Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  May 2002

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Convergence

As the AV and IT industries continue to converge before our eyes and ears, AV and IT aren't so much coming together as IT is gradually sucking in the devices and transport media we knew and loved in the last century.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

How tired are you of hearing the word convergence? Seems like we've been hearing it forever. “The convergence of technologies is going to change our world.” “Everything will change. “Our lives will be digital.”

Certainly we're in the middle of a converging world on many fronts. But convergence implies a coming together of equals, a melding of systems or two roads that become one. I'm not sure it's that pretty of a picture in the AV industry. As the AV and IT industries continue to converge before our eyes and ears, AV and IT aren't so much coming together as IT is gradually sucking in the devices and transport media we knew and loved in the last century.

AV Convergence 1Those of you who attended my colleague Scott Walker's InfoComm keynote last year will recall the points illustrated about convergence of AV into IT. The LAN was the big black hole and the AV gear was falling into it bit by bit.

The absorption is in process. Resistance is futile. Audio is transported on the LAN. Video is transported on the LAN. Control is transported on the LAN. Audio is processed in DSP. Video is processed in DSP. The next step will be signal processing on the LAN or at least transportation of the signals further from their originations and destinations to be processed by remote DSPs. Will AV integrators become internet application service providers? Will we all be IT people? Yes, probably so.

In the end, all that will be left of traditional AV equipment (cameras, projectors, monitors, microphones, document cameras, powered loudspeakers and other analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters) will be transducers connected to the LAN.. As for the design work, we consultants who live in the building and system design world will still have lots to do—programming (the architectural kind), acoustics, lighting, space planning, sightline studies, image sizing and configuration, peripheral device integration into furniture, ceilings and walls, and the design/selection of the AV/IT system solution.

AV Convergence 2What does this scenario really mean for AV consultants and integrators? Certainly for consultants it will be different, but not as different as it will be for the integrators. In fact, what consultants do at the system level may be the same as an integrator in the future. Even today, as consultants draw the audio system in a DSP configuration program, or create all the microphone, crosspoint and echo cancellation settings for an audioconferencing DSP box, we end up “installing” the system when we upload it onsite, or even remotely. In addition, we are designing the control system user interface (or at least we should be). If we do the programming, too, we are doing even more of the installation. Compared to the consultant/integrator roles of five or 10 years ago, this is already a big shift, and there's more to come.

For the integrators, this means that the majority of what you do today will not be what they'll do in the future. The skills, knowledge and tools needed will soon be different from today, and the distinction between consultants and integrators will be reduced. It also means that those integrators who are not intimately familiar with the building design process will be at a disadvantage in the future. Lest we forget, despite the fact that we deal with AV equipment all the time, we are a part of the building design and construction industry.

AV Convergence 3Another sticky problem as our worlds collide is that AV consultants and integrators are being asked to do more IT-related work. It's all technology, right? Many in our industry are successfully stepping up to the challenge, at least in terms of structured cabling system design and installation. However, what happens when an IT design or installation company is asked to provide AV services? If they say yes, they may soon be in over their head as we've seen more than one occasion where an IT company or an owner has come to us to fix or finish an AV system that an IT company started. These occurrences are an unfortunate, but natural, part of the maturation and ongoing convergence of the AV and IT industries.

In the coming months and years, how will we be working with our IT friends? Will we be like cats in a bag or will it be a love fest? Probably both and everything in between. One way to soften the stress of convergence is for all parties concerned to learn to partner on projects. This is a trend we already see happening and expect to see more. In today's diverse technology, no one can do it all, as seductive as that may seem, but that's a subject for another article.

Just like happiness, convergence is what happens along the way. It's an ongoing process, not a destination. And in this process, we will always need to know more that we know. For our clients to continue to hire us, we need to know more than they do. That's been “easy” relatively speaking for the past 10 years. It won't be for the next 10. Keeping up will not be our only challenge, but it will be our biggest.



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