video wall with many screen images

Why Integrators Are Embracing AV Over IP — And Why Users Should, Too

AV over IP — the process of sending audiovisual signals over computer networks — has challenged AV integrators to change their approach.

By relying on standardized network hardware and software, AV over IP renders integrators’ specialized knowledge of proprietary AV tools obsolete. Plus, because AV over IP operates on computer networks, it has reduced the time and cost of installation, leading to lower bids presented by integrators for projects.

Despite these challenges, integrators are embracing AV over IP at an astonishing rate. They see how the benefits of the technology outweigh the challenges, and they’re eager to bring these benefits to the businesses they serve.

Here’s why integrators are enthusiastic about AV over IP — and why businesses should be, too.

AV Over IP Is More Efficient Than Matrix Switches

Before the days of AV over IP, audiovisual equipment “communicated” by means of a matrix switch — a box or rack that contained a microprocessor to encode and decode various signals, so that audio and video information could be displayed on the various components of the build.

Matrix switches were bulky. They generated a lot of heat. And each piece of equipment attached to them required its own proprietary cable, or even a custom connector welded in place. For integrators, the matrix switch world required an encyclopedic knowledge of AV system equipment, connectors, cables and switches. For businesses, it meant that the cost of each piece had to be factored into every AV build.

AV over IP has turned this world on its head. Today, integrators rely increasingly on their knowledge of Ethernet and internet cables and connectors, like CAT-5, CAT-6 and fiber optics. Instead of recalling specifications for dozens or even hundreds of parts, integrators can focus on optimizing the use of more standardized hardware and software.

AV over IP isn’t totally standardized. Competing equipment and protocols exist, like the ongoing war between HDBaseT-IP and SDVoE. But it’s easier to build a high-quality system that communicates seamlessly with its components.

No wonder industry leaders like SDVoE Alliance president Justin Kennington have already proclaimed the death of the matrix switch.

close-up of network hub and ethernet cables

AV Over IP Is More Scalable Than Matrix Switches

One of the biggest challenges the matrix switch era faced was distance. Restrictions imposed by cable lengths and signal degradation often forced switches and other equipment to be placed a minimum distance from the AV equipment. Installing equipment meant accepting these limits, remodeling a building, or both.

AV signals sent over computer networks face distance limitations as well, but the tools to overcome them are much easier to come by. Video and audio sent over IP can be “repackaged” at strategically-placed switches, allowing it to travel long distances without losing quality, according to Technology for Worship. Tools like HDMI switches from Just Add Power or Tripp-Lite, when built into an AV over IP system, allow signals to travel as far as they need to.

These switches make it easier to scale an AV over IP build as a business grows. New matrix switches no longer need to be built in at strategic points; instead, a combination of switching hardware and software can allow any point on the AV network to communicate effectively with any other point.

Tools like HDBaseT-IP and SDVoE even allow AV signals to travel from one building to another on large campuses, CE Pro editor Jason Knott writes at Commercial Integrator. And all these signals can be controlled from a centralized control unit or from any point on the network, depending on users’ needs.

“AV over IP allows businesses to centralize their AV messaging, creating more efficient AV asset management while removing the constraints of traditional AV messaging,” Blaine Brown, CTO of Sensory Technologies, writes. “It’s the next logical step towards creating centralized control and streamlined content messaging in ways that will be incredibly beneficial for growing businesses.”

AV Over IP Is Better Value Than Matrix Switches

What do you get when you replace a clunky, constrictive system built of specialized components with one that plugs into existing networks, connecting a wide range of devices through standardized hardware and software?

You get more transparent pricing — and more value for your dollar.

AV over IP cuts down on the per-hour cost of running cables and setting up equipment. It helps reduce the per-unit cost of those cables and equipment, since the building’s existing Ethernet can often support the new build without adding more cables or proprietary connectors and switches.

And the ability to swap out parts to increase signal quality as the business grows, rather than rebuilding entirely, can reduce long-term costs as well, according to Atlona.

There are, of course, still costs involved. Upgrading to a digital AV over IP system, or having one installed in a new building, requires integrator attention, equipment and time. But the result is a more future-compatible, flexible system.

work desk of businessman with laptop, globalization business concept

Case Studies

Integrators have embraced AV over IP’s flexibility and efficiency to create customized solutions for clients across industries. Here are just a few examples of outstanding projects by integrators proud of their work with these cutting-edge technologies.

Bazaarvoice: Digital Signage

Bazaarvoice’s headquarters in Austin needed a way to communicate with visitors in its main lobby. And the company wanted a statement piece as well: something to grab visitors’ attention and immediately set the tone for the company’s vision and brand.

