Image: Barco's CMS ClickShare in action
I love portentous articles as much as the next
reader, but I'm going to leave the predictive dart throwing to the experts. My 2014 trend forecast is actually
quite simple: tech managers should expect more emphasis on soft skills,
software, and creative problem-solving.
As stewards of day-to-day AV system operations and
the user experience, tech managers will feel extra pressure in 2014 to
stay agile and relevant amidst the crush of new products and hot topics. Trending this year: IP, 4K,
smart building control, unified communications, cloud-based services,
and new connectivity options. An advocacy effort is long overdue. Can't we, as an industry, educate shareholders, stakeholders, and the wider public about what's possible (and what's not) with commercial AV? If you're skeptical, look at the WiFi-enabled thermostat Nest. Once the exclusive domain of a specialized installer, this sophisticated automation system is advertised directly to consumers (I'm listening to a promo for it right now on my NPR station). There are problems and benefits with direct-to-consumer messaging, but it proves that outreach (and a billion-dollar acquisition) works. I'm also a fan of the cross-pollination of technology and architecture, e.g., offering AV-inspired RU credits for the AIA and other allied trades. The insightful audio professional Josh Srago, CTS, articulated some of these tensions perfectly when he stated: "Technology in the enterprise environments used to be a driving factor to
encourage people to join the staff. Now it’s expected to be there, and
if it is out of date or not well maintained, it will actually drive
staff members away." The rest of his blog is a galvanizing call to action for the AV industry; I enthusiastically agree.
Here are six overarching trends that fold in most of the aforementioned topics. I hope they provide both an aerial view and context when thinking about the upcoming year for tech managers.
2014 will be a swirl of headlines about the new
4K resolution: 4K playback, 4K streaming, 4K processing, 4K end-to-end
solutions, strategies for 4K content, and the 4K ilk.
Don't worry — 4K is not the
new 3D (which was over-hyped, but not by this magazine). 4K is a quick way of indicating
technology that is capable of pixel resolution four times higher than
full HD (aka 1080p). A lot more pixels mean more clarity, detail, and image
precision. Despite questions around net neutrality and its impact on 4K, targeted verticals like command and control are looking
closely at it.
But tech managers should stay level-headed about 4K. There is going to be a lot of ballyhoo this year; it is
important to separate fact from fiction. Bottom line: do your users and or stakeholders need this high level of resolution? As Jeff Porter,
founder/CEO of Porter Digital Signage, explained in this week's DSE Consultants Council, "For
most digital signage applications with traditional LCD screens, you don't need
ultra HD resolutions. Digital Menu Boards, for instance, have no need for 4K
resolution. In fact, in most cases, 1920x1080 is over-kill. The human eye
cannot resolve this resolution from the typical viewing distance."
"Large video walls are a
different matter. Putting multiple 1080p screens together in a large video wall
matrix would obviously demand higher resolution content (again assuming the
viewing distance is modest). So for content creators 4K will be important for
video walls. For screen manufacturers, I'm not sure it's a pressing need. Very
few applications would need that 'close up 4K resolution.' Perhaps medical
imaging, but not much else," Porter stated.
One organization that is investing in 4K pixel density is Harvard
University. The venerable institution is using Blackmagic
ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K switchers to stream tennis matches online. BrightSign debuted its new 4K digital signage media player this
week. BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings says that its new player delivers
"an end-to-end 4K solution that accepts H.265-encoded content, and
delivers 60 fps output via HDMI 2.0."
Each of these characteristics is necessary to
deliver a true 4K solution, Hastings added. "For content to remain 4K
native and be delivered at the highest visual quality, video must be
captured on a 4K-capable camera, encoded, and decoded using the new H.265
compression standard at 10 bits/channel, and fed to the display via HDMI 2.0 to
preserve the original 60 fps frame rate." Hastings also emphasized that transitioning to
4K is not as intimidating as it might seem. The elements required for 4K are
already here, but they must connected in the right way. "Any broken link in
this chain of events adversely impacts video quality and the output falls
short of what 4K is made to be."
Gefen wants to meet the need for 4K point-to-point transmission with its new ELR Extender for HDMI over one CAT-5 with POL
(power over line). It transmits 4K Ultra HD
content with RS-232 and bi-directional IR. Bonus: POL provides power to the
receiver unit using the same single CAT-5 cable, so there's no need to buy an external power supply for the receiver side.
To facilitate the transition to 4K, Crestron
is offering a 4K Certification program. Manufacturers
can submit 4K sources and displays to Crestron to ensure that they: deliver
true 10 Gbit/s data rates to get the signal to its destination; interface
with DigitalMedia to handle cable-lengths found in integrated AV systems; and
work with other 4K products in a DigitalMedia system.
