2017 saw a massive rise in interest in AV over IP — among systems integrators and customers alike.

Technology came to market that, over the last 18 months, has dropped the price of AV over IP low enough that it has now become a compelling value proposition for many integration projects. That wasn't the case just a year ago. As a result, the biggest integrators are beginning to completely rethink how they integrate audio-visual components for their clients.

However, this path isn't without speed bumps. The technology still has a little maturing to do, and we as an industry have a learning curve ahead of us yet.

The effort will be worth it, though: AV over IP integrations break down cost barriers and can scale in such a way that will allow local integrators to bid alongside the biggest companies for top-dollar contracts.

The Trends Driving AV Over IP Adoption


Why did AV over IP take off so quickly in 2017? Falling costs, mostly.

As ZeeVee CEO Bob Michaels writes at The Broadcast Bridge, 10 GB switches have dropped in price by as much as 40 percent in the last two years, and large 4K televisions can be had for $500. That puts this technology well within reach of even small businesses that have a need for super-high-quality audio and video displays.

Michaels says this represents a “paradigm shift” in the way our industry will think about integrations. If you can deliver 4K multimedia over IP for your clients along a simple 10 GB network switch, you're going to be able to save them upfront costs of the integration. You're going to have many more happy clients when it's the streaming media quality that they find jaw-dropping, not the line items for hardware purchases on your invoice.

Further, the bandwidth for internet protocol is only going to increase. The capacity for AV matrix switchers has a much lower ceiling. “We have reached a tipping point where going forward, available bandwidth on networking switches will always be higher than that required for the video standard of the day,” says Kamran Ahmed, who became a VP and GM at Semtech in 2017 after it acquired the company he led, AptoVision.

Ahmed agrees that streaming multimedia is the clearest path forward. “25G, 40G and 100G network equipment already exists. This is a significant trend which will change AV signal distribution as we know it today.”


Industry Challenges AV Over IP Presents


Of course, the move-fast-and-break-things dynamic over industry disruption does not make for a smooth ride. For all the things AV over IP does well — scalable integrations, built-in versatility, performance — it's still vulnerable to certain criticism from integrators.

The team at Installation International makes this point succinctly:

  1. There is a learning curve for manufacturers, integrators and end-users.
  2. Because IP lowers barriers to competition, legacy integrators might struggle to maintain and communicate a competitive advantage in their markets.
  3. There might be a compromise with low-latency and crystal-clear imagery — at least until higher-bandwidth IP like 40 or 100 GB Ethernet become easily affordable.

The third point is just a matter of time, though. When those higher bandwidths are as affordable as 10 GB is right now, the latency and pristine-image issues will come out in the wash.

The second point, regarding competitive advantages, begs the question that this post is designed to answer. If your team can be quick to embrace the benefits AV over IP now, and you can translate those benefits to your clients' needs, you're still in a position to enjoy first-mover advantages.

However, it's the first point — the potentially steep learning curve — that requires a little work. As WyreStorm product manager James Meredith tells InAVate, manufacturers and integrators are “learning the hard way” that installing AV over IP on a switch, an installation that on paper should take seconds, is disruptive to very complex integrations.

“When dealing with financial and security corporations or a university campus with a network that needs to be online 24/7, the requirements are completely different,” he says. “What should be a ten second power pull and two minutes of waiting for it to reboot actually becomes a two-day process.” It will take some time for everyone, integrators and clients alike, to understand what is and what isn't possible with an AV over IP installation so that expectations can be accurately set.

In the meantime, there is still that lingering matter of standards, which Jason Knott at Commercial Integrator wrote about recently. While HDBaseT-IP and SDVoE have the modern equivalent of the VHS-Betamax competition over which should be the standard for AV over IP, a little uncertainty will loom over the technology.


The Opportunity for Systems Integrators


If the hurdles facing AV over IP are only functions of time, then the question for integrators today is how to turn that lag time into an advantage.

The first step would be to get as far along that learning curve as possible. After all, AV over IP encoder/decoder ports are poised to see a 130-percent growth in year-over-year sales, says Futuresource Consulting. That means your competitors are getting up to speed with the technology, too.

