Happy New Year! Technology gets off to a quick start at the CES show every year, and there is always plenty of marketing hype around “must have” personal technology toys. But the show can also be a bellwether for enterprise software, collaboration, and media tech that will impact the AV industry in the coming year. So, I thought I’d make note of the tech trends I have been tracking (and are re-enforced at this years show), tech trends a savvy AV technologist should understand going into 2015.
2015 Tech Trends AV Technologist Should Understand Going Into 2015
1. VR and Personal Consumer Displays Will Make Their Way to the Enterprise. The Oculus Rift is a flagship product at the head of an important trend — advanced displays for personal use. I’ve talked with companies that are looking at adopting consumerized-VR as part of their enterprise work environment. CES is likely to show-off several competitors in this low-cost, high-quality, immersive display space. How will this impact AV? As companies look to enable their engineers and scientists with personal immersion, they will soon ask, how do these displays fit into the larger AV infrastructure? Should immersive workstations be taken into account when designing a video distribution system? Of course.
2. Metro Networking Will Dramatically Increase Wireless Coverage Everywhere, and That’s Important. The days of worrying about wireless coverage inside large buildings, or spotty/slow networks when you’re blocked by a dense urban environment, are ending. IEEE provided the standardization needed for 802.11 to be tied into larger provider networks several years ago, and network coverage using “Metro Area Networks” have already been deployed in major cities. The focus for providers in 2015 will be to extend these small-cell coverage areas into cities more deeply by using low-cost pico/femto radios to save on the up front investment required, increase the number of antenna locations, and allow widespread deployment positioning closer to the ground. Users will be closer to a strong signal and far less likely to fall into a coverage shadow. Why does this matter? The massive trend towards wireless media streaming for both consumer and now business collaboration has had almost all its growth in larger corporate enterprise environments where wireless coverage is carefully planned. In 2015, wireless coverage for small businesses on the 10th floor of a building will provide sufficient bandwidth to stream your desktop to a meeting room display, no problem. This will accelerate the demise of the traditional video cable as the last-hop endpoint for content. If you want to read more about the topic, I suggest “WiMAX Metro Area Mesh Networks: Technologies and Challenges.”
3. A Return to Technology Craftsmanship Will Improve New Products. With the rise of Community Maker Spaces and other small-but-valuable approaches to technology, an interesting side-effect that I’ve noted is the marriage of traditional craftsmanship values and technology products. Ideas about how an object is created, its individual quality and detail impact the value placed on it by the end-user. This is becoming increasingly true for software and other technology-based artifacts. The trend is being driven by larger social forces, but also things like the availability of 3D printers. Nike, for example, is focused on the marriage of new and high-quality materials with 3D printing for more effective prototyping. One could argue that this trend is why companies like Beats by Dre were able to design and build premium headphones when the rest of the industry was racing to the sub-twenty-dollar bottom. There will always be a need in the AV industry for low-cost microphones and volume pressures that demand the cheapest video switch, but, as technology and software play a larger role in the AV product space, attention to detail and craftsmanship will have a Renaissance unlike we’ve seen since the days of the days of the Krell KSA-100 audio amp.
4. Personal Metrics will Capture You at Work. The consumer has already shown themselves to be willing to capture (and share) huge amounts of behavioral data about themselves. Fit bands that track bio-metrics; recommendation engines that understand your food, movie, and entertainment preferences; and your connection to social media networks — are all capturing, storing, and using data about the individual. Enterprises are wanting to get in on the game and track your at-work behavior to understand how to improve their workplace. How do you spend your time? What colleagues you collaborate with? What makes a meeting effective? These are all important to evolving the enterprise. The AV industry doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines here either. As software comes on line to manage video distribution, schedule rooms, and stream and manage content in meetings, enterprise customers can measure display utilization and understand how their visual data plays a role. I know in this area, we are being asked almost daily to extend Solstice to improve its analytics capabilities so that meetings in 2016 will be even more productive than they will in 2015.
5. The car as an extension of your living room. This may have started with Wi-Fi-direct, a protocol that allows peer-to-peer ad hoc networks to be created between devices without the need for a dedicated router. WiFi direct allowed your smartphone to connect to the in-car display system that, thanks to nvidia’s Tegra processor line, is now bigger, better and able to render 3D graphics. As the car becomes a more automated space (all the major manufacturers are racing to to introduce the first self-driving car), more emphasis will be placed on entertainment systems, on- and off-board computing capabilities, wireless network connectivity, and multi-device integration. In short, from a technology perspective, the car begins to look a lot like the living room. (Watch for a future post about how some technologies are now focusing on transforming the car into a mobile conference room as well). As hard evidence for this trend, Audio/LG just revealed a smart watch that lets you talk to your car at CES. Who would have guessed that an auto manufacturer would be announcing a wearable? The answer is anyone who views the inside of a car as the next living room.