The result? A 3×3 HD video wall, installed by Felix Media Solutions. The video wall provides crystal-clear HD images, which range from stunning artwork to information for visitors and employees. The LG displays mount seamlessly, while the use of the building’s existing Ethernet allows for lagless video transmission from a hidden display.

Washington Department of Transportation: Traffic Management Center

Founded in the 1960s, the Washington Department of Transportation’s Traffic Management Center was tasked with monitoring conditions on the state’s roads and intervening when necessary. By 2015, the Center managed 750 roadway cameras and needed a space that could handle the extraordinary quantity of data and displays required to use the information those cameras collected.

Enter Peerless AV. Facing the need for maximum flexibility on a constrained budget, the integrator chose a video wall constructed of individual monitors, each of which could be used to view a different camera feed. AV over IP switches and other tools allowed Peerless to take advantage of the department’s existing Ethernet infrastructure, reducing the inconvenience and costs associated with a complete teardown and rebuild.

Ninety monitors, several different mount types, and eleven power connections later, the Washington Department of Transportation is on top of its camera feeds — and Peerless is the winner of a 2017 Integration Award for the project, courtesy of Commercial Integrator.

Drew Charter Schools: Interactive Flat Panels For Education

Nothing is more frustrating for a teacher than resources that don’t work when they’re needed – and AV equipment that lags or refuses to display images properly lands among a teacher’s top frustrations.

To enhance learning at the Drew Charter Schools, Unified AV Systems partnered with SMART Technology to install interactive flat-panel monitors in school classrooms. When combined with in-classroom computer and mobile technology, the interactive boards allow students to work together, share notes and even access prior lessons executed on the same system. Attention to detail in the installation of the interactive boards and other equipment helps reduce problems with loading, lag time or equipment “on the fritz” — and its connection to the school’s Ethernet allows IT staff to address AV issues more easily.

Ellis Island Theatre One: Kramer AV

Once the entry point for millions of immigrants seeking to build a new life in the United States, Ellis Island today serves as a museum and educational center. For decades, the island’s museum staff have relied on AV tools to help visitors connect with the nation’s history and their own past.

In the 1990s, Ellis Island began showing a short film, “Island of Hope, Island of Tears,” introducing visitors to the island’s history. Originally shot on 35mm film, the movie was upgraded to HD in the early 2000s.

The equipment on which the film is displayed recently received an upgrade as well. Today, Ellis Island’s Theater One is equipped with digital 1080HD capabilities, combined with three-channel audio, bringing “Island of Hope, Island of Tears” to life. The entire system is controlled through Kramer AV’s “K-Touch,” which directs inputs from multiple displays, players and audio systems. Via K-Touch, employees at the National Park Service can create a seamless experience in Theater One for visitors, enhancing their education and their enjoyment of Ellis Island.

Images by: fredmantel/©123RF Stock Photo, kubais/©123RF Stock Photo, stnazkul/©123RF Stock Photo

network switch and ethernet cables

Understanding Major AV Over IP Components

AV over IP offers the ability to send audiovisual content over computer networks. Since an AV over IP system uses a building’s existing Ethernet, a properly designed system can solve many problems that have long plagued traditional matrix-based AV systems

And it can often do so at a lower cost and with less time required for installation, maintenance and upgrades.

For many organizations seeking an AV upgrade or installation, however, both “traditional” AV and AV over IP are equally mysterious. Here, we de-mystify AV over IP systems by breaking down their major components and show how AV over IP can lead to more flexibility and savings.

Traditional AV Systems

In the analog and early digital AV years, every device — from television screens to cable boxes to record players — was a kingdom unto itself. To get these devices to coordinate with one another, every one of them had to be connected to a matrix switch.

As Orrin Charm explains, a matrix switch or matrix switcher decodes an audio or visual signal from one device connected to the matrix, then encodes it so that it can be picked up by other devices connected to the matrix. While the box itself looks simple, its internal microprocessors run myriad complex calculations.

Matrix switching has been the gold standard of AV systems for decades, and most integrators are still familiar with the complex requirements of a matrix-based setup. They’re also familiar with its major challenges, which include:

  • Space. The more devices that need to talk to one another, the larger the switch has to be. Commercial switches often control inputs and outputs for up to 32 devices.
  • Scalability. Each matrix switch has a fixed number of inputs/outputs. For instance, if you want to network 33 AV devices, you need two 32×32 switches — and you leave 31 spaces unused.
  • Making Connections. To connect some AV devices with the switch, the device itself may need particular connections custom-welded or attached. Each device may also have its own special cable required for connection to the switch. And some of these cables come in fixed lengths, limiting the distance allowable between the matrix switch and the equipment.
  • Heat. The processes carried out within the matrix switch generate a great deal of heat, requiring installers to pay attention to ventilation and other space considerations.

