The need for technology in today’s higher education classrooms, lecture halls and collaboration spaces is growing rapidly and much of that technology involves audiovisual (AV) solutions to address the increased collaboration needs for educating students in the 21st Century. Instead of the simple projectors and sound systems needed just a few years ago, today’s AV needs have exploded to include interactive smart boards, projectors, computers, monitors, wireless sharing, microphones, video cameras, speakers, streaming video, video walls, digital signage, assistive listening and much more. In addition, these systems need to be flexible enough to respond to changing space requirements such as room combining and broadcasting to overflow spaces.
Traditionally, all AV equipment in a higher education building has been managed through dedicated cabling run in a point-to-point manner from the device to an AV switch within each room. The latest trend and one that is rapidly gaining steam in higher education is to manage all AV devices over the data network. This approach is referred to as AV over IP (AVoIP or AV/IP) and stands for “Audio-Visual over Internet Protocol”.
While the AVoIP approach to managing audiovisual technology is not new, it has not always been a popular option with IT networking teams at colleges and universities. However, several factors are converging to change the minds of these IT managers including the increased need for collaboration solutions, adoption of wireless everywhere, technology improvements for projectors, speakers and monitors, improved security approaches for IP networks, and the decreasing cost of gigabyte switches and other AV technologies. For new installations, the cost savings of using AVoIP compared to a traditional point-to-point approach can be significant.
We have identified these 5 key reasons why AVoIP makes sense for higher education today:
- Simplified Cabling and Reduced Infrastructure Costs
- Greater Flexibility
- Ease of Adding New Features
- Greater Scalability
- Improved Control and Monitoring
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these reasons.
Simplified Cabling and Reduced Infrastructure Costs
In a traditional point-to-point system, each source (microphones, cameras, computers, etc.) and destination (loudspeakers, projectors, monitors, etc.) is a home run to an AV matrix switch located within each room and the matrix switch is used to route the AV signals within the room. While in many cases digital point-to-point systems such as HDBaseT allow AV, control, power, and Ethernet signals to all run on the same cable, there are still many devices that require separate cabling for each signal type.
In an AVoIP system, all sources and destinations are served from the data network. Transceivers at each device provide the encoding or decoding necessary to get signals on and off the network. AV, control, power and Ethernet signals are all transported via the network and software is used to provide virtual routing instead of a dedicated matrix switch in each room.
Using common structured cabling vs. specialized audio, video, and control cables can provide a significant savings in material and labor. Less conduit and expensive dedicated AV cabling are required, and more standard RJ-45 connectors are used compared expensive AV specific connectors.
While the Day One needs of the campus are well understood, over time needs change within a room, existing rooms are reconfigured, and rooms are added as other floors are built out. An AVoIP system provides maximum flexibility in responding to these changing requirements.
In a point-to-point system, if signals need to be fed or received to/from other rooms (e.g. broadcast or room combining), dedicated cabling must run between rooms. The amount of cabling increases exponentially as more rooms need to interact with each other, and there may be limitations in cable distances. Interfacing between rooms cannot be accomplished in real time.
AVoIP has the flexibility on Day One to accommodate these interactions. By using the data network and virtual routing, any audio and video signal can be routed anywhere there is a data outlet. The transceivers allow any endpoint to be changed from a source to a destination with no change in cabling and this flexibility is perhaps the biggest advantage to using an AVoIP system.
Using standard Ethernet switches can also provide significant savings over the dedicated AV matrix switches used in a point-to-point system. And a point-to-point system does not eliminate the need for network switches which are often still required to provide some number of data ports for control.
Ease of Adding New Features
In a point-to-point system, hardware performs dedicated functions. If a new feature is desired, the current hardware may need to be replaced or updated. For example, adding additional sources or destinations within a room may require the matrix switch to be replaced with a larger model.
AVoIP does not have this type of limitation. As new features become available, they can be easily added to the system through software updates, with no impact on existing hardware or cabling and with minimal expense.
Campus-wide systems such as digital signage, digital wayfinding and paging are easily scaled using an AVoIP system. For example, much like a VoIP telephone system, adding a new signage monitor simply requires a data outlet from the nearest Ethernet switch. On the other hand, a point-to-point solution would require that dedicated cabling be run to a specific (often difficult or inconvenient) location.
Improved Control and Monitoring
Whether an AVoIP or point-to-point solution is used, the data network will be used to monitor and control each room’s local control processor. This allows all AV control systems to be managed from a central or remote location which can reduce support staff requirements or ease the workload of existing staff. In an AVoIP system, this system management is extended to the transceivers at each source and destination so firmware updates can be applied from a central location as new features become available.
With all devices on the IP network, it is also easier to to implement comprehensive room management solutions. These room management systems can provide analytics on equipment usage and maintenance which can inform administrators who need to make decisions to redeploy existing equipment, purchase new equipment or manage changes in room requirements.
While this post is targeted to higher education, the benefits of AVoIP also apply to AV technology solutions for corporate, government, hospitality, stadiums and any other situation using significant AV equipment. As the lines between traditional AV and IT systems continue to blur, AVoIP solutions will become increasingly popular as others begin to understand the real benefits of applying this technology.