The future of video distribution – and, in particular, the growing adoption of solutions based on AV-over-IP technologies – was the headline topic at a one-day conference organised by Datapath at the end of September, attended by Installation.
Currently celebrating its 40th year, Datapath is a market leader in control technologies for a wide variety of applications in the built environment. These include multi-display video walls, small-to-medium-scale video walls in business centres, and command and control rooms of any scale. Its current product range encompasses video wall controllers, AV-over-IP-with-KVM products, capture cards and graphics products, although it was the flagship Aetria product – Datapath’s integrated solution for the design, management and operation of control rooms of any size – that was in the spotlight at the Datapath event in Amsterdam on 29 September.
Providing an opportunity for some of the company’s closest distributor and system integrator partners to network and exchange ideas, the event was Datapath’s first-ever Channel Partner Conference. In addition to sessions outlining strategic plans and product roadmaps, it also featured insight from a number of end-users and experts – all adding up to a rounded portrait of a sector being shaped by multiple significant technology trends.
Taking place at the NH Amsterdam Zuid hotel, the event provided a day of insight into the future of video over IP, with a particular focus on Aetria and the ways in which it is enabling more flexible and management control room content.
Control room trends
In his opening address, Datapath CEO and managing director Bjorn Krylander charted the evolution of the company from “1980s graphics workstations through to Windows accelerators, which became graphics cards, and then on into video wall and multiscreen technology, which have served us well from the late 1990s onwards.” More recently, the company has also pursued opportunities in AV over IP, with the whole concept of “putting everything into network technology really changing the industry and making it possible to move into new areas”.
Krylander also alluded to an exciting roadmap for the Aetria solution. “So much [effort] has been put into the design and configuration aspects,” he said, adding that whilst the company is initially “targeting control rooms”, it will be looking at other opportunities in the “fullness of time”.
There was also acknowledgement of the importance of the ongoing dialogue between Datapath and its customers. “What makes Datapath so pleasant for me is all the customers – you provide great feedback,” said Krylander. “We have worked with many of you for many years, and developed this relationship where we dare to tell each other what is good and what is not. That’s fantastic and makes us a better company.”
Among the other speakers was Peter Prater, chair of the International Critical Control Rooms Alliance (ICCRA), who provided a welcome overview of the main challenges and requirements currently impacting the sector. As he soon made clear, there is no shortage of factors affecting control room environments – ranging from internal and external political issues to procurement regulations and interoperability. Hence the creation a few years ago of the ICCRA, which exists to “bring together critical control room professionals in order to help deliver excellent mission critical services”.
Prater went on to address some of the common design approaches in control room environments such as those operated by railway companies, port authorities and emergency services. He then outlined a possible vision of an in-the-round “futuristic control room” involving cross-organisational systems integration, task-oriented working positions, and multi-disciplinary central visualisation experiences. Exploiting AI, ML and the latest AV, such a control room could be used by multiple organisations or agencies, “driven by the need to save money while delivering more joined-up outcomes”.
Despite the growing trend towards virtualisation in some areas of AV, Prater indicated that control rooms would likely remain geared towards physical spaces rather than virtual. He also highlighted the need for thought leadership now in order to shape user behaviour and requirements later on.
‘Critical Control Rooms Today’ was the subject of another key session, presented by Datapath VP global sales David Griffiths. From charting the evolution of control room displays through key stages such as the introduction of digital video walls taking direct feeds to multi-output workstations offering windowing, Griffiths moved on to examine the emergence of modern-day decision-making spaces. While acknowledging the diversity of solutions required across sectors, he implied that the main customer requirements are relatively uniform and include: the ability to deliver data wherever it is needed; the maintenance of data security (cyber and access); interactivity; high system availability; and the seamless combination of physical and remote operations.
“There has to be a focus on the operator user experience,” said Griffiths, adding that it’s “always a balancing act when providing a system” regardless of customer field. For suppliers, such as Datapath, the onus is therefore on providing flexible, scalable and secure solutions that are also easy to use.
Throughout the day, there was an opportunity to catch up with Datapath partners and customers, who gave their opinions regarding the company’s latest solutions development and the broader trajectory of the control room market.
“Datapath’s products have allowed us to enter the control room market with confidence, and it is a great opportunity,” said Guido Villa, CEO of Madrid-based integrator AG Multivision. “The great thing about Datapath is the people – we get excellent support from the Datapath team and this is important, especially with a product like Aetria.”
Multiple conversations underlined the belief that the market is now increasingly tilted towards networked solutions. For French IT solutions provider IP Partners, this is where Aetria provides an obvious opportunity. CEO Eddy Olivier commented: “IP Partners works exclusively in IT and networked solutions. Aetria changes the paradigm in how software works with audio-visual and this is how we want to work. Datapath are real experts in what they do and I’m excited about what is to come.”
By revealing its plans for 2023, the Channel Partner Conference reinforced relationships between Datapath and its key European partners. Ian Shanahan, technical AV specialist at Square One, the Irish division of Midwich, revealed that they have enjoyed a near 15-year relationship with the Derby-based manufacturer, but upcoming developments are set to strengthen that relationship further.
“The conference has been really enlightening,” he said. “From what we’ve seen of what is coming down the road, we can only see our relationship with Datapath growing further still.”
So what is to come? Without giving away any confidential specifics, it is clear that further developments in networked video processing are on the horizon.
‘The tendency is towards AVoIP’
Following the conference, Richard Spellman, founder and CEO of Ambient Media in Spain, gave his opinion on how future projects will develop: “In general, pro AV will involve video and audio over an IP network. Regardless of what protocols we use, the tendency is towards AVoIP. The need to get anything to anywhere in the shortest time is going to be a big focus for both Datapath and Ambient Media.”
With such a flexible and scalable solution, what of the challenges looming ahead with regard to supporting integrators as they develop their own skill sets in this area? “Aetria, as an AV over IP solution, is an abstract for many people who are typically used to plugging in cables to connect signals. But more and more, AV installers and integrators are moving into the IT space,” said Spellman. “The opposite is also true: IT integrators who will probably be very familiar with networks but don’t have an eye for compositional detail, may not really know if a picture looks really good, whereas as the AV integrator will [do so] inherently. [However] I think they are crossing over in terms of product knowledge.”
Aetria’s intricacies and status as a new product mean that both parties require full support – another area where Datapath continues to show its strengths. “The support we receive from Datapath has always been quick, spot on, and has helped us maintain our customer relationships – because people never call you unless there is a bit of a bind. If we didn’t know the answers ourselves, we knew a team that did and that is Datapath!”
Last word to Bjorn Krylander, who concluded: “To have so many of our valued partners gathered together was a fantastic experience in itself, but their reaction to our guest speakers, road map and the developments we have underway was highly encouraging and underlines our mission to deliver pro AV products that our customers want and genuinely benefit from.
“On behalf of all our sales and account managers, and everyone at Datapath who made the event possible, I’d like to thank those who attended our Channel Partner Conference and look forward to delivering on our road map in the year ahead.”
With thanks to Stuart Hillis, owner at Bees Buzz AV PR for additional customer quotations.