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Aug 18, 2010 11:19 AM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Residential AV helps set the new bar for commercial AV.

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AMX HDMI UTPro-0808 Matrix Switcher

Last month, AMX began shipping its AMX HDMI UTPro-0808 matrix switcher. It exemplifies the idea that IT will not supplant AV but rather will connect and complement one another via parallel and intersecting networks.


“The concept that residential markets adopted more readily than commercial is the idea of whole-home automation, a perspective that the home is a single unit with systems that are knitted together in a seamless fashion. We’re just starting to see the counterpart in commercial AV, which traditionally has been room-centric,” says Joe Andrulis, VP of global marketing for AMX. “Whole-environment automation requires that AV control be more conversant and more inter­active with environmental management, security, IT—all of these control islands that are now colliding into a new supercontinent we now refer to as ‘unified control.’”

Andrulis emphasizes that the answer to this is something that is hard for AV professionals to hear: We must give up some control in order to play on the bigger continent and to avoid being marginalized. He says it’s important to laser focus on which problems need to be solved—and can benefit from our expertise—and which problems have already been solved. “The IT world already has long experience in an environment where multiple vendors were sharing the same vague IT space. They’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out how to maintain an open environment but still serve the needs of security, access, and control for the vendors trafficking in that environment,” he says. So as AMX moves into the new paradigm, it is trying not to reinvent what is already solved. An example: tying into the existing Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) in programs like Microsoft Exchange, which help manage permissions and access. Scheduling, he says, is another resource that is already in the ecosystem that AV control can intersect with and amplify, if “the AV side can open up our view of the world to integrate into what IT has already established.”

“Traditionally AV and IT have not been part of the same thought process,” he says, “and there are unique skills that exist in each thought process.” But those are rapidly disappearing in a world where the keynote speaker at InfoComm is from Cisco. “The truth of the matter is that the two worlds will collide and AV is not going to absorb IT. That’s just reality. And that’s a good thing. AV can benefit from adopting those things that IT has already solved.” Andrulis says he believes the promise of having a whole building automation system is not far-fetched and that AV has unique value to bring to that vision.

The core of this thinking for AMX is its Resource Management Suite, which is evolving in a way that weaves it more seamlessly into IT standards using a modern scalable and redundant architecture. Further, Andrulis makes the important distinction that AV should be part of a network in which systems can be reached and monitored over the LAN, but not necessarily doing all operations over the LAN. “We have to be cautious about imposing dramatic new loads that are sensitive to performance, moving video traffic and heavy-bandwidth tasks and time-sensitive events over LANs,” he says. While this is theoretically possible, there are aspects that for a long time will be handled more reliably by dedicated fiber and traditional AV formats as they are today.

This kind of hybrid thinking is exemplified in AMX’s new HDMI-UTPro 8x8 matrix switcher, which began shipping last month. It’s a full-matrix switcher delivering eight channels of secure HDMI with HDCP authentication across a network via a single UTP cable. It uses HDBaseT technology from Valens Semiconductor and is a new standard for digital transmission in the UTPro line that allows for very long runs. It also exemplifies the idea that IT will not supplant AV but rather will connect and complement one another via parallel and intersecting networks. “For some time it is not going to be practical to assume that you can collapse all your data and your AV time-sensitive traffic onto the same network,” Andrulis says.

Andrulis urges AV professionals to become part of the conversation during the build process and to become more familiar with IT to understand what linkages are going to be important. “Also to the degree that they can have some appreciation for the way the other systems operate, they can come forward with solutions and talk constructively with their peers in other disciplines,” he says.

He also urges AV pros to zero in on specific customer needs and problems that are here now—for example, using digital signage for mass notification in an emergency. “That’s an integration point that people can get their head around and a need they can understand,” he says.

“We are definitely pushing hard this idea of unified control, and what AV systems will need to look like, and what features they will need to include to support that effectively,” Andrulis says. “The introduction of new competitors into this space is going to have a big effect. It’s going to be very unpredictable and not entirely controllable. We are all going to have to react and respond. But we do not go into that battle unarmed. When it comes to usable control, the AV industry is the expert—not in what’s theoretically possible, and just for the educated few. We have long experience in making highly complex systems truly accessible for the masses.

“We can focus on our unique strength while relinquishing some responsibilities that are best handled by IT. That’s the opportunity, but it’s also the thing that creates heartburn, the feeling that giving up some control feels like giving up all control. But things like scheduling and basic networking connectivity—be happy to give those up. Rejoice! And now focus on the things people really find compelling and distinctive about your solutions. That’s kind of a tough transition, but people won’t keep paying you big dollars for problems that are already solved.”

Andrulis lets working-class philosopher Eric Hoffer sum it up: “‘In times of profound change, the learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.’ We have to become learners again, like we were when this industry started.”

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