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Fiber Savvy Will Set Some AV Integrators Apart

Jun 28, 2006 8:29 PM

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The ability to design and install systems that function on fiber-optic networks is becoming a competitive advantage for AV integrators who have chosen to develop that expertise. Others, though, continue to rely on subcontractors to cope with the complexities of linking displays and other AV gear to fiber nets.

“Fiber is more difficult or more complex or requires more care,” says Jim Colquhoun, vice president of Technical Services at Audio Visual Innovations, Inc., in Englewood, Colo. “Fiber takes a little more finesse.”

Usually, Colquhoun adds, “when the AV world gets into fiber, they go hire one of the telephony guys to put in the fiber, terminate it, and then they hang their boxes on it.” Colquhoun says he detects a “stratification” in the AV systems integration business, “and this is one of the differentiators.”

Fiber networks confront the AV specialist with several distinct demands. First, of course, is for an all-digital install, but most integrators, even if they don’t already work all digital, are well along in that direction. To take advantage of fiber, though, the ordinary electrical pulses of a network also have to be converted to light pulses to travel over the fiber cable.

These connections—the converters and other devices that must be attached to the end points of a fiber line to link it to other systems—may be new and unfamiliar to some AV integrators. Many of the industry’s familiar names, though, are addressing this interface with new products. Extron Electronics, for example, introduced new products at Infocomm International that the company says combine familiar AV functionality with the ability to transmit high-res RGB signals over long distances via fiber.

AV integrators often must come to grips with fiber either when designing a large system spread over a wide geographic area, or when presented with an existing network to which they must connect. “Usually when we choose fiber it’s because we have a very large plant, or we have to share somebody else’s infrastructure,” says Colquhoun. “Usually what that means is we are handed the dark fiber, even down to the connectors. The bigger the corporate client, the more likely that is.”

The AV industry is fast becoming more fiber-savvy as its applications demand more bandwidth and become more intimately connected with clients’ other information technology systems, notes Mike Morgan, who heads up Texelspl, the new firm created last year when SPL Integrated Solutions acquired Texel, a structured wiring company.

“There never has been a very strong emphasis on the infrastructure portions of the traditional analog AV world,” Morgan says. However, in the years ahead “we’re going to see fiber playing a very critical role in the AV environ, particularly in large venue projects. The pro AV industry is probably more connectivity-sensitive than any other industry.”

In announcing the acquisition of Texel, SPL President Chad Gillenwater stressed the critical need for a reliable, high performance infrastructure in supporting enterprise-wide AV systems that increasingly provide high-resolution, high-bandwidth connections for collaboration.

Morgan notes, though, that with component prices coming down and more manufacturers making ever-simpler devices for connecting AV to fiber, the professional AV contractor can adapt easily.

Soon, he adds, fiber infrastructure will be “just another tool in the tool box.”

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