“There’s a great video on this I wish I could show you.”
“Sorry, I left my draft on my desk.”
“Is this thing on?”
Statements like these have stalled meetings and frustrated professionals for decades. Thankfully, they’re becoming less common as AV technologies raise the bar on a commitment to universal design and to user-friendly interfaces.
Here are ten ways in which AV tech has become more end-user friendly, and how we’re expecting it to get even more intuitive in the future.
AV Over IP Makes the Tech Talk
Once upon a time, every piece of tech in an AV setup was a universe unto itself. Monitors, projectors, screens, speakers, players and keyboards were manufactured separately, came with their own interface demands, and needed their own personal cable to connect to a bulky matrix switch that enabled them to “talk” to one another — within limits.
The ability to send AV signals over computer networks has changed the game, the team at Video Corporation of America writes. As AV devices are increasingly built to be network-ready, getting them to communicate means connecting them through ever more standardized network cables and switches. Troubleshooting when things go wrong can often be done with a basic understanding of the same computer networks that run the rest of the building.
High-End is Low-Cost (and Common)
A recent Thrillist article compared today’s high-tech computer monitors and television screens to the hottest models in 2011 to demonstrate just how far technology has come in a few years. The article also revealed another reason AV has gotten easier for end users to navigate: What we thought of as “high-end” only a year or two ago has become increasingly affordable and commonly used.
For instance, while AV integrators work on installing 4K video walls in high-end office buildings, families throughout the country are buying 4K televisions — and learning how to navigate their various controls. Companies like Control 4 are offering affordable residential-use switches that allow these ultra-high-definition screens to share content throughout a single home.
The result? Users are coming to the boardroom with the knowledge they need to navigate AV equipment, because they’ve learned it from their home tech. What were two separate skill sets twenty years ago have merged into a single skill set today.
Visuals Improve Visibility
Anyone who has marveled at how quickly young kids adapt to a smartphone or tablet interface has seen one of the most user-friendly AV developments in action: the interactive touchscreen.
Children learn by touching and interacting, says Sabina Idler, and so do adults. Interfaces that respond to touch, therefore, tend to be more intuitive — increasing user-friendliness by decreasing the learning curve.
But, as Idler notes, the placement of controls in the touchscreen interface affects how quickly kids (and adults) can learn the system. As research on user interfaces continues, the friendliness of the interfaces that make AV systems operate increases.
All Learning Styles Accessible
Teachers present lessons based on the three most common learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic.
AV has always offered a promising route for the first two learning styles, as it combines sound and visual elements. As AV migrates onto computer networks and AV systems become accessible through computers, smartphones, tablets and touchscreens, these systems also engage the third common learning style, according to audio visual solutions provider, Points West.
The result? AV tools that can reach and teach nearly anyone, regardless of their learning style — and that can teach users not only through the content they display, but in how the system itself is accessed and interacted with. Is smart tech making us smarter?
Head in the Cloud, Work on the Screen
A recent article in ComputerWorld touted the user-friendliness of cloud-based computing and apps. “It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to collaborate on a document with a coworker, you had to email, or—still not that long ago, believe it or not—fax it back and forth,” ComputerWorld noted. And not long before that, you had to mail it.
Today, cloud-based options make it far simpler to collaborate on documents. So does AV over IP, where the connection of AV systems to the internet make it possible to pull up documents and collaborate on them in classrooms, boardrooms and other similar settings.
A few decades ago, if you forgot to bring a draft to a meeting, you didn’t have it. A few years ago, forget your laptop and you were out of luck. Today, the combination of cloud and AV over IP means important documents and files are always available to the entire team.
Universal Design a Priority in Unified Communications
As AV merges with other IT-based technologies in the field of unified communications, both AV and IT companies are experiencing increased demand for good universal design. Consultant David Danto thinks tech companies and integrators should move toward an end-user perspective.
“Technologists (a group I firmly include myself in) are just lousy judges of what typical end-users truly experience, feel, and need,” Danto says, noting that what drives the use of AV and other collaboration tools isn’t their presence, but their friendliness to end-users. To continue growing, tech industries increasingly find they need to put users’ experience first.
Sometimes, the focus on user experience develops in unexpected ways. As touchscreens become an ever more common method of interacting with tech, researchers like Dan Mauney have sought information on which gestures are “universal.” Mauney’s research surveyed 40 people in 9 countries, discovering that the use of touchscreen gestures across the group was more alike than it was different, according to Justinmind. Building a universal gesture library has also become part of our culture, thanks to apps like Tinder and the now ubiquitous “swipe left.”
AV Companies Are Prioritizing the Elements of Good User Interface Design
Audio video products manufacturers like Atlona understand that good design doesn’t just help the workers, researchers or students who use a finished AV installation. It also helps the AV integrators and IT staff who plan, install and maintain the systems. That’s why many AV manufacturers are starting to integrate elements of UD and UC into the parts they create, making them easier for users at every stage to understand and troubleshoot.
Standards, Standards, Standards
AV over IP isn’t entirely standardized. But because standard tools, equipment and interfaces are essential to end-user familiarity and comfort, the push for standards is well underway.
One example is the Software-Defined Video over Ethernet (SDVoE) Alliance, which seeks to create standardized protocols for AV over IP technologies, says Justin Kennington of AptoVision. In turn, the SDVoE Alliance hopes that end-users will find resulting installations easier to use, with more access to needed apps and more flexibility as a business grows or changes, Gary Kayye at Rave writes.
The SDVoE Alliance includes some big names, including AptoVision, NetGear, and Sony. But it doesn’t include some other big names, including AV over IP matrix switch manufacturer Crestron. Currently, SDVoE finds itself competing with HDBaseT-IP — putting pressure on both protocols to make themselves more friendly and accessible to end-users.
Everyone Works in IT Now
“There are two types of individuals in the AV space,” said Vyopta’s David Danto: “those that work in IT, and those that don’t realize they work in IT.”
As AV over IP continues to expand, AV integrators and IT staff find their jobs intersecting in heretofore unexpected ways. AV systems often use the same computer network as workstations, security systems and even HVAC and lighting controls. AV system components designed to be internet-ready often connect to these systems.
For end-users, this often means that problems with the AV system can be resolved by contacting IT. In the future, troubleshooting may be handled by tools like software apps that can be accessed from any network device, making it even easier for end-users to diagnose and solve problems.
Help is Just a Phone Call (or Email or Text) Away
Although AV continues to become friendlier for end-users, the need for AV integrators will never disappear completely, predicts AVIXA CEO David Labuskes. This is because there’s a difference between using the tools and creating an experiential masterpiece — and the latter is where integrators excel.
Instead, end-user accessibility will likely fuel the rise of AV over IP and related technologies. As the tools become easier to use, more organizations will choose to use them. Workers will expect them, as will customers, clients and collaborating companies. Investing in user-friendliness now may pay off for both companies and integrators in the long run.
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