Company Q&A: Silver Curve’s Bryan Crotaz

April 16, 2012 by Dave Haynes

A note came in from the UK technology consultancy Silver Curve about a new hire. Given I’m not sure that many people on this side of the pond know much about the company, I asked Managing Director Bryan Crotaz if he’d do a quick interview with me to lay out some background on the firm.

Q – I don’t think the industry has any shortage of consultants, but what you do is quite different from what I can tell, in that you are pretty squarely focused on the technical side. Is that an accurate take?
Crotaz – That’s fairly accurate.  We actually cover both ends of consultancy – what do you need, and how should it work.  The two should, in my opinion, be firmly separated.  Our main income comes not from consultancy, but from integration services.

Q – When did you get started and why?
Crotaz – I have worked in the product end of the business since the late 90’s, having worked in broadcast before that.  At both Inspiration Matters and AMX we worked on projects that were led by us as the manufacturer and were built around our product set.  This was good commercially, and we achieved some great results, but it causes a big problem when the client needs something that the manufacturer doesn’t have in their portfolio.  Does the manufacturer recommend a competitor’s product to form part of the solution?  Or do they divert resources from their roadmap in order to produce a bespoke product for the client?  Neither option is good news for a manufacturer.

When I left AMX in 2010 I wanted to solve this conundrum, and created the Silver Curve business to act as an independent integrator with consultancy as an add-on.  We work with AV manufacturers, distributors and resellers, to help them complete their projects. We rarely lead a project ourselves.  We fill the gaps in the implementation teams, providing project management, software development, bespoke user interfaces, integration with third party projects, graphics, content creation and testing skillsets, as needed.

Our projects range from small five-day jobs to one that will be several man-years.  Variety is the spice of our lives at Silver Curve!

Q – Where are your offices?
Crotaz – We have a lovely office on London’s Regent Street, right in the centre of London.  We’re here to make it easy for staff to commute in – we’re less than 15 minutes from every mainline rail station. We’re also right in the heart of Theatreland and surrounded by the gastronomic delights of Soho and Chinatown.

Q – You just hired on someone who worked with you at AMX. How many people are part of Silver Curve?
Crotaz –  Adrian Heather has joined us to head up our project management.  I’ve worked with him since before he joined AMX, and when he told me over a pint that he was looking for a new challenge, I snapped him up as fast as I could.  We now have a team of five, and we’re currently recruiting for more development and tester roles.  We also have a team of freelance developers who work with us on short notice projects.  I’m very fussy about the quality of the staff I take on and the team I have here is one of the best I’ve ever worked with.  It’s a pleasure to come to work each day.

Q – What’s the origin of the name?
Crotaz – In my spare time (rare as it is), one of my many pastimes is silversmithing.  There’s no reason for the Curve part of the name apart from it sounding good, but I should really invent one, so it’s because we’re always ahead of the curve.  How’s that?

Q – What kind of work are you currently doing?
Crotaz – Quite a wide range!  We’ve recently completed a project for Net A Porter, displaying live sales statistics on a 3D globe, using the AMX Inspired Signage player and a bespoke .Net server application.

This week we’re installing a new scoreboard at Lord’s cricket ground.  It is installed in the pavilion using four NEC 40″ screens and shows live scores from every ball bowled in every game worldwide.  That’s a WPF and web project which keeps our developers busy.

Simultaneously we’re working on an e-menu project, building custom user interfaces and data integration with their EPOS system around an existing signage product which we are hosting.  We’re also consulting for a retailer, helping them to choose the best signage product for their needs.

Q – Is the company focused primarily on the European market?
Crotaz – Not at all – we have one manufacturer partner in Canada for whom we integrate their product into turnkey solutions, and we have recently completed an OpenSplash integration for an Israeli client.

We are able to work remotely on most of the work we do, and we use some excellent cloud project management software with live reporting to clients, so we can work anywhere worldwide really efficiently.

Q – I think we’re at the start of a pretty big technical shift in a variety of areas, from playback devices and software to operating systems and how content gets delivered, and I am not sure all that many vendors see it. What’s your take?
Crotaz – I think ARM is going to be very disruptive over the next few years, and I had a lot of conversations with vendors at ISE about this.  Most of them are wedded to their Intel/AMD chipset and don’t see a need to change.  But when signage capable devices are available in 2013 for $100 retail, maybe they’ll change their minds.  We’re working with two of the more forward thinking vendors to look at how they can leverage these devices, and I would love to be able to help more vendors to do this.

There are areas where signage could be used that cannot stretch to a $500 screen and $500 player.  These massive volume markets (imagine every meeting room door in every conference centre showing the booking diary) have been reached in a very small way by touchpanel devices from AMX, Chreston and the like, but their price points are out of the range for 90% of the market.

One of the biggest shifts, that has already started with products like the Scala Bridge server, is the willingness for manufacturers to only create part of the eco system.  Historically buying a CMS tied you in to that manufacturer’s player and other associated technology such as monitoring and content delivery.  As I see it, working with end users, each has slightly differing needs, and a different combination of products would fit them best.  This means, as an end user, I would like to be able to take Player A, CMS B, content distribution C and monitoring system D, deploy them on the cloud of my choice and integrate them into a turnkey solution.  Adoption of SMIL by some vendors is moving in the right direction, but we need to see more of this type of standardisation, and more APIs from vendors to enable integration.

Q – What has truly impressed you in recent months – whether you’ve seen it or just read about it?
Crotaz – LCD was first manufactured in bulk in the mid 90’s. I can’t believe how long it’s taken for anyone (and I include myself) to think to take the backlight off them.  The fridge with a touchscreen LCD door demonstrated by Phillips at ISE was stunning.  Of course the advantage of a fridge is that ice is nicely white, so you get a good even backlight.

AMX showed their new matrix with auto scaling on the outputs at ISE.  I saw this on the bench some years ago in Dallas and it blew me away.  It takes whatever input you’re feeding it and scales it and retimes it to match the preferred resolution of your screen.  I’ve seen a demo in early testing of MPEG1 (240i) scaled up to 1080p, and you would swear it was shot in HD.  In my opinion AMX should make this a standard feature of every device that drives a screen.

I’m now waiting for the next two revolutions – OLED and colour e-paper.  When I can take a 300dpi A0 sunlight readable poster with a $50, three inch wide media player on the bottom and hang it in a retail window, my life will be complete!

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