While matrix switches are still useful in some situations, integrators are increasingly embracing AV over IP for its ability to solve many of these major problems, according to Matrox.

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The Components of an AV Over IP System

In some respects, AV over IP systems look similar to their matrix-based predecessors. A few key differences, however, allow companies seeking an upgraded AV solution to save time and money, promote scalability and increase the system’s useful life.

Inputs and Outputs

The latest AV input/output devices have changed over time. Many of us today still remember when cassette tapes were ubiquitous or when VHS was the latest thing, for example.

An AV over IP system still deals with multiple inputs and outputs. In a digital world, however, input and output devices are increasingly computerized monitors, speakers and similar equipment. They connect to an AV over IP system using Ethernet or WiFi connections, reducing or eliminating the need for special connectors to be added to the equipment.

Cabling

Whereas older AV systems often demanded a tangle of proprietary cabling, AV over IP systems typically use a building’s existing Ethernet.

Today, most buildings’ Ethernet uses copper CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable, Jason Fitzgerald notes at Sound & Communication. Some buildings are upgrading to fiber optic cable. As the use of 4K video outputs expands, the use of fiber optic cable may do so, as well.

Sending AV signals over the building’s existing Ethernet reduces cost and installation time because much of the cabling required is already in place. It also changes the space restrictions of the AV system dramatically.

AV signals sent over CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable have a typical distance limitation of about 100 meters, according to Matrox. However, unlike older systems, use of “switch and repeat” allows audiovisual data to travel 100-meter distances repeatedly, for as long as needed.

For organizations building from the ground up, fiber optic cable can further reduce this distance limitation. So can streaming capabilities, as Extron details.

Switching, Encoding and Decoding

Older matrix switches encoded and decoded signals within the switch itself. Today, the switches in an AV over IP system are typically standard IP switches, which many organizations already have as part of their Ethernet systems.

For large or video-heavy installations, specialized switches also exist, like KeyDigital’s KD-IP1080TX and KD-IP1080RX, both of which allow up to 2,048 inputs and outputs to be connected to the system.

Conference and entertainment venues, as well as businesses and schools with large numbers of staff or students, will find that such hardware configurations can scale up easily to meet the organization’s needs.

Using IP switches makes AV over IP systems easier to install, scale up or down, and to troubleshoot, Videon writes. They even make it easier for IT staff to address potential problems, which can reduce downtime.

IP switches are designed to handle Internet traffic, Cisco writes. Unlike traditional AV matrix switches, an IP switch isn’t programmed to make AV signals accessible to other connected AV devices. So, how does the IP switch replace the matrix switch in an AV over IP system?

The answer lies in the virtual world of the Internet. Encoding and decoding in an AV over IP system is the job of video and audio codecs, small pieces of software that translate signals, as Kramer AV describes. If you’ve ever tried to watch a video on your computer, only to be sent online to download the correct codec, you’ve encountered this software and understand how important it is to the AV over IP process.

For large-scale builds or situations where eliminating lag is essential, such as hospital operating rooms, companies like Cisco and Matrox also make switches that contain their own encoding and decoding software.

When In Doubt, Ask Your Integrator

The flexibility of AV over IP has resulted in an increase of 138 percent in installations between 2016 and 2017, according to MuxLab, while installations of traditional matrix-based AV systems fell 4.3 percent. Numbers like these suggest that AV over IP can quickly become the new industry standard.

As Mary Bakija at Sound & Video Contractor explains, specifications for AV over IP system components can be very specific — and very baffling to professionals whose expertise lies outside the audiovisual world. Likewise, the current competition between protocols like Cisco’s HDBaseT and Christie Digital’s SDVoE can lead to some unnecessary confusion.

Generally speaking, as long as every component uses the same standardized protocols or is produced by the same company, an AV over IP system’s components should communicate seamlessly. Your integrator can explain which protocols and equipment they recommend and why.

media technologies concept as a video wall background

How AV Over IP Systems Work in the Real World

The flexibility of using an Ethernet infrastructure and standard Internet equipment to send, play and record AV information can be seen in examples like these:

Retail

Use of AV over IP in retail has extraordinary potential, Lewis Eg notes in Retail IT. Even a simple AV over IP system makes it easy to display advertising, improve signage and provide customers with the information and overall experience they need from the moment they enter a retail establishment.

