Industry Opinion: With IoT as a catalyst, where should AV distribution and switching manufacturers focus future product development?

The Internet of Things has already begun to redefine how custom integrators are approaching whole home automation and control, with much attention paid to the devices and appliances in the control hub.

However, with everything now seemingly bridged for connectivity we wondered how audio and video distribution will be affected and handled in an IoT world. Several AV distribution players have offered their view on what future development of distribution models could look like in a super-connected universe.

Bill Hensley, Director of Marketing, Core Brands
The new hyper-connected world is a hot topic led by media buzz about the IoT. In truth, AV has been connecting devices for some time now. But as sensor-rich edge devices evolve and become more "intelligent", they also become more connected. This evolution is benefiting manufacturers, installers and consumers alike. As our team at Core Brands looks forward in product management, we are focused on the connections that make meaningful opportunities for creating better user experiences. For example, with our Auriel multi-room audio platform launched last year, we leveraged the user’s connected edge device—in this case, with the mobile phone and tablet serving as the control device. Again, it was focused on the meaningful user experience; phones and tablets are always-on and always present, so users expect and appreciate our audio platform integrating seamlessly with these devices. We made mobile devices integral parts of the Auriel ecosystem. In-wall touch panels continue to grow in their capabilities. While still connected to a system controller, these smart edge devices communicate with more and more point to point and will evolve in features as well as provide more sensory inputs. Moving beyond AV and into control solutions, our upcoming ELAN intercom feature will take mobile phones beyond their established point-to-point legacy, integrating them into home control systems with “point-to-page” from anywhere in the world. www.corebrands.com

Brad Hintze, Director of Product Marketing, Control4
AV switching and distribution is a pretty comprehensive category now. You have everything from wired setups that physically amplify sound and sync movie playback all over the house, to wireless systems like Airplay from Apple and Chromecast from Google. But if you look at what is being distributed, it has always traditionally been audio and video content. Today, with IoT, we think it becomes more than simply AV distribution. Pre-IoT, everything was a silo. Manufacturers who want to be a part of the IoT space will need to start thinking about things beyond just distributing music and movies. Now everything in the IoT world has an app or an API to help your product integrate with theirs. AV distribution will remain important, and valuable, but they should also consider how to distribute data and interfaces for more of the home. Perhaps an overlay of the Nest thermostat in the corner (on-demand) while watching movies, or an overlay of the camera from the front door when someone rings the bell…IoT is about leveraging the strength of the provider's “wheel-house” and blending it with the strengths of others. There is no doubt about it, the future of IoT has potential to disrupt a lot of “traditional” ways of doing things, and AV distribution will continue to adapt, to allow access to all of your favorite devices, services, and content. www.control4.com

Stijn Ooms, EMEA Product Manager, Crestron
I think we all get IoT, everything is connected to the internet today—but why does it really matter to us and why now? IoT has been around for a long time, but the mobile device revolutiongave IoT a big kick start to get things moving. Why?  People are connected all the time, creating an on-demand evolution.   Whatever they need, when they need it, and a "they want it now mentality", all from their mobile phone. Let¹s look at an example of how IoT plays in our industry: Pretty Simple, a Huddle room ­ a laptop and some bargain brand HDMI Extenders, HDBaseT plus a display. Now let¹s look at the Crestron version a laptop, a 4K DM Transmitter and Receiver, HDBaseT plus a display looks pretty much identical, what¹s the difference? It's management! We all buy into IoT and management, but then the huddle room enters into the picture, and we all think it's just a small low-cost room, not a lot of budget, so what's the big deal? I will save my customer some money. The big deal is that of the "200 rooms" that your customer is installing, most will be huddle rooms.  You might be thinking I am going to save my customer a few bucks on the job ­ I owe it them to "increase my value". But put yourself in your customers shoes and ask a few simple questions:
  • Do I know if you huddle rooms have issue before my users?
  • How often is my staff responding to support calls for these simple rooms?
  • Are the spaces actually being used?
Solve the problem that the customer really cares about and move the conversation away from the price because while you may think you are doing them a favor upfront, you are truly doing them a disservice in the long run. So as an AV company, in order to be successful, there are three key deliverables: 1. User experience and productivity (Customers are looking for a seamless personalized experience that is context aware.) 2. Enterprise Management and Scalability (It starts with getting devices connected to the network or IoT for AV, Management is Key. Scalability is imperative, the system needs to be able to grow easily.) 3.  Workplace Optimization (Systems need to get smarter and more personalised over time, They also need to deliver clear, concise, actionable metrics to the stakeholders) This is where the value of IoT and having devices on the network pays off: data is power. www.crestron.co.uk

