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10 July 2017

Making a move: analogue to digital 

Businesses are becoming increasingly digitised, and in the boardroom and lecture theatres it's no different, organisations are shifting audiovisual (AV) investments from analogue to digital, and looking at future-proofing their AV investment. 

It sounds intimidating, but with the right partner, it's a smooth transition, however it helps to understand the technology, and how to approach the move from analogue to digital. 

Matching technology to need

Before undertaking a system design, your AV partner will need to understand your needs and expectations and critically the desired outcome you are hoping to achieve.   Once the primary question, analogue, digital, or both? has been answered, there are many more questions to be asked:

  • Is there a requirement for interoperability between digital and analogue components?
  • Is this an upgrade to an existing system? If so, is there a need to support legacy devices while providing the flexibility to address future growth capability?
  • Is the system expected to span a technology life of many years? If so, an all-digital infrastructure should be considered to support the continued evolution of video resolutions. 

Understanding the precise operational requirements of any system during the design phase will help control potential cost overruns. 

Why go digital?

The implementation of digital AV technologies has many advantages over analogue.

  • Since signals are already digital within the electronics of virtually all AV products, most if not all analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversion can be eliminated, resulting in lower manufacturing costs and allowing for more competitive pricing.
  • In comparison to analogue-based devices and systems, digital signals are ‘lossless’, which means pixel-perfect, consistent, high-quality images while reducing the time and effort required for system and display set-up.
  • A digital infrastructure can be designed to accommodate the high resolutions commonly found today, such as 1920x1200 and HDTV 1080p, and provide support for the higher rates on the horizon. 

Analogue, digital, or both?

Not all new AV technologies and signal types survive, and the ones that do don't immediately replace legacy formats. For example, some new digital devices incorporate an assortment of analogue video outputs, few digital displays have analogue inputs. Customers often ask "why do manufacturers go to the extra effort and expense, to provide a variety of connectors on their products?" The answer?  Compatibility! 

Most manufacturers know that sources and displays are rarely replaced together. As new video sources come onto the market, there is a need to maintain compatibility with older displays. And new, high-resolution flat panel screens and projectors, need to be compatible with older sources retained for use with legacy content. 

System designs for regular training and presentation facilities, therefore, very often accommodate a mix of analogue and digital capabilities, providing support for legacy analogue video formats while incorporating newer signal types such as DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and, in some cases, HD-SDI. 

Some systems are likely to remain predominantly analogue for some time, particularly in South Africa where the adoption of digital has been slow, with signal converters added as needed to accommodate new digital displays or source devices. For example, technology budgets for school classrooms do not allow for the upgrade of an entire media system if the purpose is only to accommodate new technology. Integrating a new, HDMI-equipped playback source, however, requires nothing more than the right digital extender and a direct connection to a projector's digital input. 

From experience, university lecture halls and corporate boardrooms are beginning to incorporate digital video technologies to accommodate the evolving needs for digital media presentations, while maintaining compatibility with existing analogue content and playback equipment. You can add digital input capabilities by changing the central switcher or scaler to one that accepts analogue and digital signals; conversely, accommodate digital displays through the use of a switcher or scaler that outputs digital signals. 

Overcoming the challenges presented by various technologies, customer needs, or environmental parameters is the goal of all system designers. But at the end of the day, professional AV systems are highly customisable, with each solution designed to meet the client’s requirements. 

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