Is Commercial AV Invading Residential AV’s Turf?

Published: September 21, 2022

Editor’s note: Commercial Integrator has teamed up with the IMCCA, the New York-based non-profit industry association for unified communication and workplace collaboration, to produce a quarterly supplement, titled Collaboration Today and Tomorrow, that focuses on all things collaboration from multiple perspectives.

Just about everyone has a vision of what the term “residential AV” means. Perhaps, to you, it’s in the movie “Goodfellas,” when Henry Hill’s wife flips a switch and a hidden entertainment system with bar reveals itself. Or perhaps it’s Mia Wallace watching CCTV video of her guest, Vincent Vega, in “Pulp Fiction,” and then using the intercom to speak with him. Then again, maybe it’s Bond villain Auric Goldfinger pressing a control that closes the window shades and covers the pool table before he reveals his plot to the assembled crooks. 

Sure, we all know what residential AV is — but what will it become as working from home becomes more common in our new hybrid-working world? Will the technology islands merge? Do we even want them to? Or, instead, would it be preferable for them to remain separate domains, served by separate support entities? Here, we’ll explore some of the implications of these various approaches. 

Sharing Common Infrastructure 

A few things are clear: Both residential AV systems and home-office systems must share AC power and the network access that serves the home. There might be separate power conditioning and/or separate routers/sub-nets, but it would be highly unlikely for the main pipes coming into the house to be duplicated. Thus, if the home experiences an internet or a power outage, both sides of the equation would likely fail in tandem. 

Is that where the overlaps end? Maybe…or maybe not. 

The commercial collaboration industry has been trying to invade the home-entertainment space for years. One of the most infamous flops was Cisco’s Umi. Rolled out in 2010 as a telepresence system for the living room and pitched by famous Hollywood actors, Umi was the rare spectacular failure for Cisco. The residential industry shunned the unwanted entry into the living room, whereas the commercial integration industry was flabbergasted — as in, choking on their own spit flabbergasted — that Cisco would launch a product that claimed to be “full-HD video and commercial quality” for about $600 at the same time that the company was hawking commercial telepresence for tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars a unit. “What were you thinking?” sums up the general feeling that prevailed among commercial integrators. 

Consumer collaboration products, such as Facebook’s (now Meta’s) Portal, have not fared much better. Arguably, this might partially be because of the lack of security that Facebook’s reputation connotes. But, more generally, consumers have seen video collaboration — at least, up until the COVID-19 pandemic — as a commercial product, rather than as something for their home. 

The Pandemic Forces Change 

As the authors in Collaboration Today and Tomorrow have explained, the pandemic changed many things. Suddenly, remote and hybrid working has become the norm; “Zoom” has entered the lexicon as a verb; and most people now understand a great deal about videoconferencing. Knowledge workers everywhere showed that working from home not only is viable but, in fact, is more productive than it is to commute to an office to work. Now, it is generally accepted that the home contains (or should contain, if space allows) an area where people can work. 

The home office typically includes technology for computing, displaying images, making calls, illuminating your environment, and capturing audio and video. The smart/connected home generally contains technology for displaying home video, playing music, answering doorbells, controlling lights and shades, and automating various appliances. 

That leads to an important question: Can the same automation system that controls the house also control the home office? Should it? Let’s consider that question, starting with why we ought to keep them separate. 

The Argument for Separation 

If we look at it from a behavioral perspective, I don’t think we’ll ever be in our home with our family in the living room, then receive a work-related call, and then walk into our home office to take it. The very idea of having a separate office in the home is to provide some delineation between being “at work” and being “off work.” Sure, we can always answer an email or a call on our mobile device if a colleague is having an emergency — and, if it truly is an emergency, we might choose to go into our home office to assist — but, generally, people will not want the two activities to cross over very much. That means the home-office setup can remain an island that shares power and data with the smart home, but shares nothing else. 

The Argument for Unification 

If one does not happen to be in the AV or collaboration business, they will probably have to purchase the tools they use in their smart office and smart home from an integrator. In many cases, that firm will also integrate them. If one lives near a big city, there might be a choice of multiple firms. But, if one is not near a big city, or if one simply desires that famous “one throat to choke,” they might wish to use one firm to do both jobs. 

In order for that to work, a residential integrator will have to learn and understand the tools of enterprise collaboration — namely, platforms, interoperability requirements, firewalls, VLANs, remote management systems, and all the various components that make up enterprise-grade (and IT-approved) technology for the home. 

Suppose instead that the customer contracts with a commercial AV integrator. They will have to get up to speed on the residential world — namely, multi-room music, home theaters, home automation and CCTV cameras. Most importantly, commercial integrators will have to master working with residential customers who sometimes want to “see what it looks like in another color,” thereby requiring plenty of last-minute verbal project changes. 


CEDIA Expo has recognized the importance of these overlapping skill sets. At CEDIA Expo 2022, for the second year in a row, show organizers are working in conjunction with the IMCCA to offer a Work-from-Home Pavilion. It will show off the enterprise gear that can be used in a home office, and there will be a robust education program to cover the key aspects that residential integrators need to know to become the trusted experts their clients need. We hope to see you in Dallas at the end of September. 

There’s a line of delineation that separates where we work and where we live, but it’s already blurring, and it’ll continue to blur as we head into the future. We at the IMCCA believe we should do all we can to understand both sides of the equation so that integrators will be fully prepared for that future. 

Now excuse me for a moment while I take a video call on my living room TV…. 

For more Collaboration Today and Tomorrow content, check out our website archives.

Carol Zelkin is executive director of the IMCCA. 

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