What CES 2015 Means for the H.O.W. Market

featured-future-howFellow geeks have united and converged upon Las Vegas, Nevada once again for the annual tech-fest that is the Consumer Electronics Show, and the future’s digital handwriting is on the proverbial wall: audio/video/lighting (A/V/L) technology is once again the dominant technology. With prognostications aside, the trends of these present-future technologies have a direct impact on the House of Worship (H.O.W.) market for the A/V/L space.

A/V/L Dominates New Top Products

CES’s leadership highlighted the top 20 technologies on the opening day of the show and A/V/L was represented in 13 of the new products. This is huge, especially considering the shift to mobile and the massive focus on Apps. Also worthy of note: The Internet of Things is coming of age, and is easily demonstrated with five out of the top 20 new offerings that are aimed at connecting our physical world with our digital lifestyles.

CES2015Probably unsurprising to rAVe readers is the huge number of new products geared toward the 4K resolution video display market. Content has continued to be the biggest obstacle for 4K adoption, but exponential leaps in even consumer technologies are showing up in video cameras and even new mobile devices. This shift is not subtle, but dramatic, and will continue to spin up rapidly as tech companies push consumers towards 4K displays (shouldn’t we drop the now archaic term “television set” since today’s displays now include WiFi and streaming video content?).

As I’ve written about previously, 4K resolution technology has a number of significant challenges for widespread adoption by the overwhelming majority of churches due to workflow and massive file storage requirements. Still, one cannot turn a blind eye towards a technology that has already captured the imaginations of consumers. More importantly, the increase in new 4K technologies means adoption issues must be addressed and overcome by manufacturers and systems integrators alike. Those that figure this out first will reap significant benefits and healthy margins as big a shift as the introduction of HD was to the H.O.W. market.

The Internet of Things Mirrors the Automation & Control Market

In the not-too-distant past, AMX and Crestron were the two lone big boys of the control and automation market for the A/V/L integrator. Back when ‘touchpanels’ were single-use devices and control meant dedicated RS-232 and IR receivers as the norm, the control aspect of systems integration was a huge selling point and solid way to add margin to a project. Today, consumers expect to control more in their homes and cars than just A/V devices. The consumer mentality is taken by the user from their home to their workplace, where they see the opportunity to control and access more over Wi-Fi than just shared printers.

The H.O.W. market is similarly populated by consumers who have had their expectations raised by what they can do on their tablet or mobile devices. The complexity factor has become lost on leaders who have simple and flexible apps in their personal lives; they simply expect their church’s A/V/L technology to be at least on par with what they can do from the comfort of their couch. It doesn’t matter if their expectation is realistic because it is possible, thanks to a thriving App eco-system, depending on how much one wants to spend.

The opportunity to revisit old assumptions about A/V/L is ripe, especially for the manufacturers and integrators that can provide new levels of flexibility, power, and control from mobile devices. Far beyond mere control, the upgrade opportunities for energy-efficient LED architectural lighting (not to mention color mixing these previous white-light-only venues), proactive maintenance, smart push notifications to appropriate users, and a whole plethora of other possibilities are on the table. The Internet of Things (IoT), according to Wikipedia, “Is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing Internet infrastructure.” What makes IoT especially compelling for the A/V/L market is that besides the plethora of new application areas for Internet connected automation to expand into, IoT is also expected to generate large amounts of data from diverse locations; and then to aggregate data at very high-velocity, thereby increasing the need to better index, store and process such data. The “smart era” is here, and systems integrators, in particular, have a huge opportunity to not only control and automate more, but the report on what’s happening and identify usage trends, common patterns, and recurring issues through apps and web tools. Churches are no different than businesses, education, or government markets when it comes to needing actionable, useful information out of the huge amounts of data that otherwise overwhelm users.

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From RS-232 to IPv6

If consumers can get Wi-Fi now in their cars, flat panel displays, and soon their kitchen appliances, then it’s entirely reasonable to build in wireless (and wired) connectivity into almost every A/V/L component. However, since the IPv4 protocol is quickly running out of IP addresses (Internet, not local network), it is likely that using local networks within venues to connect to the Internet may continue to be a good solution. But with App control often limited to direct IP addresses, it’s still wise to consider the adoption of IPv6. Yeah, this is geeky stuff, but the outcome is very sleek – users getting more control (and, theoretically, more usage) out of their A/V/L devices.

In the H.O.W. market, volunteers play key roles, sometimes including being the sole technical ‘staff’ for a church. Because of this, ‘volunteer proofing’ systems continues to be a high priority. Far from making something ‘idiot proof’ (ignorance is remedied; incompetence is not), volunteer friendly control systems need far more then sequenced power up and power down functionality; control in the IoT will not only be devices with sensory capabilities, but also provide actuation capabilities for doing something about a status alert, all through the Internet.

Value Adding Trumps Features & Benefits

By meeting the consumer mentality expectation of instant connectivity, control, and operation through the IoT, manufacturers and systems integrators will have a far more powerful sales and marketing message: technology that answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” The value proposition of smart systems is the demonstrated upside of proactive maintenance, even higher uptimes, and lower failure rates. There cannot be a greater sales value proposition than A/V/L systems and components that increase the user experience, provide longer life cycles, and open up new levels of human scalability (operators) through remote administration and operation – all critical in the volunteer-heavy H.O.W. market.

Features and benefit comparisons will be rendered irrelevant when a user can compared options and ask, “yeah, but which one of these is a smart technology?”

How is the A/V/L industry addressing the Internet of Things? What should be done by manufacturers and systems integrators to accelerate the adoption of IPv6 and remote control and automation? Share your views and links in the comments below.