COMAN VIEW: CISCO SPARK
CISCO SPARK: Not wanting to lose ground to Microsoft in the previously AV-owned meeting space, Cisco is the latest IT juggernaut to release a collaborative LCD panel. Cisco’s response to the Surface Hub comes in at about half the price, however, in keeping with the traditional Cisco model, ongoing licencing fees sees the Cisco Spark Board not as affordable as it first appears.
Closer inspection of the Cisco Spark Board reveals a number of seemingly obvious audiovisual requirements missing from this first-generation product. Firstly, in order to comply with the Building Code of Australia, hearing augmentation needs to be provided in most spaces where this product is to be deployed. Unfortunately, the audio line out provided on the Spark Board cuts the audio to the built-in speakers when connected, and as a result does not offer a fixed line level, essential for hearing augmentation. So, if your environment necessitates BCA compliance, then you’ll require a product such as an Extron MVC-121 that offers a single line in with a fixed and variable line out to the hearing augmentation and external speakers.
Secondly, while the built-in microphone array with voice tracking offers adequate coverage for most spaces, an external microphone input would prove to be beneficial, especially for larger spaces. The last feature seemingly overlooked is a video output. For environments such as lecture theatres it would be an advantage to share content via a larger medium. In saying that, the 4K capacitive multi-touch display is sharp and responsive, and is standard on both the 55- and 70-inch versions.
As you can see, these products leave us with a battle ground for the collaborative meeting space, AV vs IT, a Commoditised Solution vs an Engineered Solution, Vendor vs Agnostic. As a result, the AV landscape has changed, the IT guy is now the gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper is more familiar with Cisco and Microsoft, than Crestron and Extron. They’ve formed strong relationships with the IT giants over the years, so when they decide to muscle into the traditional AV environment they get instant traction. While this is not unexpected, the glaringly obvious concern is their distinct lack of AV knowledge, which more often than not results in a less than satisfactory user experience. This can leave the gatekeeper confused, the AV consultant is saying one thing and the IT goliath another, who do they listen to?
Unfortunately for the AV industry there can only be one winner, and just like the transformation of the IT landscape in the ’90s where companies such as Dell, Compaq and HP reclaimed the industry from the small operators building custom computers, the same thing is going to happen right here in our own backyards.
All doom and gloom for the AV industry? I prefer to see it as an opportunity; an opportunity to work more closely with the Ciscos and Microsofts of the world to help them engineer better solutions that not only meet the clients’ needs, but comply with standards and legislative requirements. An opportunity to finally combine the IT and AV worlds with truly integrated solutions.