Wyrestorm on the challenges and opportunities of delivering AV over IP

WyreStorm NetworkHD AV over IP distribution and Crestron control installed at University of Hertfordshire’s new £50m science building
WyreStorm NetworkHD AV over IP distribution deployed at University of Hertfordshire’s new £50m science building

After years of dominating the residential space, Wyrestorm has successfully secured its seat at the table in the commercial world. Charlotte Ashley finds out how they did it, and what lies ahead for the AV over IP industry from product manager James Meredith.

Surprisingly, the career of Wyrestorm’s current  product  manager  for  the manufacturer’s  AV  over  IP  brand, NetworkHD  (and  control),  didn’t start in video technology. “I studied audio engineering for four years at Anglia Ruskin University (UK),” explains James Meredith. “The iPod was released in my second year of studying which was of course a game-changer. It allowed me to really focus on how all of the hard disc storage of music worked. There were no streaming services at the time and internet radio was barely listenable, so I was really focused on how I could make the future of audio better from a young age.”

James Meredith, WyreStorm NetworkHD and Control Product Manager headshot

Being on the crest of wave is a running theme throughout Meredith’s career to date.  Upon joining a HiFi company following his degree, the company turned to him to manage the creation its first video platform.  Sadly  the  company would go on to close, yet Meredith’s experience in HD and digital video distribution would line him  up  perfectly  for  the  role  he  has  now  held at  Wyrestorm  for  four  years.  He joined the company just prior to a landmark restructure in its approach to R&D and the overall AV market.

“Just after my first year at the company Wyrestorm had a real gut-wrenching change in how it wanted to approach the market,” recalls Meredith. “At that time probably around 80% of our sales were coming from residential systems – we had a 54% of market share of distribution in the CEDIA Region 1 market, which was more than double our closest competitor.” Why change in light of such huge success? “We realised that that market was really going to reach a plateau in terms of growth,” says Meredith.  Therefore the manufacturer laid out a clear plan – three sub-divisions (Express, Custom and Professional) and an increased focus on making its commercial offerings more complete and powerful.

Repositioning the brand after such widespread success in the residential industry was to be no small task, however. “Moving into the commercial space is really, really difficult because for the first two  years  there’s  absolutely  doubt  that  every customer we spoke to was being told that we’re ‘just a residential brand’” says Meredith. “Then a year ago, it just clicked.” He continues: “All of a sudden the acceptance of the business changed. It  just  has  to  start  with  one  or  two  customers who  are willing  to  really  bite  the  bullet  and take  a  risk  –  particularly  with  the  NetworkHD platform,  but  also  things  like  our  dedicated presentation switchers. We were really lucky to get some incredibly progressive, vocal customers on board who saw our vision for AV over IP and bought into it.”

Meredith  says  key  to  making  a  success  of this  transition  at  the  time  was  having  a  point of  difference  from  others  in  the  marketplace. “What I  wanted  to  do  was  maintain  that choice  in  the  AV  over  IP  line,  so  we  didn’t commit to  just  one  or  two  technologies,”  he says. “We  figured  because  every  installation has  different  requirements  and  there  were  so many  technologies  out  there  that  there  can’t always be one technology that really solves that requirement  every  time.”  The company also wanted to do this whilst positioning itself in the middle of the market when it came to price points. It may have taken the company two years after  launching  NetworkHD  to  win  that  first elusive project, however the change of direction paid off – the company’s commercial business has  grown  to  approximately  50%,  facilitated by the proliferation of video technology across all verticals – meaning 300 display projects are no  longer  the  novelty  they  used  to  be.  What started a six-person strong team working on Wyrestorm’s dedicated AV over IP line has also now grown to 50 people working across three separate categories.

“What I’m finding with AV over IP in particular is that there is a bit of complacency on our side about integrated networks and how easy they are to do.”

There is still industry-wide progress to be made according to Meredith, however.  He pinpoints lack of clear communication between the industry and its customers about the full requirements of shifting to AV over IP as a significant challenge. “What I’m finding at the moment with AV over IP in particular is that there is a bit of complacency on  our  side  (that  being  the  manufacturer  and integrator  side)  about  integrated  networks  and how easy they are to do.” He adds: “Effectively, you  could  install  AV  over  IP  on  a  switch  that you have complete control over in 15 minutes. But  when  you’re  dealing  with  financial  and security  corporations  or  a  university  campus with a network that needs to be online 24/7, the requirements  are  actually  completely  different. With  the  forms  to  be  filled  out  and  allocated time needed to reboot it, what could be a ten second power pull and two minutes of waiting for  it  to  reboot  actually  becomes  a  two  day process.” Meredith concludes: “No one is having the communication about what uproar that’s going to mean for them in terms of testing and making the required changes in order to operate the system.  Too often people are learning the hard way, which can lead to a sour taste when it comes to their experience of AV over IP.”

Looking  ahead,  Meredith  says  the  industry is  going  to  see  sources  push  the  limitations  of HDMI over the next two years. “We’ll either need to  compress  or  change  our  cable  infrastructure to  handle  this  increase  in  data  rates,”  notes Meredith. What could be on the horizon in the next five years? “Toward the end of that period we’re going to see some revisions in HDMI technology and the emergence of new platforms – for example, new versions of media transfer like DisplayPort and the USB C (updating to USB D).”

The  development  of  8K,  Meredith  states  is  a long,  slow  process:  despite  some  content  being on the marketplace, the technology to facilitate capturing  it  and  the  complete  post-production process is not here yet. “Of course by that period the draft standards of HDMI we currently have will be ratified and things will become more real at that point as we’ll be dealing with probably double, perhaps even quadruple the data we’re working with at the moment.”  With this, Meredith says will bring “amazing” technologies for compression and new levels of efficiency that means AV over IP will fully shift into the mainstream to support the transport of such significant amounts of data. “It’s quite exciting what we’re going to see  in terms of video quality. I’ve seen demonstrations for technologies like Dolby Cinema lately that have blown my mind.”