The Next Frontier
“IP is a great way to converge A/V and the PC industry,” says Shimonishi. “It’s one unique standard.” Plus, from the consumer’s perspective, the entire system doesn’t fail if one hardware item fails. An IP-based system works the same way a networked PC connection does: When one computer malfunctions, it doesn’t take down the whole system. For the retailer or installer, this could conceivably translate into fewer emergency calls, more effective troubleshooting and more modular repairs. There’s also a reduction in labor and materials since an IP-based connection only requires CAT5 cable.
But with the benefits also come challenges, like keeping audio synchronized. While synchronization doesn’t impact a program like e-mail—it doesn’t matter if a mass e-mail reaches all recipients at the same time—it does have an enormous impact on whole house audio that requires music be streamed consistently. “Microsoft had this problem with their Media Center,” says Shimonishi. “Suppose you want to play Sheryl Crow throughout the house. There was a terrible echoing effect that got worse over time.” A long buffer time was the culprit, making it difficult to walk from room to room and hear the same song played at exactly the same time. Though many of these bugs have been worked out of IP-based systems, it isn’t always easy convincing the traditional A/V installer that IP is, in fact, reliable enough.
“We’re not really doing too much in IP,” says Dave Dilitkanich, marketing manager at Furman Sound in Petaluma, Calif. Though Dilitkanich admits Furman Sound doesn’t yet see a strong enough market for IP-based entertainment, he’s well aware of the buzz surrounding it, and has been for several years. “It’s part of our forward-looking strategy,” he says.