Ten years’ time: AV industry crystal ball

What better time than 2020 to look forward to where the AV industry might be in 2030? Ian McMurray dusts off his crystal ball.

By 2030 – depending who you listen to/believe – we’ll be 3D printing everything – from buildings to body parts. We’ll be flying across the ocean at hypersonic speeds. Everything will be delivered to your home by drones. A quarter of soldiers will have been replaced by robots. The Chinese will have built an underwater city that will be home to 5,000 people.

But nobody really cares about that stuff, do they? What’s much more important is: what will 2030 look like for our beloved AV industry? The good news is: AVIXA is confident it will be much bigger than it is today, growing at 5.7%/year from 2019’s $US247 billion – outstripping GDP growth. They’re not alone: Futuresource is no less bullish.

Both companies see unified communication and collaboration (UCC), enabled by currently unimaginable levels of connectivity, as being fundamental to that growth. A VP at one of the major collaboration companies believes that
the future will see the decline of the remote control and pushing buttons in favour of voice interaction to deliver a
simpler, more seamless experience. Many believe that, to all intents and purposes, videoconferencing as we know it today will have largely disappeared – to be replaced by more flexible, more agile ways of interacting.

Transformative AI

UCC is one of several areas in the AV market in which AI is likely to be transformative. Imagine a meeting in which each participant is automatically recognised – and, at the touch of a button, you’ll get an AR overlay of their name, title and any other relevant information about them.

Meanwhile, that universal, high speed connectivity noted above will mean there is no longer any kind of place for
standalone devices – of whatever kind. Remote management will be ubiquitous, mostly via the cloud, enabled by Big
Data: every device will collect information about its performance, transmit it to the cloud and sophisticated machine learning algorithms will make sense of it. We’ll see the rise of predictive maintenance – and, perhaps even self-healing systems. That torrent of data will be used for systems management – but vendors believe that it can also help identify usage patterns that will help determine future product development.

(As a side note: the ability to take advantage of Big Data will underpin continuing growth in smart buildings.)

UCC may continue to be big – but AVIXA believes that it won’t retain its top spot in 2030 as the largest proAV application. That honour, it seems, is destined to go to digital signage – which is the second largest market today. In
fact, the organisation believes that will have happened by 2024. I’m reminded of the original version of Ogden Nash’s Song of the Open Road: “I think that I shall never see A billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”

Personalised experiences

The digital signage of 2030 will certainly see substantially increased use of AI to deliver ever more personalised experiences in response to the need to be seen and noticed among the clutter.

What kind of screens will it leverage? Many are confidently predicting that, in 10 years’ time, the LCD monitors that were the staple screen of the last decade will have gone the way of the overhead projector. Certainly, the major LCD screen vendors are currently gearing up to ensure that, if that happens, they’re well-placed to respond.

AVIXA’s position, however, is a little more reserved: the organisation believes that LED will constitute around half of display market revenues. As things stand, it’s not intuitive why that will be the case. LED appears to have everything going for it – except price, a problem that increasing volumes will solve.

Could it be, though, that just as LED has its moment in the sun, OLED will come along and rain on its parade? If
you’ve seen an OLED TV in action, you’ll know that OLED image quality is drop dead gorgeous. For sure, like LED, its price will come down. However: rumours persist of issues with screen burn – and, in the proAV world perhaps more than the consumer world, that’s a killer. Is it fixable? Who knows? What does seem likely, however, is that OLED’s inherent ‘bendability’ will see it delivering new creative opportunities, just as LED’s modularity has done.

No more projectors

And, by 2030, there will – finally – be no more projectors. Right? Just like there would be no more projectors in 2020. And the year before. And the year before that, as flat panel displays conquered all. Except it didn’t work out like that, did it? Nor will it. Trust me on this: in 10 years’ time, there will still be projectors. They’re just unlikely to be found in meeting rooms. For some, the reason for this is the technology’s failure to truly integrate into the collaboration world.

So long as there’s a need to put big pictures on big surfaces, projectors will have a place in the world – and the so-called experience economy will ensure that that need not only exists, but grows. Yes, you can do some remarkable things with LED modules – things you could once only do with projection – but projection will remain unsurpassed on its ability to take your breath away.

What will also be interesting to see is whether lamp-based projectors will still exist in a decade’s time. Pretty much since the first launch of solid state illumination for projectors, pundits have been predicting the disappearance of lamps – yet, there they still are. The perceived wisdom on this is that lamps continue to enable projector manufacturers to offer a lower entry level price. Will solid state become sufficiently affordable that we won’t see lamps in 10 years’ time? Probably.

Perhaps most interesting of all, however, in looking forward 10 years, is how the dynamics of the market will look:
how will products travel from vendors to end users? Most see an industry in which margins will only continue to decline, putting more pressure on integrators to devise new and imaginative income/profit streams. Business models that include managed services and that embrace recurring revenues will be key. It’s a shift the channel has already begun to make – identifying opportunities to add value – but it will need to redouble its efforts.

Predictable vendor

Of course, the inherent weakness of any look-forward of this kind is that it takes where we are today and extrapolates it along a fairly predictable vector. What it can’t do is to foretell those things that come from left field and change the
game. And: history is littered with people who tried – and failed. We’re not all being driven round by apes. Pneumatic tubes haven’t replaced roads. We don’t now have only one toe on each foot.

As a profoundly wise man once said: “We can only imagine what we can imagine: we cannot imagine what we
cannot imagine”. (Actually, that wise man may have been me…)

The good news, though, is that, talking to the industry: whatever directions the technology and applications take, there is apparently universal agreement that the AV industry couldn’t be in better shape, and that future growth seems assured. It will continue to be a great business to be in. Roll on the next 10 years!

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