Q&A with Fred Bargetzi, Crestron Electronics
As more technology systems within buildings sit on a standard IT network, there's a big opportunity for AV pros to branch out into other specialties. Crestron is betting on it big time.
At InfoComm 2010, Crestron Electronics had a different kind of message for the AV industry. In presentations during the show, the company exhorted AV designers and integrators to broaden their horizons; to embrace specialites beyond their traditional expertise—building management, lighting control—before it was too late. We asked Crestron’s vice president of technology for more explanation.
PRO AV: At InfoComm, you guys seemed to talk less about products and more about something you’ve noticed in the market. Can you explain?
BARGETZI: Audiovisual control used to be an option. It isn’t anymore. It’s become part of infrastructure. When it became part of infrastructure, we found our clientele was changing. Instead of dealing with the AV guy, things shifted to the IT department. Now when companies are building buildings, we’re dealing with the real estate division and they’re treating AV, multimedia, and lighting control as part of building infrastructure. As a result, there are more demands to better manage and control their facilities.
On the Crestron side of things, we were already in the room, controlling things and we found there were a lot of loose ends, everything from just booking a simple room to the fact that when you book a room it's a resource and consumes energy, time, and resources. So we asked, how can we create a closed-loop system to better manage that? We saw this trend and thought we could provide an opportunity for AV integrators to grow into this space and take advantage of it.
We've been making lighting controls since the 1980s. About six years ago we took a bunch of engineers and revamped our commercial product line of lighting and architectural dimming. The common theme was an open standard of network control. If you look at companies who were doing this in the past, they were using things like BACnet and Modbus, which were very building-centric instead of open-standard. We created everything from in-room dimming controls to motion sensors to enterprise server-based software to communicate on open, IT-based standards to create this intelligent building.
PRO AV: Did something have to change for your AV systems to fit into the building infrastructure model?
BARGETZI: The way a control system works today, it’s the bottleneck. Everything has to go in and out of it. We’re moving to a completely distributed architecture. We want all our devices, not just the control systems, to be able to do their jobs intelligently and tie into anything else on the network, garner information as needed, and make their own intelligent decisions.
A traditional control system is a black box that sits in the corner and links a bunch of devices together. We created what we call the Core 3 operating system and put it into devices that were no longer traditional in the control system sense. For example, we make a little 4-inch touch panel. It connects by a single wire, it uses [power over Ethernet], and now it happens to run the same OS that we run in our MC3 black-box control systems. With a logic engine inside, that little touchscreen can be an appliance-grade control system that manages a room in the new world of AV and management.
Where we've changed things is we've made these appliance-grade devices that are purpose-driven and can be applied as you wish. The MC3 looks like a normal control system. It has IR, RS-232, relays, but it has an on-screen display and you can plug it into a monitor and manage it with a remote control. The touch panel is the same: It's running Core 3; it has Ethernet so it can talk to devices; it's on-screen display emulates the touchscreen.
Because it also has a Cresnet port, I can hang motion detectors and light sensors off it; I can hang button panels; I can control other AV devices via IR and RS-232. So what happens now is that touch panel can still be a user interface, but it's also a management point inside the room that ties into the building, energy, and lighting management,
So that touch panel outside a door provides all your scheduling and booking confirmation, but it's also tying in occupancy and light sensing. Inside the room, we have an intelligent light switch that also ties into the network and can run independently so it just works. But it can also talk to the touch panel and to all the enterprise software, and now you get a truly intelligent building, everything talking TCP/IP, no special protocols, so you don't have to run an HVAC proprietary network or even an AV proprietary network, which brings cost down. Now all the devices are set to run independently, but they're tied together over this network,
In the past, most of these devices were dependent on the control system to be linked together. Now that control system doesn't have to be that central I/O point; each of the devices can talk to any of the other devices and allows you to create a more scalable system.
PRO AV: How does this platform interoperate with what’s already out there?
BARGETZI: Certainly we do TCP/IP all day long, and more devices on the network speak TCP/IP. But this platform also includes protocols that are more native to the building management side of things, [such as] BACnet over IP and Modbus, which gives people the ability to bridge and take these legacy building management-type systems and let AV devices communicate with them, get information from them, or take control of them, and it opens our industry to a whole host of opportunities.
For example, if I come into a building now that has a Honeywell system, I can put in a TPMC-4SM touch panels and it can communicate with the Honeywell system using BACnet over IP and now I can bridge in Exchange Server information for the room booking an help manage the HVAC system. That's where it starts to get exciting.
If you look at Honeywell, Siemens, or Johnson Controls and you want to talk to them today, you're doing it over BACnet, and they've pretty much moved to BACnet over IP. We're not looking to come in and take over those controls. They do a fine job. What we're looking to do is extend the intelligence of some of the systems already installed.
All of us–Crestron, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, even Cisco–have the same corporate clients, and those clients are going to go to their various technology providers because all these things are on the network and they want to know how to unify them. We as an industry are in the best position to do it because we have the most complex, sophisticated piece of the puzzle.
PRO AV:If AV pros don’t seize this opportunity, are they at risk of being marginalized?
BARGETZI: Lots of people have said that; others say that’s just a scare tactic. We’re just saying, if the AV industry doesn’t take advantage of it, someone else is going to. We’ve already seen a trend where major electrical contracting powerhouses are acquiring AV divisions. Theyre in there wiring all the high-voltage infrastructure and while theyre in there, theyre running the network. Now they can do the AV side of things and suddenly they’ve taken over most of the building. And guess what? Theyre not afraid to do lights or tie in HVAC. The point is, were not making this up. We’re seeing people take advantage of this opportunity. And theyre taking an AV sale that could be $200,000 and turning it into a building sale that could be $2 million.
PRO AV:Doesn’t Crestron sells systems no matter who wins the job?
BARGETZI: People say, gosh, if you create an open programming platform, which we have—the Core 3 OS uses C +—they say then I can just hire programmers out of school and they can be AV masters. What I say to those people is that years of experience with acoustics and how things work together are invaluable. Electricians can pull wire. It doesn’t mean they have the skillset the AV integrator has. AV guys are cross-disciplined in AV, IT, acoustics, video. Why shouldn’t the next things be lighting and HVAC? They only have to learn a little more to take it to the next level whereas people from other industries would take longer to learn everything the AV industry knows.