As you get caught up, make sure the benefits of AV over IP get translated to your customers’ needs. Greg Aradjan and Diane Hagan at IVCi lay these out nicely at AVNetwork:

  • Simplicity. By using a single Ethernet cable to relay media and power and control devices, hardware costs go down dramatically per integration. The simple architecture also reduces future maintenance needs.
  • Speed and capacity. “Ethernet cables are capable of handling a much larger amount of data than serial cables,” they write. “This results in significantly faster communication speeds.”
  • Quality. Because IP can move much more data along a single cable, it’s much easier to stream HD and ultra HD media.


Scaling Integrations With Ease


Scalability is the synthesis of the three previous benefits. AV over IP allows for more cost-effective, simple integrations that deliver quality media quickly, and wider bandwidth continues to become more affordable. That means you can build integrations now that will scale easily with your customers' needs and ambitions. “For savvy vendors equipped with the right market information, the scale of the opportunity is enormous,” Futuresource's Anthony Brennan says.

That scalability is especially nice because it can extend to existing systems, as well. “With an AV-over-IP platform, companies can expand their system by integrating an IP switch into the existing system, meaning you can expand your reach at any time,” Annelise Fasnacht at Solutionz Conferencing, Inc. says. “… With AV-over-IP, contractions and expansions can happen organically.”


Big Contracts Are Already Going to AV Over IP Solutions

It's worth taking a look at how these benefits and opportunities are realized in actual integrations. Here are three recent projects, all from the world of higher education, that make the case for AV over IP:

NC State University's library


When NC State sought to reimagine its James B. Hunt Jr. Library as a collaborative research space, the university's IT department reached out to AVI-SPL to help “figure out what a research facility meant in this day and age,” says the department's director, Maurice York.

The solution ultimately included, among other things,

  • A multipurpose space with an Immersion Theater made of 112 video MicroTiles,
  • A Creativity Studio that can subdivide into as many as 10 rooms with their own AV functionality, and
  • A digital audio distribution system that controls the sound mixing through a voice-over-IP control.

“York says this IP-based system supports the research and mission of the building, which is to work as an integrated whole that supports the lifecycle of research: brainstorming, critiquing, and the late phases that produce finished pieces,” the integrators note. “That system also provides a flexible environment where faculty and students can use any room, knowing the technology they need will be there.”


London Metropolitan University's superlab


In 2006, London Metropolitan University set out to transform its Science Center into a major draw for top-tier students from around the UK. That 30-million-pound “superlab,” as it's now called, features nearly 300 workstations and “remains the largest and most advanced science teaching facility in Europe,” ET Now reports.

A decade later, though, its collaborative AV environments needed to be updated. With integration by local firms Reflex and POLAR, the superlab now features an AV over IP system “that blew us away,” the university's director of technology and operations told ET Now. “The system is flexible and scaleable, already providing a vast number of end points.”


Norwegian University of Technology and Science


Featuring integration by local provider Atea, Norwegian University of Technology and Science announced in June the launch of the largest AV over IP network in Europe.

“Each of the lecture rooms and classrooms in the Akrinn building is connected to a state of the art video distribution system that transmits uncompressed 4K and UHD content over an Ethernet network with zero latency,” Clive Couldwell at AV Magazine reports. “The 12 lecture theatres on the site are equipped with cameras and screens, so content can be shared between them instantly and at will. The workshops and teaching laboratories on the site are similarly interconnected.”

This was all built on a very high-performance system that consists of Cisco Ethernet switches with two dozen 10 GB switches and another six 40 GB QSFP fiber ports, Couldwell writes. “The network has a capacity of 80Gbps between switches, and delivers signals between rooms with a latency of no more than 20-30 microseconds.”


Tectonic Shifts in AV


Technological disruption creates challenges and opportunities at the same time. That's the nature of the business we are all in. What defines any company's success is its ability to embrace and take advantage of those changes.

These changes will only come faster and faster, too. If your integration company can take the lead with AV over IP now, though, you will put yourself in a better position to reap the benefits in the coming months and years.

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