Thinking Outside the Krystal Ball

beyond-krystal-33By Josh Srago

Presentations like rAVe founder Gary Kayye’s Krystal Ball do a phenomenal job of painting broad strokes over where we are headed as an industry, but when the information is incomplete or disregards alternatives, it can leave those in attendance with the wrong impression.

In the spring of 2013, Gary gave his Krystal Ball presentation at the San Francisco Almo E4 show. I remember leaving the ballroom that day considering and processing the information he shared as I walked between manufacturer booths and training sessions. When all was said and considered there were three things that stuck with me about his presentation:

  1. The predictions made were broad enough to cover a pretty wide range of topics and were less “predictions” and more an indication of current trends in the A/V industry.
  2. The message being delivered on digital signage began to feel more like a sales pitch than actual information.
  3. A statement was made that AVB was not going to last and would eventually be absorbed by HDBaseT.

Those are the three things that still stand out in my mind even now and you can take that one of two ways: Either the presentation was very effective in getting its message across or I disagreed so adamantly with the point being made that it still rubs me the wrong way. The answer is both things are true.

The Krystal Ball covered the whole spectrum of concerns that faced A/V integrators: The shift towards network based devices that has been happening for the last several years and will continue, the booming emergence of unified communications for collaboration reaching beyond just the office space, as well as starting to see more personal devices being utilized in the work places (BYOD). All of these trends have been coming about and the industry has bombarded us with information about them to make sure we are armed and prepared.

As the topic shifted to digital signage, I was curious as to how this was going to relate to the A/V world beyond the obvious offering and installing of display and content distribution devices. The discussion focused very heavily on the amount of untapped participation from the A/V world in the digital signage market. I agree that digital signage is a growth market for the A/V world. Video walls are becoming more commonplace in applications across the board and basic single display signage is something that gets encountered on an almost daily basis just by living in a metropolitan area. It was the push being made after the discussion of digital signage market growth that I began to question as being relevant to the A/V industry. Gary makes the argument that the digital signage world is a chance for the A/V integrators to gain a stream of recurring revenue by not only being the hardware provider, but also the content provider. His theory is that providing content creation services to the customers would pay for the employee(s) that would be required. I didn’t quite know how to react at the time, but after some consideration I found that telling A/V integrators to put that kind of investment behind the idea to be very misleading. The simple fact is that while digital signage is a growth market opportunity, the chances that a client looking to implement a digital signage system will have some kind of marketing department are greater than not. Consider where we most often see digital signage these days: retail, chain restaurants, businesses, transportation environments, all of which traditionally have an in house team or work with an outside firm to manage the marketing content creation for the company. There are some opportunities for smaller companies out there that might not have graphic artists at their disposal to manage the content, but even in those cases (and particularly in a large metropolitan areas) the cost of seeking out a freelance graphic artist will be much less than the cost to have the A/V integrator on call for content management. I guarantee there are companies out there that have made the content creation model work for them, but the emphasis on this market and how to approach its potential was presented as though a large portion of the industry was headed in this direction as opposed to a new opportunity to be considered based on individual integrator capabilities.

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The third point that I took away from the Krystal Ball was actually the one that I found the most frustrating. AVB is an emerging signal transportation method that utilizes data packets for transmission of audio, video and control not just over category cabling, but over the network itself. This was something that was passed over in the discussion with the majority of time being devoted to HDBaseT as the category cable based signal transmission method of importance. When an audience member asked a question about the significance of AVB for the industry moving forward, I was shocked the response was that it would not last and would be absorbed by HDBaseT. Given the difference between the two technologies and their capabilities (one a network based transmission method and the other being a method that utilizes category cable to extend signal run possibilities), HDBaseT is being shown to have much greater limitations than AVB, while both technologies still have a place in the A/V integrator tool bag.

When I was offered the opportunity to comment on the Krystal Ball, I wanted to see how the latest version of the presentation might have changed.  In viewing the Prezi document as well as the recorded version from the Fall 2013 Almo E4 New York show, I came to find that Gary’s opinion had shifted slightly.  AVB and the AVnu Alliance were both mentioned briefly, but making the statement that in the future all audio in commercial environments would eventually travel across a network while referencing the AVnu Alliance is only telling 1/3 of the story with AVB.  As it was revealed over the summer, AVB has achieved IEEE certification and the list of manufacturing partners continues to grow and support the future of this signal transportation method.

This was an opportunity to make sure that people understood the difference between these two signal transmission methods that are starting to dominate the conversation over how future designs will be implemented, and one of them was only mentioned in passing without addressing its full capabilities. I will grant that Gary’s Krystal Ball, while having a history of success will not always be accurate, but his statement dismissing AVB could have been extremely damaging because it put the idea into people’s heads that an emerging technology was something that should be ignored since it would not be around for the future.

These prophetic presentations are designed to show A/V integrators some of the industry trends, where there is numerated growth, what emerging technologies will enable, and where potential development may exist to help business leaders see opportunities of which they may or may not be aware. These sessions also provide newcomers a chance to see the industry as a whole and decide where they might want to focus their attention as they begin their careers. This is a fantastic way to present a large amount of information in a short amount of time. However, it is how that information is presented that takes on the greatest importance. If the information presented is spun to emphasize specific technologies, verticals, or products then the audience isn’t getting a clear overview of the industry as a whole. There will always be a personal responsibility as a part of this industry to stay informed, but with more and more information and less and less time to absorb it all the responsibility falls to the leaders that are presenting this information to ensure that they are providing a full unbiased suite of data which allows everyone to see what’s happening, understand where their attention should be focused, and make their own decisions on the trends that are most important to the continued growth of their business.

Josh Srago is a seasoned audio professional with experience in studio production, live sound, commercial A/V and broadcasting. Having worked as the national consultant liaison & trainer for an audio manufacturer, he adopted the philosophy that the best way to help people with A/V is to help them understand A/V. He currently works for an A/V integrator in the SF Bay Area as a project manager and handles the company’s social media. You can read more of his work at his website http://www.soundreason.org, at redband.avshout.com or his guest publications in Sound & Communications, and Communications Business Solutions.