AV/IT Convergence

February 15, 2017
Around the turn of the millennium telecommunications networks underwent a radical transformation, with the advent of IP telephony. While mobile phones were around already for a decade and their cellular networks were being frantically deployed, they were still offering pretty much the same types of services found in wireline networks. IP telephony made a massive impact on every aspect of the telecommunications world.

Telephones, PBXs, PSTN network infrastructure and even the business model of telecommunications carriers all changed to adapt to the following basic principle: all communications services run on an IP network infrastructure and all telecommunications equipment is an IP network endpoint.

This was the time of IT/telecommunications convergence and a similar, phenomenal change is sweeping the AV world, today. AV systems have made a massive penetration in modern office and leisure space lately, fueled by the popularity of video as a communication medium. However, audiovisual devices exhibit a much lower degree of standardization and interoperability than what is expected in the IT world!

Ideally, one would expect AV systems to be interconnected in unified, managed networks similar to IT systems. But IT, however complicated, has been dominated by a handful of operating systems and a thoroughly standardized communication stack and set of protocols. By comparison, the AV world has been overly fragmented and products were mostly implementing proprietary technologies developed by individual manufacturers.

This situation has been gradually improving since the introduction of digital video standards, facilitating video distribution, such as HDMI, SDI, H.264 and HDBaseT, to name just a few. But for the most part video distribution within businesses remained the domain of cumbersome and closed, single supplier technologies. What is more, such systems were isolated and independently managed, with only seldom, if any, contact with the IP network infrastructure.

A similar situation existed in most other AV product categories. Control systems were developed around architectures and blueprints dictated by specific manufacturers imposing limited product ranges and restricting interoperability. Devices running AV processing and control functions had to be special, dedicated and closed type appliances. Access for maintenance and administration purposes was limited and required highly specialized knowledge.

What we are witnessing today represents a fundamental change in the realm of the AV universe. AV over IP is probably the most disrupting leap of technology we have seen in years. The rapid uptake among equipment vendors and the formation of the SDVoE Alliance (Software Defined Video over Ethernet) indicate that the idea of isolated video distribution systems will soon be abandoned for good. Video is going to be distributed on top of Ethernet switches and IP networks, same as any other digital content. The changes this brings to the market of cabling systems and video endpoints or processing devices are only now beginning to show.

Evolution does not stop there. Another major trend is the use of generic type hardware devices to support AV functions. Tablets and other professional touchscreens can now be integrated into control systems. Commercial servers and industrial computers can be utilized to host software video processing solutions for switching, scaling, transcoding, streaming, video wall control and much more.

Finally, among the latest developments is the shift of the control systems programming platforms, from proprietary scripting and programming tools, to general purpose languages, such as Java, for which resources and expertise is much more easy to obtain and manage.

All the above observations indicate that end customers can expect a different and ultimately friendlier landscape in AV technology today. Surely, IP networks will need to be upgraded and strengthened, to achieve the level of stability and capacity suitable for real time video. But this is way cheaper with modern networking equipment, than it was five years ago.

In this new landscape, we can expect to have complete visibility and control of every AV device in a network. To develop applications suited to our needs faster and with less pains. And to ultimately deliver a consistent user experience from AV technology in every space.