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AV Takes Control

On March 29, 2008, 370 cities participated in Earth Hour. In many cases, that meant sending employees to each room to turn off light switches. There's a better way. Why stop at just screen and sound? AV pros look for new business by automating clients' lighting and HVAC systems, too.

UNDERSTANDING NUTS AND VOLTS

Regardless of whether the installation uses wired or wireless connectivity, existing and new equipment must speak the same language.

"Some of the major HVAC and lighting manufacturers have BACnet gateways or Modbus gateways for their older systems," says Greg Turner, director of global offerings at Morris Township, N.J.-based Honeywell Building Solutions. "So in many cases, there's a single device that can be added to that old system to give it that open capability to talk to third-party devices."

Some integrators say that they avoid working with certain types of equipment, such as stand-alone dimmers located at each wall switch.

"These types of dimmers require [a] voltage ramp control interface," says Conference Technologies' Cheshier. "I'm not sureif control manufacturers even still have these interface cards. If a client has these types of dimmers, we will tell them we cannot control them and recommend they either contract with an electrical contractor, or we can supply a dimming system and work with a electrical contractor."

Indeed, the ability to work with electricians, as well as knowledge of electrical basics, are major assets for integrators targeting the control market.

"The integrator needs to know how to calculate lamp loads and how to work with the electricians," Cheshier says. "Most electrical contractors have not seen these types of dimming systems, so integrators have to know how to instruct the electricians where to connect the AC line voltage and how many circuits are needed."

The type of project also can determine the types of companies the integrator must be able to work with. "If the project is a construction project, we have to work with architect, MEP [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] engineer, electrical contractor, and the client," Cheshier says. "If the project is a retrofit, we have to work with the client, their facilities department or the building owner facilities department, and an electrical contractor."

Success in the control market also means knowing which people at a company to pitch to. Often they're not the ones responsible for AV.

That's what Crestron learned from working with Microsoft, which uses Crestron products for controlling AV and building systems at its headquarters. "When we talk to Microsoft, we're not going to the AV guy," Klein says. "We're going to the real estate division, the people who build and run the buildings."

ADDING VALUE

Control ultimately is a subset of two trends in pro AV. The first is the convergence of AV and IT, where knowledge of IT basics such as Ethernet networking is a must if you're going to convince a client's IT manager that it's okay to put a projector or light dimmer on the LAN. "I've seen meetings where you walk in, and the IT manager has his arms folded and a look like, 'You'renot putting anything on my network,'" says AMX's Noble.

That's why AMX and others have courses for dealers on setting up and troubleshooting Wi-Fi LANs. An integrator that understands the difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi has more credibility in the eyes of an IT manager.

Control is also a part of the trend away from selling only hardware and installation and toward also selling services. If a customer is sold on a system that ties together AV and lighting, the integrator could use that to offer a service plan that remotely monitors all that equipment. "We have dealers who have bought into the idea of selling maintenance agreements," Noblesays. "They know when a projector bulb has reached 80 percent of life or the DVD player has reached 100 hours and probably needs to be cleaned."

If that system supports the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) protocol, it could also be used to monitor and control fluorescent light fixtures. Either way, by identifying outages and other problems before they occur, the integrator looks proactive, which could help convince the client to stick with the company when they need more equipment.

Remote monitoring and controlwhether it's by the integrator or by the client's own staffalso can help with security and safety. If all of the AV equipment in a boardroom suddenly loses its network connection, that might be a sign to alert security to look for a cart full of gear going down the hall.

Another example is linking the AV and lighting to the building's fire systems so that when the alarm goes off, the lights are automatically brought up to full brightness, the loudspeakers are shut off so everyone can hear the alarm, and all displays show the emergency routes.

"We're seeing more and more of that with our hotel customers," says Honeywell's Turner. "Those are great value-adds for integrators. They come in with a digital signage solution and say, 'We can also use this to enhance the safety of this [facility].' It's a nice extra that they can sell and get some additional margin from."

Tim Kridel is a Columbia, Mo.-based freelance writer and analyst who covers telecom and technology. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.



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