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Expert Roundtable: AV Meets IT

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

Prominent systems integrators discuss the challenges of bridging gaps between the two sectors.

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The Broadwing Network Operations Center in Austin, Texas

The Broadwing Network Operations Center in Austin, Texas, features a conference room designed for video teleconferencing. All lighting is color- and temperature-balanced to optimize video.

How have the challenges of integrating AV over IT changed in the past five years? What are your clients looking for now that has affected the services you provide?

McGinniss: Today, clients want the ability to manage their systems from anywhere in the building without being in the room, while also enabling the system to notify the AV department of errors, equipment usage outside of normal business hours, or high projector-lamp life. This has caused the development of more complex code to track the status of the system and the implementation of more-complex user interfaces to show a global view of the systems. Many manufacturers have responded to this issue by developing device drivers and standard GUIs to help the integrator (for example: Extron Global Viewer, AMX Asset Manager, and Crestron Room View).

Smith: In the late 90s/early 2000s, when discussing running video over IP (referring to H.323) with an IT manager, the most common response you would hear was “not on my network.” Video over IP was a new technology and implementing quality of service was a challenge. More often that not, the investment required to increase the bandwidth on the wide-area network to support video was cost-prohibitive. At the end of the day, it was easier and less expensive to install ISDN. However, switching technologies quickly improved, competition has driven down the cost of bandwidth, and implementing QoS-enabled networks is a breeze. As a result, IP is now the preferred method of transport over ISDN. Once they understand the impact of video on their network, most IT managers we work with now readily embrace video over IP.

Bianchet: Customers are looking for complete, easy-to-use systems that they can monitor and gather data from in order to justify the investment in the systems. Many customers also are looking to outsource these monitoring needs because they may not have the budget to keep a full-time AV staff. By outsourcing the services component, AV companies need a strategy to provide monitoring and service on an as-needed basis for multiple customers. This is quite different from the days when you had one service guy kept on staff and sent out only when customers called in. Today, you now have to be proactive in your offering.

Bellehumeur: If you look back five years, there were still a significant minority of commercial and institutional enterprises that had truly independent AV departments. The new client challenge is to teach today's IT folks the fundamentals of AV physics in a good design. Now that we have high-resolution audio and video going across LANs and WANs, it is often the fundamental system design aspects of room acoustics, lighting, ergonomics, and end-user experience (i.e., intuitive human interface design) that are compromised and only get noticed after they are budgeted out of the system. Today we need to either master the fundamentals of AV and IT within our firm, merge with an IT firm, or create a portfolio of complementary service providers for our clients.

Polly: Some of the challenges of integrating AV over IT have actually decreased over the past five years. Five years ago, much of the available equipment did not contain built-in Ethernet ports. Some manufacturers supplied equipment with Ethernet ports or had external accessory modules that could be purchased separately, but the Ethernet capabilities were virtually unsupported by either a lack of, or very klugey software. In the 21st century, not only can you monitor a component over Ethernet, but many devices are fully controllable over Ethernet, which provides an equal or sometimes better method of controlling a device than serial communication. In addition, local monitoring and control of devices over the client's LAN allows an administrative person to view the status of a system, be alerted when a device is in need of service (lamp or filter change on a projector), and be able to provide help to an executive who may have some frustration operating the system. All this can easily be done remotely. This allows us to better service our clients as we show up to clean a filter or replace a lamp, without the client having to send a request because the system itself calls for help.

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