Classrooms

Recognizing the flexibility and versatility demanded of today’s K–12 and college classrooms, companies like Extron offer AV over IP builds that take into account existing classroom infrastructure (like overhead projectors), the combination of presentation needs with individual device use and the need for energy efficiency in a system with minimal downtime.

Many classroom and conference room AV over IP builds incorporate the use of centralized control units, allowing teachers and presenters to handle all the room’s AV equipment from one user-friendly interface — and allowing IT staff to quickly address and troubleshoot issues, as well.

Conference Rooms

Conference rooms, workspaces, breakout rooms, huddle rooms….

These spaces, by any name, can boost productivity if they’re equipped with the right tools. Many integrators, manufacturers and distributors specialize in building conference and workspaces custom-tailored to an organization’s needs. For instance, Atlona partnered with AZUR SPACE Solar Power to tackle connectivity challenges and with Fellowship Alliance Chapel to bring an outstanding 4K experience to worship.

Wish your conference rooms scheduled themselves? Crestron builds in the option with room scheduling technology that allows space usage to be controlled from a centralized calendar — and that can be connected to the AV equipment to improve energy efficiency by warming up equipment only when someone is scheduled to use it.

AV over IP technology is still finding applications where the system is a clear upgrade over the previous build. If you’re curious to learn more about why the industry’s shift has been so sudden, have a look at our post How the Conversation About AV Over IP Has Changed in the Last 18 Months.

Images by: wklzzz/©123RF Stock Photo, sanchairat/©123RF Stock Photo, kentoh/©123RF Stock Photo

conference

Tips for Bidding AV Over IP Integrations to Event Facilities

Event venues vary as widely as the events themselves. From small, cozy spaces to rooms that feel more like football fields, no two event facilities are identical — and the bids that integrators place for AV over IP builds in these spaces shouldn’t be identical, either.

Here, we’ll share what integrators need to know in order to put together a winning proposal for an event space project.

Understanding Your Space

As Atlanta ProAV notes, most companies have invested considerable resources into a top-notch IT network. However, not all businesses have done so, and this latter category includes many event venues.

In such venues, the existing Ethernet may cover only certain parts of the building and may have aged considerably. In some venues, network capability is limited to the administrative offices, which usually constitutes a microscopic portion of the venue’s total square footage.

In other cases, the event venue may be a new use of an existing building, as in the case of Advanced Light & Sound’s work on the Minneapolis Armory, a building erected for the state’s National Guard in 1935. The building had served as an armory, a basketball venue and a parking garage before its transformation into an 8,000-seat event space linked to US Bank Stadium.

Integrators frequently face projects that require an existing network to be expanded or upgraded within a standing structure. For event venues, however, both use of existing network equipment and expansions of that network may figure into the project. For example, sports venues may benefit from traditional AV for instant replays and referee reviews, but networked AV may be a better fit for informational signs.

Should traditional AV be part of your proposal? Harman suggests the answer is yes.

AV over IP offers benefits in terms of simplicity and scalability, but when it comes to perfect transmission of information in real time, a traditional AV system may be better suited to certain venues. Despite consistent advances in technology, many AV over IP builds still produce some lag time between the capture and playback of an image or sound. That’s because AV over IP takes a moment to encode the information into a data packet, transmit it and decode it on the other end.

Certain capabilities, including those made possible by 10Gbps networks, have rendered the difference in lag time between traditional and networked AV a near non-issue. For certain venues, however, the traditional network may be a more effective choice.

Weighing the choice between traditional and networked AV can also affect bids on house AV systems, notes Harman. Many event venues are installing permanent AV systems that are designed to be flexible, accommodating a wide range of the types of events the venue typically hosts. These projects most closely parallel conference room or lecture hall installations, and can pose the same challenges for integrators.

Finally, special venues might demand special considerations. For instance, Andrew Taffin at Tallen Technology Rentals recounts an event held at a medieval Scottish castle — not the sort of site that comes with its own built-in network or even electricity. When bidding on a project in a historic building, don’t forget to consider whether the building has the electrical infrastructure needed to support the AV over IP build you envision.

stadium

Getting Buy-In

Every good bid considers its audience. When it comes to event venues, the primary audience are the owners and managers of the event space, and their top consideration is often cost.

For event venues, rent and overhead eat much of the budget, says Katie O’Reilly of Kenmare Catering and Events, which operates Germania Place on Chicago’s Gold Coast. Utilities, maintenance, staffing costs and advertising can swallow what’s left of the budget.

Consequently, focusing on the cost efficiency of an AV over IP build can boost a bid’s promise for stakeholders. An emphasis on the ease of use of an AV over IP system can also make a bid more appealing.

