I would have outright dismissed the idea a few years ago.
Maybe you feel the same way. After all, it’s friggin‘ hard. Who wants to learn a new language when the industry standards make things so easy?
Let the manufacturers do the hard work so I can just drag in a button or slider, assign it some kind of ID and get on with the programming.
Who knows what kind of snags you’ll run into when deploying that fancy HTML5 UI anyway. How does that even work?
- Don’t you need a server?
- Can web pages do real time control?
- What about feedback?
- Long-term support?
No thanks. It’s easier to stick with what we know. And after all, you can still make a decent margin selling traditional touchpanels.
So Why Bother?
Adobe declared End-Of-Life for its Flash Player on December 31, 2020. Many AV manufacturers use Flash in their browser-based products.
End of Flash support means projects using those products will eventually stop working. That is a hard pill to swallow for an industry that takes pride in deploying black boxes that typically run reliably for decades on end.
Maybe the end of Flash is a catalyst to adopt a new approach. Or maybe it is just coincidence. But HTML5 support is becoming a popular feature in AV touchpanels.
Embracing Open Standards
HTML5 was released in October 2014 and a major goal of the release is to handle multimedia content – something us AV folks might be interested in.
But the most exciting spec for AV Programmers is websockets – full-duplex communication over a single TCP connection. More on that later.
A Long Way From Garage Door Openers
Way back in the 80’s, when the AV industry started getting into control by hacking garage door openers, there were no mobile devices. Touchscreens were a novelty and open source standards were still in their infancy.
At the same time, AV integrators needed products to control volume, raise and lower projection screens and sense when a VCR was outputting video.
Thus, a market was born. Control solutions that integrate AV devices with custom touchpanel interfaces. To tie it all together, manufacturers developed a communication bus and programming language specific to their products.
Fast forward to today and that paradigm has not changed. But the available technology has.
Maybe the AV market will always demand proprietary systems at premium prices.
Or maybe there will be a shift to open standards.
If you were to start fresh today, would you choose a closed system?
Would you choose software that requires special permission to open?
Would you choose to pay (or charge) so much for an Android touch display?
In the end, the market always decides. All we can do is stay informed and be prepared to serve our customers needs.
And help them understand all the available options.
For a typical conference room, replacing premium-priced touchpanels with off-the shelf touch displays could be reason enough to learn HTML5.
In markets like residential and hospitality, HTML5 can also offer a huge UX improvement by eliminating the need for special mobile apps.
And new opportunities for BYOD control in public spaces are awaiting implementation by creative engineers. Imagine scanning a QR code and controlling a system from your phone.
New Career Paths
All the talk about attracting young talent to the AV industry forgets to put itself in the shoes of a freshly graduated computer science major – our technology is weird.
You can’t download it, learn about it or try it without first going to in-person training. And you can’t go to that training unless you work for a dealer.
Once you get that far and finally have some code to test, you need a special black box to run it. Who’s gonna buy that for you?
If this industry is serious about becoming approachable to the next generation of AV professionals, it’d probably be a good idea to start using the open, standards based technologies they learn about in school.
And don’t forget, those up and coming developers will still need to be managed by seasoned pros. So if you’ve been working in AV for awhile and get some foundational knowledge of real software development, a career in management may be an interesting option.
Or if you’re anything like me, you just want to know how this stuff works. It’s like going on-site with a well-stocked tool bag. I sleep better knowing I’m prepared for whatever technical challenges might come my way.
Then you probably want to know what it takes to make an AV control UI with HTML5.
Grab your coding beverage of choice and get comfy. It’s time to take a deep-dive…