Setting The Agenda: TJ Adams, QSC

QSC has changed its name and is heading in to new territories, Paul Milligan spoke to TJ Adams, the company’s director of installed systems, to find out more.

When asked why he choose to join QSC three years ago TJ Adams replied “I had a vision for what I thought AV processing systems could be, and weren’t yet.”  This statement was at the very core of our interview, and was returned to repeatedly during our hour-long discussion.  

Adams is the director of product management at QSC for the Systems Business Unit.  His role is to oversee the Q-SYS Platform, as well as crafting tactical product developments alongside three product managers.

A product manager by trade, Adams is using his background from previous positions in IT and AV to drive product definition for QSC.  “We are a technology-driven product company, not an engineering-driven product company, there’s a difference. Our philosophy is that the best products come from a cross-matrix of understanding your market and your customer’s current and future needs within that market, not necessarily just what the customer prescribes to be the solution they need today.”

When asked if QSC was focusing on a particular sector or technology in the future, Adams revealed the market QSC is now focusing special attention on. “Our strategy is to look at meeting room technology from the IT perspective, from huddle rooms up to large convention ballrooms, with technology such as acoustic echo cancelling, auto mixing, and other conferencing features.  All of the elements that go into the smallest room, but also way up to a large ballroom or a higher education classroom with distance learning or lecture capture.”

Up until a few years ago, you may not have associated the corporate market with QSC, who made its name in the rock-and-roll amplifier market. “The corporate market is by far the biggest in terms of revenue potential and technology innovation, so we are widening our portfolio to capture more of that space.  Today we have audio, and AV bridging and control system products but we are actively developing additional video and infrastructure possibilities.” 

The news that QSC will soon be selling additional video distribution products and more AV control systems comes, not coincidentally as the company has just gone through the legal process to change its name from QSC Audio Products to just QSC. This company is no longer just an audio products manufacturer, and the subtle (but significant) name change reflects that.

When asked what new products QSC will be delivering for meeting rooms in the short term, Adams revealed that QSC is demonstrating new technology at ISE 2017 that they think could shake up the AV market. “We are capitalising on a perfect storm.  We see such upheaval going on in the market, the realisation of AV and IT convergence is upon us. IT has become our new customer who expect standardised platforms that scale across the enterprise. At ISE, we will demonstrate technology where, for the first time audio, video and control software will run completely on an off-the-shelf server, with zero hardware produced by an AV manufacturer.”

The technology announcement combines a Dell PowerEdge R730 server hardware running the existing Q-SYS software stack.  It will allow audio, video and control processing in one central datacentre, leveraging the standard data network, which better reflects a typical IT environment.  This takes the main processing out of the conference room and allows users to expand systems capabilities by adding low cost, small footprint IO end points that will pair with the server.

“Meetings rooms now don’t have to be little islands. We can create low cost IO boxes, just like Cisco did 20 years ago with Call Manager IP-PBX and IP telephones handsets.  Cisco did not build their own servers, they targeted an off-the-shelf OEM server and resold it as Call Manager, and continued to focus their hardware development on the endpoint – the video phone etc. the rest of the industry followed them in that space.

"We believe this will become the norm for  the AV industry in the future.  QSC will continue to be a hardware manufacturer and expand the Q-SYS Platform with endpoint devices including PTZ-IP conference cameras, video end-points and bridges, as well as lower channel count Core processors for localised system design.  We want the main AV processing to be centralised or at least a hybrid of Centralised + Localised processing, where IT can share AV resources among the enterprise and remove the typical 1:1 ratio of hardware and capabilities. It also allows for a more flexible system that is simple because it is familiar to that new IT customer.”

Adding Q-SYS to a COTS (commercial off the shelf) product like Dell offers QSC the ability to take advantage of Dell’s expertise in designing and manufacturing reliable IT hardware. Adams describes using a COTS solution as “The difference between building your own server as an AV manufacturer, versus adopting an IT manufacturer’s mainstream technology which is familiar to IT instead. Part of QSC’s philosophy is to use widely accepted mainstream technologies when it makes sense. Like when we selected Linux as the basis for our Q-SYS software and commonly available, widely understood IEEE networking standards as our AV protocol. This allows us to focus on developing audio, video and control software applications. And less time trying to get the IT industry to accept our quirky AV specific technologies”   

Adams outlines the benefits of the new technology to integrators; “With this system, you have a Dell server running in the datacentre alongside their other application servers like Call Manger, sitting on an enterprise switched infrastructure.  Instead of putting a dedicated processor in each of the conference rooms, you can connect each room to your centralised server in the datacentre.  So now you can take advantage of AEC being served up by each Dell server. The AEC channels and all other processing can be doled out to each of the low cost IO nodes, which can fit in each meeting room – under the conference room table, on a wall or in the rack .”

Adams says this type of system appeals to IT teams because it can be a shared resource and automate on-demand deployment of system capabilities. "IT people don’t want to buy dedicated resources for everything they need in an application. They built their very existence on shared resources. That is why virtual machines are such a big deal to IT . They are able to take advantage of a whole load of processing power that isn’t being used  100% of the time. Why not virtualise all of their application software to ring more out of their investment?” 

Adams says this technology came about from looking at real customer needs, “This is the new and very real world we are moving toward; IT is also a huge opportunity for us all.  It will put a lot of pressure on the integrator to change their mentality on how they design a room and will greatly change the way we think of a conference room or meeting space as more of an application software paradigm than just little hardware boxes.”

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