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Architecture & Engineering

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October 26, 2017

How long will your AV last? Consider your cell phone

  • Like cell phones, not everyone replaces their audiovisual systems at the same rate.


    When designing audiovisual technology systems for any building type — be it a hospital, high school, theater or office — one popular question asked by owners is: “How long will the AV last?”

    Most of the time that question isn’t about how long the system will function. Instead, it’s about how long it will add value, work well, and be easy to use.

    The easy answer is: “Well, it depends.”

    From an AV professional, that answer doesn’t cut it. But, truthfully, the answer isn’t the same for everyone.

    For good reason, owners want their buildings, their systems, and their AV to have the longest shelf life possible. As a designer, I want to help them get there. With the myriad of variables involved in AV systems, buildings and the businesses themselves, the real question should be: “When will I want to replace my AV, because it’s old/broken/too much hassle?”

    Photo by Steve Maylone [enlarge]
    Stantec designed the high-tech AV systems at Oregon State University’s Learning Innovation Center. Bora Architects was the architect.

    Fortunately, almost everyone carries the answer with them. So, when will you want to replace your AV system? Well, how old is your cell phone?

    A great comparison to the longevity of AV technology in our buildings is right in the palms of our hands every day. Not everyone replaces their cell phones at the same rate. While many people would like to have the newest cell phone technology all the time, only a few people are able to spend the money every time the newest version hits the market — which is often an annual occurrence. Yet, very few people today would be satisfied with a 5-year-old cell phone, let alone a 10-year-old one. The original iPhone couldn’t even copy and paste!

    In simple terms, when it comes to AV technology, think about where you rate on the following scale. I keep my cell phone until:

    • It stops working and I can’t get it fixed. It’s a phone … if I can get calls, texts and emails, then I’m good to go.

    • It stops working well enough. Once it gets too slow, I guess I need to upgrade.

    • There is a new one with a specific feature I’m waiting for (i.e. the phone with the best camera).

    • There is a new model from a certain brand. I always get the newest ______.

    • Until I find one cooler. In fact, I just got a new one while reading this.

    Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. This “simple cell phone scale” can guide you to making the right choice for your AV budget, your project and your end-users.

    Your company/building/project in essence has a “cell phone,” otherwise called your AV system. When should you plan to replace it? Look at the ends of the scale as a starting point. In the conference room with AV technology from 20 years ago, even the white board may not work well. Most people won’t find the equipment very useful, even though the equipment still does power on and can hobble onto the network.

    Then again, it’s not unusual for the 5-year-old huddle room’s AV capabilities to still be a spring chicken — you and your users are still getting the desired experience day-in and day-out.

    Just like a new phone purchase, you might want to buy the one with the maximum amount of memory, but to stay within budget you need to stick with a more economical model. The same types of considerations go into your AV budgeting and design.

    Weighing the benefits of convenience versus the cost of those features goes into the decisions you make. To make matters more complicated, in the design world, AV systems are often a target of value engineering in projects. Owners need to understand both the money they’re saving and what they are giving up in order to achieve that savings.

    On a recent multi-city corporate project, I used the simple cell phone scale to help the client. One of the project’s goals was to create a set of design standards to maintain company-wide technological consistency, as well as gain installation efficiencies as new offices were built or renovated. On the third office installation, the contractor suggested a major microphone upgrade as part of the standard, a small cost to the overall project, but a definite impact on the AV budget.

    If the suggestion became part of the standard, it would increase the cost of more than a dozen future projects.

    Was the mic upgrade worth it? Walking through the simple cell phone scale, the client decided that having wireless mics that were more hassle free was worth the additional cost. The mics would continue to work well into the future and no one would need to stock AA batteries.

    When another suggestion came in from the contractor for ultra HD displays, the client used the same scale to decide that typical HD displays would serve their purposes just fine since the content on the displays didn’t gain a worthwhile benefit from the additional screen resolution.

    In the complicated world of audiovisual technology, having a tool like the simple cell phone scale to help gauge AV needs, goals, wants and costs gives the owner team an understandable way to talk internally and align their design, budget and expectations.

    When will you want to replace your project’s “cell phone,” and does that align with the AV design intent and budget? Use the simple cell phone scale to talk to your AV consultant or integrator. They’ll understand immediately, unless that is, they don’t have a cell phone.

    Josh Hamon is an audiovisual consultant in Stantec’s Seattle office.

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