For years, the AV industry has relied on the manufacturing and innovation revolved around hardware-based systems. Matrix switchers, audio DSP, processors, streaming boxes—you name it. These bulky boxes have had a hold on the industry, but finally we are breaking free. While breaking free from cumbersome boxes may sound great for the end user, what does it mean for the industry? Can the industry survive without its hardware backbone?
I won’t hold you in suspense too long: the answer is yes, but it will take a paradigm shift and widespread acceptance to maintain strong. Much like digital music nearly destroyed the record business due to the industry being dependent on the need to resell music through format changes, this shift from hardware- to software-based systems could be dangerous if not done correctly. The AV industry needs to adapt to systems that are less hardware centric. Manufactures need to start looking at how their products can survive this shift and where their place will be in the future of the industry. Integrators may end up needing to adjust their approach to system installations and bids by investing more in programming and IT training. Last but not least, consultants should perhaps focus their attention on user experience and designing innovative solutions, instead of specifying a series of boxes and various widgets to achieve the end result.
Hardware-free AV is not something of the future. These types of solutions are being designed and implemented today. It can be as simple as using CEC to auto sense an HDMI connection to wake up the huddle room display and lighting. This eliminates the need for buttons, control processors, or occupancy sensors. The hardware-free concept can extend further into the IT world by using customized programming to achieve innovative command chains that go beyond the AV systems. At this point, the AV system becomes a custom-coded computer system using IP commands and strings to go beyond the typical AV control processor and touchpanel.
Clients are continuing to desire innovative, efficient, cost-effective solutions. And we as an industry need to deliver. Ignorance of the IT world is no longer an excuse for not attempting to push the boundaries. We all need to be actively engaged in network and programming training and education. Without this necessary arrow in your quiver, you may soon find yourself on the outside looking in as the industry quickly transcends into a powerhouse of hardware free AV solutions.