It would be a bit of an understatement to say that large venues, such as airports, malls and sports stadiums, have a lot of video displays. Video is often part of the experience in these large venues, which is why many of these facilities have thousands of displays. This is also why it is vital to have a good video distribution system to ensure the best video experience throughout the facility.
Generally speaking, there are two main methods of distributing video in a large facility, and both have their benefits and uses. First, facilities can use traditional video switching and distribution systems, which we call traditional AV. These systems maintain the video as a “true” AV signal over the entire signal chain, and simply switch and extend the signal from the source to the end point. The second option is networked AV. This technology converts the traditional AV signal into data packets that are then sent over the IT network.
Again, there are benefits and considerations with both of these options, and the right places and times to use them. Networked AV is a great option for many circumstances. Since the video signal is converted into data, users can add as many additional video inputs and outputs as the data network can handle. Also, being on the network means there are no distance limitations, so the solution can distribute video anywhere in the world. This makes networked AV a very scalable and flexible solution, providing high-quality video virtually wherever you need it.
However, there are some things to be aware of when looking at networked AV technology. First, in order to convert the video signal into data, there must be some amount of compression. Although the picture quality of this compressed video is extremely high and very suitable for most applications, it is not a true pixel-for-pixel reproduction of the original AV signal. Also, in order for the video signal to be converted into data and then distributed over the network, there is some amount of latency. For many applications, this latency could be anywhere from a few milliseconds to a second or two (or more, depending on the technology you use), but regardless, there will be some delay.
Traditional AV, on the other hand, doesn’t convert the signal to data packets. Since the AV signal is maintained from start to finish and never compressed into data packets, it promises pixel-for-pixel video reproduction from the source to the endpoint, with little-to-no latency, even over long distances. Yet, it doesn’t offer the versatility of networked AV. While both technologies can use category cable or fiber to distribute video, networked AV can send video over the existing IT network as normal data traffic. Traditional AV must use a dedicated cabling infrastructure with point-to-point cable paths.
So, for large venues, when is the best time to use traditional AV over networked AV and vice versa? Networked AV is best for endpoints where some amount of latency is acceptable, and where the video doesn’t need to have pixel-for-pixel accuracy. For example, digital signage that is displaying advertisements or other information is a great candidate for networked AV. The digital signage is still high quality, and the facility can basically add as many digital signage displays as they want without major upgrade costs. Sports stadiums can also distribute video from an event over networked AV, but they should be aware that there could be instances where the crowd cheers a moment before a person in the concourse sees the play.
Traditional AV, on the other hand, is ideal for situations where it is vital to have the best possible picture at the moment something occurs. To return to our sports stadium example, an official or coach in a skybox reviewing replays or other video feeds requires traditional AV distribution, as a few pixels can sometimes make or break a winning call.
In the end, many situations require some form of hybrid solution, with traditional video distribution to the appropriate areas and networked AV for the rest of the facility. Rarely is a solution merely one or the other, and it is more a matter of finding the right mix of traditional and networked AV. Every situation has unique challenges, but having a broad, interoperable product range with a consistent platform (control, monitoring, etc.) supporting it is what’s really most important.