No need to rehash how challenging the beginning of this decade has been or the continuing uncertainty businesses in all industries, including Pro AV, are facing. In exploring what areas AV integrators should be focused on in 2023, SCN surveyed a number of manufacturers and solutions providers to learn about customer needs, tech advancements, and, of course, opportunities for those who install their solutions. Here are a few things to inspire you as you plan for next year.
User-Focused Hybrid Work
Organizations working under the hybrid model require their meeting and collaboration solutions to be as user-friendly as possible, according to Dan Williams, field sales engineer at Kramer Electronics USA, a collaboration and control solutions provider with U.S. headquarters in Clinton, NJ. “Most companies are looking for basic, simple solutions such as MS Teams or Zoom,” he said.
It’s the peripherals (such as cameras, microphones, and speakers) that may vary, depending on the user and where they work. “It’s the variety of physical spaces that drives the peripheral needs of the end users, and it’s this variety of peripherals that offers the most opportunity for AV integrators," Williams added. "It’s really the same thing that our industry has been doing for decades: Make the technology easy to use and integrate it into the physical environment. It is just the specific technologies that have changed or evolved in order to suit today’s needs.”
Greg Mack, director of sales at Yamaha Unified Communications, a manufacturer of audio and videoconferencing solutions headquartered in Sudbury, MA, observed that after more than two years of experimenting with supporting hybrid work, organizations are shifting away from traditional conference and huddle rooms in favor of meeting spaces that are located in open environments for impromptu collaboration. “Teams now want the ability to decide how and where they hold meetings,” he explained. “Many don’t want to book a room to have a meeting; in short, customers need more flexible, open meeting spaces.”
This means AV integrators need to get creative in offering solutions that deliver high AV performance while remaining simple to use, Mack said. “It’ll be crucial to highlight UC solutions that put audio first because open spaces are notorious for challenging acoustics, ambient noise, and other unwanted sounds native to these environments,” he added.
Paul Harris, CEO and CTO of Aurora Multimedia, an AV solutions manufacturer headquartered in Morganville, NJ, pointed out that every component in a system contributes to increasing or decreasing latency issues in the hybrid work environment. “Nothing is worse than trying to talk to a person and they are lagging, and you step on top of the conversation,” he said. “1G AV-over-IP is one frame typically—the displays based on brand can be 3ms to 32ms, based on what features are turned on in the monitor.”
For lowest latency, he recommended setting the display to gaming mode, since this will usually eliminate additional processing. “External processing for windowing or seamless switching can add another one to two frames," he offered, "and as you start adding all the devices up, you will quickly start to have a few frames of latency, which could become noticeable. Paying attention to the accumulated latencies will make the biggest difference in the system you create.”
Satoshi Kanemura, president and COO of FOR-A Corporation of America, a video solutions provider headquartered in Cypress, CA, said that as organizations continue to transition to AV-over-IP workflows, SDI and IP should coexist. A software-defined architecture, he argued, makes the migration from SDI to IP more cost effective.
“It’s a flexible solution during this transition period,” Kanemura explained. “Adding new functionality through software means that the customer can configure the system to their needs without an additional hardware investment.” This approach makes hybrid production more seamless, he added.
Software-defined architectures also enable quicker product evolution, noted Steven Barlow, CEO of DVIGear, a digital connectivity solutions developer headquartered in Marietta, GA. “We can innovate our product based on software that we code,” he said. “When a customer asks for a certain capability and we don’t have that, it’s possible we can put it into our development queue, whereas in a hardware-only world that would be much more difficult. The big advantage is that you have much greater flexibility and speed in dealing with creating solutions and innovations.”
PTZ Cameras for Hybrid Production
Edgar Shane, general manager of engineering at JVC Kenwood USA, a Pro AV equipment manufacturer headquartered in Wayne, NJ, said today’s PTZ camera technology fulfills several of the needs associated with hybrid and remote production, which includes the ability for engineers to control the production as if they were onsite, even when they’re not. Plus, today's PTZ cameras are generally close in quality to studio cameras.
