraps it up to make the technology their own and how the Kramer solution ends up working.

The other interesting thing here is that with their new products, Kramer will join Crestron as the only switching/routing/control company to offer a wireless collaboration solution. I don’t know of anything in this arena forthcoming from Aurora Multimedia, Lightware, Purelink, Extron, AMX or any of the other players in this arena. Depending on the level of polish and capability, this could be a significant differentiator for Kramer in the ability to offer a single-product solution. The Kramer booth isn’t usually the hot-ticket at InfoComm, but perhaps this year it should be.

Harman Buys AMX

This was the big bombshell last week. By now nearly everyone has opined on it, from Josh Srago to Tim Albright through scores of professionals on LinkedIn who took the time to sing praises or cast stones at the recently acquired AMX. What are my thoughts? I have a few. On the acquisition itself, I feel cautiously optimistic. Harman’s brands operate largely independently and continue to not only produce solid hardware but also to develop new products (e.g., Crown’s Drivecore and various additions to the Soundweb London family). Given Harman’s track record, I expect them to do their best to run the AMX brand while leveraging their existing marketing and distribution arms in an attempt to increase their market share. The latter is one of Harman’s strengths; they’ve done an excellent job creating relationships within the industry and in marketting their other brands. I’m curious to see how their plans for AMX unfold.

crown-amp-blulink-0614What I’m not expecting is a leap into high-end audio; Harman’s audio brands will most likely remain their audio brands for those who need such things. Could I see blu-link as an option as an audio output for all-in-ones or matrix switchers? Possibly. That’s all details.

What did I find most interesting about this? Someone else pointed out the comparison to the Nest acquisition by Google, in which a company with fewer products (OK, a company with only one product) was purchased for 10 times the value of AMX. If Google wanted control, wouldn’t the latter have been a better buy? It obviously would, but that makes one thing very clear: Large-scale commercial AV control systems are not an important item for anyone outside out corner of the industry. The chance to get into houses with a thermostat is worth more than the chance to get into boardrooms or high-end home theaters with a touch panel. Why? Because everybody has a thermostat, while not everybody has a home theater. A connected thermostat learns about you; it learns about your overall activity cycle, it knows when you go on vacation, it knows when your house is empty. A dedicated AV control system knows when you’re watching television, and that’s about all. It means that, as big as the control companies may feel to us, they’re smaller players in a larger world that includes all levels of consumer tech.

These acquisitions, as big as they are (and the AMX one is huge) say as much about what the industry does and doesn’t value as it does about the individual companies.

That’s my two cents on last week’s events. Stay tuned for products, book reviews, and more as we lead into InfoComm!