Survey Analysis: Analog-to-Digital Transition

In an ideal world, we might leap at the chance to dig into new technologies that promise breathtaking video resolution with minimal tweaking, however digital transitioning also brings the potential to disrupt and/or bankrupt services at a time when few operations have capacity to spare for a major overhaul of RGB-based analog video systems.

Recent discussions regarding the transition from analog to digital video transport suggest that many feel that they have little control over this technological sea-change. We conceived our Analog-to-Digital Transition survey in order to put a finer point on the current “state of digital”. This is the summary of what we learned.

1. How much research have you done on the issues relating to digital signal path migration?

One measure of our stewardship is the degree to which we engage in due diligence in support of change. On average, respondents engaged in at least five measures relating to digital signal path migration. 97% of the respondents indicated they have read articles in magazines. 83% obtained information from manufacturers. (Profs to those manufacturers who tailor technology updates specifically for Technology Leaders!) All but one respondent indicated they had done some research into digital signal path transition.

Surprisingly, field tests (52%) edged out prototypes (49%), suggesting that a few of us seem to be okay with deploying untested systems. More telling, less than half of us have done limited installs or lab tests prior to implementation. It is not clear whether this is due to the fiscal climate, fear of the unknown, or just too little time. In the “old days” many of us used prototypes and test installs as a way to verify our designs’ performance and usability.

Chime in (below or to the AV-1 list) on these follow-ups…

  • What are some of the best resources you have encountered?
  • Has there been a particular article you have found especially valuable?
  • What keeps you from prototypes and field tests?
  • Design consulting firms proved to be the least likely go-to source for our due diligence. Is this because they may not be seen as an integral part of the process?
  • Have you used del.icio.us to bookmark web pages to which you often refer?

2. During your next / current systems upgrade, how do you plan to deal with digital connections?

60% now require digital installs. For many in the industry (particularly some manufacturers) that number might seem blasphemously low. “What the heck are the other 40% thinking?” they might howl, “Have these people not drunk the Kool-aid??”

Comments from respondents:

  • “We do not have an established plan for our current systems upgrade, however we are starting discussions and leaning towards a case-by-case basis for the upcoming year.”
  • “We have put forward a request for funding to implement a staged transition.”
  • “Still sussing what manufacturers are offering and how it will work with current equipment.”

Manufacturers may not always comprehend the “conditions on the ground” for us. We live with installs every day and are all too aware that analog video will not simply disappear on our schedule. Case in point, we still have to deal with VHS players (good grief!).

Furthermore, although it is true that VGA chips will no longer be manufactured in 2015, we expect to live with those VGA computers for 4-6 more years after that. In other words, many of us may still be wrestling with analog signals well into 2020 (11 years from now!!!).

At AV-1 we sympathize with this dilemma shared by all of our members, and still to those 16% who indicated that they have no plan, we must ask what are you thinking?

3. WHEN do you anticipate installing DIGITAL-ONLY SYSTEMS?

Nearly half responded that they were not sure when, if ever, digital-only systems might prevail. Conversely, no one said “never.”

This question complements question #2 and, in our view, highlights another prevailing challenge within our industry: What exactly is a digital-only system?  Consider the following: Most hardware-based capture systems still digitize analog video. Most compact digital cameras continue to offer only NTSC video out.

Even the chief surveyologist needs to ask, “What does digital-only really mean?”

4. When installing digital systems, what type of COMPONENTS are you more inclined to consider?

While we try not to name names, it is common knowledge that some manufacturers push the concept of all inclusive digital systems. The key selling point may be boiled down to, “If you stick with our stuff, everything will work and life will be good.” A consequence of this approach is that it makes it technically impossible or prohibitively expensive to integrate other manufacturer’s products into your system.

It does not appear as if AV-1’ers are fans of this approach. 60% indicated that they were more inclined to consider the best components from a variety of manufacturers…

  • Is this because you believe that there is a cost/performance benefit to picking and choosing components from multiple product lines?
  • Have you had or heard of a negative experience with the single-manufacturer model?
  • Are you just too darn stubborn to submit to the one-stop-shop approach to system design?

5. What percentage of your facilities CURRENTLY PROVIDE A DIGITAL VIDEO PATH (for PODIUM PC; for LAPTOP computers; from ALL video SOURCES to DISPLAY DEVICE)?

The data for this question provides a snapshot of exactly where we are right now, insofar as digital integration is concerned. In short, if digital video was an airplane, we may be a long way from getting off the ground. Here are the details:

The percentage of rooms configured with digital pathways can be examined in the accompanying pie charts, however, taken as an aggregate across all three categories we found that more than 43% currently have no digital signal paths in any of their systems… nada zero zilch.

Another 43% report that they have digital signal paths from laptops to the projector in up to 25% of their rooms (perhaps we should have permitted a more granular response here). After that the numbers drop precipitously, with only 11% using a digital connection from a podium computer, in up to 25% of our rooms.

We believe that this data suggests that the migration to digital is moving forward in a thoughtful, incremental manner that we know will serve existing technologies as well as emerging technologies.

6. WHICH video transmission protocol do you think is the INPUT OF THE FUTURE?

HDMI was the protocol of choice.  However, that still leaves more than 60% on the fence about what the future holds.

Other respondents’ ideas on the input of the future:

  • Network cable
  • MPEG-4/H.264
  • “Whatever the device requires and I can afford.”
  • “None, with the industry kowtowing to the movie industry and their paranoia. Sticking to film would resolve pirating.”
  • “The connector does not matter, its the signal.”
  • “Plan on HDMI for now, HDbaseT in the near future, our path lies in wireless video transmission via the network.”
  • “I’m sure we’ll see something new soon!”
  • “Display Port + HDMI – can’t ignore HDCP, no matter how much we try.”
  • “All above EXCEPT apple proprietary standards.”

7. Do you think we will ever have a video transmission standard with longevity comparable to VGA?

Yet, we do still have faith in the future, where 54% indicated that we did believe there could be a standard that lasted 20+ years, as VGA did. We think some of the comments hit the nail on the head as to what the future may hold.

Key comments:

  • “Only if ATI & nVidia decide this is it, no if and or buts and stick to it.”
  • “Digital transmission standard will come in the next couple years, inputs will be in flux for much longer.”
  • “Not while there is constant version updates, [at least with] analog there is no firmware.”
  • “Hopeful-Extreme cost to change.”

Endnote

Digital Transmission may be the only event in our collective careers for which our experience provides very little insight into the future. There is no historical exemplar from which we can draw comparisons.

Integrators can install a system, walk away and when it is obsolete one year later shrug and say, “Hey, technology changes fast. Who knew?” These are unsettling times for those of us who have to live with these installs.

Somehow, we need to install systems that will be in place for 5- to 6-years, that can handle technology from 10 years ago, while being agile enough to accept the future-tech, 10 years hence. This is a daunting challenge and AV-1 will continue to report on organizational strategies for success.

Scott Tiner

Bates College

One thought on “Survey Analysis: Analog-to-Digital Transition”

  1. The report confirms our own discussions on how best to move forward.
    Do you jump in and learn as you go or sit back and let others make mistakes and learn from them. I prefer to take a calculated risk, the journey may be frought with peril but we need to move forward at some stage and I think we will be better informed by it in the end. Ooops in av there is no end enjoy the journey

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