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Can Youtube Promote Convergence?

Could Google's purchase of YouTube help networked video go mainstream?

WHAT COULD GOOGLE'S recent purchase of YouTube mean for pro AV? There's always talk about “convergence” — a tired but reliable term. But when will it really happen? Are we already there? When will we get to the network nirvana that many people in the pro AV industry, including me, have talked about for so long?

Looking back, it feels like the old videoconferencing story. During the early ‘80s, videoconferencing was a technology that, while expensive, actually worked and provided benefits for its users. It seemed like videoconferencing had been in hibernation since the big videophone demonstration at the 1964 World's Fair, and its time had finally come. But that didn't happen.

My colleagues at the time called it “the ever-receding bonanza.” Instead, videoconferencing made a slow but steady climb to eventually become a commonplace part of the pro AV industry.

Could this also be the case with AV on the network? Although the technology exists to create an “all-network” pro AV system, it still isn't perfect, and many people don't yet know how to make it work.

A viable system can be created with just a collection of transducers (microphones, loudspeakers, cameras, and projectors) on a network with access to a variety of online media sources. Maybe some audio DSP processors sit on the network, receiving, processing, and outputting audio back on the network via an Ethernet connection. All of the video can be on the network, along with the control system and user interface. That future can be now, but it rarely is.

Yet there are plenty of incentives to move to the network. Analog sources are becoming less common, and the offline video options we're given to transport, distribute, and display aren't the most friendly to work with.

While RGBHV may be a bit unwieldy to work with sometimes, it's a piece of cake compared to working with DVI, HDMI, and HDCP in a pro AV environment. This will help push us all onto the network sooner rather than later. And there are other technological factors at work to help us.

More LANs are supporting Gigabit Ethernet instead of just 100 MB terminals. And 10 GB Ethernet isn't far away. Digital signage is bringing more AV professionals into the world of online video. Broadcasters are doing video on the LAN all the time. Video compression algorithms are getting better, and thanks to iTunes, more people are hearing about (if not learning about) H.264 and MP3 compression. Most presentations are on networked computers, and many are being presented online via the Web. Regardless of whether users realize it, cable TV is nothing more than an elaborate online digital delivery system wherever digital cable exists.

And then there's YouTube, bloggers, CNN, newspapers, and lots of others. Video and audio are becoming online media more than ever before, and those in the media business are jumping all over themselves to get online and stay in business. As these technologies become more commonplace in the general population, more and more people will be comfortable with AV on the network in some form.

Resistance is futile

So why isn't pro AV there yet? As usual, there have been some obstacles to progress. Within our own ranks, AV pros generally have plenty on their plates just keeping up with non-network disciplines of audio, video, acoustics, lighting, and electrical codes. Moving into networks as the basis for AV is a fundamental shift that some are not yet ready to make.

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