With AV breaking out of its traditional confines thanks to the magic of convergence, Ben Furfie takes a look at just what the current state of the market is...

AVing a good time

For many years now, convergence has remained a real force in all aspects of the technology industry. From mobile phones and PDAs becoming smartphones, and games consoles and multimedia devices combining to become the modern video game consoles aimed at controlling every aspect of entertainment in the living room, there are plenty of examples of technologies that have come together under the banner of convergence.

Of course, much of the convergence that happens today is the creation of new ways of using two products together to address a demand or provide a solution. Indeed, the AV industry is undergoing this very experience at the moment: "We are seeing very strong developments in the digital signage and video conferencing markets," states director of Maverick Presentation Products Jon Sidwick. "This is leading to increased sales of associated display products including large format displays and data projectors."

Sidwick isn’t the only person in the AV industry who is seeing changes occurring. Price and new usage models are driving changes in the sector at the moment, according to BenQ’s director of sales Steve Chu. "Crossover usage on entry to midrange projectors has been getting more popular for the past two years, due to the new functionality and price trend in the end to mid-level segment.

However, the convergence that Chu has seen isn’t the same that Sidwick has: "Most of our mainstream product has been designed towards the crossover been work and play." However, convergence isn’t the only thing having an effect on the market. "The education volume market has slowed down with corporate opportunities growing strongly," comments Sidwick.

Mitsubishi’s Electric’s sales manager for its Visual Information Systems Division Fraser McDonald echoed Sidwick: "We have, for a number of years, seen steady growth within the education sector, and although this has now slowed down, the introduction of new short throw projectors and the replacement market will continue to make education an important sector for us."

"Communication in the workplace is becoming increasingly important and is being driven by the need to communicate very quickly and effectively to staff, and to customers," adds Sidwick. He was also keen to stress the impact that environmental and economic factors were having on the sector: "In addition to all that, the cost of travel and green issues are driving the need for video communications."

It was a point made by video conferencing firm Aethra, which recently announced its intentions to move into the UK market. "One of the big benefits of video conferencing is its ability to improve the efficiency of long distance business deals, as well as improving the green credentials of firms in the process," says UK managing director, Andy Wright.

Economic and green issues aren’t the only things driving demand for convergence. Some of it has more to do with increasing the usability of devices beyond what they traditionally would be used for.

"Much of the focus on AV equipment has been on lowering noise levels for use in a range of different environments, providing better video processors to enable better video quality, and this year the focus has been on more connectivity to link the latest device short throw technology to provide the big screen experience like never before," says Chu.

"The idea is that the end user can have all the functionality of a device for the work environment and enjoy using the same device in the evening for watching the latest movies and playing the newest games."

Indeed, Sidwick identified this as an area that resellers and retailers should keep an eye on this Christmas season: "Projector sales are growing in the consumer space. Users are really starting to see the benefit of large images connected to DVD players or increasingly gaming products."

BenQ’s UK marketing manager Royce Lye added to Sidwick’s prediction, suggesting: "Short throw technology will enhance the user’s projection experience, especially where only a fixed LCD/plasma screens were possible.

"Large screen scenarios are almost limitless; departmental meetings, reception areas and boardroom table ends, right the way through to the humble coffee table at home. The advance in technology means that large screen projection is now possible without metres of dead-space traditionally needed."

As to the impact that convergence is having upon the market, opinions are split. According to Sidwick, the channel is currently seeing the convergence of the AV and IT industries, however, he believes that it is IT resellers that are leading the charge: "Convergence is now being felt in both the AV and IT channels. We are seeing IT resellers looking for more involvement in display solutions attached to network communication products, such as video conferencing and digital signage."

McDonald agrees: "Convergence is a buzz word that will be around a lot more in the coming months and years. It’s already available to some degree, and will be increasingly important for business and potentially the home, as more and more people look for an effective, automated solution."

Lewitt doesn’t agree though: "Convergence between the IT and AV channels happened many years ago and according to Infocomm, more that 80 per cent of AV products are networked in some way."

Even so, he does acknowledge that there are still some ways that convergence is exhibiting itself in new examples: "Because Windows Vista operating system is optimised for native widescreen, we are witnessing a big increase in demand for WXGA projectors from the private sector."

McDonald echoed the idea that it is IT and not telecoms that are driving trends within the market: "Within the corporate sector, there has been in increase in demand for widescreen models."

Despite that, Sidwick says the pace of change is increasing as more and more IT resellers look to capitalise on this growing area: "The drivers for this include users requesting these technologies from their traditional IT reseller and the resellers themselves selling more network enabled facilities."

Going back to his point about IT resellers leading the charge, he continues: "AV resellers are having to learn about the ‘network’ and be involved in network solutions in order to compete with their new emerging IT competitors."

With convergence showing no signs of slowing down for the time being, it really is a great time to get into the audiovisual market, whether that is on the business or consumer side of things.

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