The increase of software-based AV control solutions on the market today should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with current IT trends. Nearly every business function seems to be offered as a cloud-based software subscription, and more and more industries are beginning to adopt software-based technology.
In the AV world, software-based solutions can be found among videoconferencing, telemedicine, collaboration systems, and more. But perhaps the most impactful development has been in the area of AV control.
Traditionally, configuring custom control systems for AV environments was not only difficult and time-consuming but prohibitively expensive for some clients. The advent of software-based control solutions has given integrators the ability to offer better solutions at a lower cost.
There are a variety of software-based control systems on the market, each with unique tradeoffs in functionality, cost, and user-friendliness. There’s Crestron’s .AV Framework, AMX’s RPM, Barco’s Overture, Cyviz’s Display Control Platform, and Kramer Control—to name a select few.
Rather than recommending one particular control solution, I’d like to examine how each of these solutions tries to improve on control options of yesteryear. So without further preamble, here are some of the major benefits of software-based AV control.
1. Increased Ease of Use
The first and most obvious benefit software-based solutions provide is an improved user experience (UX). All too often, AV systems are a source of frustration. Sometimes this is because of a poorly designed interface (GUI). Other times, it’s an issue with what’s “under the hood”—the control system itself.
One way software-based solutions improve UX is by allowing integrators to easily automate the most common AV tasks. After all, integrators are focused on delivering the best possible user experience. What better way to do that than to eliminate the need to interact with a control panel altogether?
By automating a variety of common tasks, integrators can free up that time for users to spend on more important things (like actually using their technology). Lighting, displays, audio systems, videoconferencing equipment, and even non-AV systems like HVAC can all be configured to engage with minimal input from meeting participants. The level of possible automation varies from one solution to another, but it’s safe to say that most if not all of the ones I mentioned earlier allow participants to start a meeting by simply plugging in a laptop or connecting via a smartphone or tablet device.
If your existing AV technology is failure-prone and unwieldy, you can probably benefit from a software-based control solution. You’ll spend less time spent training new participants on how to use your technology and more time spent being productive, resulting in better meetings and happier coworkers. Best of all, an experienced integrator can automate your systems entirely, eliminating the frustration and drudgery that frequently plague AV environments.
2. More Rapid Deployment
As the functional requirements of an AV system increases, it’s pretty common to find integrators spending more and more time on programming and configuring legacy systems to keep up. Software-based solutions streamline this process, providing a framework for more rapid development that decreases the need for hand-coded systems configuration.
With traditional AV control systems, much of the programming and configuring needs to be done onsite as the need arises. Unlike traditional hardware-centric control options, software-based solutions are typically accessible via the cloud, allowing your integrator to set up, configure, and refine your system remotely. In many cases, integrators can even build off a manufacturer’s preconfigured template rather than starting from scratch.
Software-based control solutions also provide usage data and uptime/downtime monitoring, which helps integrators and end-users make better technology decisions. The insights that software-based control systems provide to technology decision makers are an invaluable resource for assessing current AV systems and improving future deployments.
3. Lower Cost of Ownership
There are many ways that software-based control solutions help integrators deliver more cost-effective AV systems. Many of these solutions are offered as free cloud-based platforms bundled with AV hardware, so there’s little or no cost to integrators who utilize the technology.
Software-based control solutions reduce costs in two major areas—integration and support.
The main cost-saving benefit of software-based control solutions comes from the elimination of some, though not all, of the need for custom programming. Traditionally, every little change to an AV system required some level of programming. But today’s software-based control solutions take a “no programming” approach, allowing integrators to configure systems using a GUI.
In addition to lowering integration costs, cloud-based solutions make it easier for support personnel to service AV systems remotely. And the analytics provided by software-based control solutions allows for instantaneous monitoring and remote systems management. This cuts down on the rate of support incidents and the cost of supporting an AV system, leading to a greater ROI over time.
4. Improved Reliability
In mission-critical scenarios, the reliability of an AV system is paramount. Despite the fact that the cost of a postponed or failed meeting is high, many companies struggle to maintain systems that are reliable and easy to support.
The best software-based AV control solutions can automate a variety of support tasks. This reduces the time and resources spent diagnosing systems faults while decreasing the overall rate of systems failure. By eliminating the siloed structure of traditional AV systems, software-based controllers make it easier to address any potential system failures remotely before the big meeting starts.
Much like a computer’s operating system, many software-based controllers receive automatic regular updates. Unlike some solutions, software-based AV controllers become more reliable and secure over time—which means one less headache for systems administrators.
Software—the New Hardware?
I can’t imagine a future of AV devoid of hardware. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it’s impossible. Some technologies, specifically those that directly capture and reproduce audio and video, simply require hardware. But the total elimination of hardware-centric AV control? It’s possible—although probably a good ways off.
Speculation aside, the benefits of cloud-based AV control software are already plentiful. I expect those benefits will only continue to increase. AV manufacturers seem to agree with me here, considering the amount of resources they’re investing in developing and improving upon their control software.
The only real question is whether AV integrators will trail-blaze or trail behind the trend towards a software-based approach to control. “We have the technology.” Will we use it?
I think the answer is yes… and no.
As in any inevitable advancement in technology, the adoption of software-based control solutions will be partial and gradual for a while before it’s ubiquitous. The benefits of software-based control outweigh the costs, but with big changes like this, there is always an inertia to overcome.
To me, the state of AV looks better on the other side.