When A/V and IT Meet
This guest blog post is from Jim Brumbach, from Technisch Creative.
A/V (Audio/Visual) and IT (Information Technology) have existed side by side, oftentimes uncomfortably, since the computer revolution of the 1960s. Picture a research university environment. The computer geeks with their fashionable pocket protectors are busy feeding punch cards into their room-sized IBM mainframe terminals. The A/V geeks, also with their petroleum based, shirt flap incurvation guardian, are busy setting up their 8mm projectors and reel-to-reel recording devices. Hold on … it would seem the more you look for differences, you tend to find similarities. It’s almost as If they’re both cut from the same cloth. It’s safe to say that you’re not far off. Let’s move on and take a closer look at their modern roles.
A/V techs focus on the audio, video, and lighting side of the meeting and events world. IT techs focus on the proper management and maintenance of both small and large computer networks. Where you’ll often find crossover of job responsibilities is in the corporate meeting space. Think conference rooms, lecture halls, and boardrooms. It’s not uncommon for corporate meeting planners to refer to the “IT” team when working on a conference or tradeshow. They are typically referring to the A/V crew in charge of general sessions and breakout rooms. In the same vein the IT department of a smaller company may be tasked with the implementation and operation of audio/visual elements in the corporate setting. The tasks each tackle, while technical in nature, require vastly different backgrounds, training, and education. At least that used to be the case.
Over the past decade the lines have begun to blur. No longer is an audio mixing console just a dumb box of transistors, capacitors, and resistors. It now has a brain. Audio, lighting, and video control equipment can be given an IP (internet protocol) address and placed on a network, much like a computer. A lot like a computer. Okay, exactly like a computer. In fact, it is a computer. Quite often a sound or lighting console is nothing more than a Windows or Linux computer in an expensive and complicated looking box running custom control software. Nothing says “I Love You” more than an audio mixing console crashing before the start of a show and seeing a Windows memory error at startup. It’s bad enough that we can’t use Word, Outlook, and open Firefox or Chrome without Windows throwing a fit. Now it’s judging the band and deciding to take a bit of a time out to gather its thoughts. But I digress …
An audio company out of Australia called Audinate has revolutionized the way we work with sound. In 2003 a team of recently unemployed Motorola Research Labs engineers (Motorola shuttered the facility in Sydney) formed Audinate and developed DANTE (Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet). Dante’s combination of hardware, software, and network protocols allows us to route multi-channel audio efficiently over standard ethernet networks. (I know you’re waiting for the “how in the world does this pertain to me” part of the story and I promise we’re almost there.) No longer were we tied to long, heavy, and expensive copper cable to move sound from point A to B. The wrench in the works was traditional audio types were forced to become *GASP* IT types as well. We were somehow expected to learn, understand, and know what the computer geeks have known for fifty years. Luckily there was a solution just waiting for us. All we had to do was swallow our pride and admit we don’t know everything and get the IT department involved. This is where the non-technical people can stop yawning and come back into the discussion.
I use the word discussion purposely. We now must discuss our needs and coordinate with the IT department regularly. We want to piggyback our audio data over their existing computer networks. It’s not as difficult or resource intensive as it seems. If I’m with the A/V department of a major university I am able to route the speaker’s microphone from Lecture Hall A on the north side of campus to Lecture Hall B on the south side of campus five miles distant with almost no delay by working with university network. Another example is a large conference utilizing multiple breakout rooms and general session stages. We work with the house IT department to create a closed virtual (and secure) network that allows us to send audio from the farthest breakout to a central control center where all of the sessions are recorded and streamed out over the internet to virtual attendees. The applications are nearly endless; the impact can be, well, impactful. No longer do we have to run miles of expensive fiber optic cable in the back of house areas where someone will inevitably run over or snag a cable and take out that feed and destroy a $5,000 cable. We use existing, off the shelf computer networking gear to carry the load.
Through most of computing and audio/visual history the techs responsible for the proper operation of their equipment were content staying in their respective expertise lanes. Disruptive technologies like DANTE have completely changed the way we both look at (figuratively and literally) and treat content. Those technologies have required us to rethink the way we do business and at the same time have dramatically improved our workflow. We can do more, with less, at a lower cost. That checks off three large boxes for most planners and designers.
* I’ll admit I really do own a pocket protector. I got it from one of the last COMDEX shows when I still lived in Las Vegas. I’ve never worn it. I probably won’t ever wear it. I can’t make any guarantees though. I’ll always be a geek at heart.