Editor’s note: Commercial Integrator has teamed up with the IMCCA, the New York-based non-profit industry association for unified communication and workplace collaboration, to produce a quarterly supplement, titled Collaboration Today and Tomorrow, that focuses on all things collaboration from multiple perspectives.
When I started in video collaboration almost 20 years ago, names like Polycom, Tandberg, Codian, Lifesize and Radvision ruled the conference room and associated infrastructure. Sure, there were early software clients from many of those brands, but they were standalone applications often tied to specific infrastructure, and they were certainly not ubiquitous across the enterprise.
Things began to change in the early 2010s, with some of the companies named above being acquired or consolidating; then, we saw a shift in the industry toward IT-centric collaboration platforms. As cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) began to reach into IT departments, it was only a matter of time before collaboration cloud services began to flourish. Cisco Webex and Microsoft (OCS, then Lync, then Skype) were soon joined by Zoom. Skype for Business changed again, being replaced by Teams. We saw Apple and Google tout their B2C (and sometimes B2B) options in FaceTime and Hangouts/Duo. And on it went….
Then, in late 2019, news of a new virus — SARS-CoV-2 — started to hit corners of the internet. By early 2020, we realized that this wasn’t simply another flu, and the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading around the globe. The world changed overnight, and the collaboration industry changed with it. Webcams replaced conference-room PTZs; headsets replaced beam-forming mics; and consumer electronics stores couldn’t stock enough inventory of brands such as Elgato, Logitech and Razer.
The commercial AV industry scrambled to adjust to the new world. Now, two years later, we are still figuring out the new normal. Should work-from-home (WFH) be considered a viable market for commercial AV? If so, what does (or will) that look like? I tried to find out.
My first round of questioning went out primarily to non-commercial-AV people in my IT life. And then, when COVID-19 resurged within some organizations, I had to scramble to adjust, as well. I ended up asking some of my industry peers the following questions:
- Is there a market for commercial AV in the WFH world?
- Do you use any commercial AV gear in your personal home office?
I’ll start with my opinion: Yes, I do still see some opportunities for commercial AV in WFH environments. You still find corporate leaders who prefer hardware endpoints for video collaboration, for example. For many, it’s about the user experience. They know how to operate the endpoint in their office, and they prefer to keep that same experience at home because, in most cases, technology is simply a tool that they use rather than a focus of their job.
Reliability, simplicity and consistency rule in that world. A desktop hardware endpoint doesn’t require driver updates, doesn’t spit out error messages about a camera or microphone being in use by another application, and doesn’t result in a mess of USB cables connected to the laptop dock.
The manufacturers and integrators who will find the most success in the WFH market are those who create solutions that can exist in both worlds.
Speaking for myself, I have far too much equipment at home, but most of it isn’t commercial. I do have a Cisco hardware endpoint, a Blackmagic Design switcher and some pro-level microphones, but most of my day-to-day streaming and collaboration gear is Elgato — I think I have almost every product they make — and Logitech. That being said, one of my “goes everywhere with me always” devices for both home and the road is a Poly Sync 20. And, when I need some privacy, I have a Poly Voyager Focus 2 UC. Both of those devices ride the line between consumer and commercial, in my opinion.
My final thought builds on that last sentence: I think that the manufacturers and integrators who will find the most success in the WFH market are those who create solutions that can exist in both worlds.
As for our industry peers, what follows is a collection of the thoughts they shared with me.
I am an AV professional, but my WFH setup is made up of residential equipment available in box stores or ecommerce websites. I have a Logitech C920 1080p webcam, a pair of Harman Kardon CN-04N567-48220 powered speakers, a Blue Microphones snowball USB microphone that I alternate with the mic in the webcam, and two ASUS MG28UQ monitors.
But that’s just me. So, is there opportunity for commercial communication solutions in the WFH market? I believe there are two different scenarios:
- If companies supply with a package of gear for employees who work from home, then commercial suppliers have an opportunity to sell those kits. Usually, companies will buy from the channels that they’re accustomed to doing business with.
- Sometimes, the worker gets an allowance to purchase their WFH gear. However, commercial equipment is not readily available through the channels that residential customers have access to, nor are they always aware of the different options. After all, most of the online reviews and articles focus on residential solutions that people can easily get.
