Wall to wall AV

We all know that Big Brother is watching, but what it he watching us on? And how is his choice of display affecting the market for integrators and manufacturers of equipment in the command and control space?

Command and control centres these days cover a large range of applications, from the traditional CCTV monitoring suite, to military control centres, via network operation centres for cellular phone networks. Whatever the particular market, their purpose remains the same, to aggregate information from a number of sources and present it in a format that allows operators and decision makers to effectively act upon it.

As technology advances more and more, we are funnelling increasing amounts of more detailed information into these suites, and as a result the design of such facilities must advance accordingly. Where is was once possible to have, for example, a CRT monitor dedicated to each CCTV camera, the sheer number now in use makes this impossible.

All this of course is good news for the integrators and manufacturers working in this space. The rise of the DLP cube in this market continues apace, along with an increasing demand for more intelligent image processors and wall controllers to cope with the number of different types of data to be displayed. However, there’s much more to a control room than simply a display wall, and that’s what makes them true integration projects.

In terms of which particular verticals are providing the most business, it largely depends on where about in EMEA one looks. For some time now the telecommunications sector has provided the bulk of the business. So called NOCs (network operating centres) allow companies to monitor the status of their telephone networks using geographical overlays, taking real time data and maps together. A clear example of the benefits of a large display wall combined with a group of businesses, who rely on providing service availability to their customers, and turn over enough money to justify investment in the latest technology.

Mitsubishi’ Display Solution’s EMEA Marketing Manager Peter Van Dyke comments, “Since we began in 2002 in Europe, telecommunications has made up a major part of the installations we have been involved in.”

Derek Western, of competitor Toshiba Lighting & Technology concurs, but also comments that the telecommunications sector is calming down now. A point also raised by Christophe Nivet from Clarity Visual Systems, recently acquired by Planar. “Telecomms has slowed down, since those companies already have such facilities installed, they were the first wave.”

But where one market slows, several more spring up to take its place. Van Dyke, Nivet and Western all cite the utilities market as a one providing good business.

Another person with a keen interest in the utilities space is Ronen Brookstein Director of Israeli integrator Barkai. His company has been involved in the control room market for many years integrating Middle Atlantic furniture, Crestron control systems and front projection or TFT walls, but has only recently been able to move forward into using DLP technology. Part of the reason for this has been a lack of demand, but also a lack of local knowledge. Overcoming the latter has been achieved by forming a partnership with experienced control room integrators Electrosonic. Several of Barkai’s senior technicians have attended training on both Electrosonic’s control product range, but also on the practicalities of integrating DLP cubes into a control room environment.

Armed with this new knowledge Brookstein expects to be able to develop a healthy market over the next few years: “The situation in Israel has been that these companies and organisations have require this kind of service, but have not until now been able to justify the investment. Also there hasn’t been a local company able to do the work. The five or six solutions that have been done before have been done either by Barco, or an American company called Infrastructure.”

Brookstein is confident that Barkai can compete with these larger multinationals on the basis that his company can provide a far higher level of local service, and also a comprehensive integration skill set. “We can provide all the furniture, lighting design and acoustic design. There’s more to a control room than just a display wall.”

No examination of the command and control sector would be complete without reference to Big Brother himself. The surveillance market is another one that lends itself particularly well to dynamic display walls such as those made possible by DLP cubes.

Surveillance applications themselves can be split between pure CCTV coverage and hybrid solutions such as traffic monitoring.

Both of these applications are important for the market as they are starting to enter their second or third generation in the developed economies of western Europe, and in the new entrant states EU grants are being used to build brand new facilities.

Carl Peeters is President of Barco Control Rooms, he provided a general overview of the market. “I think generally, there are a lot of strong markets, but if you want to pin point one or two in particular, then we have to think first about securit. There are a lot of things happening in this market since 9/11. Lots of governments, and municipalities are investing in security control centres. Another market is traffic and transport. Especially in the developed economies of Western Europe traffic is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Authorities are responding to this with more cameras, intelligent signage and therefore they need traffic centres.”