Daniel Adams, Technical Director,  HDanywhere
The IoT is coming and it’s the near future. There’s no escaping that. So AV distribution products have to become part of the IoT. They can no longer be black boxes in the rack that simply send AV around and about. Whether AV distribution product feeds into the wider “Smart Home” project or whether it connects to other IoT devices more directly, more intelligence is going to be needed in the product in order to deliver the next level in function and value for the end user. Product development prioritisation is a tricky business at the best of times. In the fast moving world of AV, just keeping up or ahead of the curve is hard enough. So product development will always be heavily weighted to coping with the raw AV signal technology. With the IoT non-ignorable, having a platform on which you can build for this has to be a focus as well though. There’s an amount of development that has to go into making your product “connected”. That means integrating a hardware and software platform, such as an android computer or purpose built IoT connector (such as Particle), into AV distribution equipment. Something that can be updated to adjust to the changes that will happen to the IoT over time and to make sure the unit has enough processing power to be able to do something with IoT data when the time is right. The benefits to doing all this work are there for the manufacturer and end user. Manufacturers can gain data to oversee connected products, deploy firmware updates and integrate devices with other services. The possibilities for the end user are almost only restricted by what you program the AV distribution product to do. What information it puts out, accepts and what it does with it. That’s what makes it so exciting! www.hdanywhere.co.uk

Yaron Shachal, Product Manager, Valens
The short answer is providing the best user experience in multiple locations while guaranteeing total and seamless mobility. For example, at home, customers should expect the highest resolution possible, but as we travel, we want that resolution to be adapted to the conditions of where we are. In addition, customers should have access to the largest entertainment database, independent of location, and be able to forward and distribute the content to the device or place that will provide them with the best quality of experience. Augmented reality and sharing apps in real time will also enhance our day-to-day experience with entertainment, digital signage, interactive advertisement and more. Eventually, IoT will allow the different aspects of our lives to interact: home, work, entertainment, shopping, education etc. For example, a customer in the supermarket could automatically receive a list of missing items while shopping. His or her phone can then be tapped by the supermarket system, which can then highlight items as he or she walks the aisles. The overall shopping experience can improve, based on better communication between “the home – the user – the store” and effective digital signage. www.valens.com

Tony Dowzall, President, Gefen
Gefen has been preparing for the inevitable AV and IT integration being spearheaded by the ubiquitous IoT. Gefen offers a range of Internet-enabled solutions that help bridge the gap between traditional AV and networked devices providing a seamless performance. With the increasing number of products connected over a network, the importance of software will play a pivotal role. Last year, Gefen introduced its Syner-G software suite containing powerful management features enabling a level of performance and control not typically found on standard video distribution systems. With Syner-G software suite, integrators can easily troubleshoot, manage and upgrade connected Gefen A/V devices through a graphical Windows-based application, together with mobile device discovery via an iOS or Android app. With the upcoming IoT, everyone will eventually be connected on some type of network. As the IoT continues to evolve, it makes sense for A/V to migrate along that same path, a natural transition that Gefen is embracing with its signal management solutions. www.gefen.com

Mike Tsinberg, President and Company Founder, Key Digital
The introduction of IoT impact will mostly be felt in the area of control. Each of the devices enabled by IoT will offer itself to be controlled from the local or/and global network. Each of such devices will have their own control App or API or both. The utility of that device will largely depend on ease of this devices integration into a control system managing all locally connected devices: AV distribution, switching, climate, shades and security. Manufacturers who offer control systems should focus on ease of IoT integration devices into such a control system. Some of IoT API’s will have a tendency to gravitate to a global API standard. Two global brands Apple and Google are offering such systems called Apple Home Kit and Brillo OS respectively. Control systems should embrace both of these global API’s as well as traditional KNX API already in use in EMEA. Such control systems should also offer ease of integration of non-affiliated IoT protocols. Of course, control systems that use iOS and Android Hardware as a core controller will have customisation, speed and price advantage of integrating Apple Home Kit and Brillo OS respectively. IoT will continue to increase popularity of IP control already widely in use among AV distribution and switching equipment. In that respect all products small and big that require any kind of control will benefit from making IP control available. Manufacturers who offer Audio over IP and Video over IP streaming, distribution and switching equipment will benefit if they offer their API to control systems that are used in Custom and Pro AV marketplace. All of these developments will create wide customer acceptance if manufacturers will be focused to make end-users lives easier and more enjoyable rather than creating a large pile of incompatible controlling apps and websites. www.keydigital.com

Michael Maniscalco, Founder, ihiji The IoT is seemingly everywhere and it is disrupting devices on every level, from simple items like door locks and light bulbs to more complex ones like control systems and automation schemes. In essence, the IoT has become a predominant force in every area of the AV industry. This is why it is important that it therefore be a primary product development focus for traditional audio-visual and control manufacturers. Fortunately, this creates incredible opportunities for manufacturers and integrators that range from remote monitoring and management to IP product enablement. It also allows for easier control, ongoing management and seamless customer support. Ensuring these devices can reliably communicate over the IP network and support the latest standards is key. To allow for reliable and lightweight network monitoring and management, many devices now utilise Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), and many manufacturers are also developing external APIs to allow for third-party integration to control and manage the device. This evolution must continue: the IoT is everywhere, and it’s changing the entire game. It’s critical the industry modernise standard devices with IoT features by delivering new accessibility and functionality that enhances lifestyles and keeps everything on the network secure. www.ihiji.com

Llanor Alleyne has reported on the custom integration market for more than 10 years and is the Editor of
HiddenWires. You are welcome to comment on this discussion. See below.