Ubiquitous Broadband Over Fiber Offers Opportunity for AV

The promise, of course, is that some day everyone&#151from university professor to corporate trainer to televangelist&#151will have all the bandwidth he or she needs to reach out to audiences with rich media. Along the way, however, a number of key questions remain to be answered, with important consequences for the professional AV community.
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Ubiquitous Broadband Over Fiber Offers Opportunity for AV

Sep 27, 2006 8:00 AM

The promise, of course, is that some day everyone—from university professor to corporate trainer to televangelist—will have all the bandwidth he or she needs to reach out to audiences with rich media. Along the way, however, a number of key questions remain to be answered, with important consequences for the professional AV community.

As has been the case with projection, audio, videoconferencing, and other technologies, one of the trends shaping the pro multimedia business in this new world of expanding bandwidth is the rapidly vanishing line between professional applications and ordinary consumer services.

The rush to deliver high-bandwidth connections to every home is being driven more by telcos and cable television operations than anyone else, for instance. The much-publicized “triple play” of consumer services—delivering voice telephony, Internet, and television content over a single wire—is attracting enormous investments by some very significant players. Big bets are being placed on whether the last mile or last few yards of connectivity (“to the home” or “to the premises”) will take the form of coaxial cable, phone lines, or fiber.

Where will these bets leave the pro AV specialist?

To the degree that fiber-to-the-premises includes high-bandwidth fiber connections to offices and other workplaces, it offers the potential to put high-definition, uncompressed video at the command of communicators worldwide.

In the process, though, AV contractors will have to learn some new skills. Communications Specialties has published a variety of materials to help AV integrators get a grip on fiber, and the products involved are getting more straightforward all the time. Basically, the digital data involved in transporting video images and other AV content must be converted from electrical pulses into pulses of light in order to travel over the fiber.

This is the point at which AV and IT converge: In order to take advantage of fiber networks, the AV pro must be able to connect AV devices and systems to a fiber network. Often, the integrator is presented with simply a termination box on the client’s premises, where the ends of a fiber cable are available for connection.

Because the actual optical fibers are very fine and precise alignment of fiber with light source is critical, making this connection requires a high precision device. Tools for this task are becoming ever more user-friendly, as Videosonic’s Glenn Polly noted in an early edition of AV Over Fiber, but he says some people still shy away from taking responsibility for connecting AV devices to fiber networks.

From the standpoint of the companies rolling out the fiber networks, audio and video are just different forms of data—they’re indifferent to what moves over their networks. Taking full advantage of fiber, then, is up to the AV systems integrator.

The growing relevance of fiber to the AV community has recently been reflected in a wave of new product introductions by such AV stalwarts as Extron. With new tools available from some of their most trusted suppliers, AV integrators are likely to be more and more accepting of fiber in their installs.

Moreover, fiber is showing up pre-installed in more and more business settings, often in hybrid systems that entrust long-haul data transmission to fiber cables while distribution data within an individual site is sent over Cat-5 or coaxial cables. Proponents claim for fiber networks a variety of advantages that are sure to appeal to corporate users, from its ability to transmit video uncompressed over long distances to its resistance to eavesdropping and security violations.

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