Wyrestorm on the challenges and opportunities of delivering AV over IP
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.”
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.”