COVID-19 changed the way we work, the way we go to school, and the way we worship. Many of the changes were already well underway, in large part because of the ubiquitous availability of internet access combined with a wide variety of software tools that support remote collaboration. Our response to COVID-19 definitely accelerated implementation of online communication, while also introducing new thoughts about how we utilize our spaces. For example, social distancing and cleaning spaces and devices between meetings are now an important part of planning for any space.
All this change has introduced uncertainty. How, for example, do you design spaces that meet the needs of today, while maintaining enough flexibility to address the needs of tomorrow? And what does that tomorrow look like? When (or will) we ever return to “normal?”
As an AV, IT, or facilities manager, you want any equipment purchases you make today to be usable well into the future. But without a clear view of your future needs, how do you make purchasing decisions? The good news is that networked AV products allow you to build AV systems that meet the needs of today, while allowing you to flexibly redeploy that equipment as your needs change tomorrow.
Networked AV products achieve this level of flexibility by making use of commonly available Ethernet switches. By removing a dedicated matrix switch and AV-only transport technology, networked AV equipment can prepare you for the future by offering the following three benefits: flexibility, mobility, and expandability.
Imagine that you are responsible for active learning classrooms. In these spaces, small groups of students gather around tables to collaborate. The AV system in an active learning classroom will often allow video to be switched between users at a table and to other tables and displays throughout the space. With COVID-19, the number of students in an active learning classroom has to be greatly reduced, and in many cases it makes more sense to reconfigure the room as a more traditional classroom.
What this means is that you might need to redeploy the equipment from an existing space to create additional active learning classrooms that each hold a smaller number of students. Or, if you’re creating a new space, you may want to build it out as a traditional configuration so that students can maintain social distancing, while anticipating that it will eventually be converted into an active learning classroom. Beyond just changing the number of endpoints, the location and number of these endpoints will likely change over time.
With traditional circuit-based AV systems you are constrained by the size of the switching and transport system and by those locations where dedicated cabling has already been run. By contrast, networked AV equipment uses standard Ethernet switches and cabling, so you can deploy equipment anywhere you have a network drop. This means that the location of your AV endpoints is not limited by the location of a dedicated matrix switch or AV cable access. In fact, by adding networking equipment to a space, you can easily add to the number of devices that can be installed in that room.
COVID-19 has created a scenario where AV installations are more important than ever to allow for remote users, as well as users who are spread out in a space or across spaces. At the same time, COVID-19 has caused budgets to be reduced, so creative ways to bring AV to meeting spaces are needed. For this reason, many schools and corporations are turning to mobile AV systems that allow them to bring AV to those spaces.
This allows an institution to invest in just the right amount of equipment necessary for simultaneous usage throughout the facility, re-allocating this equipment between spaces simply by moving the equipment around on mobile carts. Once in a space, that equipment can be connected to a video distribution system for overflow support, or connect to equipment in the room, such as permanently installed displays and speakers.
If every space uses dedicated AV distribution equipment, it can get expensive, but it also constrains where and how that mobile cart might be used. Networked AV allows AV carts to be connected anywhere AV network access is available and routed to the appropriate display and audio system in a room. And, the AV network can be scaled up more cost effectively as the cost per network port will be less than the cost per port of a dedicated AV switch.
Let’s take the active learning classroom example from earlier. Imagine a time in the future when all the students are back on campus and there is a return to active learning classrooms. In that case, you might be confronted with adding tables and displays to support the increased numbers of students in that space. When you built the space, if you chose a dedicated AV matrix switch, will you have enough available input and output ports to expand based on your new needs? If not, you’ll find yourself having to invest in additional matrix switching capability.
By using a networked AV system to distribute audio and video throughout an active learning classroom, you can install the amount of equipment you need to use for the space today and then add additional endpoints later to accommodate the number of active learning spaces without replacing your video infrastructure.
The primary thing you will want to account for in futureproofing is the number of available network ports, which have a relatively low cost-per-port. And, if you determine you need additional switching, you can either add another switch or purchase a larger switch, knowing that the existing switch can be redeployed in another IT application.
COVID-19 has accelerated changes that were already underway in many of our conference rooms, classrooms, and worship facilities, while also adding uncertainty about the needs of those spaces in the future. By deploying AV distribution using networked AV technology, you can invest in equipment today knowing that the investment will be protected tomorrow – because a networked AV system offers excellent flexibility, mobility, and expandability.
About the Author
Paul Krizan is a Product Manager for Atlona with responsibility for networked AV and audio products. For more than 13 years, he has worked for several AV and lighting manufacturers in Product and Project Management roles. In his free time Paul enjoys woodworking, photography, and assisting with his kids’ theater programs (building sets, taking pictures, and running live streams).