Tech managers should take a closer look at High
Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), the video compression format that is the
successor to H.264 (which is used widely in both content creation and
playback). HEVC is, relatively, the new kid on the block and it offers new
complexities and advantages: "50% better compression than H.264 in
video-on-demand applications, which means similar quality at half the bitrate,"
according to Jan Ozer, contributor for Streaming Media and AV Technology
magazine. He recently parsed the details of HEVC licensing by the MPEG LA.
2. Connectivity & Convergence Evolve
The only constant is flux. AV meets IT. Yawn. The
technology convergence narrative is passé. It's here. It's real. Not
only are we dealing with AV/IT convergence, students are majoring in it. Check
the Collins College program devoted to converged
technologies, and El Centro College's Convergence Technology Program.
El Centro College defines a convergence
technician as a professional working in a large company that handles support
for Voice (including old telephony and Voice over IP); Data (like
regular computer networking); Video and Images; Wired, wireless,
different qualities of service. Required skill sets include Audio/Video;
Internet Access; File Storage & Backup; Security Design; Implementation;
and Evaluation (and more). I'm impressed with forward-looking programs of
this ilk, and I applaud the teams behind them. I wish I had the chance to take
these classes as an undergrad.
The chorus of "constant change"
underscores the need to rethink connectivity and infrastructure possibilities. Commercial designs are transforming thanks
Power over Ethernet (PoE), and HDMI extenders. It's not free, but it is no longer cost-prohibitive to
network AV devices together, tie everything to
an IP-based network with flexible control with
In his outlook in our "Meet Your Manager" series, Benjamin
Pain, Technical and Audio-Visual Manager at The Royal College of Physicians,
said that his main focus for the next 12-18 months will be to "ensure the
building-wide cabling network is as robust as possible. Equipment is
ephemeral and none of it can work correctly until the infrastructure is in
place. Still I believe that it is dangerous to fully put faith in fiber
and digital content management. Even after all these years, I still have
greater faith in copper wire.
Expect to see more interest in fortifying WiFi
coverage and deploying WiGig, the spec which allows devices to wirelessly
communicate at multi-gigabit speeds. EdTech expert and design consultant Steve Thorburn said that
connecting devices to a display wirelessly is still a challenge; there are
at least five competing factions for this wireless “standard,”
including Intel’s WIDI (Wi-Fi Direct), Wi-Fi Alliance Wi-Fi CERTIFIED
Miracast, Apple AirPlay, and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance).
"There are many more options with their own entire feature set. Once a
standard is uniformly adopted, the limitations of using a
tablet as the primary teaching resource will disappear." On the remote management front, the ZD (ZoneDirector) Remote Control from Ruckus Wireless is a mobile application that gives IT administrators the ability to remotely manage, monitor, and configure Ruckus Smart WiFi LANs.
We're seeing more smartphone-to-device
connectivity via Miracast, NFC, BlueTooth, etc. Hitachi
America's 3LCD projectors offer enhanced connectivity and wireless networking. Biamp
is expanding its intelligent system networking category; it just debuted
its Vocia 1.6, a networked public address and voice evacuation
system. BlackBox's iCOMPEL O appliances are
OPS-compliant and integrate into the company's networked signage systems. Tech
managers can extend and distribute HD content over a network, multicast HDMI
video, and deliver HD video where you want it, over a LAN. Kramer's KW−11T and KW−11R, for
example, are a wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver combo that can send
uncompressed 1080p 60Hz video with “zero” latency up to 40 feet (with no line
of sight requirement). Kramer is quick to point out that its new tools
are EDID, CEC, and HDCP compliant. There are a bevy of new matrix
switchers which provides fast switching for HDCP audiovisual content. Look for
products that also extend HDMI, of course.
3. Video Ubiquity
Video is no longer lagniappe; it's
expected. The demand is increasing for video communications as standard UC features. We
will see more solutions that enable video collaboration and instant video chatting via WebRTC and related
platforms. I see the focus
tilting toward Web browsers and apps. High-end telepresence, traditional MCUs,
hardware endpoints, and immersive HD VC rooms still fill an important niche, but there is momentum for less expensive,
browser-based collaboration technologies. Check out new VC bridging
solutions from the likes of Blue Jeans, Cisco, Polycom, Vidyo, Radvision
and Ayava Company, and Vaddio which glue together soft codecs
like Jabber and Skype.
Expect to read more in 2014 about IP-based video,
specifically IPTV in higher ed settings. IPTV feeds delivered to classrooms
can piggyback on the same network that
connects a school’s computers and connects users to the Internet.
