A few nights back, I was having dinner with a friend of mine that is in the audiovisual business.  He is a representative of a major manufacturer and, as you might expect, it did not take long for our conversation to drift to the topic of technology.  We began by discussing my recent blog post on the sunset of analog technologies (aka “Digital Conversion”).  Almost immediately he made a statement that surprised me. He said, “Your clients should give serious consideration to installing Fiber Optic (Fiber) cable and components as part of their digital upgrade”.  I laughed to myself, thinking that this statement must be the latest creation of his company’s marketing department whose sole purpose is to promote and sell their newest products.

I was familiar with the use of Fiber.  It is not new to the audiovisual industry; but in my experience, it has always been considered a specialty technology.  Fiber’s common uses in audiovisual systems has always been for pushing content over long distances (between buildings in a campus setting for example) and for secure applications like government videoconference facilities.  I had never heard anyone suggest that it be used for standard conference room, training room and classroom applications.

I responded with a cynical tone, a crooked smile to match and asked, “How can you justify such a statement?  The cost would be higher and I don’t see the benefit”. He knew what Fiber was used for as well as I did.  To my surprise his answer was short and simple.  He responded, “They should use Fiber for protection against obsolescence. The increase in video resolutions means that the associated signal bandwidth is beginning to exceed the operating specifications of traditional copper systems”.  I immediately knew he was right!  We tend to think of today’s high-definition (HD) as final destination on the resolution upgrade path – but it is not. 

For instance, about a month prior, I attended a conference hosted by a very innovative display manufacturer. At that event they addressed some of the industry trends in video resolution; one of them was 4K resolution.  4K is four-times the resolution of today’s HD and is a clear sign that the move to high resolution has just begun.  This is not just a resolution of the future – 4K displays are shipping today.

So, let’s go back to the statement about “obsolescence protection”.  How will installing a Fiber solution (cable and switching components) offer investment protection?  The answer is straightforward; Fiber offers almost unlimited bandwidth capabilities.  This means that as video resolutions increase in the future your audiovisual system’s infrastructure will be capable of supporting the higher signal bandwidth requirements.  Sure, you will still have to upgrade computers and displays as resolution standards change.  But you won’t have to worry about having to replace the cable and signal components.

Is copper cable obsolete at this time?  No.  There are a lot of different types of installed audiovisual systems and it is certainly not required that you use fiber in your migration from analog to digital.  However, it is worth considering, especially if your audiovisual system has multiple displays and advanced switching capabilities.  If you decide not to make the move to fiber when you upgrade to digital, you should know that it is likely that you will be doing a copper to fiber conversion at some point the future.

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