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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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What are the one or two new technologies that have most influenced the merging with AV with IT, and how they have affected systems integration?

McGinniss: The merger between AV and IT has greatly improved now that most of the manufacturers have adapted well to the 802.3 Ethernet standards. The bigger problem is that most manufacturers are using Wi-Fi for their wireless applications, despite the fact that AV and IT still need some level of separation (subnet) because of the traffic and number of packets sent. Because of this, most WAPs [Wireless Access Points] conflict with the client's other Wi-Fi deployments. In addition, many large cooperates do not want any Wi-Fi in their build, and consider [it] a security risk even if the Wi-Fi traffic is on a separate AV subnet.

Smith: The two technologies that have had the most influence in merging AV with IT are videoconferencing and video streaming. Today, organizations need to communicate visually and, in addition to videoconferencing, our customers are also turning to video streaming (live and on-demand) to communicate across their organization and beyond. We are seeing an increasing number of videoconferencing and streaming inquiries for permanent facilities that lead to significant AV-integration opportunity [as opposed to a roll-about VC system]. So from a sales perspective, it's been great for us. When you add on microphones, echo-cancellers, additional switcher inputs, and the necessary controls, it can lead to a nice sale for us, and a high-powered tool for our clients.

Bianchet: If I were going to choose two technologies that have influenced the merging of AV and IT they would be control systems and IP videoconferencing. Control systems have really changed the way AV companies integrate systems. Since they can now work over the network, modern control systems require AV companies to coordinate with IT departments to allow these devices to sit on their networks. In addition, with the growth of IP videoconferencing and the increase of available bandwidth, videoconferencing is now being pushed over the network and into areas where AV companies have less experience. As with control systems, videoconferencing requires close coordination with the IT group prior to the sale to make sure we can run these devices on the network as well.

Bellehumeur: The top two new technologies in our group would have to be the rapid adoption of IP over ISDN, and the emergence of very stable and useful endpoint-management tools. The latter not only applies to videoconferencing, but also to standardized remote-control system management of all AV systems, and help-desk services across local or global client endpoints. While it's a constant challenge to keep up with new developments in AV and IT, the reward comes in long-term client relationships. You can keep your AV credentials while expanding your systems-integration services with grateful IT departments.

Polly: Definitely AV over UTP [Unshielded Twisted-pair] wires has saved dollars and time as we deal with a single cable type, end termination, and pin-out for every AV signal that needs to run from point A to point B. This eliminates the need to specify different cable types for different signals, along with the connectors and tooling for the variety of cables that we dealt with in the past. Technologies like CobraNet have also proven to be both a time- and money-saving protocol as multiple channels of audio can now be routed bidirectionally over a single cable. Ethernet control has certainly overcome the distance limitations typical of RS-232, and Ethernet switches and routers with multiple ports are far less expensive to employ for communicating with multiple devices than expanding a PC or AV controller by adding additional serial port modules or cards. Certainly, Wi-Fi has added a level of convenience. The fact that we can fine-tune and balance a room's audio system by sitting in any seat with a wireless laptop allows us to tweak the system with better accuracy, since we can do it from any listening position in the room.

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