The Shrinking World of AV

The wonderful world of corporate audiovisual installations is shrinking. Or at least its footprint is shrinking.

It used to be that audiovisual solutions were sold mostly into large spaces, like classrooms, training centers, and executive boardrooms. These systems typically had a dedicated closet somewhere to house their equipment, and in some cases they even had their own projector rooms to keep the technology as invisible as possible.

Those days are quickly drawing to a close, and for several reasons. First, audiovisual installations are becoming more common throughout office buildings, college campuses, and entertainment venues. The luxury of the dedicated audiovisual closet, and in some cases the rack, are quickly becoming endangered as space reaches more of a premium. With companies wanting to invest in huddle-room technology, or small classrooms and conference rooms, it isn’t practical to have a dedicated closet to store equipment. Instead, it needs to be in the room, easily accessible for operation and maintenance, all while appearing invisible to the majority of the people within the room.

The transition began a few years ago from dedicated a technology closet to seeing audiovisual gear installed in a podium or cabinet, which often had 10 to 20 rack units (RU) in the bottom of the piece of furniture. These structures allowed the technology to be located easily within the room and remain out of sight, but also to be easily accessible for troubleshooting and maintenance. I had a few of these installed at my last job and found them to be far easier than installs where the equipment is stored in another location, and far better looking than wall-mounted racks that were in plain sight.

Moving forward, especially with recent trends in the audiovisual industry, even these solutions are becoming undesirable and are a last-resort type option for the conference room, huddle space, and small training centers. Audiovisual enclosure manufacturers such as Chief and Middle Atlantic have started developing smaller storage containers, designed to reduce the physical footprint required for an audiovisual installation. Whether it’s a plenum-rated ceiling storage box, an equipment rack that sits in your conference table’s leg, or a 2U rack designed to fit under your conference table, the enclosures are increasingly shrinking.

In part, the enclosures are shrinking because the devices being housed have shrunk dramatically over the years. The first audiovisual installation I designed had four or five pieces of equipment in it for video and audio switching plus a rack-mounted control panel, and that alone used 10 rack spaces. Switching manufacturers such as Crestron, Extron, AMX, and Atlona all have neatly packaged audiovisual switchers that take up just one or two rack units. Vaddio, a pan-tilt-zoom manufacturer, recently debuted its AV Bridge MATRIX PRO, a complete camera control and switching solution with integrated audio matrix switching, all in a small 2RU footprint.

In speaking with several dealers, technology managers and end-users recently, the writing is on the wall for large-footprint audiovisual installations. Manufacturers of switching and control devices as well as enclosure devices are ready to answer the challenge of AV’s shrinking footprint.

Mike Brandes is a former university technology manager and currently an applications engineer for a leading AV manufacturer. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrandesAV or his personal blog