Don’t forget to highlight the value AV over IP brings to other parts of the venue’s budget, such as advertising and promotion. Clever integration can turn event venues into multifunctional spaces that boost the name of the venue as well as the profile of the event. For instance, incorporating audio and video systems can turn a presentation space into its own broadcast studio, System Video says, making it easier than ever for presenters to reach audiences around the world (and offering a major selling point for the venue as it seeks events to host).

As always, a good AV over IP bid for an event space will also keep the IT staff in mind. If the venue has its own IT staff, offering a “survival guide” like this Biamp Systems example that focuses on conferencing tools can help integrators gain buy-in from the IT department and improve both the installation and use of the new system. For venues without staff, consider building tech support into your bid. Your potential client won’t know they have you on standby unless you tell them.

Finally, take a look at the proposed project from an attendee’s perspective. According to Hilary Braseth at Convene, top considerations for organizations and attendees in terms of event venue include:

  • Consistent wi-fi. Consider what strain an AV over IP proposal might place on existing networks, especially when conference attendees are all trying to use the same network at the same time.
  • Easy BYOD options. Can presenters easily connect with the various presentation options (projectors, LED screens, etc.) with a wide range of devices? Can they switch between output options if needed?
  • Audio dead zones. Every attendee should be able to hear every word spoken by presenters. Pay special attention to audio mixing and acoustics.
  • Sharing. How easy are live-streaming, videoconferencing, filming and recording in the space?

An added bonus? You can use the attendee’s point of view to sell the bid itself. Attendees increasingly demand flexible, functional AV options that can run easily alongside wi-fi, Chelsea Chavez notes at Oquendo Center. Putting yourself in a presenter’s or attendee’s shoes can reveal opportunities to improve the build.

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Putting It All Together

The design-bid vs. design-build debate continues to rage in the AV world, but in the meantime integrators must still contend with the occasional RFP in order to land the work they want. Here’s how to craft a proposal tailored to event facilities.

Put Your Value Proposition Front and Center

Every event venue client, regardless of size, budget or mission, has the same fundamental question for AV integrators: What’s in this for me?

The best bids arrange their proposed designs and budgets around a single answer to this question. Fewer and fewer integrators are focused on selling products in a bid, says Leonard Suskin of Shen Milsom & Wilke. “It’s more about looking at the cost of long-term ownership and creating systems that are scalable and part of a unified communications strategy.”

The takeaway? Decide early what value you bring to the project, understand how that value helps this particular client and stay focused on that goal as you build a proposal.

For instance, an integrator who specializes in providing ongoing AV support may wish to emphasize that fact for a venue with a limited budget and no on-site IT staff. An integrator who enjoys streamlining and standardizing AV over IP builds might underline that fact when talking cost or scalability.

Write to the RFP

Many companies are stepping up their RFP game, Chrissy Winske notes at MyTechDecisions. A well-written RFP is an ideal tool for integrators because it outlines the specific elements you’ll need to include in an outstanding bid.

Most RFPs will state the client’s general requirements, product requests and expectations. To leverage this information to its best advantage:

  • Structure your bid similarly. Use the General Requirements section as a “general value” section, emphasizing the value your bid adds as it meets each requirement. Use the product section to include technical detail, and address value again in the Expectations section as you emphasize how the project you propose will meet or exceed each expectation.
  • Consider each section from the potential client’s perspective. How can your offering not only meet the RFP’s demands but add value in other areas such as advertising? Don’t hesitate to mention these added benefits where appropriate.
  • Use the same vocabulary as the RFP. Avoid copying sentences directly (unless you want a direct quote), but do use the same terminology, especially for key concepts. Doing so helps link your bid to the RFP and improves the bid’s readability for the prospective client.

Finally, take a look at a few proposals before you start writing. Examples like this bid for a mall venue from Elite AV Systems can provide inspiration for attractive and informative layouts as well as content.

Writing to the RFP is a snap when the RFP is well-written and up to date. When its goals are vague or its requests demand end-of-life equipment, things get tougher, Julian Phillips at Whitlock says.

“There’s a lot of time-wasting that sometimes goes on in the RFP process because somebody hasn’t done their design work well or thoroughly enough up front, and they’re asking a whole bunch of vendors to respond to something which they know, themselves, probably needs to be re-designed,” Phillips tells AVNetwork.

In these situations, consider asking for clarification or moving on to the next RFP.

Get Technical … In the Right Places

When it comes to the build itself, more detail is better, according to Joey D’Angelo of Charles Salter Associates. Clear diagrams, breakdowns of equipment and labor costs, and accompanying explanations help potential clients determine whether your bid is realistic, both in terms of budget and in terms of time.

