There’s no doubt the audiovisual industry has progressed a long way since the advent of the gramophone and cathode-ray tube. Innovations over the last 50 to 100 years have turned AV devices into the primary content-delivery system for almost every human on Earth, and definitely a requirement for every human not on Earth. These innovations affect how we interact with each other; how we handle the day-to-day; and how we create, teach, learn, share and access knowledge, memories and moments — to name a few daily benefits.
OK, so some might say that’s an overglorified view, but it’s true. Let’s face it; advances in audio have pushed how we hear and even see sound. A good example is digitization and predictive modeling of audio. We can literally visualize a 3D rendering of audio within an architectural space, and then assess the sound across a complete frequency spectrum with decibel analysis — without even hearing anything. (Not to mention the evolution of quadraphonic sound to 5.1 surround, THX, Atmos — to spacial and immersive sound in gallery exhibitions and beyond.)
We’ve also seen rapid advances in innovation surrounding visual display technologies that, in my earliest days, were only concepts — like OLED for example (aka super-high-density pixel resolutions combining razor-sharp imagery with millions of colors in the palm of your hand, or on the side of a building). You would have really been off your rocker — a dreamer — with that idea just a few decades ago.
So, not only have the tangible audio and visual technologies changed rapidly, but so has the shift from analog to digital. It’s transformed how we create, develop, distribute, control, store and share AV. The demands our combined audio and visual signals put on data transmissions and the subsequent need for more advanced cable types, processors, digital storage and streaming facilities is truly phenomenal.
On the other hand, as we all know in our industry, lossless audio and video transmissions demand a lot of data and data devices to work properly. When they fail, the results are literally seen and heard by whoever is using the system(s). We’ve all gotten the call when the AV glitches right at the final goal, or at the peak of a club show or when the guitarist is shredding a solo on stage. There is very little sympathy for the AV team at that one finite moment in time. We’ve created this insatiable feedback loop where consumers demand we provide seamless AV innovation, so AV innovates and demands seamless subsystem adherence, to where the consumer demands the next seamless AV innovation and repeat.
It’s really astonishing, our ability to send and receive wired and wireless signals with data-crunching compression algorithms for even the most discerning eyes and ears. Plus, all this happens in real-time with few glitches.
It really is something — the evolution of AV.
We broadcast these signals back and forth like a frequency blanket, covering the Earth and connecting all of us. We can watch a show and post comments instantaneously to an online community, all while cranking our favorite songs to a wireless speaker in the bathroom and mobile tracking our dinner deliveries.
In AV, we also have the added layer of the ever-growing myriad technology specific to our industry. Our scope has increased to handle the primary control system design across multiple protocols and pinouts. We have become the arbiter of all things technology, the gatekeepers of “smart” technology. Use any modern buzzword you want — “IoT” even — it’s all in our breadbasket.
Our AV scope also encompasses everything low voltage and coordinates with all construction teams like mechanical, electrical, structural, architectural and interior design with crossover into information technology (IT), interface and software design (UI/UX) and so on.
So where does the AV industry go next in our natural evolution?
Well, because I am a designer and creative at heart, I feel the next evolution of AV will be less about hardware or the next great product, and more about our ability to translate how to enhance the architectural or natural space with our industry’s technology innovations. It will be about how we offer up the solutions for people to have an experience and connect with each other and our environments in a more meaningful way. The change will be in the way we talk about and view AV and the overarching term of technology and all its various trappings. This opens up the conversation across the spectrum — from our homes, our cars, our gathering places like offices, clubs, venues, churches, museums, hockey rinks to anywhere humans occupy. All I see is opportunity for growth within this context.
We’re at a tipping point, where the “wow” of the product is less “wow” than what it can achieve as an experience. I know it’s hard on all of us — the engineers and knob tweakers, sales crews and black box designers. All that glory we used to bask in as the solder flux smoke would rise to the top of the room is dwindling into commonplace. Insert tumbleweed and miniature violin here as needed.
But the reality is, the trend in younger generations is to invest into experiences, more so than tangible things. Especially after this year of isolation, the need for in-person shared experiences will be like no other in our lifetime. With audiovisual and our larger umbrella of technology being at the forefront of these interactions and gatherings, tech will greatly impact how we will share and remember these moments.
Our need for experiences that leave an emotional impression and create memories that are never forgotten is stronger than ever before. So, while AV keeps us connected in isolation, it’s also how we will get everyone back outside again — and that will define our future. Appealing to people’s emotional sensibilities is the market we need to speak to; this is the market we ensure investment into to drive future innovations. These are the people we need to reach out to. The rest will follow.