The economic boom across the UAE has pushed up demand for AV products.

AV communications technology, which includes sound, video, lighting, display and projection systems, has become part of everyday life and trickled into every sector of society.

The audio-visual industry comprises manufacturers, dealers, system integrators, consultants, programmers, presentation professionals and technology managers for AV products and services.

Some services and solutions that fall in the AV system integration category include, "audio and video conferencing solutions, projection solutions, turnkey audio visual integration (for conference rooms, boardrooms, training rooms, auditoriums, public places such as malls, convention halls), digital PA systems for hotels and large venues, automation solutions for homes and offices, interactive TV solutions for the hospitality industry and digital signage," says Latik Gupta, Deputy General Manager, Corporate Business Division, Jumbo Electronics Co. LLC.

According to the 2006 Market Forecast Study conducted by InfoComm International - the trade association representing the AV industry based in the US - significant growth is projected for the industry this year. Revenue for surveyed North American companies is expected to grow 40 per cent in 2006, and 10.7 per cent for European AV companies.

"The industry is so diverse it is difficult to put an exact figure on it. However our research into the value of the pro light and sound market in the Middle East shows that the market is currently worth around $3 billion (Dh11.02 billion) with a projected rise to $5 billion (Dh18.37 billion) in the next five years," says Darren Brechin, Group Exhibition Director, IIR. The company organises PALME, the Middle East's only professional sound, light, music, audio-visual and systems integration exhibition.

Technology factor

The technology trends that will have the greatest impact on the AV industry include integration of AV systems into customers' IT networks, increased use of conferencing and collaboration, growth in the use of digital signage, content aggregation, content management and acceptance of high definition technology.

"The AV integration market in the Middle East is growing at a staggering rate; this is underpinned by the sheer volume of developments across the region - basically any new building or project requires an AV solution to some degree. As long as there is a construction boom in the Middle East the AV integration market will continue to grow," says Brechin.

The single biggest factor behind increase in the AV market is the rising demand for networked AV products due to integration of AV and IT technology.

"The AV industry has witnessed a huge growth in the UAE and the Middle East due to the economic boom that the UAE and the Middle East is currently undergoing, especially in the hospitality, financial and construction industry. The fortune of the AV industry is linked to this growth and the industry is riding on this wave. There is also a lot of money being invested by the government on the educational sector and in schools and colleges and this is also spurring growth," says DS Krishnamurthy, General Manager, Almoe, a leading supplier of AV equipment.

Digital signs

Digital signs are the latest technology in the AV industry. In simple terms, most of the static and plain signs are being replaced with plasma/LCD screens, LED boards and MagicGlass transparent screens. These are becoming common at supermarkets, malls, showrooms, trade-shows, retail stores, restaurants, airports, automotive showrooms, offices and conventions. Digital signs are also finding a place outdoors. "There has been an emergence of digital signboards in Dubai at major locations. The key advantage of digital signage is that it helps visually engage the viewer and makes the message more lucid. It also helps display content that is time and audience-specific. There is a huge market for digital signages in the UAE's burgeoning marketplace," says Arif Jameel, CEO, Avion Audio Visuals.

On a worldwide basis, the digital signage market is expected to reach about $8.4 billion (Dh30.85 billion) in 2007, and is becoming an integral part of all AV vendors' future strategy.

"In the AV industry, most players have recognised the digital signage segment and started product lines with features that offer out-of-the-box experience to suit the industry. Things such as frameless plasma screens, transparent displays (MagicGlass), LED digital video boards are becoming an important part of the roadmap for most traditional AV players, worldwide," says Jameel.

Concerts and corporate events are among the most obvious venues where AV equipment is used in a staged environment. Providers of this type of service are known as rental and staging companies, although they are also served by an in-house technology team (such as a hotel or convention centre).

Almoe Rentals provide equipment and production services, catering mainly to the corporate market, including major IT and phone companies. "Our clients include event management companies and various five star hotels in the UAE. We provide anything from simple projectors to turnkey solutions for major conferences, product launches or exhibitions. We have a highly experienced team of project managers and technicians to provide our clients with all the help they need to produce a successful event. Exhibition organisers and exhibition stand builders also provide a decent chunk of our business," says Krishnamurthy.

Integration galore

As IT, telecom and AV industries are converging, a world of integrated communications is being opened up for consumers. "You would be able to integrate laptops, handhelds and other AV equipment to deliver information and broadcast anytime and anywhere. This expands the market horizons for service integrators in the AV and IT industries.

"There has been a shift on the home entertainment segment too. Consumers today are not satisfied with simple TV and a VCR, DVD or home theatre systems. Gone are the days of pure channel surfing. Consumers want more complex integration of their internet, computer, handhelds with cinema quality audio and large integrated screens in their living rooms," says Jameel.

However, the AV industry itself also needs to pull up its socks if it has to keep pace with the trends.

"The quality of work and services needs to be improved. The industry has to insist on quality control. A company that does not adhere to certain standards should be pulled up and blacklisted. That's how the industry can improve," says Krishnamurthy.

The AV integration industry is heading in the direction of improved technology and easier functions.

"The future of the AV industry lies in something as common as having a mobile phone. In the future everything will be programmed installed and carried out by the touch of a button," says Brechin.

The future looks bright

Technology trends that are expected to have the greatest impact on the AV industry include:

- Integration of AV systems into IT networks,

- Increased use of conferencing and collaboration,

- Growth in the use of digital signage,

- Content aggregation, content management and acceptance of high definition technology.