The most important thing you missed at InfoComm15.
Low-cost networking optics only allow a single channel, which brings us back to the obstacle of the frame-buffer requirement. What Figure 7 shows is nothing unique in itself. What is unique is that AptoVision is accomplishing synchronous transmission on cost-effective hardware.
Figure 8 illustrates one implementation of the Blue River chipset by ZeeVee. Notice the Utility 1Gb Ethernet port. This is part of the Blue River design that reserves a full 1Gb of bandwidth on the fiber for data. This is an important design criteria. More and more projects are requiring a Unified Communications network. This requirement is designed right into the product.
As opposed to this implementation, Aurora Multimedia includes a number of bells and whistles in its implementation, including an option for Dante (Figure 9). The AptoVision chipset leaves audio implementation to the manufacturer. The upside is that manufacturers will be able to implement any flavor of IP audio transport, such as the emerging AES67 standard. Networked audio will prevent a kludge of receivers at the headend to transition audio onto the DSP platform.
Although both of the earlier-mentioned manufacturers are obvious partners for this technology, one of the more surprising adopters is DVI Gear (Figure 10). Here is a company that is the epitome of the huge, proprietary AV routers that we mentioned earlier. This is a cornerstone of their business. Yet, they are one of the first companies to market pursuing this technology. This tells me two things: The first is that the company is serious about delivering on the best available technology; the second is that this technology is coming like a runaway train.
What does this mean for us as manufacturers, consultants and systems integrators? It just takes us back to the points that I made in the opening of this piece: Hardware is increasingly becoming a commodity component. Software, solutions and knowledge are where our industry is headed. You don’t need a crystal ball to start connecting the dots; you can just look to the consumer and IT industries. This is where the free market will take the AV industry.
If that statement isn’t entirely clear, let me phrase it a different way: We are all competing to bring more value to our clients. In business, the phrase “value” has been used so often, it’s almost devoid of meaning, but one thing that always brings increased value is to provide the better solution at a lower price. This is the baseline. If you don’t meet this bar, you simply won’t keep up.
The easiest and fastest way to get to that lower cost is scale. Just as Ford lowered the price of the automobile and Walmart gave us cheap socks, creating a lot of something makes it less expensive. For this reason, the AV industry is inevitably driven by the consumer and IT industries that create exponentially more product than we do, due to the sheer size of their market.
Let’s back up a second. I mentioned earlier that the Blue River technology is based on using standard 10Gb network equipment. This may seem like expensive stuff, but that’s only because you’re looking at networking costs for your data needs and not comparing to the cost of proprietary AV equipment (because previously no solution was available to use standard networking equipment).
If you take a look around, you’ll see that the price of this gear is dropping like a rock. It must. If you listen to Gartner and others like him, you will see the huge movement of big data that is coming down the pike, driving the need for huge data networks. Prices for 10Gb equipment continue to decline and should be about 60% of the current cost by 2016. Put simply, they already build a lot of this stuff and, as prices fall and demand builds, they will be building way more.
Obviously, building more creates better economies of scale, but there is another advantage. Reliability. The manufacturing standards that are implemented for professional networking equipment (Telco Standards) are simply more robust than most of the AV world. They have to be. Unlike AV systems, they are not closed systems and must interoperate worldwide without fail. This is not to say that there aren’t AV manufacturers building equipment for mission-critical environments. It just costs them significantly more to accomplish this level of reliability because we are in two different worlds of manufacturing volume and standardization.
So where does this leave us? If everyone is using the same technology, how do we differentiate ourselves? There are a lot of answers to this question, but the one that immediately comes to my mind is “solutions, rather than gear.” Do what Scott Walker did: Ask your clients what they need; then give it to them.
This can be an enormous opportunity for systems integrators. I see many manufacturers that are starting to get smart about developing product with a better ear to specific markets. They would love to have access to the client relationships that most integrators enjoy.
Once your clients tell you what they need, bring this information to a manufacturer with whom you have a good relationship. Help them develop a product. Solve a problem for your clients. This builds a relationship above average margins. Make sure that solution involves programming, engineering and service, so that you are bringing a SOLUTION.
I promise you that manufacturers will be looking for more insight than ever into customers’ needs and pain points. Why? Because this technology will open the playing field and require companies to compete on a software and solution level.
Let me break this down one step further. Until now, development of the AV switch has been the most expensive part of the AV distribution system. Crestron spent a huge amount of money and justly earned its place at the top of the hill. Everyone else is using the same HDBaseT Valens chipset. That chipset does not support the use of standard networking equipment (despite the “BaseT” in its name).
By removing this development barrier, AV manufacturing is about to lower a major barrier to entry. This will allow much smaller companies to compete on the same playing field and will put the focus on the software and solutions side that I just mentioned.
Go forth and innovate. Develop relationships. Create solutions. The alternative is to continue trying to exist on increasingly tight margins by responding blindly to RFPs. Progressively, these will be written by users with an incomplete understanding of their needs and answered by respondents with no relationship, who can only compete on the number of corners they are able to cut. We need to be ready to adapt to the impending evolution of our industry. It’s coming whether you like it or not.