From 'Nice To Have' To 'Mission Critical'

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 Forget conferencing systems that are used for once-a-month board meetings -- today's AV systems need to run 24/7. This is reflected not just in the technology on show at InfoComm, but in new market-research figures just released by the organization.

Uninterruptible power supplies. Network redundancy. Remote fault detection and resource management. OK, so I admit that the language of 24/7 operation isn't exactly loaded with intrigue. Nor, for that matter, are many of the products which contain or enable this kind of functionality.

But, like it or not, the need for audiovisual products and systems integration in applications such as healthcare, command/control, and digital signage is driving much of our industry's growth -- and the demands these applications place on AV are radically different from those of simple boardroom systems.

To the outsider, many of the new products at this year's InfoComm might appear over-engineered. Redundant power supplies abound in signal-management hardware from the likes of Extron and Magenta Research, while the robustness of control systems from AMX and Crestron continues to make them the preferred choice for thousands of integrators, despite the attractions of cheaper -- but less stable -- PC-based platforms.

One maker of multi-source display processors that is acknowledging the trend is Zandar Technologies. Zandar signed up for the AMX InConcert Partner Program and Device Discovery Program on the eve of InfoComm, bringing its dealers closer to the ideal of being able to integrate its MultiViewers seamlessly and robustly with AMX controllers.

The company's enhanced Predator Series also boasts Dual HD output functionality, whereby a single MultiViewer can drive one or two displays at native HD resolution. If one display fails, the operator can move the relevant images to the one that remains, ensuring that any loss of monitoring is minimized.

Today's unveiling of research data from InfoComm's latest AV Industry Market Definition and Strategy Study served only to emphasize the trend. The Study, conducted on behalf of InfoComm by Acclaro Growth Partners, estimates that the U.S. market for audiovisual products and services is worth $25 billion, and forecasts 11 percent growth over the next two years.

The revenue split between products and services is now almost 50-50, while system sales dwarf individual product sales. Within the services arena, contracts for the service and maintenance of AV systems are growing fast, and now account for 20% of the total. Three years ago – when InfoComm last conducted a similar survey – most integrators did not offer these services or, if they did, they were little more than glorified extended warranties.

But, as the complexity of AV systems has grown, the demand for sophisticated service level agreements has snowballed. As Acclaro's Mo Hayatou puts it: "This interest in ongoing maintenance reflects the fact, in government, education, and business, AV has been elevated from technology that is 'nice to have' to systems that are mission critical."

The moral of the story appears to be this. The less sexy a product or service, the more likely it will be to find favor with the new breed of AV customer.

Sad, I know, but you can't argue with the numbers.

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