4. New Focus on Real-Time Content
In 2014, digital signage manufacturers will deploy better
methods of extending and engaging digital signage content directly to phones
and peripherals. CradlePoint, for example, is offering digital signage
products that can tie in mobile apps, PTZ surveillance cameras, IP-enabled
thermostats, as well as security systems. Because of 4G LTE
and advancements in cloud-based management, organizations are using advanced
analytics to engage users through digital signage and kiosks. New products
are building on increased network speeds, interactive touch screens, and
better content development tools. Content is still queen.
New ways to share content are transforming the
higher ed space, too. More affordable videoconferencing, online learning
solutions, lecture capture, flipped
learning, and student-centered designs, are helping tech managers and
higher ed professionals transform learning spaces. The emphasis in design is
the collaborative classroom and BYOD. (Read
more about that in Mega Trend #6.)
5. Value Propositions are Changing
AVB (Audio Video Bridging), CobraNet,
Dante, and other platforms are supporting AV networking designs and
deployments. I cannot stress enough that each platform has unique specifications. As with any new technology, a rigorous needs analysis will best determine what is the right fit. I expect to see more iterations of scalable systems in
2014; what was once the province of six- or five-figure new-builds are now more
scaleable. Biamp's TesiraFORTÉ comes to mind.
Biamp's Tesira 2.0 is an addition to the digital signal
processor-based line; TesiraFORTÉ audio processors extend AVB to
application-specific settings, consisting of eight pre-configured models. Biamp says that the new line is designed to bring value to conferencing, telephony, and
VoIP environments. We covered some amazing installations in 2013 where tech
managers lauded the migration of AV onto the network. The National Gallery in Washington, DC, for example, migrated AV onto the network for their outstanding Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes exhibit. I expect
that to continue in 2014.
The huddle room category should
have an interesting year ahead. Makers of huddle room systems believe that they fit
a hole in the market, especially for businesses with modest budgets,
universities with dozens of break rooms, or hospitals with limited wireless
coverage. Varying features and functions are available via the AMX
Enzo, Barco CMS & ClickShare, Christie Brio, Crestron
AirMedia, Da-Lite ViewShare, Extron TeamWork, Vaddio HUDDLE Station, WOW
Vision Collab 8, and more. Each of these technologies are professional-grade
and eschew the need for switches or proprietary cabling. Huddle systems
provide alternatives for parsimonious tech managers who want real-time
collaboration in BYOD spaces, but don't want to spend mega money.
6. BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything)
Users are bringing whatever devices they can
carry in their pockets, backpacks, and purses into your buildings. They expect
to connect and communicate any where at any time (without a data breach).
It's a jungle in the BYOD world — iPad Air, smartphones, laptops, Galaxies,
cloud solutions, DropBoxes, and hot spots. The key for tech managers it to stay responsive. Refine your mobile device management policy and invest in a solid
wireless infrastructure to guarantee that your facility has the bandwidth to
support the simultaneous use of mobile devices. These pesky devices will certainly be
uploading/downloading/streaming more rich content in 2014. Again, I'm watching net neutrality developments closely to understand how they will affect tech managers' daily tasks.
We are also in the middle of an attitudinal shift:
public and private-sector awareness is growing for broadband.
For example, ConnectED is an initiative to bridge the digital divide and bring
more schools and libraries up to speed (pun intended) with wireless broadband.
It's receiving notable support in the private sector.
My final reading of the tea leaves: Get ready for Google Glass. Select universities
and healthcare facilities are in beta tests, examining how wearable technology can complement their missions.
One proponent of the Google Class is Alisa
Brownlee, an Assistive Technology Specialist with the ALS Association.
Brownlee is leading an Explorer trial to learn ways the
high-tech specs can be adapted to improve the lives of people living with Lou
Gehrig's Disease (ALS).
A passionate advocate for the ALS community,
Brownlee believes that Google Glass will be a cost-effective upgrade to current
assistive devices, which are limited in functionality and can cost upwards of
$15,000. (Conversely, Google Glass has an app store and it currently costs around
$1,500. That price should decrease after beta.)
Ultimately, Brownlee contends that Google Glass
can help "revolutionize the lives of those with ALS.“ Potential
benefits include reducing social isolation common to those with ALS;
increased mobility (current eye gaze systems do not work outside or in cars);
the integration of apps that could open doors, control wheel chairs,
assist communication, and change TV channels; and help people with ALS watch a concert, child’s soccer
game, or other important life events without having to travel. Google will
incorporate feedback from this trial into the final
While an AV or IT tech manager might
dismiss wearable technologies as superfluous, if a college or
hospital wants to buy two dozen Google Glasses, you know where the maintenance/upkeep responsibilities will roll? Right into the tech team's wheelhouse.
Margot Douaihy is the editor of AV Technology magazine and EDUwire.com. She has taught at Marywood University in Scranton, PA, and advises universities on blended learning strategies.