Pro-AV industry standards explored

One sign of a mature, credible industry is the amount of standards it’s developed. Tim Kridel looks at the growing selection of InfoComm standards and asks why AV firms and their clients are using them.

Pro AV already has dozens of standards, such as H.264 and HDMI. Does it really need more? Yes, according to many integrators.

They’re referring to InfoComm standards, such as “ANSI/INFOCOMM 1M-2009 – Audio Coverage Uniformity in Enclosed Listener Areas” and “INFOCOMM F501.01:2015 – Cable Labeling for Audiovisual Systems.” InfoComm standards are fundamentally different from technology ones such as HDBaseT because they focus on a system’s performance and other outcomes that affect the user experience. By comparison, technology standards dictate how a particular vendor’s product must do this or that to be certified, interoperable and so on.

“We’re writing standards that are equipment agnostic,” says Ann Brigida, InfoComm director of standards. “The performance metrics consider the entire system and not just the gear. That’s a bit more challenging than technical standards because of the direct relationship to the experience we’re trying to quantify.”   

“The more standards that we have from reputable bodies, the better that is for our industry.”
At first glance, trying to set benchmarks for experiences such as seeing and hearing might seem like an exercise in futility simply because they’re so subjective. Not so, according to AV pros who use InfoComm standards.

“There’s so much pure maths associated with those things in terms of viewing distances and signal-to-noise ratios,” says Jim Harwood, Focus 21 Visual Communications managing director. “For us that’s key—absolutely key. The more standards we can get going, the better.” 

Sure, many system-level benchmarks are already available from AV manufacturers, but those lose their effectiveness in multi-vendor installations. They also can lose their credibility in the eyes of those who look askance at vendor specs. 

“We need an independent body to write those standards to make them credible,” Harwood says. 

Market traction grows

Although InfoComm started releasing standards less than a decade ago, they’re steadily building awareness and adoption. 

“Both consultants and resellers are either referencing them or using them,” says Greg Jeffreys, Visual Displays director and moderator of the task group that wrote “ANSI/INFOCOMM V202.01:2016 – Display Image Size for 2D Content in Audiovisual Systems (DISCAS),” which debuted this May. “The biggest impact I’ve seen recently is where stakeholders of large AV estates have been using the ‘ANSI/INFOCOMM 3M-2011 – Projected Image System Contrast Ratio (PISCR)’ standard to log, assess and remediate their entire estates. 

“Senior players within the AV User Group, led by Owen Ellis, have shown both leadership and also the benefits of using standards as the work required doesn’t necessarily require spending money. [Using standards] also helps them liaise more effectively with other stakeholders in IT, building services, architects, etc.”

Other AV pros report similar experiences. 

“The ‘AV Systems Performance Verification’ standard is being specified by some consultants in the UK as part of tenders,” says Rob Ferguson, Electrosonic design manager. “We use this as a basis for our own test and commissioning documentation. 

“We have many of our own company standards in place and validate these against any new published InfoComm standard. For example, we are currently reviewing our cable labelling guidelines.”

Some AV firms say awareness is growing among end users, too.

“Our clients hold us to these standards,” says Chris Ostler, Electrosonic chief engineer. 

As client awareness grows, so does the opportunity to use InfoComm standards as a market differentiator.

“We use InfoComm standards much like we use our ISO standards,” says Adrian Goulder, special projects manager at Dubai-based Omnix. “One of Omnix’s main reasons for success is repeat business. Ensuring the same quality, from hardware install to DSP to highly complex integration on a military/government level, is key to our continued success. Using standards like InfoComm’s sets us aside from the competition and adds a layer of trust and compliance.” 

Building global awareness 

Even so, not all AV firms use InfoComm standards.

“The adoption of InfoComm standards I think really is down to not just companies but the individuals that work there,” Goulder says. “For some, it’s a core belief, and [others] simply aren’t interested.” 

Group Of Businesspeople Together Videoconferencing At Workplace
Some AV pros work for enterprises, and their use of InfoComm standards sometimes depends on whether their company is multinational. One executive at a multinational enterprise, speaking anonymously due to company policy, says that for consistency’s sake, anything used in Europe also is used in its North American and Asian offices. His company currently is checking its systems against PISCR. 

“I know other global companies whose AV departments are not global, and then you do see a difference in the way they approach projects, the standards they use,” he says. “In those cases, I would suggest you see greater adoption in the US because that’s where InfoComm started, that’s where they have the greatest traction [and] where they have the greatest number of members.”
smart phone with real estate concept
From his vantage point as AV User Group director, Ellis sees global awareness growing.

“We’re starting to see more and more people in the industry, wherever they are in the world, notice that they’re doing this and saying, ‘These are really useful tools. We should start working to them.’ I’m seeing a greater adoption of them across the industry. That adoption is pretty even, but the greatest use of them is in the US.” 
Most InfoComm standards are approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). That helps build credibility, especially among non-AV users who aren’t familiar with InfoComm. ANSI’s North American heritage doesn’t appear to be limiting adoption of InfoComm standards in EMEA. 

