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Enabling a smooth transition to a new generation of tech

The requirements for audio visual (A/V) equipment are ever-growing, says emerging technologies expert Joe Cornwall

Posted by Lucinda Reid | May 04, 2017 | Technology

The last two decades have redefined the audio/visual landscape. Gone are the limits of analogue connectivity and in its place fibre-optics, cloud storage, software-as-a-service and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT). For those looking to upgrade or those building from scratch, that means we need to go beyond simply considering what resolution is required and what cable length.

And yet, we are faced with a dilemma – as technology’s potential increases, so too do our expectations – presenting a further challenge in terms of being able to stay ahead of the curve without submitting to costly annual building upgrades.

The solution is to design a connected infrastructure that is flexible enough to support older, but viable, technologies, while facilitating the integration of new solutions as they emerge. In order to do this, the education sector needs to be aware of how the A/V landscape is changing, and the solutions that are waiting in the wings to meet these challenges. With the arrival of smart buildings, it can be tempting to dismiss A/V as obsolete and regard LAN connections as the main player in modern, connected infrastructure. While LAN does, and will, have a part to play, A/V remains a vital part in how we communicate. 

The function of your A/V system should not be left to chance

The function of your A/V system should not be left to chance. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach, and the landscape is evolving quickly. For the foreseeable future, we will still need a dedicated A/V infrastructure in most applications. For those looking at specification, or simply considering the options, just look around at all the devices we use today – what do we need, to maximise the potential of this technology, is there a way of supporting 5-10-year-old equipment and will it still be supportive of technology set to emerge in the next decade? All incredibly valid questions.

Take a USB connection as the perfect example. While many think of it as a charging tool, it can also enable a connection with a mouse or keyboard, to the LAN or Ethernet network, to speakers or monitors or even to another computer. You may be interested to know therefore, that there is a new USB device on the scenes, called the USB Type-C which can deliver up to 100 watts of power, high definition video to drive multiple monitors and even enable our screens to be upgraded to touch-sensitive devices. What’s great is that they will also come with a plethora of adapters to ensure they can connect with today’s technologies and the infrastructures we put in place.

Another recognisable form is HDMI, perhaps the most ubiquitous of A/V connections. It is considered that any structured solution, must include at least one HDMI port. In terms of specification, the connection needs to support the resolutions that are anticipated over the lifetime of the installation, rather than just the technology that we have in place today. Therefore, if we demand certified Hi-Speed HDMI(e) performance, that supports up to UltraHD 4k video resolution, the system will remain adaptable for emerging technologies in the future too.

DisplayPort on the other hand is the technology that is replacing the now obsolete VGA connector. VGA ports are common place in laptops and other devices, and while it does need to be considered and accommodated for in our plans, we don’t want to enshrine a legacy solution by chaining ourselves to the past. Any well-design A/V infrastructure should now include DisplayPort connectivity from tablet devices to new computers, and USB Type-C enabled products will all come with advanced DisplayPort connectivity. It is not by chance either that VGA is fully adaptable to the DisplayPort environment. 

These three connections; USB, HDMI and DisplayPort, are however fairly restrictive in terms of length serviced and this must be considered in order to ensure the best performance of a structured A/V system. Generally speaking these technologies get to around 10 metres, any further needs the addition of other solutions such as HDBaseT and optical media conversion, which will take connectivity beyond 35 feet.

HDBaseT facilitates the home and commercial distribution of uncompressed, high-definition multimedia content. Its cornerstone is 5Play™, a feature set that includes uncompressed UltraHD 4k digital video, embedded digital audio, 100BaseT Ethernet, USB2.0 and various control signals through a single category cable. HDBaseT solutions are available in a small box transmitter-receiver or wall-plate form and can be mixed and matched to suit the application. Furthermore, they don’t connect to a LAN, which means that using a HDBaseT connection does not affect network security or capacity.

Where A/V connectivity distances exceed the 100 metre limitations of HDBaseT; where a solution that supports 32-bit colour is required and is scaleable to the maximum levels of A/V performance achievable today, then the best solution is optical media conversion. Unified optical solutions are easy to install and can accommodate runs of up to 330m while supporting 32-bit colour space.

Getting structured connectivity isn’t difficult, but it does demand a knowledge of existing and emerging technologies, as well as some out of the box thinking

Getting structured connectivity isn’t difficult, but it does demand a knowledge of existing and emerging technologies, as well as some out of the box thinking. In very large or complicated applications, this is why an A/V integration professional is recommended, ensuring you achieve a future-ready, scaleable, high performance A/V solution. Ultimately, the spaces in which we live and work, must enhance the technology that we use, but also our lives – increasing productivity and delivering true value.

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