The new year is upon us. In our personal lives, many will be looking to lose weight, exercise more, curb some of our vices. What of the AV industry? Is there anything within the world of technology we should be looking to change as the calendar shifts? Perhaps as the year shifts we can all think on some small changes.
For the New Year, We’ll Give Up….
As the year closes, I’m wrapping up a small security operations/conference center with no local AV credenza racks. PCs, some shared wireless appliances, video switching, audio processing and everything else we need is located comfortably in a series of data-center racks. In-room there are some audio amplifiers tucked in plenum ceiling enclosures, video transmitters and receivers, analog-to-digital audio converters, and not much else. It created a design which was flexible not only in terms of AV, but furniture as well.
Why is this a good change to make? The most obvious is that in-room racks have numerous issues; they’re challenging to properly ventilate and if they ARE properly vented it will either mean an increased footprint (in pushing the credenza away from the wall to allow ventilation out the back) or increased spill hazard (in top-vents on a credenza that will quite often double as a food-service station). Heat, as we know, kills electronics. In even a very well ventilated credenza rack without active fans, I’ve seen DSP devices running at 180 degrees or higher. In a properly laid out full-height rack in an open space, the results will be better even if one forgoes the fan and relies on convection cooling.
Removing credenza racks also gives much better space flexibility. Furniture needn’t be sized for AV, placed for optimal AV, or even be fixed at all. One caveat: In a typical conference room the credenza is placed directly under the display. If said display is a wall-mounted flat-panel, removal of furniture can create a potential ADA compliance issue – as well as a head-knocking hazard. A recessed mount, cane-skirt, or other mitigation might be wise.
See how much equipment you can remove on a room-by-room basis without compromising user experience. Replace a credenza PC with a small-form-factor tucked behind a flat-panel. Use IP video solutions room-to-room and even “within” rooms. Challenge yourself to make designs clean and neat on an individual basis.
….Physical Media Appliances
The reason this is possible is that, as physical media slowly fades, we don’t need user access to equipment the way we once did. In fact, the single most-common value-engineering choice I’ve seen over the past years is removal of Blu-ray players – if such devices are included in the first place! (those of you who have discussed the matter with me should know that I clearly mean “value engineering” rather than “scope reduction” here; it is, in most cases, still possible to play Blu-ray discs via a PC with an optical drive. Capability isn’t being removed, but is made slightly less convenient to save costs. VE versus scope reduction is a topic for another day). So long as USB 2.0 or higher extension is provided for keyboards, mice, and USB drives (though even these are slowly fading from use) there’s very little lost in relocating equipment away from the space in which it is used.
This helps relocate equipment away from finished spaces. We are in the process of migrating from a physical media to a digital streaming world, with little sign of reversal. It is, at this point, easy and practical enough to stream content from an online vendor, or to store it on a cloud service than it is to maintain a catalog of physical copies. This follows in the consumer world as well as the commercial; I’ve not only never owned a Blu-ray player, but I went over six months after my recent move before I unboxed and installed the DVD player. Yes, online purchases put one at the mercy of cloud service providers and carry their own risks. They also save concerns about storage, risk of damage, and the need for a dedicated playback device.
Can you give up media players in commercial designs? Can you give up your own media player and associated clutter at home?
This is one of which I’m not sure; some could argue that there still is a space for the kind of daisy-chained digital delegate system available from the likes of Taiden, Televic and others. These usually consist of a microphone, small loudspeaker and some simple controls. Wired in a chain or loop topology, these have been reliable and efficient solutions for large boardrooms and auditoria with heavy levels of audience participation. Why might we give these up? Because network-based digital audio transport (Dante, AES67, even AVB) is reaching a point at which the cost per channel is comparable to one of the delegate systems. A network-based system allows one to use the same cable paths and raceways as are used for actual data connectivity and possibly leverage the same network switches. There’s also a greater measure of flexibility and tighter integration with the rest of the audio system.
That said, there are cases in which a daisy-chain topology makes more sense than the star-topology of a network-based solution, and some of the delegate system do have very user-friendly and well-designed physical user interfaces. I don’t think they’re quite dead yet, but they are no longer the only obvious choice for large deployments.
For the New Year, We Resolve to….
…Think Outside the Literal Box(es)
I’ve talked a great deal this year about the merits of software solutions as opposed to hardware solutions. There are cases in which dedicated hardware is required, but we all know that software usually wins in the long run; it features a lower initial cost, greater flexibility and clearer upgrade paths. Today there are excellent software options for conferencing, for audio transport, for lecture capture and streaming, and nearly anything else one might want to do.
Take this as a challenge: Every time you draw a box in an AV system design, ask yourself if you can replace it with software. Talk to your clients about the benefits and drawbacks of each, and see where boxes can be eliminated.
…Think Outside the Metaphorical Box
We have more technological tools at our fingertips than ever before. Facial recognition. Location tracking. NFC and Bluetooth enabled devices in everyone’s pocket. Virtual Reality. Augmented reality.
I’ll talk more over the coming months about how we can and should think differently, but for the nonce, we can all resolve to take each challenge, each design, each project as a chance for a fresh start, to look not at how we’ve always done things but at what can be done with the tools and expectations which currently exist today, past the midpoint of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
Happy New Year. And welcome to the future.