One last thought: Commercial equipment is built to run 24/7 reliably; accordingly, the cost tends to be higher than for residential equipment, which is not used under those conditions.
In conclusion, I believe that commercial AV technologies and practitioners will have a hard time breaking into the WFH market, unless the first scenario prevails.
In response to the question, “Is there a market for commercial AV in the work-from-home world?”, I would say, simply put, no. In my opinion, commercial AV has already missed golden opportunities over the past two years to be in front of consumers. First, there is a lack of advertising and promotions. Some of the biggest names of our industry are absolutely nowhere to be found outside of specific, technology-related magazines, trade shows and industry blogs.
No cross-promotion means people aren’t seeing the gear anywhere, such as on Instagram Reels or TikTok, where cameras, lights, etc. could be showcased. No TV commercials — not even smaller touches like subway advertisements or “watch this ad before the movie” on your flight.
Commercial AV manufacturers or industry trade associations like AVIXA could have put out an ad that highlighted how AV has kept the world connected and moving forward during the pandemic. Marketing can make a big difference. Zoom used to be “commercial AV;” now, that company is a verb.
What’s more, I think commercial AV is too insular…too “techy.” The perception is that, because it’s specialized, a specialized skill set is required to operate/maintain those systems. Consumer education and showcasing ease of use must be top priorities. As much plug-and-play as possible is a start, as are in-depth support guides for hardware.
As to the question of whether I use any commercial AV gear in my personal home office, outside of my PreSonus audio interface and Shure mics, I do have a few high-end PTZ cameras in my setup, but I’ve actually removed most of the “commercial AV” components. It just didn’t make sense to me when my scope of work is largely surrounding day-to-day operations and virtual-event production.
Having my Zoom Room online over the pandemic was cool, but it required more power, networked devices and real estate that I simply did not care to dedicate. My switcher sits mostly dormant, and I only set it up per event. Previously, it was set up 100% of the time.
There’s also something to be said for manufacturers that target video-game streamers. Elgato is one company I admire for its vision. Elgato’s Stream Deck turned funky mouse clicks into button presses for easy productions! Poly is another company I am keeping a close eye on.
It’s a loaded question to ask if there’s a market for commercial AV in WFH. The short answer is yes. The long answer is this: It depends on what constitutes commercial AV.
Commercial AV for those working in AV means a very thoughtful, oftentimes overly designed system with a lot of moving pieces. For users of commercial AV, it means an overly complex system that, often, isn’t worth the trouble when you consider that they believe they can now get the same experience with off-the-shelf equipment. Arguably, that makes off-the-shelf commercial AV.
I use commercial AV gear in my home office. At first, it was for testing; then, it became for personal enhancement of my video calls. I use the Shure MXA910 and the IntelliMix P300; the Q-SYS Core 110f; the AVer VB342 and the CAM520; and the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro. I don’t use all of them consistently, but I do use them.
There is definitely a market for commercial AV in WFH. It’s just a matter of commercial AV evolving and seeing the opportunity.
I don’t see a market for commercial AV companies to work on residential installations. There is too much risk from an inconsistent user base. In an office environment, the company can control who uses the room and the purpose of the room. In the home, everyone wants everything all the time.
I use a Poly Sync 20 and a Logitech webcam. I guess that’s more prosumer than professional. I have had some issues with syncing the Poly to my devices, but I’m technical enough to make it work.
When asked, “Is there a market for commercial AV in the work-from-home world?”, I think in terms of the pandemic. Will the market for commercial AV be as large as pre-COVID-19? Likely not. Is there still a need? Absolutely yes!
During the past two years for remote WFH employees, there have been many hybrid internal meetings where just a little commercial AV would have gone a long way. Simply opening a laptop in a room with 10 employees, while 20 watch remotely, does not make for a successful meeting.
With regard to using commercial AV gear in a personal home office, the question is this: How can the commercial AV market deliver a product that I can use seamlessly with Microsoft Teams or Zoom? As a pre-sales engineer, I need to be able to present quotes and drawings, and sometimes live camera views of products.
There are workarounds for all these needs. However, a simple integrated product that would give smartboard functionality over a screen and seamless switching between sources as a presentable window would have a place in my home office.
This feature was compiled and framed by Mark Okern, an AV and collaboration technology architect.