AV Integrators Need To Keep It Simple

ORLANDO, FL-Analysis of present and future industry trends sparked a frank discussion of AV dealer survival tactics at the annual Manufacturers Industry Forum at InfoComm last month. Five company leaders joined moderator Gary Kayye of Kayye Consulting for a panoramic view of audio, video and control technologies' influence on the business of systems integration.

On the minds of many present at the forum was the plummeting cost of video projectors, but rather than lament the subsequent decreasing margins, Extron Electronics president Andrew Edwards heralded the opportunities this trend has afforded, citing the opportunity to employ engineering expertise and a complete systems sales approach to maintain profitability. In particular, Edwards noted, "The reduced cost of the video projector has increased the presentations market incredibly." Education is another sector where video projector sales are booming, he said.

These upward trends are bringing new users and dealers to the industry. Scott Gledhill, director of global strategy for Meyer Sound, observed that "production standards are increasing, and there are more audio technicians requesting professional-level products," and thus education is key. Furthermore, engineering products for ease of use is key to supporting a broadening market.

"Simplification for the end-user is what it's all about," said Rashid Skaf, president and CEO of AMX. "It really is about simplifying not the integration but the human interaction that's going to become more important."

In the next five years, the role of the AV dealer will evolve according to these maxims. "Part of making it simple is taking care of the complexity-that will involve everything from professional implementation services to ongoing managed services," noted Rick Snyder, president of Tandberg Americas. "The other thing is that the AV dealers will need to make investments in new types of training for their technicians and their engineering staff."

That training includes an understanding of new digital audio and video technologies. "Whether it's image processing, a LED wall or a projector, the transmission, routing and processing of the new high-resolution digital formats is really something that's driving the industry forward," said Mike Jones, vice president and general manager of Barco. "Higher resolution requires much higher speeds, and a lot of the challenges of distribution of these new formats is a learning curve that we all need to get through."

The prospect of new high-resolution formats was just one aspect of a topic sparking the liveliest discussion at the forum-standards. With Skaf declaring that AMX is a standards-based company focused on the "human factors" of interoperability, and Tandberg's Snyder conceding the opinion that "standards are the springboard for growth", the Q&A session following the forum proved that the general consensus is that we have a long way to go.

John Lopinto, president, CEO and co-founder of Communications Specialties, stepped up the audience microphone and raised the point that the broadcast industry has survived in part because of standardization efforts. Bearing this in mind, why shouldn't the AV industry do the same? "What I find somewhat appalling about this industry that I've been in now for 20 years is the total lack of commitment to any standardization on the part of the industry leading manufacturers," Lopinto said. "It's caused nothing but problems and we seem to be as industry totally at the mercy of forces around us, yet in fact as an industry we should be driving standardization at least to the extent that it is particular to AV."

Kirsten Nelson is a freelance content producer who translates the expertise and passion of technologists into the vernacular of an audience curious about their creations. Nelson has written about audio and video technology in all its permutations for almost 20 years; she was the editor of SCN for 17 years. Her experience in the commercial AV and acoustics design and integration market has also led her to develop presentation programs and events for AVIXA and SCN, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate and participate in panel discussions. In addition to technology, she also writes about motorcycles—she is a MotoGP super fan.