Years ago there was no need for AV equipment to connect to the network. That seems surprising now. Look around your office – there’s a VoIP system, a videoconferencing suite, displays connected to audio equipment running through the network. It’s more likely that an AV device is recognized by the network not than that it is siloed on its own.
That wasn’t always the case.
The Time Before AV IT Convergence
In the early days of AV integration, the network wasn’t in the top 100 on the list of concerns.
“We needed to make sure we got the right display, projector, the right resolution, distance, and we probably had to be careful about the HDTC or EDID compatibility issues,” says YT Liang, Product Manager at ATEN. “We just needed to make sure that the area was big enough for the cables and wiring.
“The IT person would need to make sure the network was properly designed, and that they managed the IP addresses correctly, as well as different network domains,” says Liang.
“Basically, AV people take care of the equipment, and IT people take care of the network infrastructure.”
Back then, a company might have a dedicated AV employee, the way our companies today have dedicated IT personnel. If the company didn’t have an AV admin, then the integrator was just in charge of the installing the system – the IT person could, for the most part, care less.
That’s far from the case in today’s organizations, when increasingly we see the IT department in charge of managing AV technology after its installed. In some cases, specifically higher education environments, there will be an AV technology manager.
That position is largely phased out on the corporate side, instead handled by IT pros that never studied the technology, but because they understand technology the company decides it’s good enough. This means that many IT pros have had to become very familiar with AV equipment in corporate environments.
The reason for this change is what the industry calls the convergence – that is, the constant march of AV equipment to join the network and be recognized. It’s a bit of an offshoot of the idea of Internet of Things – everyday objects connected to the network, gathering data, becoming automated, and adding another node to the system.
Why Did the Convergence of AV and IT Happen?
There are three main reasons why AV IT convergence happened.
End users, integrators, and manufacturers alike are seeing the benefits of AV-over-IP versus the traditional, circuit-based video matrix system that AV utilized for years. The main benefits are scale and flexibility.
“What happens when we run out of output ports or input ports? It happens a lot,” says Liang. “That’s when people see the benefits of AV-over-IP. Today, if I need to add four more displays, I just add four more receivers or four more decoders.”
There are more devices in the workplace than ever before. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and of course the AV equipment that is now connected to the network.
There are also the IoT devices – smart bulbs, voice controls, control and automation systems, and sensors that measure everything from the amount of people in and out of a building to the levels of chemicals in the vats on the manufacturing floor.
USB extensions were incorporated into AV equipment to implement new technology like touchscreen panels or cameras. This provided a natural jump to the IT space – the accessories started to become shared accessories. The protocols became shared with them.
The Control Room
“The control room is the perfect example of how AV and IT meet together,” says Liang.
Think about it. The control room has operators that are sitting in front of a four-by-three video wall to manage the operation of the network. They’re using a keyboard and mouse to interact with large-scale AV equipment.
Not to mention, often times what they are controlling on that video wall is the visual representation of the servers in the rack – the very equipment that is running the network.
The control room is the place where the convergence of AV and IT is most apparent, and it is spaces like the control room that gave way to more integration of AV equipment on the network in spaces like boardrooms and huddle rooms.
They’re smaller scale versions of what we saw in control rooms years ago.
What the Convergence Means for the IT Department
As mentioned before, the convergence means a lot more management of AV equipment for the IT department. That’s not a bad thing.
For example, AV-over-IP has been great for IT pros. They understand the network better than integrators will, and putting AV-over-IP puts the AV on the network in a way that IT pros understand and can work with.
The key here is communication.
When integrators install equipment, there should be a constant line of communication to the IT department. Integrators should explain how much bandwidth is needed, should detail the IP addresses of new equipment, and should reserve space and let needs be known very early in the process.
That way the IT department can get ready for it.
There will, of course, be learning curves. HDTC and EDID are protocols that are basically exclusive to the AV side. In order to better understand AV technology, IT pros will need to familiarize themselves with these new codes. No need for a PhD – just an understanding of the differences between IT protocol and AV protocol will suffice.
Ultimately, in today’s connected world, everything is connecting to the network. AV integrators are getting more familiar with the network, and IT pros are getting more familiar with AV on the network. That’s not a bad thing.
Connectivity gives us many capabilities – remote management and monitoring, instantaneous sharing of documents, streaming, screen capture, and more.
If you’re worried about the challenges then you probably shouldn’t have gone into IT in the first place. However, the challenges of the convergence are leading way to much better products, better equipment, better management, and better businesses. It’s a fair trade off for most.