Right after the holiday season comes what some would call the biggest toy extravaganza of all-the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 8-11. This trade show behemoth famously fills nearly every nook and cranny of the Las Vegas Convention Center and just about every meeting space on the strip and beyond with gadgets. Somewhere between the mundane (but oh so charming) calculator, watches, and cars that quake with acoustic energy on the show floor, it is possible to spot all the new flat panel video displays, HD-DVD players, projectors, high-end home theater loudspeakers, and all the boxes that scale, route, and store entertainment content.
But there is obviously more than entertainment at stake when a trade show becomes legendary among Las Vegas cab drivers. CES means big bucks for many, even while it puts more than a few in the red every year. Still, the show is purely consumer oriented, right? And the products there are met for residential applications?
On the contrary, "The whole future of AV is at CES," proclaimed David Goldenberg, president of ACE Communications in Garden City, NY. "Because it's convergence. It's not only things moving to IP, but it's now the Microsoft Media Center PC as the driving force not only in your home but in a boardroom. Then it's security integrated with that, and lighting, air conditioning, heating, shades. CES might be more home automation, but I look at it as business automation. Everything being automated and interconnected."
Goldenberg is not alone in his decision to attend CES as a prospector in search of the next surprising innovation, whether it is presented by a tiny no-name company like the one that premiered a video over Cat-5 solution years ago or by a visionary juggernaut like Apple. He'll be in the company of several other AV consultants and contractors making the rounds at CES with an eye toward what's next, or what might work on the residential side of their business. But what's of particular note this year is that whole "convergence" thing. Suddenly, Cisco is a videoconferencing company, Microsoft is a media distribution company, and Apple is making loudspeakers and AV adapter kits.
In response to these indicators, and the undeniable fact that these are brands which clients (and their IT managers, which are increasingly likely to be the point of contact on a project) at all ends of the AV spectrum will recognize, suddenly it has become key to add Cisco and Microsoft certification to the list of other certifications and credentials sought in contractors and consultants' hiring practices.
"The buzz word has always been 'AV/IT'," observed Jim Colquhon, vice president of technical services for Audio Visual Innovations (AVI). "Sometimes it feels like the AV industry hasn't figured that out yet, in spite of a lot of people yelling about it. From the integrator standpoint, they'd better be jumping on board. They need to educate their people and hire people from that data world that are certified and understand networking at a very high level, not just how to connect Cat-5 cable."
AVI in particular continues to add to its data capabilities, and has invested in an outward-facing IT department staffed with engineers well-prepared for working with clients' IT staff or producing advanced networking solutions internally.
Even as IT giants make AV moves at CES and data skill sets become more essential to integration work, their is one aspect of the computer industry that might not carry over: the help desk. "There is a significant piece of our business that is all about sending people out to help customers when they run into problems," Colquhon said. "Some of it you can do from the help desk, but a lot of it is really hands-on."