As with any proposal, though, where you get technical matters just as much as whether or how. Technical specifications are best included in their own portion of the bid. Use the introduction and conclusion to describe the project in more general, readily known terms and to underline how the overall build meets the client’s goals, and leave the meat in the center of the bid sandwich.

Images by: Brittany Gaiser, Marifer, chuttersnap

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How Ease of Implementation Helps Integrators Scale to Accommodate Large Projects

AV over IP is changing the way integrators do business.

Integrators in past decades relied on knowledge of a vast range of proprietary switches, cables and other functions. Their skill lay in understanding how to make two totally different types of equipment talk to one another.

This skill is still in demand today, but it lies alongside a growing demand for integrators who understand the new work of sending AV data through standard IP networks.

In AV over IP, switches, cables and protocols are largely standardized. Standardization offers lower cost for clients, but it changes the way in which integrators must look at a project.

While some integrators view these changes with skepticism, others see opportunities: AV over IP’s ease of implementation offers significant benefits to integrators who have a large-scale project on their hands or an installation that demands scalability in the face of anticipated growth.

Here’s how to spot opportunities for simpler scaling—and how to sell those opportunities in your bids.

How Does Ease of Implementation Promote Scalability?

AV over IP has made installing and using networked audiovisual tools easier in many settings, notes John Novak at Black Box. Enhancing ease of installation are features like:

  • The use of IP networks. “Everything except the most specialized of applications will end up on IP,” Matrox predicted in a piece for AV Network. “IP is the least expensive and most flexible way to drive video across distance.”
  • Existing low-cost standards. HDBaseT has a head start in standardizing AV over IP setups, notes Jason Knott at Commercial Integrator. The switches are relatively cheap, don’t pose major heating problems and already familiar to most integrators and IT technicians.
  • Less rigidity. One major pitfall of traditional fixed AV systems is their inability to expand with a client’s needs. “Rigidity is a reality — the system is neither scalable nor flexible,” ClearOne says. “For example: Starting with one 16×16 (sources x destinations) unit, a customer would face purchasing another entire 16×16 system should they need to add just two more channels … a 32×32 system in which only 18×18 are being used.”
  • Better partnerships with IT staff. As AV and IT continue to share mutually intelligible equipment and software, IT staff become more literate in AV integrators’ work. That makes it easier to get buy-in and collaborate on mutually beneficial solutions. At InfoComm 2017, Kramer Electronics Chief Growth Officer Clint Hoffman called this umbrella partnership “AV over IT.”

The benefits show in the numbers: AV over IP sales have increased 130 percent in the past year and will show similar or increased growth in coming years, according to Robert Archer at Commercial Integrator.

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How Simple Installations Promote Further Scalability

Simplification in installing and implementing AV over IP solutions as part of a network has led to advantages in scalability, as well. “Advanced AV appliances are exponentially scalable, and can manage large numbers of multi-point displays requiring only a one-time investment,” notes Keith Kazmer of Black Box.

Because video (and to a lesser degree audio) data continues to improve in quality, however, certain challenges arise for integrators who are thinking about forward-compatible installations that can handle not only today’s AV productions, but those likely to emerge in the future. For these projects, a number of available tools can improve scalability that matches a client’s long-term growth plan.

Bridging Distances

For example, IT professionals occasionally raise concerns that AV data will overload existing CAT-5 or CAT-6 networks, which pose limits on the amount of information they can send, particularly over long distances.

While a solid AV over IP system can rely on CAT-5 or CAT-6 cabling, the use of optical fiber in new builds is more forward-compatible and helps eliminate problems previously caused by distance, says Richard Glikes, president of Azione Unlimited.

Distance problems can be addressed in other ways, as well. HDBaseT-IP focuses on moving the HDBaseT standard from Ethernet to Internet. By doing so, the tools allow integrators to expand an AV system’s consistent quality past the boundaries of one building’s network and across an entire campus, according to Gabi Shriki, senior vice president at Valens.

Endpoint Connections

The other major scalability benefit to AV over IP systems has been the ability to connect nearly infinite numbers of points to one another. On a 1Gbps network, scalability is rarely an issue because any number of points can be connected to any number of others — which means that size is limited by the load-bearing capabilities of the network, not by the number of endpoints.

For 10Gbps equipment, however, the situation is different. Currently, 10Gbps networks pose one of the biggest scalability challenges, says Stijn Ooms, EMEA product director at Crestron. “These solutions are very difficult to scale and don’t truly offer the advantages of AV over IP,” said Ooms. “The reason for this is the uplink bandwidths between the network switches will drastically limit the number of endpoints you can route between switches.”

