Can Youtube Promote Convergence?

Could Google's purchase of YouTube help networked video go mainstream? 12/25/2006 7:34 AM Eastern

Can Youtube Promote Convergence?

Could Google's purchase of YouTube help networked video go mainstream?

WHAT COULD GOOGLE'S recent purchase of YouTube mean for pro AV? There's always talk about “convergence” — a tired but reliable term. But when will it really happen? Are we already there? When will we get to the network nirvana that many people in the pro AV industry, including me, have talked about for so long?

Looking back, it feels like the old videoconferencing story. During the early ‘80s, videoconferencing was a technology that, while expensive, actually worked and provided benefits for its users. It seemed like videoconferencing had been in hibernation since the big videophone demonstration at the 1964 World's Fair, and its time had finally come. But that didn't happen.

My colleagues at the time called it “the ever-receding bonanza.” Instead, videoconferencing made a slow but steady climb to eventually become a commonplace part of the pro AV industry.

Could this also be the case with AV on the network? Although the technology exists to create an “all-network” pro AV system, it still isn't perfect, and many people don't yet know how to make it work.

A viable system can be created with just a collection of transducers (microphones, loudspeakers, cameras, and projectors) on a network with access to a variety of online media sources. Maybe some audio DSP processors sit on the network, receiving, processing, and outputting audio back on the network via an Ethernet connection. All of the video can be on the network, along with the control system and user interface. That future can be now, but it rarely is.

Yet there are plenty of incentives to move to the network. Analog sources are becoming less common, and the offline video options we're given to transport, distribute, and display aren't the most friendly to work with.

While RGBHV may be a bit unwieldy to work with sometimes, it's a piece of cake compared to working with DVI, HDMI, and HDCP in a pro AV environment. This will help push us all onto the network sooner rather than later. And there are other technological factors at work to help us.

More LANs are supporting Gigabit Ethernet instead of just 100 MB terminals. And 10 GB Ethernet isn't far away. Digital signage is bringing more AV professionals into the world of online video. Broadcasters are doing video on the LAN all the time. Video compression algorithms are getting better, and thanks to iTunes, more people are hearing about (if not learning about) H.264 and MP3 compression. Most presentations are on networked computers, and many are being presented online via the Web. Regardless of whether users realize it, cable TV is nothing more than an elaborate online digital delivery system wherever digital cable exists.

And then there's YouTube, bloggers, CNN, newspapers, and lots of others. Video and audio are becoming online media more than ever before, and those in the media business are jumping all over themselves to get online and stay in business. As these technologies become more commonplace in the general population, more and more people will be comfortable with AV on the network in some form.

Resistance is futile

So why isn't pro AV there yet? As usual, there have been some obstacles to progress. Within our own ranks, AV pros generally have plenty on their plates just keeping up with non-network disciplines of audio, video, acoustics, lighting, and electrical codes. Moving into networks as the basis for AV is a fundamental shift that some are not yet ready to make.

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Can Youtube Promote Convergence?

Could Google's purchase of YouTube help networked video go mainstream?

For the same reason, pro AV equipment manufacturers also play a role. There's comfort in how pro AV has been done in the past, and fundamental change seems to always take time in our marketplace.

And it's not just the AV providers. There's also resistance on the end-user's side. There are lots of legacy systems out there, and many of them are still being used without upgrades after seven or more years. In any case, there's infrastructure and investment that owners aren't ready, willing, and/or able to rework — at least not as a complete technological makeover.

And non-technical end-users — the ones using AV systems to communicate their ideas — are yet another factor. Although there have been light-years of technological change in the past decade, presenters have only grown 10 years older (and many of them weren't very young or tech-savvy to begin with). Many presenters are unwilling or unable to adapt to and embrace the possibilities that current technologies allow for today.

Yet to be fair, even the efforts of the willing and able have been thwarted as a result of inadequate system design, maintenance, support, or training for the AV systems they've been using.

In any case, working with online video and audio sources isn't seen as a desirable option, and PowerPoint — for better or for worse — is often as far as they get. Audio stays on CD, and video still comes off of a DVD in many cases. And digital rights management only adds to the problem.

Crossing the chasm — again

That said, we need to keep in mind that many AV providers and mainstream end-users may still be hampered by their slower-paced technological past. As the presenters, IT professionals, and AV professionals of today pass their torches to the next generation, perceptions will change.

While the old guard was educated either before or during the infancy of the World Wide Web, and perhaps even pro AV, the new group will know no other environment than a media-rich, networked one.

Today's kids use PowerPoint as a matter of course in grade school. Almost all of their music, video, and news is online. Instant messaging is routine for them and often includes videoconferencing. Wired and wireless networking is an everyday task.

This new generation will likely be much more eager to work with AV on the network than to accommodate ancient analog technology — or even not-so-ancient, troublesome, non-network, and sometimes proprietary digital technology.

This is why the YouTube sale is significant to the pro AV industry. Even grandparents know what Google is, either as a proper noun or a simple verb. Bringing video into the more user-friendly and accessible online environment that both Google and Apple tend to create could play a big role in getting more people to accept video storage, transport, and distribution on the network as the norm. Microsoft and Cisco paying more attention to AV could be yet another driving force.

Can Youtube Promote Convergence?

Could Google's purchase of YouTube help networked video go mainstream?

While accessible online video for the masses could be the piece that tips the scale, it seems that we're closer than ever to a new chasm between how we've envisioned AV systems and done business, and how that will ultimately change in a universally networked world. To cross this chasm, everyone in the chain —including AV providers, AV managers, IT managers, and even end-users — will have to embrace that change.

Whether it comes next year or in the next decade, understanding what this transition means for pro AV may be the key to staying in business.


Do you have an opinion on this subject? To comment on this article, email the Pro AV editorial staff at

Tim Cape is a contributing editor for Pro AV, the principal consultant for Atlanta-based technology consulting firm Technitect LLC, and co-author of “AV Best Practices,” published by InfoComm International. He's the current chairman of InfoComm's ICAT consultant's council, and an instructor and presenter in AV technology design and management. Contact him at

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