Why I am Optimistic

August 4, 2020

Really.  I’m serious.  I am optimistic.  I would invest in my industry right now.  In fact, I am investing in my industry right now.  Why?  When the biggest manufacturers and integrators are seeing reductions in force.  When the biggest consumers in the world of AV are telling people “no office until 2021”, and some saying “no office forever.”  How could anyone be optimistic?

I am optimistic. I am investing.  I am bullish on AV.  Right now.  Today.  In the middle of a pandemic.  Actually, I am more than “bullish.”  I am downright excited.

We are pretty proud of what we have accomplished in AV in the last few years, but we need to be realistic about how far we have come.  We have gone from being “the stuff that never works” to “the stuff that works OK.”  We are all bumping elbows over the fact that you can turn our systems on and start a meeting without written instructions.  Hurray.  Go AV.

We made the switch between 20 different kinds of cables and connectors to now essentially three: Network, USB, HDMI…The same stuff you hook up a computer with.  “GO AV.  You are really pushing the boundaries now.”

Now, you can buy your conference room online with a click, and have the most mediocre experience possible for very little money.  Deploy it in minutes.

If we look at home-theater as a case study, we can see many parallels.  We started with monophonic TV’s.  Then Stereo.  Then surround sound.  Many companies produced “system in a box” to deliver a real movie experience at home.  Yet, we went to the movies.  Even now, when an 84″ display is the same price as a starter set of golf clubs, we go to the movies.

So some of us decided we were unsatisfied with mediocre system-in-a-box, and the custom home theater business is still thriving.

So with that in mind, let’s look at our current state of teleconferencing.  The first parallel we find is MONO.  We are in mono.  The least immersive audio format.  Mono.  Mah-NO!

Second, we work really hard to make sure we are looking at one person at a time on the far end.  One.  Hard to read a room when the room consists of one big face on a screen.  Once again.  MONO.  So we buy a bigger screen and look at an even bigger face.  A big mono face, but with a beach background… or maybe something clever like a recording studio, or the surface of the moon.  Wow.  We are cooking now.  GO AV.

I remember a meeting with a startup camera manufacturer,  ALTIA systems.  They wanted immersive audio to go with their camera.  The camera was really cool, and the far end could PTZ and “read the room”, but the  audio…well…this was many years ago.  But at that time, I went down the rabbit hole of looking for multi-channel audio codecs to try to cook something up for them.  G722 looked promising, but nobody was adopting anything.

There was a client that was asking for this.  The client was a startup in SF called LinkedIn.  They wanted to establish a full time portal between their SF office and their Bangalore office.  Basically, a doorway you could look and talk through for casual serendipitous meetings.  It was a great idea then.  It is a great idea now.  It is what AV can do.

There is so much more AV can do.  So much more.  While it seems most want to dumb it down, there are many that want to push the boundaries.  Create amazing experiences.  And by experiences, I mean wealth.  AV has done an amazing job covering for us during this event… but what can it do AFTER the event?  Right now, there is no such thing as a casual serendipitous meeting.  We have boxes on the wall that say “MEETING IN PROGRESS, DO NOT CONTRIBUTE.”  Big red squares that say “STAY THE HECK OUT.”  We are on zoom calls with passwords like X65%4335. There is no happenstance (I like that word).

The technology is just starting, and some of you reading this are the very reasons it will grow and flourish, and we will look fondly upon today like we look at a Sony Trinitron tube TV.

But for now, forget about that.  Let’s look at what is going on RIGHT NOW.  Everyone is saying WORK FROM HOME.  Until 2027. Keep your dirty body out of our office!  But last I checked, I don’t see any of those offices for lease.  Or for sale.  I just don’t.  And if you could rent an office today and your nextdoor neighbor was Google HQ, I suspect it will get occupied fast.  The reasons the Silicon Valley is awesome have not gone away with a disease.  They are still there, dormant, like a bat-virus in a cave.  FOMO is not gone, it was just furloughed.  And if you watch news about anything other than Covid,  you might have noticed that the BIGS are testifying in congress about anti-trust and monopolies right now.  For those of you that are old enough to remember the break up of the phone companies, it was a technology gold rush.  The next gold rush is coming.

So I am optimistic about AV.  Very optimistic.  We are only scratching the surface of what we can do.  What we will do.   And due to the very fundamental exponential nature of technology growth, we won’t just see it in our lifetime, or our career, we will watch it unfold in front of us real time.  We will be chuckling about zoom backgrounds quite soon.  Together.  In a room.  With brand new space-aged beers….