Yet HDBaseT-IP also offers opportunities in forward-compatibility as video resolution improves, according to Aurora Multimedia CEO Paul Harris. Sending lossless 4K video becomes easier with new tools like HDBaseT-IP, which reduces the extent to which the network’s load-bearing capabilities limit the project’s scale. Other companies are also developing standards with a specific focus on 10Gbps networks, which can further improve scalability as a company grows in size over the coming years.

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Showcasing the Value of Easier Implementation and Scalability in Your Bids

For potential clients, an AV system installation or upgrade means more: more equipment, more expenses, more opportunities for things to go wrong.

IT staff who look at AV from their own perspective may be particularly skeptical that the problems won’t outweigh the benefits.

Easier implementation and scalability, however, can easily shift the balance in favor of more benefits. Here’s how to shift that balance in order to gain the buy-in you need to propose, launch and complete a successful project:

Clarify What Problems the Project is Intended to Address

A study of health technology implementation published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAIMA) found that one of the biggest barriers for organizations seeking to implement new technological solutions was understanding what problems the technology could and could not solve.

This lack of clarity isn’t restricted to doctors’ offices and hospitals, It can strike any client seeking a new or upgraded AV system. Consider asking potential clients the following questions to get that clarity:

  • What problems do you want to solve in the short term?
  • What problems do you expect to face in the long term?
  • How do you envision the AV over IP system will work to solve these problems?
  • What issues do you have with your current AV system that you hope a new system will resolve, prevent or eliminate?

By understanding the client’s pain points, integrators can plan ahead before installation. Specific steps can be used to address not only current problems, but also anticipated challenges and the need for growth.

Reach Across Departments and Offices

Getting buy-in from everyone affected by the project not only increases your chances of landing a bid, but improves the chances that the project will go smoothly, according to an article by Dorothy Leonard-Barton and William A. Kraus in the Harvard Business Review.

Often, integrators find the most challenging questions come from the IT department — and so do the best opportunities to discuss ease of implementation and scalability benefits. Key points to consider when selling the benefits of a bid to IT stakeholders include:

  • Reduced physical space demands. AV equipment that once took up considerable space can often be reduced to fewer closets and less cabling with AV over IP.
  • More spatial flexibility. AV equipment can often be placed at more flexible points and moved more easily in an AV over IP setup.
  • Standardized switches and protocols. Network security and management is streamlined with AV over IP because AV equipment on the network can often be treated like any other data point or piece of equipment — including for purposes of network security.
  • Compression tools. If bandwidth is an issue, compare compression options in order to choose the tools that offer the specific combination of quality versus acceptable losses.
  • Maintenance. Discuss which problems can be easily addressed by IT and when it’s time to call an AV specialist for backup.

Think Ahead

In many cases, today’s standard tools, like CAT-5 or HDBaseT switches, will easily meet a client’s needs for the next several years. In others, however, it may be time to recommend more cutting-edge tools, despite the higher up-front cost.

In the long term, for instance, optical cabling may offer a much greater return on investment than continuing to burden a company’s existing Ethernet — especially if the company has its sights set on the kind of AV work that demands a 10Gbps setup.

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What AV Over IP Means for Integrators and IT Specialists Maintaining AV Systems

For end users, AV over IP has turned high-quality video into an everyday business and information tool. But for AV integrators and IT specialists, AV over IP has meant a great deal more.

For many years, AV and IT have existed in two separate domains, overlapping mostly by competing for room in cable runs or equipment closets. Today, the space for which AV and IT compete is far more often expressed in terms of bandwidth — and the competition is increasingly becoming a non-issue thanks to continual advances in compression technology and security standards that allow AV equipment to behave and be maintained as another piece of an IT network.

Here, we’ll take a look at the major considerations behind an AV over IP build and how those considerations demand the attention of both integrators and IT staff.

Streamlining Versus Bandwidth

AV over IP simplifies integrators’ work in several ways, notes IVCi. In the past, integrating audiovisual equipment into a single system demanded that integrators install proprietary switches, cables and other items for each piece of equipment. At times, it even demanded that AV integrators do their own soldering to ensure that equipment could connect.

AV over IP, however, eliminates the need to make each discrete component of the system talk to one another through a series of proprietary connections. Instead, audio and video signals can pass through the same Ethernet, as Liberty Cable describes in an excellent white paper. Specialized switches for each piece of equipment have largely been replaced by HDBaseT switches, lowering costs.

But the words “video over IP” instantly make many IT specialists wary. In the past, both audio and video have placed significant demands on bandwidth. IT specialists are aware of these demands, but not always up to speed on the ways in which compression technology has advanced, as Patrick McLaughlin notes in Cabling Installation and Maintenance.

