Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  April 2007

Watch Your Language

Discussing certifications, standards, licensing and stamps can lead to trouble without a common idea of what these terms mean.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

Among the issues on the minds of AV professionals for some time are certifications, specifically as they evolve and compete with each other as the industrymoves toward an established certification for our clients and ourselves. But recently, conversations have become a forum for other issues: standards, licensing, permitting and the stamping of drawings. In my experience, these issues get jumbled when we try to talk about them, so here is my attempt to set the stage for proper discussion.


Standards have been at the forefront lately with InfoComm's push to pursue American National Standards Institute (ANSI) certification and performance standards for AV projects. This could lead to very lively discussion very quickly, so here are some things to keep in mind.

First is that creating the basis for a standard and getting ANSI certification for it in no way makes it a “legal” requirement. It's just a matter of establishing credibility for the standard because of ANSI's elaborate process to get it approved.

Another problem is that the word “standard” means different things to different people, and its use could raise some hackles. Manufacturers are afraid of being constrained in their product designs, configurations and performance. Integrators fear unnecessary requirements placed on them during system installation. Consultants fear standardization of system design and inflexibility in determining system performance. Control system programmers fear the stifling of their creativity in developing user interfaces and functional programming. Owners fear….well, maybe not much in this case — they will benefit most from having some standards in the industry.

What we need to understand about standards — at least the ones InfoComm is considering —is that they are performance standards at the system level. They have nothing to do with standardizing what manufacturers make or programmers program. They are about finding an acceptable level of performance of the product — the AV system — so that users can do what they need to do with the product.

One standard under consideration is the minimum contrast ratio of a displayed image in its final environment and usage. This would not mean using a standards-compliant projector. It means designing an AV system, from input to output, and the environment in which it will be used to meet the standard. It would say nothing about wiring, which projector or screen to use, or what the room lighting should be like. It would simply say that, when used for the purpose for which it was designed, the viewers should experience an established minimum contrast ratio on the display.

Independent consultants and design-build integrators probably will be most affected by performance standards because those must be met in the system design, not by any particular product or device programming. Once the standards are in place, contracts referencing them would soon follow. This is where the discussions I mentioned often get started and soon evolve into conversations about commissioning and the whole architectural/AV design and construction process.

Discussions about other types of standards that would come a little closer to AV professionals' day-to-day work, such as design drawing and installation standards, have popped up once in a while. These are not performance standards for the most part; they would be specific how-to standards and have a different impact on AV providers.

In any discourse, the point is when talking about standards, be sure to talk about the same kinds of standards. Recognize that a standard, in and of itself, has no authority over us — until, of course, it gets referenced in a contract.

Certifications, Licenses and Stamps

Certification is easy to distinguish from a standard, but it can get mixed up with other issues on the list.

Certification is simply attaining recognition that one has learned certain aspects of a trade, been tested on it and deemed to have passed based on the test-givers' criterion.

There are a handful of certifications within the pro AV industry today. These are not licenses, and they carry no legal status either within the industry or with authorities that may have jurisdiction over projects. There have been efforts to tie some certifications to a licensing requirement, but licensing is a different, albeit related, subject.

Although licensing may appear to be similar to certification in that there may be a test involved, it carries some legal status. Most people in the AV industry in the United States know of the Professional Engineer license that lets holders practice their trade in various areas of the country. But it is a license, not a certification.

A potentially confusing issue is the idea of using private industry certifications as a basis for government issued licenses, where an agency such as a state licensing board may or may not be oversee the requirements.

Licensing often will include using a stamp on documents, such as the PE stamp on electrical design drawings. The PE stamp represents the required licensing to acquire a permit to allow construction of the design.

In pro AV, this subject often centers on AV designers that provide camera-ready conduit drawings from which electrical contractors build, or about stamping AV system design drawings.

One leap many make is that having a stamp to use (based perhaps on some type of private certification) is the same as saying that AV should be regulated somehow. This is not necessarily true, and any discussion of stamps should reflect that— and there is a lot of discussion to be had.

Obviously, there's a lot to debate about these issues, and all of them are important. But be careful and informed in talking about them, because it is easy to jump the tracks from one to another without even realizing it, especially if others involved in the conversation have different ideas about what the words mean. What is clear is that we need to be on the same page when talking about these issues, using the same vocabulary with the same definitions.

So discuss amongst yourselves — just watch your language.



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