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Here Comes the Four-Headed Beast

As I sit down to write this, a new decade has dawned.Yet it feels as if the Y2K panic and stock market tech bubble happened just yesterday. It's funny how time flies when you're not paying much attention. Now, as we head into the second decade of the 21st century, the professional audiovisual industry is undergoing incredible transformation.

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As I sit down to write this, a new decade has dawned.Yet it feels as if the Y2K panic and stock market tech bubble happened just yesterday. It's funny how time flies when you're not paying much attention. Now, as we head into the second decade of the 21st century, the professional audiovisual industry is undergoing incredible transformation. Technologies that we "oohed" and "aahed" over in the late 1990s are largely afterthoughts. Indulge me for a moment as I flash back to the fall of 1999, a year into the digital TV transition.

That year, Panasonic and ABC teamed up to broadcast Monday Night Football in the 720p HDTV format with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, setting off a flurry of antenna-raising parties around the country to capture the signal from those few ABC stations that could transmit it. Excitement was in the air. My first HDTV setup consisted of a bulky, military-gray Princeton AF3.0HD 30-inch CRT HD monitor (720p resolution) and a Panasonic DST-51W set-top receiver, connected to a Radio Shack UHF yagi antenna strapped to my rear deck. The antenna had to be aimed just so in order to lock up the temperamental DTV signal, but the results amazed my friends.

In 2000, I hosted my first Super Bowl HDTV Party, combining that Princeton monitor with a Sony VPL-VW10HT widescreen LCD projector, an Extron component video switcher, several hundred feet of component video cable, and a couple of analog 5.1-channel audio systems, set up to entertain the 40 or so wide-eyed, amazed guests who had never seen any kind of HDTV programming before, let alone a football game in HD.

Time changes everything. Today, HD programming is widely available through cable and satellite networks, as well as via terrestrial DTV stations (who now face an uncertain future). You can buy HD movies on Blu-ray disc for $25, or go to Amazon.com and download HD movies and TV shows to digital video recorders from companies like TiVo.

HD camcorders are a dime a dozen (the 720p Flip Ultra HD is just $199 now) and some digital SLR cameras made by Nikon and Canon can actually record HD video clips. HD and SD programs can also be streamed through high-speed wireless connections directly to TV sets. My point? Simply that HDTV is no big deal anymore. The technology had its moment in the sun, but now it's just another communications format we largely take for granted.

Even so, HD has had a tremendous impact on our industry, introducing such revolutionary concepts as widescreen imaging, multichannel audio, secure digital display interfaces, DVRs and HD servers, multicasting, ancillary program metadata, high-density optical storage media, and digital rights management–all to a market that still supports the decades-old composite video and 15-pin VGA analog signal formats. So what's next after HD? Is there another game-changing technology waiting in the wings, or is it already creeping in on little cat feet as you read this?

The Four-Headed Game-Changer

The new game-changer is not a single technology, nor does it supplant HDTV. Rather, the next big thing is a combination of four trends: Ubiquitous broadband connections, on-demand content delivery, fast wireless infrastructures, and do-everything mobile communications devices.

The difference between this next big thing and HDTV is that the latter fully embraces the concept of anywhere, anytime content. Consumers (and that includes our pro AV clients) are getting used to a world where video and audio are served up across myriad playback devices from laptops to iPhones. Content runs the gamut from feature films and TV shows to amateur YouTube videos and webinars.

This four-headed, time-shifted connectivity monster is already running amok. Analysts are fond of saying that "appointment television" is fast becoming a dinosaur. A report by the Leichtman Research Group in September 2009 stated that 36 percent of all homes in the U.S. now have at least one digital video recorder. While many of those are used to time-shift conventional programming, a growing number of DVRs incorporate Ethernet connections and can keyword-search the Web for video content.

More importantly, Parks Associates estimates that nearly 14 million Ethernet-connected TVs will be in American homes by 2013. And you know by now that the consumer world drives the professional world.

What impact will all of this have on our industry? For starters, you'd better bone up on the latest wireless protocols, and I don't just mean 802.11n. Check out the website for the Wireless Home Digital Interface Consortium (www.whdi.org) to see where we're headed. The consortium was formed by Amimon, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony to promote a high-speed wireless delivery system for HD content. It features speeds up to 3 gigabits per second and operates in the 5-GHz band. There's also the shorter-range WirelessHD (www.wirelesshd.org), which works around the 60-GHz band. Could either work in one of your next installs?

At InfoComm, we've preached for a decade about AV-IT convergence. Guess what? It's yesterday's news. So are you prepared for the client who walks into a conference room with the latest iPhone, Droid, or BlackBerry and wants to make a presentation simply by pushing the play icon, with no physical connection to the room's AV systems? That's the future of AV.

Are you qualified to set up an AV infrastructure to support multicasts of video-on-demand to and from multiple locations, some of which are miles apart? With more than one language track? With closed captions and ancillary data? That's the future of AV.

Are you versed in the language of digital video–MPEG2, MPEG4, PATs and PMTs, IPTV, modulation error rates, forward error correction, latency, and statistical multiplexing? That's the future of AV. It's the new game-changer, the next big thing.

2008 InfoComm Educator of the Year Pete Putman is a Pro AV contributing editor and president of ROAM Consulting in Doylestown, Pa.



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