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Intellectual Property

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment. What will the pro AV market look like one, five, or even 10 years from now? Do you have a clear picture in your mind? Although most agree it's impossible to predict the future, a group of AV experts did their best to do just that at the second annual ?Future Summit? of ICIA's Independent Consultants in Audio-Visual Technologies (ICAT) Council at last year's InfoComm.

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment. What will the pro AV market look like one, five, or even 10 years from now? Do you have a clear picture in your mind? Although most agree it's impossible to predict the future, a group of AV experts did their best to do just that at the second annual “Future Summit” of ICIA's Independent Consultants in Audio-Visual Technologies (ICAT) Council at last year's InfoComm.

Based on firsthand experience and analysis of industry trends, the group brainstormed its vision of what's next for the AV industry, arriving at a general consensus on the following projections. The typical AV system of the future will have fewer discrete-function boxes as manufacturers exploit the power of digital signal processing (DSP). Software programming, development, and design will be increasingly important for integrating audio, video, and control systems. And consultants and systems integrators will inevitably encounter more competition from non-AV types, such as IT professionals and technically savvy end-users.

Although there are obviously many unknowns, these AV veterans believe one thing is almost certain. If our industry continues down the convergence path, the value AV professionals bring to customers will continue to move more toward intellectual property and away from installed hardware. In other words, a system integrator's success will no longer be tied to the product lines he represents or sells, but rather to what his firm can do with them in the digital domain.

With these more complicated digital audio and video systems come a whole new set of challenges that must be solved with software solutions. Issues that come to mind include interoperability, scalability, future modification, and even learning curves for mastering the software components. The emerging answer to all of these concerns is simple: standards.

Emerging standards

The videoconferencing industry would be in sad shape were it not for ITU-T standards like H.323 and H.320, which govern how codecs communicate. Similar standards are emerging for the software used and delivered in system designs, including touchpanel interfaces, control system code, and DSP software.

By default, most DSP audio matrix mixers use similar user interface software to graphically build audio filters and processing in the PC environment. The increased reliance on powerful DSP-based audio processors led to the creation of the Digital Signal Processing Summit that will premier at InfoComm 2005. Many experts agree that DSP systems have paved the way for the pro AV industry's migration from analog to fully digital systems.

Foreshadowing the future of AV control, AMX recently announced Duet — a new firmware platform that allows programming code to be created in the proprietary AMX NetLinx language or in standard Java language developed by Sun Microsystems. AMX claims that one of the major benefits is the ability for AV equipment manufacturers to build control modules that include all desirable commands in a neat package. The module is installed in the projector, DVD player, etc., during manufacturing and automatically transfers itself into the control system upon hookup and activation. The AMX programmer only needs to include generic commands, known as Java “methods,” such as “TV.Power.setPowerOn(XYZ)” to control a device like a television. The actual manufacturer and device-specific code strings are stored in the module that comes with the unit.

The benefit — and potential threat — to programmers with this new plug-and-play approach is AMX's estimate of 4.2 million trained Java programmers worldwide. For this reason, AMX will license the Java module builder program, Café Duet, to protect the integrator's best interests from those programmers.

IT and programming standards offer the AV industry great benefit through platforms that allow innovation yet support interoperability. Where possible, manufacturers these days are putting their trust in software and firmware that can be updated instead of hardware. The overriding reason is cost control. If a problem arises in the field or a new twist on a current technology comes to light, upgrading the unit or fixing the problem requires only a simple flash of the firmware or upload of new software. With the advent of IP connectivity on many pieces of AV gear, this is accomplished without even physically visiting the site. The flipside could include retooling manufacturing, huge shipping costs to deliver the new hardware, complicated logistics, and major downtime for the AV system.

Most manufacturers are including headroom in the processing power of their DSP chips and digital architecture to support future technology developments. For example, videoconferencing companies typically don't come out with new top-of-the-line codecs every year; however, they do offer regular software revisions. Advanced features built into the codec, such as multipoint bridging, are simply unlocked with the purchase of a software key.



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