by Brad Gallagher
IT stands for Information Technology. These are the gents who make sure that all of the data in an organization can be stored and routed from one place to another.
What do these two things have to do with each other? How do they bring forward AV IT solutions?
We’ve become increasingly good at digitizing audio and video. We break them up into 1’s and 0’s so that we can send them out across the network. Why? Because it cheaper and more efficient. What used to require a bundle of over 100 cables running over 1,000’ in a stadium can now travel down a single network cable. Just as importantly, we can route that audio and video, increasingly, to anywhere on the network.
Today, audio over the network is becoming a given. Manufacturers today make devices that accept IP audio for nearly every point in the signal chain. Yes… even microphones and speakers. This comes at a time when we are able to extend and create larger networks. The audio networks protocols of today have a quarter of the latency of systems available a decade ago.
Taking networked audio out to the ends of the signal chain (the microphone and speakers) is a fairly new feature. This is predominantly due to the miniaturization and commoditization of the chip manufacturing. Just a few years ago, we couldn’t get the electronics for a microphone input small enough to fit inside a wallplate without generating too much heat. That meant that we were still running old school copper cabling back to a device in a central rack room. These challenges are largely being overcome.
Today we are at a unique tipping point that we will soon be putting all of our video over the network also. We are coming from a 1Gb world, which was not even sufficient to transport 1080P video. For the first time in the history of video and networking, networking bandwidth is higher than the mainstream video bandwidth (10G when 1080p/4K(30) require 3.2 and 6.4G respectively). We have reached a tipping point where networking bandwidth is higher than video bandwidth even looking into the future.
The unique twist here is that the video bandwidth required will still be more than most of the networks that are in place for a while. In the past, we have used all sorts of tricks to fit the video bandwidth into the available facility LAN bandwidth. We’ve been making use of the existing pipe. The tail is about to start wagging the dog, though. Why would this change?
In the next few years, when the bandwidth of available network technology becomes higher than the bandwidth requirements for video, it will no longer be cost effective to build dedicated video switching hardware. Instead, we will use off the shelf networking equipment, which will be more reliable and less expensive. When this happens, it will also offer the opportunity to leverage network expansion. Expanding the network will be able to “go on a free ride”, while piggypacking on the AV budget that was already in place. I’ve written a whole article on the future of video over networks.
As if the concepts above weren’t enough evidence of the importance of converging audio/video and networking, we come to the most important factor. Controlling all this stuff. A niche market for the audio and video industry for years has been control. This stuff is complicated and most people are technology geeks, not engineers and programmers. Engineers and programmers care how things work. Technology geeks just want them to work. Apple has made a fortune understanding technology geeks.
Soon a large population of the entire world (not just the US) will have a smartphone. Big data analytics is still big on data and small on analytics. This is about to change. Personal and corporate data is moving into the cloud. Managed services are booming. The IoT (Internet of Things) is about to explode in a way that almost no one sees coming. As this happens, the audio and video industry is in an interesting position, having had a historical position in the control market.
We like to say that the network is everywhere. It’s not. But it’s going to be. Up until now, the slow crawl of data has still been the predominant means of transporting data on the internet. Think about it. You’re reading this article, instead of watching it on You Tube or listening to it on Audible. We are crossing the threshold where audio and video will be much bigger players in your data life. One of the keys is to make this information personalized and useful. This is going to happen over the next decade. It will be both amazing and earth shattering. I could try to be dramatic and say that it’s coming like a moving train. It’s not. Instead it will sneak up on you, like most technology. The exponential curve of technology isn’t explosive. It’s more like having kids. One day you’re changing diapers and the next they’re in school. A lot of time passed. Many things passed. It just happened faster than you could have ever imagined.