Here are a couple of examples of how tools available today can open up network bandwidth:

  • Options like the SMPTE 2022-6 standard have expanded capabilities for sending high-quality video over Ethernet without causing unacceptable latency, notes Peter Suclu.
  • An Audinate white paper provides real-world examples of how some facilities are using VLANs to segregate signals so that AV and data can freely flow.

lock on the converging point on a circuit, security concept – Maintaining AV Systems

Security

AV over IP represents a small part of the recent explosion in the Internet of Things (IoT), as video and audio equipment becomes a “thing” on the network. As an AMX industry brief notes, this explosion raises concerns for IT specialists, who recognize that every network node poses a potential security risk.

Compounding the problem is the fact that a great many IoT objects either have no security features or have security features that don’t interact efficiently with standard network security protocols, Wendy Zamora writes at Malwarebytes. While these problems can be addressed, both AV integrators and IT staff must first be aware that they exist.

As the professionals introducing audio and visual equipment to the network, integrators need to understand potential security risks and be able to recommend tools to address them. As the guardians of the network, IT staff likewise need to know how the AV equipment introduced will interact with existing security systems.

When both integrators and IT specialists are familiar with the encryption and digital key options for AV over IP, it’s easier for them to spot potential problems and resolve them in order to prevent security breaches, HB Communications says.

One advantage both AV integrators and IT specialists have is an ever-increasing understanding of network security. Their expertise allows them to think about security as an issue much earlier in the planning process and to improve stakeholders’ understanding of its importance, says Paul Zielie, Harman Professional Solutions’ manager of Enterprise Solutions.

For instance, both AV and IT professionals can drive home the importance of

  • using secure passwords,
  • maintaining separate admin and user accounts,
  • enabling encryption and use logs,
  • and adhering to a strict bring your own device (BYOD) policy.

Integrators and IT Staff as Teammates

As G. Sahagian at Sound & Video Contractor points out, few one-size-fits-all solutions exist in the AV over IP world.

Instead, the best solution for any client will be one that considers the client’s specific needs and challenges. To find this solution, AV and IT professionals increasingly find themselves coordinating their respective areas of expertise.

“AV and IT have historically been bad neighbors that can’t — or won’t — talk to each other,” AMX notes in a white paper on the convergence of the two fields. History, however, is changing. As the company says in an industry brief, IT-friendly AV systems:

  • Integrate seamlessly with IP networks
  • Embrace standards to ensure interoperability
  • Minimize technology obsolescence with standardized equipment
  • Consolidate functions
  • Allow AV equipment to “read” (and be maintained as) just another part of the network
  • Use IT security protocols

In order to build AV systems that play well with IT, integrators and IT specialists must communicate well, too.

One benefit IT specialists gain from working with integrators is integrators’ ability to “take a whole-room approach,” note Avixa’s Nermina Miller and Brad Grimes. Needs assessments that consider IT’s needs as well as those of end-users are just one tool in the integrators’ collaboration toolkit.

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The Future of AV Over IP: Considerations for Integrators and IT Specialists

As Rob Lang explains in AV Magazine, the transition to AV over IP is already here: The vast majority of AV devices can now be networked should users wish to do so.

The fact that equipment can be networked, however, doesn’t always mean that the process is challenge-free — or that it’s stopped undergoing significant development.

AV over IP is expected to continue changing both the AV and IT realms. Sales of AV over IP-related equipment and builds rose 130 percent in 2017, and similar increases are expected in the coming years, FutureSource Consulting writes.

At Commercial Integrator, Jason Knott outlines one of the biggest competitions in AV over IP: the feud for supremacy between HDBaseT-IP and SDVoE. The former has been used longer, Knott writes, but the latter offers both a recognized brand and the ability to send HD video over CAT-5 — an especially promising option for AV integrators and IT specialists working with older Ethernet installations.

ESCO outlines a few additional challenges currently confronting AV over IP systems:

  • Audio breakout remains challenging or impossible in certain systems.
  • Integration of software control systems can pose difficulties, particularly when the goal is to include an AV over IP build on a network with an already-familiar interface that doesn’t currently support AV.
  • Integrators continue to face challenges in bridging the proprietary gap between encoders and decoders in certain systems, particularly legacy systems.

The good news? “There’s often more than one answer to an audiovisual problem,” CCS Presentation Systems says. In some instances, IT staff can provide perspectives that offer opportunities for solving these problems.

As AV and IT work continues to converge, better communication between integrators and IT specialists will become increasingly important.

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