The AV world is changing in the residential and professional markets, and these changes are creating new challenges and possibilities. Network transports are proliferating allowing for higher channel counts and more flexibility. Clients’ expectations of how a business AV system operates are often set by comparing it to their home system.
This comparison results in a few typical requests. Throughout my career the most common is “I want everything to be able to go everywhere.” An addition in the past decade: “I want to control it with my phone.” Over the last two years the feature request has become “I want voice control.” Saying something isn’t possible in a professional system results in a response of “I can do it at home, why can’t you do it?”
Explaining the difference between home products and commercial products is something that we have all experienced. As professionals, we need to ask questions to define the end user’s needs and then provide a solution. Selling a system that does what they ask, not what they need, is bad for everyone. We must always be cognizant that our responsibility is to be a good steward of the client’s money while achieving their goals.
Requesting every input to be able to go to any output is understandable. The clients may not have finished the system requirements yet, and this request gives them leeway. They are also used to being able to stream and change content easily and quickly, whether streaming from Network Attached Storage (NAS) in their home or a service like Amazon Prime. The likely thought is “Surely a professional system can also.”
Addressing this request for a system of fewer than 512 inputs and outputs either by placing every signal on the network backbone or by connecting every signal to a monolithic core is often the quickest solution, but not a practical one. This solution can be easily accomplished with a 1Gbps backbone for audio. Does the solution work if the inputs and outputs are located in different buildings? What happens if connectivity is lost? A better solution could be independent subsystems for each building, floor, or room. These are connected to a central network. It also allows each system to operate independently. Which would you choose?
I omitted a key part of “anything anywhere”—signal type, resolution, and compression was not specified. Is it audio, video, or both? Is audio separate or embedded in the video? A few questions will refine the need and simply the system. Asking, “does every video source need to be available from each room, or just the active one?” greatly reduces the amount of bandwidth and interconnections needed. The same approach can be used for audio. If there are multiple microphones, provide a single audio channel for outside of the room. This approach meets the intent of “anything anywhere” and allows for signals to be shared from one location to another. The definition requires every device be available even when idle. Defining the resolution and compression of the signals will also influence the design. Explaining why 4K60 4:4:4 video typically is not needed for a remote classroom is part of the design discussion AV professionals need to foster. Do you want to change your choice from the last paragraph?
For a non-technical user, operating an AV system can be overwhelming. Simplifying control using a person’s home system operation as the benchmark is reasonable. Using a handheld device for control is commonplace and makes a user more comfortable. Explaining why a typical consumer interface won’t work and a custom interface is needed requires an explanation. Describe why controlling 30 rooms in a building, compared to one or two in a house, requires more rules and information. The system needs to know what room you are controlling, and there also might be rules for what each user can do. This discussion also allows explanation of why purchasing a solution from a big-box store is less likely to be successful. It shows the customer the importance of skills AV professionals bring to projects. It helps the industry.
Simpler operation drives requests for voice control. Voice control of a room has pitfalls that not everyone thinks of. The biggest is “how does the voice control agent determine which person to listen to?” The second point is “your room will need to be connected to the internet. Check with your IT security department before we proceed.” Typically, the conversation ends there. The reason? Currently all voice control agents require an internet connection. The control system needs internet connectivity to receive commands. The client also is placing a listening device in their room. There are exploits to access cameras and microphones on computers running Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time before voice control devices are compromised. Yes, voice control results in a vulnerability.
There will always be tradeoffs in any project. Helping clients understand the tradeoffs to facilitate a well-reasoned decision is important. Talking with people, in language they understand, about these choices allows for a partnership and almost certain success. That is our role as AV professionals. Clients who understand the decision-making process are typically happier with the end result.
Bradford Benn recently separated from Harman Professional Solutions after 17 years. He has been involved with projects of all sizes and shapes in his over 25 years in the AV industry. He can be reached at www.bradfordbenn.rocks or on Twitter @BradfordBenn.
Better Questions for Better Solutions
- “Will the requested solution work if the inputs and outputs are located in different buildings?”
- “Is there a back-up plan if connectivity is lost?”
- “Does every video source need to be available from each room, or just the active one?”
- “How will the voice control agent determine which person to listen to?”