From closed circuit television to cell phones and conference calls, IP connectivity already plays a fundamental role in professional work environments. In the commercial AV market, however, this technology hadn’t been a very good fit — until recently.
Replacing the clunky hardware and physical limitations of traditional AV equipment, AV over IP (or AVoIP) is a flexible and responsive way to meet customer requirements for large-scale and enterprise projects. In addition to being convenient and cost-effective, AV over IP technology provides an optimal experience for the end user.
As a result, the perception and industry-wise use of the technology has changed.
AV over IP: An Introduction
AV over IP differs from traditional distribution methods because it doesn’t require the use of a matrix switcher. Instead, encoders are placed on all source devices and decoders are placed on all destination devices. As AV consultant Mike Tomei says, having all encoders and decoders tied to ethernet switches enables a near-infinite number of devices to be added.
This results in an easier, more affordable way for companies to scale up audiovisual projects and add destination sources without complication. Such changes in technology and infrastructure have enabled companies of all sizes to adopt AV over IP. According to Anthony Brennan, an analyst at Futuresource Consulting, AV over IP is becoming more accessible in commercial electronics installations due to lower operational costs and reduced hardware prices.
“The low barriers associated with AV over IP are allowing smaller companies to compete directly with these large enterprises, merging the worlds of IT and AV, placing software solutions at the heart of the AV industry and fostering innovation and competition,” he says.
Barriers to AV Over IP Adoption
AV over IP has numerous benefits for audiovisual distributors and end users, but there are many industry professionals who are still reluctant to adopt the technology. Here are the key areas where systems integrators tend to hesitate — and why many industry professionals are converting to AV over IP due to its affordability and quality user experience.
Some systems integrators are unsure about adopting AV over IP because they fear that audio compression will hamper the viewing experience, according to Commercial Integrator editor at large Craig MacCormack. However, IP technology actually offers a more advanced and responsive form of file compression.
In fact, “AV on an IP network won’t require one compression method, but instead by being on IP foundation allows the compression (and bandwidth) to fit the application/need,” Intel Corporation Technology Strategist Greg Schlechter says. In other words, IP will only compress AV files when and how it’s necessary, with no decrease in video quality for the end user. Greg Aradjan and Diane Hagan at IVCi chime into this conversation, adding that AV over IP has the potential to improve the overall quality of audio and video signals. Adjan and Hagan add that AV over IP enables HD and Ultra HD signals to be transmitted through IP-based products, providing a boost to distribution speeds.
Another reason systems integrators have neglected to take advantage of this technology is due to the fear that AV over IP will slow down bandwidth. As the demand for high-resolution video in professional environments continues to grow, this is an increasingly valid concern. However, Shaun Oxenham, CEO at Cabletime, reassures these woes. Oxenham says that point-to-multipoint solutions, like AV over IP, actually conserve bandwidth because they send data over an IP network in a single transmission. As this approach uses fewer servers and reduces burden on the network, Oxenham adds, it lowers capital and operational costs.
Although some integrators worry that AV over IP might reduce picture quality and come with slow loading times, experts in the field say AV over IP can actually expand an AV distributor’s ability to meet customer needs.
For example, Installation International’s Michael Burns explains that security is a key concern for clients when adopting any form of IP technology. Fortunately, AV over IP advancements have enabled top-tier security safeguards — like AES content encryption and active directory credential management — that keep all content and employee data safe and secure.
AV over IP technology can also meet the demands of large corporate networks and educational campuses, which often want to stream media-rich presentations with multi-point attributes. A campus may want the ability to show presentations with full video alongside chat feeds in every one of its classrooms. AV over IP technology supports this need, helping students and educators access content in real time.
Streamlining AV Over IP Adoption
Despite the many benefits of AV over IP, there remains one fact that’s true of all hardware and software adoption: Learning to operate new technology can be a challenge. Fortunately, professional audiovisual experts understand this challenge, and have defined a few methods to streamline adoption.
Rob Lane, owner and managing director at Bigger Boat PR Limited, says that a key point of struggle for converting to AV over IP is the fact that IT skillsets tend to differ from those of AV professionals. This makes it harder to merge IP requirements with AV technology, since these two fields of knowledge traditionally haven’t placed nicely together.
However, this challenge can and will be overcome. Namely, companies that invest in IP infrastructure training — and seek to hire IT professionals with an interest AV — will have the best chance of reaping the long-term benefits of AP over IP adoption.
Another way to streamline adoption is to change how you learn about video codecs and approach transport methods. Matt Pruznick, senior editor at NewBay Media, says that it may be more beneficial to start with the use case of the space rather than the benefits and details of each transport method. Addressing the needs of the space — and how the AV needs of a hospital may differ from a college campus, for example — can provide a stronger approach to systems engineering.
Skepticism about AV over IP isn’t new. In fact, Commercial Integrator editor in chief Tom LeBlanc compares it to skepticism from the early 2000s about digital audio. Those skeptics, too, eventually accepted MP3 technology and audio streaming.
Although AV over IP is unfamiliar to some commercial systems integrators now, it can and will transform our entire industry.