“PTZ cameras can be controlled remotely in terms of exposure and color imagery, while also changing the angle of the zoom position, which gives personnel complete control of the production,” Shane explained. “Many newer PTZ models come complete with SRT, which assures that high-quality video can be delivered over a public network 1,000 miles away. Additionally, most PTZ cameras rely on NDI, which helps to streamline local video production and eliminates the need for bulky SDI cables.”
Traditionally, classrooms and conference spaces have housed their own individual AV control processors. Paul Dexter, founder and CEO of Jetbuilt, an AV/IT, security, and structured cabling-focused project software developer headquartered in Newport Beach, CA. noted that centralized processing is a growing trend.
“[Facilities] are going to centralized processing where one single processor does an update that pushes out to 200 rooms, so it’s far more efficient," he observed. "And it’s far more flexible because any classroom can be a presentation or a viewing room.”
Centralized processing is also a potential solution to current fulfillment challenges. “It takes a lot fewer chips to make one big processor rather than hundreds of little processors and power supplies and converters,” Dexter noted.
Kathy Katz, co-founder and partner at Brightline, a lighting fixture and control manufacturer headquartered in Bridgeville, PA, noted the increased prioritization of lighting the workplace—be it in the office or at home.
“Many organizations are turning to the control of PoE and the energy savings of LED fixtures,” she said. “Reduced power consumption, increased efficiencies, ease and simplicity of installation, increased safety, reduced costs, increased informational feedback—all reasons to dive head-first into the perfect union of professional video lighting and IT-based management of lighting control systems.”
The pandemic, in large part, has driven integrators to take advantage of outsourced services such as engineering, programming, and digital signage content, according to Rob Voorhees, business development manager at Exertis Almo, an AV products distributor and services provider headquartered in Philadelphia.
“Coming out of what we’ve experienced for the past couple of years, it’s actually become almost a necessity,” he said, in reference to labor shortages. “We’ve gone from having a lot of uncertainty around services to now it’s, ‘How can I get involved in this? Can you help me with this type of project?’”
Digital Signage Innovations
Sheridan Bowman, key account manager for enterprise at Absen, an LED display manufacturer headquartered in Orlando, FL, has found clients are seeking seamless (bezel-free) video displays that are cost-effective and come with good post-sale support (including warranty). “Really know the manufacturers’ solutions you sell so that when you find an opportunity, you can talk at a high level about a complete solution,” she advised. She also invited integrators to engage with manufacturers when they need support: “We’re here for that reason.”
According to Chris Northrup, vice president of business development for digital signage solutions at USSI Global, a broadcast, digital signage, and networking solutions provider headquartered in Melbourne, FL, companies seek interactive and immersive digital signage to boost audience engagement. Often, this comes in the form of touch-based or voice-driven systems, or the incorporation of QR codes.
“It can be as simple as a customer using his or her mobile phone to take way-finding maps and local business information with them from a kiosk," he explained, "or as powerful as an augmented reality gaming experience with directional sound that follows the consumer.”
Northrup encouraged AV integrators to explore the opportunities that are available to them after the initial system sale. “Partnering with software companies that specialize in analytics will help end users understand how consumers respond to certain digital signage content, display positions, and merchandising choices,” he advised. “Additionally, planning managed services to maintain and even operate the signage network will take pressure off the end customer while adding monthly revenue streams to the integrator’s business.”
From a global perspective, customers are seeking sustainable digital signage, noted Franck Racapé, head of global commercial and vice president, EMEA, at PPDS (Philips Professional Display Solutions), with U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, NC. “[This is] both in terms of the carbon footprint of the display itself, and also the management and lifetime costs of running it,” he said.
Remote management platforms help AV integrators to achieve this. “[It gives] the ability to easily monitor and manage the full display network from one single source or dashboard, delivering time efficiencies, saving on fuel from expensive truck rollouts or service calls, and, ultimately, delivering on fast and effective customer service," he added.