A client of mine (thanks Chad!) recently asked for my advice on his new AV system: “What would be considered a reasonable lifespan for the core components on this build?” This is a topic that is often overlooked when designing and implementing an AV system, but I’m sure we all agree that this is an important aspect of maintaining the AV system.
There are many keywords associated with this topic: “Lifecycle Strategy”, “Total Cost of Ownership”, “Return On Investment”, so on. In my opinion, they are all basically asking the same question: how long can I expect to use my AV system before spending big money on it again?
The answer, of course, is “it depends”…but don’t stop reading yet! I have seen AV systems in place – and working – for over 15 years, whereas others show their age at less than five years. The point is, determining your life-cycle strategy greatly depends on the various components within the system. Let’s break it down.
SHORT TERM: Portable cables, handheld microphones, laptops and other “consumables” that are handled by many users/operators typically have a fairly short lifespan. In addition, projector lamps (for those still using those) also do not last very long, as they are typically rated to last about 1000 hours. Assuming users are not abusive, these components can expect a life of about 3 to 5 years.
MID TERM: Televisions, laser-phosphor projectors, control touch panels, audio mixer consoles, high-output audio amplifiers, high-output loudspeakers and other AV equipment that generate a fair amount of heat can be expected to have a “medium” lifespan. In addition, components with motors, such as pan-tilt-zoom cameras and projector lifts, also fall into this range. These components can expect a life of 4 to 6 years.
LONG TERM: Video switchers, projection screens, control system headend, paging loudspeakers, audio processors and audio amplifiers can expect to live quite long, as they typically don’t experience a lot of wear and tear. These components can last 6+ years, if not way, way longer!
WILD CARD: The lists above all mention hardware, but associated software needs attention too! In many cases, firmware (which is the hardware’s operating system) needs to be updated “regularly” for new features, security, and corrections. This could include anything from control systems to projectors to cameras; in fact, even a television’s handheld remote control has firmware! Unfortunately there is no easy way to provide an expected lifespan range, aside from working with the AV installer/programmer to develop an update schedule.
Of course, the lifespan of your AV system highly depends on how you use it. Concert PA systems go through a rigorous amount of (ab)use and often need to be updated annually. A school’s PA system that is used once a day for three minutes could last for decades!
The physical lifespan of a component is not the only driving force; technology changes so quickly that your “state-of-the-art high definition television” becomes as passe as a flip-phone. Keeping up with the ever-evolving AV technology is a daunting task, especially when AV is not something you pay attention to daily.
So let’s go back to our first question: how long can I expect to use my AV system before spending big money on it again? My answer:
If you find that your AV system no longer meets your functional requirements, hire an AV consultant to evaluate and assess your situation.
Self-serving? Yes, but with good reason. An AV consultant’s worth is related to our knowledge of current and future technology trends. We are tasked on a daily basis to keep up with what’s new and what’s available in our industry. We can inform you about what your competitors are doing and how we can make your systems better!