Technicians Need Updating

As our industry has transitioned into the era of digital video, network communications, and IP control, the skillset needed to test, troubleshoot, and commission AV systems successfully has evolved.

  • In the past, problems like grainy video signal, missing colors, poor audio quality, calls failing to connect, or the inability to control a device were indicative of typical issues that could be resolved by definitive solutions like swapping cables, re-terminating connectors, adjusting baud rates, or checking continuity.

In the digital realm of the post AV/IT convergence, these types of issues are less distinct or definitive. Rather than a faulty video or audio signal, technicians see no video or audio is detected. When a device is not being controlled through RS-232 or IR, swapping pins or moving a probe will likely solve the problem (provided the control code or driver is correct). However, issues with IP control are less discernible and more difficult to resolve. This is due to the need to be comfortable with networking, to have proficiency with software setup and debugging tools, to understand IP addressing and communications, to be familiar with all the variables of the network configuration, and to understand device setup requirements.

The tools and knowledge that used to be sufficient to diagnose and resolve most common issues for integrated systems in the pre-AV/IT era are now less effective and almost obsolete. The need to understand Ethernet networks, IP communications, twisted pair and fiber terminations, and programmable device setup are now skills necessary to commissioning and troubleshooting digital systems.

What does this mean for AV industry and those responsible for making systems work?

Since the inception of AV/IT convergence in the early 2000s, control programmers have had to master network setup and communication. What started as webpage control of a network connected AV control processor has become the mainstream method not only for control, but also as a mechanism for switching audio and video from source to destination and for controlling devices directly.

In order to be sustainable, effective, and relevant, control programmers were forced to learn and embrace the IT network early. Control programmers have led the charge and been relied upon to be knowledgeable resources for network communication, as the control system was first to rely upon the network. Only in the past few years has the network been the mainstay for the majority of the AV system.

Historically, control system programmers have been tasked with the responsibility of knowing how to determine the solution when a button press didn’t do what was expected. As a result, control programmers have had to have up-to-date, working knowledge of multiple facets of the industry. For this reason, control programmers have been looked at as the “smart guys” in a project who can troubleshoot systems, solve problems, and determine work-arounds to address system challenges.

Technicians, it's time for a change.

In this new AV/IT world, there are many more unknowns, variables, and challenges. Companies have had to change with the times, step up their game, acquire more knowledge, and become more versatile. This change has been embraced by control programmers, system designers, and sales people. However, field technicians are slow to adapt.

Why? Is it a lack of interest? Lack of understanding? Lack of incentive? Or is it a lack of investment and training by part AV companies?

Are technicians the right ones to be tasked with these responsibilities, or does a new AV role need to be created in the post-AV/IT convergence world?

Though a control system programmer can be effective in this capacity, a programmer’s focus must be on programming systems, keeping up with demands of the industry, and learning the latest programming languages and object-oriented techniques to continue to be effective and innovate.

If almost every system is on the network, how can anyone directly involved in delivering and supporting integrated AV systems afford to not be proficient in IP communications, network device setup, and troubleshooting tools?

Steve Greenblatt

Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.