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Get Ready for More Paradigm Shifts

Have you seen all the Ethernet-connected HDTVs on the market today? Do you have the skills it will take to build an IPTV network? Parallax View columnist and 2008 InfoComm Educator of the Year Pete Putman has a new lesson for you. Learn the finer points of software switching before you're left in the dust.


Pete Putman, CTS, ISF

During September and October, I participated in a number of regional dealer events with Panasonic's professional displays group. My presentation focused on the use of plasma monitors for evaluation-grade applications, such as video and film production, graphic arts, 3D simulation, and high-end retail. At each event, I had fascinating discussions with AV dealers who were both interested in and concerned about the ongoing transition away from traditional analog video and audio distribution to digital signal formats.

Throughout these conversations, topics such as IPTV and MPEG came up more than once. And when we talk about these technologies, it doesn't take much to get me onto a topic I think will change pro AV.

In the past, I've used the term "software-based switching" to describe the process of multicasting digital video and audio content. The "software" part comes when the receiver extracts video, audio, and data from the stream and constructs a program out of these elements. In this scenario, we're not switching signals physically, as we would with analog signal distribution. Software switching simplifies wiring considerably and makes bandwidth the primary consideration for an all-digital backbone. Suddenly our cable selections become simpler and might be reduced to coaxial, optical fiber, or Cat-5/6 wiring (or even wireless).

Software Switching Is Here Now

The model for software-based switching is in wide use throughout the IT industry. It's also the basis for most new television stations, network head-ends, cable head-ends, and direct broadcast satellite companies. Nascent IPTV services such as AT&T's U-Verse make exclusive use of software-based switching.

That's all fine and dandy, but what does IPTV have to do with our industry? Plenty, as it turns out. Sooner or later, you are going to come across a project (if you haven't already) that makes more sense with a 100-percent digital backbone than anything analog. And that requires new and different thinking-something our counterparts in the broadcast and telecom worlds are already conversant with.


Does this constitute a threat to our business? Sure, but not right away. The good news is, you still have time to learn about software-based video and audio transport systems. But you need to get started now.

Did you notice some of the new kids on the block at this year's InfoComm trade show, such as Harris and Tandberg (which soon could be part of Cisco)? These folks are long-time exhibitors at the National Association of Broadcasters' show and are well versed in MPEG, IPTV, optical fiber networks, and IT integration. Significantly, they're already generations into products for these applications while we're still learning the basics.

During one dealer event, a long-time pro told me he was concerned about falling behind the curve as the digital transition sweeps through. Even though most of his new hires have IT experience, he saw the need for adding MPEG and IPTV education, not only to InfoComm's CTS certification program, but also to CTS-I and CTS-D. I don't mean to imply that every dealer and integrator working in pro AV is in the dark when it comes to digital-far from it. But there are enough dealers out there who are still-by design or client request-updating and adding to older analog signal distribution systems with more analog products.

Even the plethora of Cat-5 interface converters still represent a foot planted firmly in the 20th century. I say keep the Cat-5 wiring, lose the analog-to-digital interfaces, and just go digital from the start. But that takes training in challenging economic times.

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