Finding Convergence in Infrastructure

The AV industry struggles to figure out its place in the mix

Finding the convergence in infrastructure has long been a hot topic within the AV industry, with many predictions of how IT and AV will become one in the not-too-distant future. The basis of this typically is formed around the migration of most AV devices to the network. This has triggered a wide range of emotions and strategies as the AV industry struggles to figure out its place in the mix of things going forward.

Although the focus often is on hardware convergence, another facet of convergence also presents itself on the infrastructure side. The push to more network-centric devices on the hardware side is pushing more and more AV cabling toward that which typically is used for voice and data, predominantly either unshielded twisted pair (UTP) or fiber. Every month, AV manufacturers announce new products that make use of the many technologies that now exist to send high resolution audio and video over these types of cabling. Although the schemes they each use differ greatly, the infrastructure required to support them is highly predictable.

Many of today’s AV distribution protocols using UTP or fiber do not use an Ethernet-based scheme and, therefore, do not support the use of traditional Ethernet hardware. This is an important delineator and one that must be taken into consideration in the infrastructure design. Another important consideration is the selection of cable. Developments in cable that provide benefits for data transmission don’t always equate to benefits for AV signals. For instance, the higher skew rate of Cat6 cable translates into superior performance for data, but drastically complicates the ability to transmit high resolution video down the cable without significant phasing issues.

The structured cabling industry is one rooted in standards and methods. There is no arguing that it is miles ahead of the AV industry in cabling standards. All of the predominant structured cabling manufacturers will now fully certify a cabling system’s installation and operation for many years. To do so, however, installers must be trained and certified by that particular manufacturer. All cabling and connectors must be made by that manufacturer and be installed at a high precision level. Because of this rigidity, there is a very low failure level.

In working with many of the common AV components utilizing UTP distribution methods, the single greatest point of failure is in the termination of the modular connector on the cable. It is not an unfair generality to say that most AV installers could benefit from additional training and certification in this regard.

A fundamental premise of structured cabling systems is the design of a completely flexible infrastructure that will support the varying needs of a building for many years. In an ideal system, AV cabling would take the same form as voice and data cabling, share similar pathways, share wall plates and land on patch panels in the same location. Such an infrastructure essentially would create “communications” tie lines.

Designing infrastructure and systems in this manner requires a paramount shift in thinking. Many of the traditional approaches to AV design have to be rethought. Although a wide range of AV products that utilize UTP or fiber cabling now exists, there is still a lot of room for improvements in product design to help facilitate this new approach to design.

Finding Convergence in Infrastructure

With the possible exception of performance venues, the infrastructure required for AV and other communications signals is most definitely going to converge into one cabling system. It is simply a matter of time. As such, the firms that are certified and have expertise in all types of cabling will stand out as the most qualified to handle these newly converged systems. There already have been several noteworthy alliances and mergers among AV and structured cabling companies. Those firms with a close eye on the pulse of the industry already have seen the changes that are coming and are responding proactively to them.

Written by Tony Warner, President of Phase Shift Consulting
Originally Published in Sound and Communication