Modern office interior“I don’t think the fact that it’s an ANSI standard stops people using it,” Ellis says. “There’s such a lack of standards in our industry. Because they are a recognised body, and I think everybody respects what they do, why wouldn’t you use it? Better to measure against something than nothing. The more standards that we have from reputable bodies, the better that is for our industry.”

Electrosonic’s Ostler is another who doesn’t see InfoComm’s or ANSI’s US roots as a barrier to adoption.

“As an international company, we are very experienced working with many non-UK standards,” Ostler says. “It is more important that the standards can be applied internationally, even if this requires regional adaptations for local working practices and regulations. It is good to see that the [InfoComm] standards steering committee is made up of international members.”

Other AV pros see EMEA awareness of InfoComm the organisation as laying the foundation for awareness of its standards.

“InfoComm has been quite popular in the UK,” says Will Hegan, AVI-SPL director of international sales and marketing. “We’re in the process of opening an office in Germany. We’ll be very interested to see how prevalent they are in that market.” 

InfoComm is using webinars and other outreach to build awareness of its standards throughout EMEA.

“There is international representation on every standard task group, and our steering committee chair is from the UK,” Brigida says. “A webinar about DISCAS was presented in Germany by another member. Ratnesh Javeri [of] Innovative Solutions has been another longstanding supporter of InfoComm standards and just gave a presentation at InfoComm India. This outreach, combined with their actual use of the standards in projects, puts them in front of customers and begins to get the word out in a very real-world application.”

Five years between updates

InfoComm reviews each standard at least every five years. When that time comes, it creates a new task group, which reviews user feedback amassed over the years. 

“We make any necessary improvements based on their analysis of the existing standard and considerations such as updated technologies or new research or information,” Brigida says. “Standards are created to solve a problem, so the problem is analysed again as the task group reconsiders the solution.”  

Sometimes standards are tweaked long before their five-year anniversary. One example is “ANSI/INFOCOMM 4:2012 – Audiovisual Systems Energy Management.”

“Two years after the standard was approved, a well-known standard development body came up with a different usage of the exact term,” Brigida says. “So we issued erratum to use a different term for our system state. That standard doesn’t have its five-year anniversary until next year, but we felt it was important enough to make the change early.”

What’s next?

The first InfoComm standard debuted in 2009, followed by roughly one every year since. Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of suggestions for which ones should be next.

“It would be helpful to formalise the standards in relation to acoustics for videoconferencing and conference rooms aimed at designers and architects,” says Electrosonic’s Ferguson. “All too often we have sound issues caused by the room construction and furniture.”

Other suggestions centre on an emerging market for pro AV: smart buildings. 

“We’re increasingly working on projects where environmental and building management systems are becoming integrated with traditional AV management systems,” says AVI-SPL’s Hegan. “Clients are wanting to see a single information portal where they can view all of their building information.” 

“It is more important that the standards can be applied internationally, even if this requires regional adaptations for local working practices and regulations.”
From an energy efficiency perspective, the smart building market includes lighting. That’s another area where some AV pros would like to see InfoComm standards, while others would like to see more lighting standards across the board.

“Definitely lighting, especially for requirements for video conferencing, broadcasting and working on tasks in AV environments,” Harwood says. “Additionally I would like to see some standards developed for microphone coverage/pick up, and room acoustics, and comfort heating and ambient sound levels.”

Some AV pros want to see more nuts-and-bolts guidance.

“Project management, soldering and cable quality come to mind,” says Omnix’s Goulder. “Cat7 for me is one, such as keep the twisted pairs twisted right up to the connection. 

“Also, some cable on the market is not 8 wire (4 pair). Send and receive pairs required for 1000BaseT are not wired correctly. HDBaseT is not that new to the market, but time and time again I see the wrong type of cable, or not properly shielded, leaving a lot of head scratching when it’s actually just a simple cable issue.” 

Many of these wishes are set to become reality. Brigida says several standards are in the works, including for rack building, videoconferencing lighting, direct-view contrast ratio, audio system spectral balance. InfoComm also is developing a technical report on building automation systems and an AV network security recommended practice. 

“The list of standards in the queue for development isn’t static, and sometimes a proposal we receive—anyone can suggest a standard—that gets prioritised to an elevated development timeline,” Brigida says. “That just happened with an AV network security proposal. 

“The steering committee received a very well documented proposal for network security guidance for AV systems. The committee felt strongly that this topic deserved attention. They did extensive research and due diligence to analyse standards already published that deal with network security and came to the conclusion that best-practice guidance in this area that is specific to AV networks is warranted. A group will be working on a recommended practice.” 

Even more standards could arrive later this decade. 

“We have a fair share of work ahead of us,” Brigida says. “Projects slated to get started in the next few years include a standard on gain structure, AV design verification and nominal sound pressure level.” 

The  2017  InAVation  Awards  will  see  the  launch  of  the  InfoComm  Standards  award when Judges  will  select  one  integration  firm  that has  demonstrated  the  successful  application of an InfoComm standard.

Detailed Q&As from some of the participants in this article can be found below:
Ann Brigida - InfoComm
Adrian Goulder, Omnix
Rob Ferguson and Chris Ostler - Electrosonic

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