Jan. 18, 2006
AV/IT and built environments converge

By Randal A. Lemke, Ph.D., Executive Director, InfoComm International®

Technologists talk endlessly about the convergence of technology. In the audiovisual industry that most commonly means the merger of AV and IT technologies. For architects who might dismiss this talk as industry boosterism, the AV-IT convergence becomes most relevant when it takes place in the built environment they are designing.

Architects are already participating in the audiovisual industry, which generates $19 billion in revenues annually in North America. They will be part of a projected 9.6 percent annual growth rate. Fueling this growth is the insatiable demand of the architect’s client for networked AV products.

Now, and in the future, the needs assessment process with clients will feature clients talking about streaming media, webcasting, digital signal processing, wireless applications, and AV-related software that integrate the worlds of AV and IT. Currently, more than 80 percent of all AV systems use the client’s local area network (LAN). Wireless connections are now the norm in integrated AV systems. All of these take place in the built environment of boardrooms, classrooms, public spaces, and more. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular products that combine AV and IT technology.

Streaming Media: New Communication Capabilities

While large corporations have been using videoconferencing for decades, they and smaller companies are adding streaming media capabilities, which have financial and other benefits. The bandwidth costs associated with streaming video are reduced by 50 percent over the costs of videoconferencing, with no impact on video quality or clarity. Beyond transmission costs, the decrease in bandwidth also reduces the demands on the client’s LAN.

Another benefit is the ability to provide video on demand. Streaming media is a great vehicle for providing training videos directly to an employee’s desktop. In a retail environment, streaming media creates dynamic digital signage, interactive advertising, and digital store directories. Preview stations using barcode and streaming audio and video technology have been cropping up in music, video, and gaming stores, allowing shoppers to experience albums, movies, and video games before buying them.

Digital Signage

Digital signage is a combination of high-resolution digital displays with dedicated computers and software delivering targeted messages over a network to viewers and customers in public spaces. What makes digital signage a growing trend is its flexibility - a networked digital sign can easily change its message based on its location, the season, a time of day, inventory levels, or special events. The sleek look of plasma and flat panel screens is part of the appeal and gives architects display choices that do not detract from the environments they are designing.

Digital signage is one of the fastest growing components in the AV industry. It is bringing AV into supermarkets, post offices, retail stores, and other places where AV has never appeared before. Of course, as with all technology applications, there are design issues related to the infrastructure supporting digital signage and for the environment where the programs will be viewed.

Design Considerations

As audiovisual and information technologies become increasingly intertwined, it is important to consider the effect on AV system design and integration. Data, telephone, ISDN, and other communications need outlets for the AV systems, beyond the basic requirements of the end-user. Involving a design-build firm early in the planning stages can streamline the integration of technology.

Fiber and television cabling can be used for transporting AV signals. The AV system may use a structured cabling system for local networking for control systems and audio or video distribution. Structured cabling is also used for Internet access, which can be used for system monitoring, videoconferencing, or multimedia content access, for telephone and ISDN access, and for audio-webdata and videoconferencing. These need to be carefully considered during the design phase of a new environment and can’t efficiently be done later as an owner-supplied project.

Randal A. Lemke, Ph.D., is the executive director of InfoComm Inter­national®,, a trade association of the professional audiovisual and information communications industries.

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