AV over IP is changing the way integrators do business.
Integrators in past decades relied on knowledge of a vast range of proprietary switches, cables and other functions. Their skill lay in understanding how to make two totally different types of equipment talk to one another.
This skill is still in demand today, but it lies alongside a growing demand for integrators who understand the new work of sending AV data through standard IP networks.
In AV over IP, switches, cables and protocols are largely standardized. Standardization offers lower cost for clients, but it changes the way in which integrators must look at a project.
While some integrators view these changes with skepticism, others see opportunities: AV over IP’s ease of implementation offers significant benefits to integrators who have a large-scale project on their hands or an installation that demands scalability in the face of anticipated growth.
Here’s how to spot opportunities for simpler scaling—and how to sell those opportunities in your bids.
How Does Ease of Implementation Promote Scalability?
AV over IP has made installing and using networked audiovisual tools easier in many settings, notes John Novak at Black Box. Enhancing ease of installation are features like:
- The use of IP networks. “Everything except the most specialized of applications will end up on IP,” Matrox predicted in a piece for AV Network. “IP is the least expensive and most flexible way to drive video across distance.”
- Existing low-cost standards. HDBaseT has a head start in standardizing AV over IP setups, notes Jason Knott at Commercial Integrator. The switches are relatively cheap, don’t pose major heating problems and already familiar to most integrators and IT technicians.
- Less rigidity. One major pitfall of traditional fixed AV systems is their inability to expand with a client’s needs. “Rigidity is a reality — the system is neither scalable nor flexible,” ClearOne says. “For example: Starting with one 16×16 (sources x destinations) unit, a customer would face purchasing another entire 16×16 system should they need to add just two more channels … a 32×32 system in which only 18×18 are being used.”
- Better partnerships with IT staff. As AV and IT continue to share mutually intelligible equipment and software, IT staff become more literate in AV integrators’ work. That makes it easier to get buy-in and collaborate on mutually beneficial solutions. At InfoComm 2017, Kramer Electronics Chief Growth Officer Clint Hoffman called this umbrella partnership “AV over IT.”
The benefits show in the numbers: AV over IP sales have increased 130 percent in the past year and will show similar or increased growth in coming years, according to Robert Archer at Commercial Integrator.
How Simple Installations Promote Further Scalability
Simplification in installing and implementing AV over IP solutions as part of a network has led to advantages in scalability, as well. “Advanced AV appliances are exponentially scalable, and can manage large numbers of multi-point displays requiring only a one-time investment,” notes Keith Kazmer of Black Box.
Because video (and to a lesser degree audio) data continues to improve in quality, however, certain challenges arise for integrators who are thinking about forward-compatible installations that can handle not only today’s AV productions, but those likely to emerge in the future. For these projects, a number of available tools can improve scalability that matches a client’s long-term growth plan.
For example, IT professionals occasionally raise concerns that AV data will overload existing CAT-5 or CAT-6 networks, which pose limits on the amount of information they can send, particularly over long distances.
While a solid AV over IP system can rely on CAT-5 or CAT-6 cabling, the use of optical fiber in new builds is more forward-compatible and helps eliminate problems previously caused by distance, says Richard Glikes, president of Azione Unlimited.
Distance problems can be addressed in other ways, as well. HDBaseT-IP focuses on moving the HDBaseT standard from Ethernet to Internet. By doing so, the tools allow integrators to expand an AV system’s consistent quality past the boundaries of one building’s network and across an entire campus, according to Gabi Shriki, senior vice president at Valens.
The other major scalability benefit to AV over IP systems has been the ability to connect nearly infinite numbers of points to one another. On a 1Gbps network, scalability is rarely an issue because any number of points can be connected to any number of others — which means that size is limited by the load-bearing capabilities of the network, not by the number of endpoints.
For 10Gbps equipment, however, the situation is different. Currently, 10Gbps networks pose one of the biggest scalability challenges, says Stijn Ooms, EMEA product director at Crestron. “These solutions are very difficult to scale and don’t truly offer the advantages of AV over IP,” said Ooms. “The reason for this is the uplink bandwidths between the network switches will drastically limit the number of endpoints you can route between switches.”
Yet HDBaseT-IP also offers opportunities in forward-compatibility as video resolution improves, according to Aurora Multimedia CEO Paul Harris. Sending lossless 4K video becomes easier with new tools like HDBaseT-IP, which reduces the extent to which the network’s load-bearing capabilities limit the project’s scale. Other companies are also developing standards with a specific focus on 10Gbps networks, which can further improve scalability as a company grows in size over the coming years.
Showcasing the Value of Easier Implementation and Scalability in Your Bids
For potential clients, an AV system installation or upgrade means more: more equipment, more expenses, more opportunities for things to go wrong.
IT staff who look at AV from their own perspective may be particularly skeptical that the problems won’t outweigh the benefits.
Easier implementation and scalability, however, can easily shift the balance in favor of more benefits. Here’s how to shift that balance in order to gain the buy-in you need to propose, launch and complete a successful project:
Clarify What Problems the Project is Intended to Address
A study of health technology implementation published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAIMA) found that one of the biggest barriers for organizations seeking to implement new technological solutions was understanding what problems the technology could and could not solve.
This lack of clarity isn’t restricted to doctors’ offices and hospitals, It can strike any client seeking a new or upgraded AV system. Consider asking potential clients the following questions to get that clarity:
- What problems do you want to solve in the short term?
- What problems do you expect to face in the long term?
- How do you envision the AV over IP system will work to solve these problems?
- What issues do you have with your current AV system that you hope a new system will resolve, prevent or eliminate?
By understanding the client’s pain points, integrators can plan ahead before installation. Specific steps can be used to address not only current problems, but also anticipated challenges and the need for growth.
Reach Across Departments and Offices
Getting buy-in from everyone affected by the project not only increases your chances of landing a bid, but improves the chances that the project will go smoothly, according to an article by Dorothy Leonard-Barton and William A. Kraus in the Harvard Business Review.
Often, integrators find the most challenging questions come from the IT department — and so do the best opportunities to discuss ease of implementation and scalability benefits. Key points to consider when selling the benefits of a bid to IT stakeholders include:
- Reduced physical space demands. AV equipment that once took up considerable space can often be reduced to fewer closets and less cabling with AV over IP.
- More spatial flexibility. AV equipment can often be placed at more flexible points and moved more easily in an AV over IP setup.
- Standardized switches and protocols. Network security and management is streamlined with AV over IP because AV equipment on the network can often be treated like any other data point or piece of equipment — including for purposes of network security.
- Compression tools. If bandwidth is an issue, compare compression options in order to choose the tools that offer the specific combination of quality versus acceptable losses.
- Maintenance. Discuss which problems can be easily addressed by IT and when it’s time to call an AV specialist for backup.
In many cases, today’s standard tools, like CAT-5 or HDBaseT switches, will easily meet a client’s needs for the next several years. In others, however, it may be time to recommend more cutting-edge tools, despite the higher up-front cost.
In the long term, for instance, optical cabling may offer a much greater return on investment than continuing to burden a company’s existing Ethernet — especially if the company has its sights set on the kind of AV work that demands a 10Gbps setup.
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