It seems like we have been discussing the changing landscape of AV for years.
We have all seen the shift toward consolidated components, hardware that is easier to connect and configure, direct sales and marketing by some manufacturers to end users or other trades like electricians, and shrinking margins on the golden calf that used to be proprietary hardware available only through protected dealer agreements.
There have been those out there sounding the siren, promoting managed services, service agreements, and content creation. Some intergrators and manufacturers have embraced these trends, while others have clung to their traditional business models with varying success.
The truth is, that if it is not already gone, our old way of doing business in AV is definitely on its way out. The good news, is that there is a new opportunity in front of us.
If we hope to be relevant in this new environment, either as a manufacturer or as an integrator, I think we need to make sure that our businesses are geared toward one of a few things.
Our future lies in opportunities based on minimum components, applications, and the OS.
1) Minimum Components
AV systems can be broken down into a few key components- the minimum components needed to make a system.
These components are a display, speakers, source device, a way to distribute the source to the display and to the speakers, and a way to control the components of the system.
Now if you have some type of video teleconferencing (VTC) or collaboration needs, there are a few more components needed. Those components being a camera, microphone, and some type of input/output (I/O) device like a mouse, interactive pen, or touch screen.
As you can see, breaking things down this way makes systems design and product development goals easier.
If you are a manufacturer, make sure you are focusing on one of the minimum components required for a system: Displays, speakers, switches and wireless access points, plus peripherals like cameras, microphones, and I/O devices including touch and gesture control systems.
2) Applications vs. Appliances
The truth of the matter is that applications will eventually displace more and more appliance based tasks, replacing them with applications that can run agnostically across platforms and screens. Only appliances that increase reliability or improve performance will remain, and their utility will most likely be leveraged across multiple tasks as well.
Don’t let applications get confused with stand alone apps. I am talking about applications that integrate into a larger standardized platform, not the ones with pretty, colorful icons.
If you manufacture appliances like HDBaseT extender boxes and switches, make sure that you are using a road map for the eventual distribution of these protocols through Ethernet switches and for the integration of these ports into source and display devices. Perhaps look at ways to enable a gigabit Ethernet switch to configure certain ports for HDBaseT distribution, just like a POE switches can do with power. Be coming up with ideas for appliances that enhance the performance of other minimum components in the system.
Look at QSC, developing ways to distribute video through their networked audio platforms as well as ways to implement software based DSPs. These are examples of convergent thinking that provide needed functionality while minimizing components.
3) The OS
One thing no one has quite tackled yet is the OS for AV systems. The OS includes the UI and contributes to the UX. Control manufacturers create overlays for control and GUIs for intuitive use, but a standardized platform has not yet been developed. Think of the advantages of something like the Microsoft .Net framework, where programs are written in a similar way and then mash-up software can be created to overlay and interface with all of those other programs. That is what we need for AV. Apple is trying it with HomeKIt, but missing the boat in my opinion by requiring that brands be “compatible with the HomeKit framework.”
If a company was to embark on and create an overarching protocol and OS for media distribution and control over the AV/IT landscape, it may have the new secret sauce. It would be both an expensive and lucrative venture.
It will be interesting to see how far we progress in the next few years and who will embrace this new landscape to its full extent. I have a feeling it will be a select few, at least in the AV space, and I am a bit concerned that IT and consumer electronic firms may continue to get more and more of the traditional AV business based on that fact.