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When is it time to upgrade your AV?

Buildings last a long time, but audiovisual technology is changing quickly; when is your equipment obsolete?

Audiovisual at Oregon State University Learning Innovation Center (LInC) Classroom Building by Stantec. (Architecture by Bora)

By Josh Hamon, Audiovisual Designer (Seattle, Washington)

Here is a popular question I get from clients when they’re in the midst of upgrading their space, “How long will the AV last?” The easy answer: “Well, it depends.” Most of the time that question isn’t about how long the audiovisual (AV) will continue to function. It is about how long it will work well, be easy to use, and do what we expect. It’s ultimately about expectations more than durability.

In my previous life as an event producer, I only needed AV to last a few hours. But buildings are meant to last a long time. For good reason, owners want their buildings, systems, and AV to have a long shelf life. They want the best return on investment. I want to help them get there, and I want to explain how long “long” is likely to be for their building. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but almost everyone carries a good analogy with them at all times.

So, how long should you want your AV to last?

Think about it this way, how old is your cell phone? 

Audiovisual at Oregon State University Learning Innovation Center (LInC) Classroom Building by Stantec. (Architecture by Bora)

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Not everyone replaces their cell phones at the same rate. But few people want a 7-year-old cell phone, let alone a 15-year-old cell phone. (Remember the original iPhone couldn’t even copy and paste.) While some people might want a new phone every year, few people spend the money to make that happen. So, where do you rate on the following scale?

I keep my cell phone until: 

  • It stops working and I can’t get it fixed. “It’s a phone … if I can get calls, texts, and emails, then I’m good to go.”
  • It stops working well enough. “Once it gets too slow, I give it to my kids.”
  • There is new phone with a specific feature I’m waiting for. “I want the phone with the best camera.” 
  • There is a new model. “I always get the newest ______.”
  • Until I find one cooler. “In fact, I just got a new one while reading this.”  

This Simple Cell Phone (SCP) Scale can guide you to making the right choice for your AV budget and your end users. Your company/building/project has a really large “cell phone” of sorts— its AV setup. When should you plan to replace it? Look at the ends of the scale as a starting point. In the conference room with AV from 20 years ago, even the whiteboard may not work well. Most people won’t find the equipment very useful, even though it technically works and can get on the network—“most of the time.” On the other hand, your 3-year-old board room might be a spring chicken in the AV world.

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Audiovisual at Oregon State University Learning Innovation Center (LInC) Classroom Building by Stantec. (Architecture by Bora)

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In an age of rapidly advancing technology, standards for what meets our definition of useful technology are changing all the time. Next time you’re thinking about your AV needs, goals, wants, and costs, use the SCP Scale on your project. When will your project’s “cell phone” need replacing?

In the fast-changing technological world we live in, there are ways of thinking that may extend the life of your AV set-up.

Think modular.

What “modular” means is considering the source, the AV infrastructure, and the display independent of one another. Build the infrastructure behind the walls with the right flexibility so it can hook up to whatever source you’re likely to use (laptops, tablets, and cell phones). And understand that some of your major AV hardware (the latest flat screen) may be less expensive to adjust than your wiring. If you build that flexibility in from the start—with the right variety of inputs and outputs—you’re more likely to keep your AV “phone” longer, or only need to upgrade smaller bits that need it.

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Josh is an audiovisual designer with a background as the end user—serving as the producer of live events. He knows what it takes to make AV dreams work in real life.

So, how long should you want your AV to last? Think about it this way, how old is your cell phone?

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