Alain Cayrel is EMEA sales director for processor manufacturer Jupiter Systems. He states: “The market is doing well, we have experienced around 30% growth per year for the last four years. In terms of vertical markets, whilst we’re still having a good turnover in telecomms it’s now steady, we’re starting to see a lot of surveillance and traffic control, particularly in the more developed economies.”

The recent ITS (intelligent transport systems) in London saw attendance by a number of integrators and display wall manufacturers, emphasising the importance of this market.

Harp Visual System’s Business Manager, Adrian Gould, gave his views: “Security is very fashionable these days of course, too many cameras mean that people are having to get creative with their display solutions. We’re here at the show because we’ve done a lot of work in the railway sector and I wanted to try to move into some others.” Harp offers a range of services from simply consultation all the way through to full integration of a control room, including furniture and so forth.

Also at the show were Electrosonic. Director, Jamie Farmer commented,: “Over the past 12 months or so we’ve completed a number of surveillance type projects. These included some things for the Police, as well as traffic monitoring centres. Surveillance is definitely a key market for us.”

An interesting feature of the command and control market is the way that different manufacturers approach it. There are two main approaches in play. The first is the partnership approach. Equipment suppliers such as Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Jupiter work with dealers or approved integration partner to deliver a solution. Often they will support this effort with customer training, advice on system design or equipment choices, and engineering support on commissioning. However once the system is complete, it is up to the integrator to provide service and after sales support. The obvious benefit to the manufacturer is that it removes the need to establish a full support service in every territory they wish to operate in. This also leaves room for specialist integrators such as Barkai or Harp to offer a package including furniture and other AV services.

Display manufacturer Sim2 is one company advocating this first approach. It operates around the world, particularly in the Far East (Japan and China) selling its projection engines, controllers and software via integration partners. XXX XXXX Djalal Sepahi commented. “We are at the moment less active in Europe that we have been in the East, but one of our activities in 2007 will be to work to find some integration partners and catch up. We are doing well in Russia, but not so well in the rest of the region.”

The second approach is the full systems one. Companies such as Barco or Christie can offer a complete package because they manufacture both key parts of the system, the cube and the processor.

Barco’s Carl Peeters commented: “We sell a lot of our solutions through systems integrators, who are integrating the complete offering. So, for instance, we would work with whoever is integrating the control room for a power plant or other facility to deliver the complete visualisation solution. Additionally we would work with them on aspects such as integrating our own software and their application through the use of APIs to produce a unified interface. We believe this complete solution offers the customer benefits in terms of confidence in our mastery of our own technology. We can ensure that the solution integrates seamlessly.”

A third approach is a hybrid one. Integrator Electrosonic also manufactures a wall controller, the Vector and display giants Clarity Visual can offer either an open system solution or an integrated system, using their own cubes and processors together. This pragmatic approach means that they can still pick up business with the display cubes if the full solution is not right for the customer.

Toshiba’s Derek Western believes there’s a size of project that ultimately means the job will go to a full system provider: “In Europe you can almost always guarantee that a job over 20 cubes will go to a manufacturer/integrator – Synelec, Barco, Christie or some one like that. Primarily it seems that the costing seems to work out, and the end user wants to go to one of those people and be confident the system works together. I estimate this makes up about 60-70% of volume sold each year. For projects under 20 cubes, they tend to go to an integrator who will buy a processor elsewhere, and then put it all together.”

Electrosonic Paul Brooks agrees with that assesment, however he also notes that there aren’t many jobs over 20 cubes in the UK anyway.

Ron Schouwenburg of Mitsubishi does not. “We would disagree with there being an upper limit on job sizes for integrators. Our system integration partners have happily completed jobs over this size.”

EMEA-wide, the players in the command and control market seem very content with the way things are. The strength of the respective vertical markets appears to vary geographically. The developed economies of Western Europe have already an installed base in markets such as utilities or telecommunications, and are therefore focused on applications in surveillance – traffic control and CCTV. Elsewhere there are what Peeters terms pockets of growth. Certain parts of Eastern Europe with strong economies are rapidly developing their infrastructure to cope, upgrades to utilities plants, and power stations are driving the market.
Over the coming months all expect steady growth, with challenges coming from the continuing migration from analogue to digital technologies and also accompany this moves towards more and more networking technologies.

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