IP and cloud technologies offer notable advantages and opportunities for AV control, in addition to distributing video and audio, explains Atlona’s director of product management, David Shamir.
The professional audiovisual industry has been evolving from a technology standpoint in recent years, as more businesses, organisations and facilities transition from traditional AV platforms to IP and the cloud. This transition continues to escalate as more product and system solutions emerge on the market, and both system integrators and end users become more confident in their operational and cost benefits.
The convergence of AV and IT technologies is commonly associated with the migration of video and audio from circuit-based video distribution to IP networks. However, there are also many new opportunities for control and management of AV systems over IP and the cloud, with several potential advantages over existing AV system control platforms.
1. Reality and challenges with AV control integration
AV control system integration traditionally entails significant programming time and investment in control equipment. Designing and implementing a control system necessitates mastery of a programming language or specialised configuration software. Integrators and specialists are usually mandated to complete a long manufacturer’s instructor-led certification program, to gain full access to their product line.
AV installations often change over time as equipment is upgraded or replaced, and systems are expanded to meet evolving end user needs. But even exchanging a single piece of equipment, such as a projector, can require bringing in a specialised programmer. This results in additional time and expense for the end user.
It’s often critical that control systems should be reliable and operational at all times. Failure in a control processor can disable an AV presentation in one or more rooms, resulting in user frustration and possible cancellation of a class session, meeting, or event. However, designing for system redundancy is expensive, requiring highly customised solutions with A-B switches, backup processors, and specialised programming. This is impractical for many if not most AV end users.
A control processor includes fixed device control capacity for IP, RS-232, IR, contact closure and more. Large AV systems are complicated and expensive to design and program with several processors and numerous device connections. Similarly, expanding an AV control installation will require significant investment by the end user.
2. Considerations for a new approach to AV control
The Atlona Velocity Control System is a new AV control platform, designed by Atlona’s engineering team to address the challenges and limitations associated with AV control today. In designing this new platform, the team envisioned what the optimal control system would be, and how IP and the cloud could be leveraged to make it easy to integrate, from individual meeting rooms all the way to large-scale campus and enterprise-wide systems.
In designing the Velocity Control System, there were many important considerations, including the following:
Intuitive configuration: Integrators, technicians and technology managers have long been seeking a quicker and simpler process to deploy AV control systems, whether designing a new system or scaling an existing system.
Full system reliability with a redundant control architecture: Primary and backup systems operating harmoniously without extensive programming, manual switching and other system complexities.
Scalability: An efficient means of expanding control system capacity and scope without having to sweat over details associated with cost, equipment and implementation.
Centralised management: AV control systems do not offer a way for integrators to manage and maintain multiple control integration projects for themselves and their clients.
Monitoring and analytics: Built-in facility or enterprise-wide data reporting and exporting capabilities, as well as system monitoring and event notifications. Manufacturers usually offer these features through a separate software purchase or licensing, with expertise necessary for installation and commissioning.
Open and user-friendly: A control platform that allows easy and affordable integration of BYOD devices for user control, alongside standard touch panel installations.
3. A new, optimised AV control platform
In seeking a new approach to AV control, moving to a cloud and premise-based technology platform with specific features aimed at addressing today’s challenges is critical to unleashing new efficiencies for integrators and end users. The Velocity Control System comprises three distinct elements that come together as a single, unified platform.
First, a cloud-based service and centralised resource for integrators to create and manage their AV control projects by client, client sites and specific locations such as rooms. An integrator accesses the cloud service through a standard web browser from any location worldwide.
AV control system configuration is fast and highly intuitive with the familiar interactions, flow and visual elements of a web or mobile application. Configurations can easily be duplicated across devices, rooms, and sites, simplifying deployment throughout a facility.
To get started, all it takes is a few hours with an online training and certification session. There is no requirement for multi-day, in-person manufacturer training, or mastering a programming language.
The second element is a software-based IP control processor (or gateway) that resides on-site with the client’s AV systems. It is configured and managed remotely through the cloud service. The gateway as a server appliance that can interface with up to 500 devices. Interfacing IP to RS-232 or IR control commands is easily available through Atlona switchers and extenders, as well as third-party solutions.
For enterprise-wide scalability, a software license of the gateway is also available for hosting on IT server infrastructure, with the capability to serve up to 5,000 devices. This expandability is unmatched by traditional AV control processors in scale and value.
This software-based AV gateway features an IP-based system architecture that allows full redundancy in facilities with two gateways in operation, one serving as the primary and the other as a backup. This keeps AV control running continuously throughout a facility or enterprise, preventing downtime in any room.
The third element comprises intuitive, web-based graphical user interfaces accessible through touch panels as well as end user-furnished devices including tablets, smartphones and PCs. The GUIs are automatically generated by the cloud service during system configuration and then are easily accessible to the touch panels or BYOD user devices through the on-premise gateway. Several pre-built, customisable GUI themes are available, all of which automatically adapt to a wide range of display and mobile screen sizes.
4. System utilisation and network security
The Velocity Control System provides centralised monitoring, notifications and analytics across multiple clients and site installations. On the analytics front, deeper insight into which rooms and equipment are most frequently accessed will help integrators and technology managers make informed decisions about when, where and how to expand.
Secure data communications is also important between the cloud service, on-premise control gateway, Atlona and third-party AV devices, touch panels and web clients through industry standard protocols including HTTP/2, HTTPS and WebSocket with TLS and AES-128 encryption. This is further achieved through operation over a private isolated network, with a localised version of the cloud service running on the gateway.
5. Leveraging IP and the cloud for AV integration
The convergence of AV and IT isn’t merely about migration to IP networks and cloud infrastructure. It’s a matter of capitalising on these and other technologies to allow integrators to solve problems, enhance customer relationships and seek new opportunities for their businesses.