Crystal Ball: The Future of Professional AV

Up front, let me state that I normally avoid forecasts of what might take place over the next few years. The dangers of forecasting, you ask? Being wrong is a tough pill to swallow, and I’d rather avoid that, given the rapidly changing nature of our industry.

All that being said… I feel we are actually at a turning point in the AV industry, and I am not alone. InfoComm (after four years of internal discussions) has now changed its name to AVIXA. Regardless of what you may or may not think of the name, it describes and defines change. (As a side note, we are not talking about technological changes—a few added lumens, nits, or pixels. We are talking about true systemic CHANGE.) The acronym itself demonstrates this: “AV” for audiovisual, “IX” for Integrated Experience, and “A” for Association. It recognizes and proves that we are in the first stages of moving away from selling widgets (hardware, simple boxes) and into the realm of the integrated experience.

Don’t think the staff at AVIXA is living in its own little world; it is not! Back in 1999 (updated in 2011) Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote their seminal work, titled The Experience Economy. A short paraphrase of what they have been saying is that as products become commodities (fungible), we end up buying the experience derived from the product—not the product itself. Thus, the experience becomes the real product. I call this the “anti-widget” theory, and they are spot on.

In the Harvard Business Review, Pine noted, ”An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.” Today we truly buy based on the concept of memory.

Here are some things that we know, and can count on for the foreseeable future: The AV market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 11.75 percent through 2020. With the overall economy growing at less than 3 percent, I would say that the AV industry is a good place to be. The secret is knowing how to take advantage of where the industry is headed.

With profits on hard goods continuing to decline (and they will!), our revenues will come from other areas. Our crystal ball tells us that designing for the overall experience of an AV system is what will ultimately sell. It is no longer about speeds and feeds but the problems a system or solution can actually solve. This is an advanced version of benefits, rather than features. In our World’s Fastest Sales Training Program, we have a single slide and it lists three things to ensure a sale: Number one is to solve a problem. Number two is to improve a condition, and number three is to give the client something they want/need and do not currently have. The sale will be made as long as the benefits outweigh the cost.

We are entering the era of big data—and he who has the most data (and access to it) wins. This is especially true for our end users. Think of networks and collaboration. Unified communication is not a buzzword to be ignored; we must design new systems with the concept of efficient dissemination of information to any person, anywhere, anytime, and on any platform. With the growing desire for continuous connectivity in our modern lifestyles, we will see an even greater transition to mobile platforms. AV integrators must explore the benefits of mobility. Research shows that over the next three years, 60 percent of manufacturers will start adopting a version of a mobile platform. This will help drive the market, provide end users the convenience of access from anywhere, and enable more industries to become part of AV and its services.

All the talk about the dissemination of information to any person, anywhere, anytime, and any device will help drive two technologies that we are all familiar with: advanced versions of remote-control systems and an expansion of interactive displays. There will be an increased demand for interconnected control systems that span beyond a single room. Once again, think of the experience and not the widgets. Since our AV (and many non-AV) devices will be interconnected, it becomes all about automation and the user interface, under the umbrella of access and ease of use. As certainly as we want control of things seen and unseen, the method of choice for control is interactivity. As you ponder modern remote controls, do not turn a blind eye to voice activation… this has become huge in the consumer world, and it is inevitable it will come to commercial applications (and sooner than you think!).

With the advent of smartphones, consumers have come to expect interactivity at their fingertips (pun intended). Once again, think of the integrated and interactive experience… I gand any display within reach. Coupled with a useful content management system (CMS), the net results can be both positive and significant for the AV integrator and the end user.

I would be remiss if I did prognosticate on the evolution of several hardware technologies. On the display side, we will see 4K UHD continue to grow beyond consumer televisions and finally be the standard for commercial applications. The driving force will be content created in 4K UHD formats combined with displays capable of showing the material at full fidelity. Due to increased resolution, wider color gamut, and high dynamic range (HDR), for the first time, we will be able to see a much more accurate replication of images the way the content creator intended.

In the world of flat panel displays able to show 4K UHD, we will see the battles between core technologies like QLED (and other quantum dot technology) and OLED (organic light emitting diode). Suffice it to say that both are a significant improvement over traditional LCD. With emerging technology on the horizon, it is important to understand the need for the most innovating solutions that can assist with serviceability and protection for the years to come.

One other display evolution will continue to come into its own over the next few months, and that is the system on a chip (SoC for short). This essentially means embedding a complete processor system into a single chip and integrating it into the display. This provides for many advanced options in what a display can do, from digital signage media player to interactive whiteboard, to potentially unified communications. Lately, this type of platform has come under fire, but consider the capabilities and popularity of all-in-one display solutions—and that all three of the largest display brands have their own form of this solution for a variety of uses.

Traditional video walls will continue to accelerate in applications with the contest to see who can provide the thinnest bezel—but in that regard, direct-view LED is the biggest story. With the advent of fine pixel-pitch indoor displays, direct-view LED has the benefit of being almost limitless in size and aspect ratio, along with higher brightness and excellent contrast. The crowning achievement is that it has no bezels to distract from the image. As prices continue to go down and more major manufacturers coming into this segment of the market, direct-view LED is something to watch (yes, pun intended!).

Contrary to what some might attempt to say, projectors are alive and well in the world of AV. We will see more projectors in 4K with UHD capabilities, and much more will adopt solid-state illumination (LED hybrid laser, or full laser) to replace conventional lamps. Keep in mind the adaptability of projectors, with their portability and lens options providing variables image sizes, as you make your display decision. Also, the development of ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screens has addressed many of the problems connected with ambient light degrading the image on the screen.

In the wonderful world of AV, we need to change our business models to fit the reality of our times just as the industry organization has changed its name and focus. The future is going to feature the integrated experience for the end user. It boils down to end users seeing and experiencing what problems are solved in addition to what capabilities are now enabled. We no longer sell widgets, but experiences, and how well we do that will determine how successful we will be.