Audiovisual manufacturers and integrators are constantly in search of equilibrium between new technologies that can increase end users’ efficiency and the restrictive budgets that require long-term AV planning.
“Customers will sometimes have very strict budgets with very specific and exact requirements, so their needs for upgradeability and expectations of total life are limited,” said Jeevan Vivegananthan, senior director of product management at Christie.
While consumer products often cycle quickly, professional AV product life cycles can stretch anywhere from three years to 10 years, with shorter life spans for projectors and longer expectations for infrastructure. How and when a product or protocol becomes obsolete is dictated by the marketplace.
Emerging technologies that increase efficiency or offer previously unavailable features affect how consumers function, and adoption rates can force manufacturers and integrators to accelerate development or create fixes. In hopes of helping resolve this ongoing dilemma, Middle Atlantic Products focuses on making sure its infrastructure and physical support can accommodate not only current but also future technology.
“Our company carefully tracks trends in the AV industry and develops products and solutions that help the integrator implement systems that are capable for longer periods, and easier to upgrade when the need arises,” said Mark Tracy, director of marketing at Middle Atlantic.
While the industry moves forward, Middle Atlantic works toward future-proofing with products like RackLink, a line of power management products that logs input power issues, corrects power issues, automatically power-cycles connected components, and reports system status as a protection against power quality issues that can be detrimental to advanced AV components with high resolutions or increased processing.
As integrators transition from analog to IP infrastructure, Middle Atlantic’s UPS backup solutions maintain “critical networking, streaming, and control during momentary power disruptions,” according to Tracy. The UPS offering supports compact 500VA 15A 1RU line interactive backup for local control systems and 3kVA 30A online backup solutions for large and critical AV systems, with integrated surge, filtering, voltage protection, and IP control capabilities.
“Our biggest job is to educate on how applying best practices can prepare the integrator or consultant to deal with the system when it’s time for the inevitable partial or complete upgrade,” said Tracy.
“Regardless of changes in equipment, many system components remain constant, such as power assurance, seismic/UL, and cooling. Many times the infrastructure outlives the technology. In those cases, technology replacements require an infrastructure refresh, which might include equipment mounting, fans, thermostats, or MOV-based surge protection.”
Certain components are less likely to change, noted Roger Takacs, director of education programs at Crestron, particularly with audio-system components such as speakers. “Once somebody puts speakers in a ceiling, they’re going to last until someone blows them out,” said Takacs. “And that won’t happen unless somebody puts too much power on them. Audio systems don’t change too much. It’s the video side where people are having to make those changes because new formats come out, new resolutions come out.”
Adapting—literally—to the problem is a way people on both sides of the AV industry are accommodating the differences in technology. For example, consumers are already purchasing laptops with USB-C connections while manufacturers haven’t caught up to the protocol yet.
“They’re buying adapters, so they can use this port for ethernet, video, and audio,” said Takacs, “so they can plug in and adapt it out to HDMI and RJ45. Eventually, the systems will have to evolve so that it’s not an adapter. People are getting tired of the dongles.”
Crestron makes modular I/O cards for its digital media matrix switchers that ease the conversion from one protocol to another without changing programming.
“The card does the heavy lifting to convert the signal, and the output is standard inside the switch, so it makes it very easy to swap cards out and not have to change anything else.”
Visual collaboration software company Oblong, developer of the Mezzanine platform, views product obsolescence “as a necessity to continue to deliver innovation,” according to David Kung, VP of product strategy. “A prime motivator for our customers to invest in ongoing maintenance and support is the new features and enhancements we deliver throughout the year.”
When the customer need outpaces the existing capabilities, upgrading the platform is seen as a necessity to provide them with the most efficient products and evolving feature sets to meet their advancing needs—just like computer hardware chips and processors have done during the digital age.
It is possible, however, to develop a product set that can evolve with its user base while still retaining value as a hardware investment. Christie gives its customers the ability to upgrade its Boxer line of projectors with the benefit of having a long-term investment with lower initial capital acquisitions costs, as well as the flexibility to grow and adapt to the fast pace of technological change.
“A customer can start with an HD-resolution Boxer and then, if their needs change, they can move to 4K resolution with relatively modest hardware changes,” said Vivegananthan.
Other features can also be upgraded without having to replace the primary investment, as well, including total frame rate and video input option cards, as industry standards evolve.
Reducing the environmental footprint can be a motivator to explore ways of extending product life and creating upgrade possibilities. At Christie, when a product class reaches the end of its useful life to a customer, the company leads with a bent on reusing existing infrastructure where possible—including lenses, lamps, frames, and various other accessories in line—which can help customers manage expenses and cuts down on the company’s total development time.
The company also invests in technologies that have longer life expectancies, such as solid-state illumination, which allows them to create projectors that have no lamps to replace or discard.
“Most of our professional clients are looking for a good investment that is as environmentally friendly as possible, makes an economically sound investment, and still meets a high professional standard of performance and reliability,” said Vivegananthan.
Service contracts are another way to bridge the upgrade gap. Most companies offer service contracts to maintain their products over long periods of time. Christie refurbishes products for customers as less-expensive “standby” stock, which is aimed at meeting the needs of customers that own large fleets of equipment.
“The key to a successful service offering is maximizing the customer’s AV experience while minimizing risk to the integrator,” added Middle Atlantic’s Tracy. “Knowledge and experience are gained through experimentation, networking with other professionals, and seeking support from manufacturers.”
Jim Beaugez, APR, is a freelance writer and accredited communications professional with a decade of experience in the MI and pro audio industries. You can reach him at email@example.com and on Twitter @JimBeaugez.