Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we will be bringing you 20 Years Ago in the Industry, a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC
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Feb 1, 2003 12:00 PM

Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we will be bringing you “20 Years Ago in the Industry,” a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC through the eyes of industry notables. Jim Ford is the founder of Ford Audio Video Systems of Oklahoma City and has guided the company's technical growth and development for 30 years.

Q: How has the industry changed, from your perspective, during the past 20 years?

The main change is that the industry has become more complex in all aspects. The growth of the number of manufactures and their product offerings requires more time to determine the quality, functionality, and value to the customer's project. Many audio manufacturers now produce speakers, microphones, amplifiers, and mixing consoles. The same is true for video and lighting manufacturers. The constant introduction of new products and technology places a high demand on the technical knowledge of the workforce. Continued education and training is mandatory to stay competitive and at the leading edge of the industry. The complexity of the operation and setup of equipment has increased. The migration from analog to digital and the introduction of computer control now requires knowledge of computers and networking. In addition to understanding the physical installation of equipment, our technicians and customers must install, configure, and use software to operate and manage the systems. On the business side, the quantity and complexity of government, health, safety, employment, and legal documentation and reporting continue to expand. The compliance with these requirements places an increasing burden on clerical and financial staffs. With regard to the actual performance and quality of installed systems, the industry has made improvements every year. The listening and viewing experience of the customer is very good. The ability to control systems by computers and software has given the creative users of our installations precise and repeatable control over their performances.

Q: What factors do you think have played a major role in the development of the industry?

Four factors have played a major role: 1. the improvement in performance and quality of sound and visual images; 2. the control of these systems by computers and software; 3. the improved measurement techniques of installed systems; and 4. computer modeling and analysis of proposed systems before they are installed.

Q: How has your own business changed?

Our business has changed due to the growth of sound and video systems in corporate, government, and religious facilities. We have more opportunities to install larger and more complex systems. The advancement of technology at home and in the workplace requires training at all levels. This need for educational and training facilities has increased the demand for integrated and installed A/V systems.

Q: What are some of the issues that are challenging your business today?

Educating and training our employees and customers is our biggest challenge. Without knowledge and experience in the operation of the installed systems, the potential benefits and value that our industry provides are diminished.

Q: What kinds of changes do you see coming in the next, say, 20 years?

I expect the use of computers, software, and computer networks to dominate our A/V and lighting systems, from the initial computer modeling of the technical performance of the systems to the actual physical control of the system during the presentation or performance. The integration of design by architects, engineers, and A/V designers will be seamless over the Internet. All design professionals will use the same three-dimensional CAD drawings as the foundation for their area of design. Design professionals, through the use of modeling tools, will specify the exact aiming points, power levels, timing, and equalization. Designers will provide presets for scenes for sound, video, and lights that will be loaded and saved into digital control desks. The customer will be able to use the presets from the first day of operation.

The user interface to the systems will be wireless and via touch panel, automated control desks, handheld computers, and voice. The new digital systems will become more intelligent. In many cases, they will analyze the room acoustics and lighting conditions. The system will make adjustments as the audience and physical conditions of the performance venue change. The systems will provide diagnostics on a regular basis and send service alerts to the integrator. Measurement of operating parameters and performance will be integrated into the actual systems.

Speaker systems will be self-powered, and communication of audio and control will be over the computer network. Video screens will be prevalent throughout our work space and will provide every type of digital media on demand. Communication of workers via A/V systems will be the standard.

Many of these technologies are existing and will continue to mature. The result will be systems that are more highly developed at the time of design; systems that measure and set their operating parameters in response to live performance conditions; systems that diagnose, notify, and, in some cases, reconfigure their circuitry as a result of a hardware failure; and systems that give the user more intuitive control.

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