Angles Of View
As the 20th century draws to a close, the A/V industry is enjoying nearly unparalleled prosperity and is looking forward to the new millennium with justifiable optimism. Our popularity derives, of course, from our customers' perception that our equipment and our knowledge will improve their communications facilities. And, considering the plethora of greatly improved hardware currently available to us, it is tempting to assume that virtually any system we install can meet its owner's expectations. Yet to create a communication facility is not necessarily to create a facility to communicate. This article will contend that our industry should prefer the latter product to the former. Otherwise, we may be in some real danger of
Missing the Point - The Meaning of FailureLet us define an effective audio/visual system as a collection of equipment that, when turned on, can enhance its users' abilities to transmit information. Whether the presenter using the system wishes to train, sell, persuade, or teach, it is in fact probable that audio/visual equipment is the best carrying medium for that information if its audience is an assembled group.
To subvert the hoary cliché, however, although an A/V system may indeed have become the medium of choice, it certainly should not become the message. Not only is the "message" not hardware, it is not software either, if what we mean by software is whatever sort of application program that gets used to create the presentation. The real "message" is what this article will call the content of the presentation and a look at how it gets created may be instructive.
Most of us who inhabit the A/V world have long appreciated that developments and advances within our industry are actually by-products of developments and advances within another, and much larger enterprise, the computer industry. It is simply our good luck that computers comprise a technology which can completely obsolesce itself at astonishingly short intervals.
Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, famously observed way back in 1965, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled each and every year since the integrated circuit was invented. After some smoothing and additional history, this perception became Moore's Law which states that the data density achievable by CPUs doubles approximately every eighteen months. Figure 1 shows how closely, in fact, Moore's Law has been borne out by the progression of Intel processors. Although, for quantum mechanical reasons, the trend cannot and will not continue indefinitely, it is not likely to stop for about another decade and a half.
An inevitable consequence of this periodic doubling of "data density" is that all the rest of the computer's components enlarge accordingly. Thus, your new computer always comes with a bigger hard disc than your old one had, and the amount of RAM recommended to run its bundled software will also be larger. Et cetera.
The software industry, of course, is typically the first to exploit and benefit from this development spiral. By having faster and more capacious hardware available to them, software manufacturers can produce applications which are capable of manipulating increasingly complicated and complex types of information.
What happens next is that computer users, in possession of the faster and more powerful hardware, can now run the larger and more complex software applications which, thereby, enable them to manipulate and process commensurately more sophisticated and complex "content."
Once the computer user has mastered the upgraded software and, thereby, begun to produce upgraded "content", the first thing she is likely to do is want to present her output to others. And the moment she wishes to present that content to a group too large to cluster around her computer monitor is the moment when she turns to the A/V industry and asks for help. Our products, then, must be integrated into systems whose fundamental purpose is the presentation of our customers' "content".
In our industry's parlance, the best synonym for "content" is, naturally, "resolution." True, the number of pixels we use to make up our newest images is not doubling every eighteen months, but it is inexorably growing. Similarly, the brightness of our projectors also does not double at a computerlike pace, but it is certainly accelerating. Think back for a moment on how long it took projectors to get from one or two hundred lumens to one thousand lumens. And then think how long it has taken them to get from 1,000 lumens to 2,000 lumens....
These extraordinary developments in our industry's available hardware have doubtless contributed greatly to the worldwide demand for our goods and services. After all, not only is the equipment we manufacture and sell demonstrably better than its last year's versions, it is also less expensive. Small wonder as an industry we are currently enjoying such phenomenal success.
Given all that good news, what possibly could go wrong? Absent some cataclysm in the macro economy, how could the future of A/V be anything but bright? With the hundreds of rooms that our industry will design and build over the next few years, however might there be room for failure?
The room is built and its presentation system installed. Every Tuesday afternoon a group, let us say, of 22 people gather in the room so that they may be provided with updated information which will be presented to them in order that, subsequently, they may make appropriate decisions regarding it.
During the first year, everything about the system seems wonderful. When their buttons are pushed, the screen invariably comes down and the projector unfailingly lights up. None of the other equipment malfunctions, either. This happy state of affairs continues through the second year except that, now, the quality of the decisions produced by the group mysteriously starts to slip. Departments that previously were quite reliable in carrying out their specific directives have grown uncertain and worrisomely tentative.
The executive in charge of the meetings is at first stumped and then angered. Quite understandably, none of these people knows anything about projection screens and devices, few know much about their computers (other than how to use them), all know a great deal about their business, whatever it may be.
This is how come, of course, they don't notice that the participants whose judgements seem suddenly to have become the most faulty are those who tend to come in late and who, therefore, get relegated to seats in the back row. And they also didn't pay much attention to the new projector they were sold, satisfied instead to believe that it was better and brighter (and it was!). And, lastly, they were all so delighted to see their computers finally upgraded that they paid no attention at all to what it did to their content.
Yet whereas once all 22 people would leave that Tuesday afternoon meeting having, as it were, gotten the message. Now there are only 14 that continue to get it. The other 8 don't get it and they don't get it because they can't. And when that happens (and it does, it does) the system has failed. No piece of equipment or component has given out, mind you. In fact, several ironically may have been improved or upgraded. But there is major system failure nonetheless because the medium can no longer deliver the message and the critical meaning of it all, the content, is lost.
To belabor the point just a little more, the reason content can become compromised is not because its data density is too low but because it has been allowed to become too high. The ability of computers to pack more and more information simultaneously onto their screens is not, we would suggest, an unmixed blessing. Yes, all our new projectors can reproduce that resolution handsomely and, yes, all our new Da-Lite screens can contain and display all that content effortlessly. But that does not mean that all viewers from all viewing distances will be able to comprehend it.
Sure, if all we're trying to project is seven or eight word, 28 point, text strings inside a PowerPoint presentation, most of the concerns expressed here are groundless. But what if the content to be presented is something quite different, the company's web site, for example? The data density of that content is hugely higher and if the strictures its presentation thereby impose are not carefully accounted for, the communications system delivering it will fail.
More, you see, is not always better. More, in fact, can sometimes be just Moore.