It struck me last week at ISE that we are in the midst of a revolution. Two distinct markets – AV and IT – with differing technologies, standards, and even languages that describe their respective fields, are about to converge.
The heritage of the AV (think AUDIO-VISUAL) market has centered on information delivery to humans (with an emphasis on the human) and evolved from some of the earliest work in filmmaking, sound and image recording and, eventually, broadcast radio. As a result, the primary innovations in the AV space center around representation and delivery of audio/video and the resulting user experience.
In a separate, but contemporary evolution, the IT (think INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY) space has primarily been driven by the need for increased compute power and additional data storage capacity. Its history stems from early work in more generic information storage (i.e. Claude Shannon’s work in the late 40s and 50s) and more theoretical descriptions of computation and problem solving (i.e. Alan Turing, Kurt Gödel and Alanzo Church in the 1940s). This intellectual heritage served as the underpinning to multimedia work in the areas of computer graphics and computer vision whose researchers looked to develop the mathematical underpinnings to information representation and capture.
Despite the fact that the goals of the AV and IT-multimedia communities overlap significantly they have been defined by different histories and, until recently, have been two distinct universes living side-by-side.
In walking around the ISE tradeshow floor, I couldn’t help think about how similar-yet-different the experience is from SIGGRAPH or SIGCHI. The average attendee at a SIGGRAPH conference is completely unaware that almost 40,000 people were in Amsterdam last week demonstrating the latest display and interactive media applications. At the same time, it is very rare to find those in the AV space that would truly understand that many of those applications may benefit from the GPU or the latest papers in the computer graphics community.
I am reminded of China Mieville’s novel “The City and the City” where two cities with distinct cultures live in the same physical space but, through long tradition, will not acknowledge one another. In the book, the implicit barrier between the two cities was so strong that those acknowledging the other city without first passing through “customs” could end up in jail. The separation between the AV/IT worlds isn’t nearly as kafka-esque as that, but it is rare to find individuals that live in both. Now we are at the cusp of these sectors merging into a consolidated visual computing market.
As the barrier between these two markets is dissolving, AV companies are beginning to deploy new technologies that were developed by the IT community including digital video systems that exploit the GPU. Standard compute platforms are being integrated with complex AV systems and, at the intersection, the AV market is embracing IT standards such as DHCP and packetized video routing over IP networks. At the same time, the IT space is gaining access to extremely high resolution, high performance display technologies, traditionally found in AV command and control centers for engineering design, product visualization, and even conference rooms.
It’s going to be a wild ride the next 18 to 24 months. As advanced AV technologies are introduced into the IT space it will revolutionize use models from single user scenarios to collaborative environments. Those who are able to breach their own space with ideas, technologies, and approaches borrowed from their sister city will stand to gain a huge advantage in the marketplace.