Is audio more important in AV than most integrators and end users realize? To that opening question, you might reply, “Well, we’re AV professionals — and that includes both audio and video.” Indeed, but many AV providers or tech managers just haven’t focused on the “A” in “AV” as much as they have on the video side. Doing so risks leaving both better user satisfaction and business opportunity on the table.
It makes good business sense to look more closely at the ‘sea’ changes that are taking the audio world by storm. There is so much functionality and end-user satisfaction you can offer your users by harnessing recent technology. We’re now in the golden age of the digital revolution, a particularly sweet spot where we can marry the best of the video and audio tools. How do you get there? Start with the evolution to greater-and-greater video resolution and colorimetry in recent years. Then, add the complimentary forces on the audio side, enabling more intelligible and satisfying, high-resolution audio, to create a multi-sensory ecosystem.
The result? Big rewards for your end users in every AV application large or small — in businesses, schools and public spaces.
The most forward-thinking AV integrators, solution providers and power end users are looking at two big drivers on the audio side of AV today. First, on the supply side: the evolution by leaps and bounds of digitally networked and packaged audio via AV over IP, and standardization around Dante and a few key digital audio protocols. The ethernet routing and software managed efficiencies around those innovations have led to higher channel counts, better plug-and-play functionality and less reliance on yesterday’s proprietary technologies.
Sound is Touch, at a Distance
As an AV professional you know that delivering ultra-high resolution, fine pixel pitch imagery is a wonderful feeling. It’s almost magical for your end users, using today’s best display technology. But don’t overlook the ability to marry immersive sound with high resolution displays, for an even better experience. That’s arguably even more compelling for the user, because sound is processed in a part of our brains that also processes our emotions. “Sound is touch at a distance,” says Anne Fernald, professor of psychology at Stanford University, influencing an entire generation of sound designers. And that’s literally accurate: unlike visual stimuli, sound waves are a physical presence in the space that touch your entire body.
So, today it’s much easier to route audio in the room or across the country and have the signal arrive at high resolution, lossless, and for all practical purposes, latency-free. Second, is the change on the demand side of the equation: new kinds of spaces for new kinds of users in businesses, schools, museums and public spaces need new kinds of audio tools for better sound solutions.
There are new audio tools at the point of listening that are adding unbridled excitement to that market dynamic. Compact line-array loudspeakers in smaller footprints that make screens come alive for all users in a space, beamforming mic technology, spatial audio tools and more, all leading to that goal of a more multi-dimensional AV experience.
Leading the Audio Revolution: Line Arrays
Perhaps the most exciting new technology to tap into the phenomenon that “sound is touch at a distance” is the line-array loudspeaker. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you probably know that big line-array loudspeakers took the concert world by storm starting some 20 years ago. With their multiple drivers arranged in a line and specific component configuration, they offer the ability to direct audio more precisely in a space, prevent signal drop off with distance, produce higher SPL and generally give every participant a great sound experience.
What are the benefits of line array for the AV world, for conference rooms, classrooms, cultural spaces and any AV space? There are many. Fortunately, a few industry-leading AV equipment manufacturers have now harnessed the best elements of line arrays for all those applications. In recent times, it became clear that AV customers were looking for better sound solutions. The most demanding ones saw the need to combine sounds and images together at a higher, more experiential level — not just add generic audio delivery to their spectacular screens. Especially as screens have been getting bigger in recent years, that need was compounded: the bigger, brighter, better colorimetry screens warranted better sound, naturally.
Beyond that there was the mounting/configuration/physical nature of the larger screens that needed a new approach: the new generation of large LCD panels and DVLED screens meant you couldn’t put center speakers behind the screen. And with previous generation signal processing you couldn’t use software plus room modeling to control precise delivery of sound to targeted spaces in the room. Now, you can do both.
You will see some of today’s best line array systems in corporate boardrooms, college classrooms, museum spaces, sports facilities, and faith centers. And unlike that big concert hall or arena where your goal is to have every fan in the space have the same experience, in many installed AV applications you often need to create separate sound experiences for different people; or to curate the sound experience for different applications within one space or across your enterprise.
You may have people in the same space, some of which need the audio tools, and some who don’t. Or you may have different people in that space needing different audio content. And the entire space may be consisting of hard surfaces not the tightly packed bodies in a concert situation.
Fortunately, today’s very best line-array systems for installed AV — combined with new generation software tools — can do all of that and more. They give you the ability to control the sound in a space large or small, creating discreet zones matched to different audio needs and often to digital screens. They allow you to scale that delivery enterprise wide if needed. All while delivering much better, more intelligible sound to all involved.
This is nothing short of a revolution. If you’re an AV integrator, or a high-level tech manager in charge of delivering the best AV experiences for your stakeholders, harnessing the best of the new audio revolution can make you the knowledgeable expert for the entire AV ecosystem. You’ll gain that trusted advisor status for new levels of multisensory satisfaction where the two digital revolutions — in video and audio — truly converge, for installed AV applications.
Terrence Boyd, senior business manager and an experienced industry expert and champion of workforce diversity, equity and inclusion, has been with Sony Electronics for more than 15 years overseeing product marketing and business management for the company’s professional projection and line-array audio solutions.
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