Developing Standards for AV

January 10, 2009

Developing audio visual systems standards can save money, both with fixed costs and operational costs.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with several local universities to discuss the technology they use in their facilities. I was a bit shocked to hear about the uphill battle they have to get the type of technology they want in a classroom.

How do facilities plan for the future and make changes now that can help prevent this from happening? 

And how do they implement changes fully across the board that will help ensure that what they want is what they will get?

Developing standards can help. Projecting what will happen in the future is not an exact science, so the development of standards takes time and an investment of human resources. And once the standards are established, they need to be evaluated at least once every two years, if not annually. But the reward can be substantial. Standards can establish both upfront costs and ongoing costs. They can also confirm that the installed technology will have the ability to meet objectives.
It is worth noting that the objectives of the teaching staff, design team, design-build team, and the university operations department differ by perspective. The teaching staff, of course, wants the best available 'teaching aids.' The budget for the building affects decisions at the design team and design/build levels. And the operations department wants ease of operations at the lowest overall cost. These objectives overlap, but they are not the same. Developing standards can help 'bridge' all objectives.

To illustrate this point, let's look at a single product decision – a projector. To keep it simple, we will compare just two different types of basic projectors. Let's presume the first is a standard projector with 2500 lumens (of brightness). It costs $2,500. The second projector is a 3000 lumens projector that costs $4,500.

We shall anticipate no video requirements. A laptop will connect to the wireless network for a Powerpoint or similar type of presentation. Wireless connectivity works well for static information but not so well for motion video and audio signals. When using wireless access, there are other limitations to consider, as well. Therefore, if we know that video is expected to be used, it would make sense to establish a standard to mandate a wired solution, even if wireless was available. Otherwise, the solution won't meet the objectives.

When comparing the two projectors, both might appear to be adequate, with the $2,000 cost variance and 500 lumens as the largest difference. In reality, this is not the case.

The ability to meet objectives, the useful life, the initial and ongoing cost are all factors to consider when developing standards.

Our first look at the projectors confirms both units to be good technology and well-established projectors. Then we note that the LCD unit is 1080i capable while the DLP unit is 1080p capable. The LCD unit has a standard one setting operation for its brightness and a traditional filter system. While the DLP unit has two settings and a 10,000-hour filter system. And the LCD projector has a DVI port for Digital Video, while the DLP projector has an HDMI port and Digital Video.

The newer technology DLP projector comes with a built-in technology that allows it to provide automatic notifications of bulb life, monitors when the filters need cleaning and when the last maintenance was performed on the unit. With the LCD unit, these tasks are manual, requiring the projector's downtime and human resources to service the unit. Without standards, these costs are often ignored.

Given an average maintenance effort for the LCD unit where you are running the diagnosis and checking the bulb status locally once a month, $360 a year is a conservative cost estimate. For a five year anticipated life span, that is $1,800 of the real cost.

Filters should be cleaned roughly every 1,000 hours for the LCD version, whereas the DLP operates for 10,000 hours between cleaning. Given the cleaning process takes an hour, there is at least a $600 cost difference for every 10,000 hours of maintenance.

The average LCD bulb costs $500 and will last about 1,000 hours under normal operation (presuming normal maintenance). With the DLP projector, a lower usage setting that can be implemented can deliver up to 75% more life out of the bulb. That is a minimum of $1000 cost savings over 5,000 hours of use.

Granted, a comparison like this is on the extreme side. This is usually a comparison of many types and styles for the purchase of many units. And the comparison is for many products or systems. When you consider the collective cost of many such comparisons, the costs are often real and significant. Yet, the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership ) is not always easy to establish and consider during the selection process.

The comparison aims to demonstrate how the higher initial priced product may prove to have a lower overall cost. For our simple example, the DLP unit's initial cost was $2,000 more than the LCD unit. Considering the TCO per unit, the LCD projector costs $1,400 more than the DLP projector due to higher maintenance costs. And the more the projector gets used, the greater the difference in cost over the useful lifespan.

As significant as the dollars can be, they may not always be the deciding factor. Consider the differences in functionality.

At the start, we mentioned the Sunset law. In this particular case, this is the defining issue. Apple laptops now come standard with a new "Display Port" output for the computer, and many other PCs now use an HDMI port. This issue is huge because, in January 2011, projectors will need HDMI to accommodate the Sunset laws. DVI ports on the LCD projector have limited compatibility. Therefore, when the new FCC regulations go into effect, the LCD projector will probably need to be replaced to be compatible with the new laptop interfaces.

By developing a standard, these factors can be reviewed by either in-house or contracted experts and the staff that will be supporting the systems. Baseline objectives (such as the video in the above example), initial cost savings, operational procedures and costs, and anticipated strategic changes that affect the decision are all considered when establishing your standard.

Once implemented, you can be certain that developing standards, if adhered to, will work Day One and year 3, 4, or 5 down the road.


by Allen Schulte, CTS

AV & Control Manager

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