I hate buzzwords. They seem to have a two-to-three year cycle in the tech industry. In the late ‘90s it was "synergy." Then it was "leverage" when referring to a particular type of new technology. Lately it's been "collaboration," which has seriously driven me nuts. People would say, "We want our rooms to be ‘collaborative!’" Then I would say, "You mean you want a presentation-enabled videoconference room?"
Sadly, the use of the buzzword "collaboration" is still with us, but something else is dethroning it as of late. "The Cloud." At first, I just thought, "Oh brother, here's another buzzword, and why would it apply to AV?" I was asked to write about this trend several times in the last six months. I did my research, and delved in as usual. Most often I kept saying, "I don't think it's applicable, because we can do networked control and it's not a big deal worthy of cloud computing architecture!" Well gentlemen and gentlewomen, I stand before you today being a truly reformed individual with a new paradigm, and I can honestly say that these darn "clouds" are going to revolutionize our industry. Here's why...
Cloud computing, in layman's terms is the use of servers parked out on the internet (i.e., the cloud) to deliver computing as a service. For example, let us say that you have an internet-based company that runs a website devoted to studying stock trends. Your website application needs intense processing power to run analysis. It probably doesn't make sense to buy 100 servers and park them in your own data center when you can lease computing power from someone else that has a bunch of extras, or makes them available to others for a fee.
Given the aforementioned scenario, imagine if you could put off buying that bridge for a cool quarter million bucks and just use the cloud to multiplex your video calls? I mean, a conference bridge is really just a stack of processors jammed into a rack-mounted case! Why buy all those processors? Why buy a $20,000-plus videoconference CODEC with (again) all those processors and software when you can pay for it as you need it?
Let's apply that theory to a DSP audio matrix. You have audio inputs and outputs, and a powerful rack-mounted processor to do the work... why pay for that when you can get it on an as needed basis? Moving along, let's take control processors down range. What do you have in reality? You have a box with memory and processors! Ah! Do you need to own those when you can again pay for that processing on an as needed basis?
Do you see where this is all going? Cameras will come with network connections right on the back of them soon! So will microphones. Laptops already have them. Uncompressed HD video complete with HDCP info can be sent via IP with little or no delay. Network switches can easily handle this type of bandwidth nowadays... and they cost much less than a big multiformat HD video matrix don't they?
This phenomenon is going to be a game changer for us all. The days of $3000-plus touchpanels are going to be a thing of the past when you can use a $499 touchscreen tablet that is directly linked to a cloud-based application. This cloud-based application can talk to a network switch that handles all your video routing. This application can also talk to all your displays and tell them what to do. This application can even talk to your audio processors and tell them where and how loud your audio is to be... and oh yeah, it can process it as needed along the way.
Everyone always talks about the convergence of AV and IT. At first I thought it was something along the lines of "Yeah, you know we'll use network cables to send video and audio and stuff… cool." But it's going to be much, much more than that. It is going to completely assimilate the AV industry in a major way. But then again, perhaps I've been living in San Francisco for way to long because it can be rather cloudy out here at times!