The dawning of the digital canvas in higher ed

Industry expert and college professor Gary Kayye says we’ve reached the start of true AV and IT convergence

If anyone can be said to have their finger on the pulse of an industry, it would be Gary Kayye. The president and CEO of rAVe [Publications], Kayye follows trends in the fast-changing world of audiovisual technology via e-newsletters, blogs, video, social media and a variety of other media.

A former executive for both Extron and the AMX Corporation, Kayye also teaches courses on new media and its impact on the future of advertising, marketing and public relations, at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism.

He will be the welcoming speaker at UBTech 2017 in Orlando this June, discussing what he calls The Digital Canvas, made possible through new projector technology. “Now that we have 4K in both flat-panels and projectors, we will see the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says.

AV technology has made major advances in the last few years. How quick is higher ed to adapt to these changes?
It depends on who has the money. There are technology adoption cycles within higher education that we’re all familiar with, and we’re certainly on one of those cycles now with many schools. But where schools have a lot of money, particularly larger private schools, they have kept up with the new technologies.

Colleges and universities are moving toward a network-centric environment for AV distribution, but the large majority of them are holding out for a couple of reasons.

Number one, in an election year no one wants to spend gobs of money in case something happens. There’s that fear.

Number two, there has been a big shift in the direction that technology has gone in recent years. We’ve already moved from analog to digital but now we’re beginning to move from digital to IP.

Third, there are different flavors of IP-based distribution and we’ve only really seen the first few flavors be launched so far. Until there is something that the mainstream companies are endorsing, many institutions hold back.

It’s a waiting game.
Right, and that’s the best place for them to be, and I’ll tell you why. I’m a big fan of higher ed not jumping and buying all the new stuff with regard to integrating an entire campus.

I won’t mention any names but there’s a very large international campus that made a big infrastructure investment in driving all the content to the classrooms through the network.

The technology they used was not only replaced by newer technology very rapidly, but even the company they purchased it from replaced it right after they purchased it—and during the time they were installing it.

Higher ed benefits from being on the tail end of the curve because the cost of things goes down the longer you wait.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pioneer things. Say a business school has 25 classrooms and one auditorium—I would take that auditorium and I’d constantly keep the latest and greatest in there.

Test it out in the auditorium before integrating it in the classrooms, once it has moved, as I like to say, from “state-of-the-art” to “industry standard.”

Collaboration products have become pretty big recently.
That’s an area in which you can pioneer new technology without risk. I teach at the University of North Carolina in the School of Media and Journalism and have taught there since 2009. It is amazing to me how non-collaborative a lot of the rooms have been historically. For students to connect to the projector in the classroom, they have to bring their laptop up to the front of the room, plug in, hope to have the right adapter, figure out the keystroke commands—it’s the typical kind of thing that everyone goes through.

But when you just drop an Apple TV into a classroom, everyone with an Apple product can get into the system wirelessly and not have to leave their desk. That’s how easy it can be.

It’s not just Apple, of course. If you have a campus that accommodates Chromebooks and Microsoft OS, then you could drop in Barco’s ClickShare or the Extron or Crestron versions of that. For any control system that a higher education facility has, there is a wireless collaboration add-on product available now.

They work really well as ad-hoc collaboration tools.

You wrote that 2016 finally brought the long-promised AV-IT convergence to education. Can you elaborate on that?
What I meant by that is the “convergence” has all been piecemeal. It started with network ports on products that allowed you to poll the device in the room—say a projector—and turn it on or off or see how many hours of lamp life it has. That was the first step about 15 years ago.

The next step was to make that communication a little more substantial. Rather than just polling the projector, you could proactively manage and operate it.

Step three was thinking: If we’re doing the projector why not do everything else in the room?

Step four was to connect it to the network, so we can do it across the network, not just within the room.

That was followed by controlling all the rooms with the same network rather than each individual room having its own little control system.

But, as I said, although we’ve all been talking about AV-IT convergence, we’ve really only experienced the steps toward convergence. Getting some standards in place to be able to do that took years.

Now that we have standards, we have a number of third-party companies building chipsets that are universal so you can use products from different companies together.

If you’re using, for example, Extron signal routing and distribution, but Crestron control, but also Kramer wall plates, you can conceivably put them all on the same network and they would talk to each other.

That’s where we’re ending up now, and we’re finally adding that last piece, which is video. 2016 was the year we finally had video on the network—which means that we are moving toward putting everything on the network.

So 2016 represents the year we started AV-IT convergence in reality.

Over the years that you’ve been doing this, have you gotten pretty good at spotting the next big thing?
I think right now, for example, laser-phosphor projectors are a big deal. It’s going to be big, because laser bright light and phosphor produce amazing color. That’s something that I knew was going to be huge when I first saw it. It’s not a technology that you wonder whether it’s going to catch on—it will.

On the other hand, when I first saw OLED panels 11 years ago, I thought they were the future of flat-panels. But all these years later, unfortunately we still don’t have large-screen OLEDs that are really that good.

I still believe that OLED is the most promising technology to basically replace LCD displays. Side-by-side, you’ll see an OLED display is brighter than LCD. Its blacks are blacker and its color is just amazing. But there are things that have to be worked out.

Any predictions for 2017?
I think in 2017, it will be easy for higher education to see which direction to go because that path will be laid out before them by the corporations that spend the money on these technologies. Then they can follow suit in late 2017 and early 2018.

We’ll see all the biggies—Extron, Crestron, AMX, Kramer—every one of them will come out with AV-over-IP products, which some of them have even started to launch.

Since we all know that’s going to happen, we all see the writing on the wall—higher ed needs to embrace it and move in that direction.

I’m not saying they need to become IT experts, I’m saying learn the stuff that they already know, learn the language and their protocols. Learn their standards and learn their security and reliability factors so you can be ready for it.

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