06.04.17

Consumer tech: From living room to boardroom

BMW interior

Products made for the consumer market are now being used in offices, classrooms and visitor attractions. Paul Milligan looks at what the next products to make the move from consumer to proAV might be.

The path products take to enter the proAV world has changed.   

For decades displays were built  specifically for use in the corporate, education or live events market.  Occasionally, a manufacturer such as Sony or Panasonic, who had an active consumer division, would take its proAV technology (projectors, flat panel displays etc) and adapt it for  the  home  market.  That  was  the  accepted path. Then two  consumer  brands  entered  the market from Korea and things began to change.  

LG and Samsung have blurred the lines between consumer and proAV, offering products that have few  differences between home and corporate ‘editions’.  The introduction of Apple technology has  also  had  an  impact  on  the proAV world that can’t be ignored.  For years Apple TV has been  used as a budget-level option for meeting room presentation technology.  The introduction of  the  Apple iPad also had  a  huge  impact  on proAV markets, and has seen it used as a cheap control system  or  touchscreen,  forcing  many systems  integrators  to  become  experts in iOS programming overnight.   The growth of BYOD, especially  when  it  comes  to  iPads  (the  market leader in tablets) has forced many organisations to adopt Apple systems (and its iOS) when they might have been hesitant to do so (a common complaint  amongst  integrators  is that  iPads/Apple TV aren’t built for professional use).

Alongside  iOS, the proAV world  has  also embraced  the  Android  operating system, first seen  in  the  majority  of  smartphones  (everyone but  Apple  effectively),  for  use  as  a  simple  to program digital signage system. For  years  the  CES  show  in  Las  Vegas  every January  has  shown  a  vast  array  of  upcoming consumer technology,  some  weird,  some wonderful.  A  decade  ago  the  show  had  no relevance to the proAV market, but you can’t say the same today.

In the last few years, an array of  technology  has  come  straight  from  a  stand at CES to one at ISE.  So what was there this year that we could maybe be seeing soon in the proAV market in some shape or form?

The big display tech at CES was Samsung’s new line  of  4K  QLED  (Quantum  Dot  LED)  displays.  The  technology  works  by  placing  a  layer,  or film, of quantum dots in front of a regular LCD backlight  panel.    The  layer  is  made  of  nano crystals, each of which emits its own individual colour depending  on  its  size  (between  2  and 10 nanometres).  Although the technology isn’t brand new (Samsung and other companies have been  using  it  for  years)  itself,  Samsung  has wrapped  quantum  dots  in  a  new  metal  alloy, which they say leads to better brightness, colour and viewing angles.

Not  to  be  outdone,  its  big  Korean  rival  LG launched  an  OLED  display  dubbed  ‘wallpaper’.  The Signature OLED TV W has a panel depth of just 2.57mm, so is incredibly thin.  It comes in two sizes, with the 65-in version weighing just 7kg and the 77-in version weighing 12kg.  With those specs we can expect to see a lot of these displays in foyers and hotels.

Sony joined the OLED bandwagon at CES this year,  but  the  displays  it  launched  were notable not for the visual, but the audio.  The A1 series emits sound from the screen itself.  Exact details on  how  it  works  were  scant,  but  Sony  has  said the technology to do this belongs only to Sony, and  is patent pending.  Called  Acoustic  Surface technology, it pushes the sound through the screen rather than the edges of the display.  A kickstand in the back also houses an integrated subwoofer.  

The screen vibrates with the sound, but demos at CES apparently didn’t show any interference in the image, regardless of the volume level. 

One quirky display prototype that gained a lot of attention was Project Ariana from Razer. It uses a projector to extend what is on a display to create an immersive experience. Using  two depth sensors, Ariana scans the room and relays the information to a 155-degree fisheye lens to project  an  expanded  field  of  view around  the main  display. To  ensure  total  immersion,  the projector  has  two  3D  depth-sensing  cameras and  calibration  software  to  ensure  the  images and  colours  projected  fit  with  the  lighting  of the  room  and  don’t  distort  around  furniture. Aimed initially at the gaming market, the system could  make  a  real  impact installed  in a  visitor attraction.

Something  on  a  far  smaller  scale,  but  also capable of making an impact on the AV is AirBar.  Made by a company called Neonode, it is a small bar you attach to the bottom of the screen of your MacBook (PC versions are coming later this year) via magnets and a USB port, which turns the screen into a touchscreen. No software download  is  required, it is genuinely plug and play.  A few screen sizes are available now, but once a fleet of different options hit the market this  could  really  open  up  the  budget  end  (it retails for about €60) of the touchscreen market.

During  CES  Dolby’s  VP  of  technology,  Patrick Giffis,  addressed  the  future  of  the  displays market,  and  predicted  the  next  battleground between manufacturers will be who can produce the  brightest  display.    The  current  standard to  be  reached  for  Ultra  HD  Premium’s  HDR specification is 1,000 nits, he believes television manufacturers will soon go much higher.

“Have no doubt about it, the nits race is on. It will be 2,000 nit displays, and I suspect before too long, 4,000 nit displays,”  he  said.  Brightness above 1,000 nits might not seem necessary, but Giffis said  that  going  beyond  this  brightness  would have a positive impact upon a display’s colours, allowing them to become much richer and more saturated.

Giffis cited recent Dolby tests which said that viewers can perceive a brightness benefit  in excess of 10,000 nits.

Another  to  make  a  bold  prediction  was Qualcomm’s  VP  of  product management  Tim Leland, who said, “We’re at the beginning of a 30-year  cycle  until  we  get  the  ultimate VR/AR device.”  In the future one device will do it all says  Leland,  “We  see  a  trend  towards  a  single wearable which can do AR and VR – with AR the full time job, and VR part time when you want it.”  Leland predicts that the future will include ‘a  single  device  with  5G  internet, connectivity,  and  the  merging  of computer vision and machine learning.’

Intel was at CES to launch Compute Card, which is a computer the size of several  credit  cards  stacked  together, complete  with  CPU,  GPU  (graphics processing unit), and WiFi.  It is aimed at  developers, manufacturers looking to integrate a PC  into  smart  devices, and opens up a world of opportunities in  the IoT and digital signage fields.  If the world, and all of its devices, are to become truly connected, this is the sort of product that will help do it.

BMW  has  always  been  a  company keen to look forward, and hasn’t been shy  to  show  a  crazy  concept  car  or two  to  give  us  all  an  idea  of  where the  German  car  giant  is  heading.   Last  year  it  showed  a  prototype  of its  Head-Up Display  helmet  which beamed  information  to  a  motorcycle rider’s visor in real-time. This year at CES the car manufacturer showed its incredible HoloActive Touch concept,
which  blends  two  cutting-edge technologies, holograms and focused ultra-sonic waves.  HoloActive Touch is a touch sensitive, haptic, ‘floating’ dashboard  which  shows  music, navigation etc.  It has been developed to  display  configurable  control  pads and will be visible to the driver next to the steering wheel at the height of the centre console.  It is the combination of  three  technologies  working together.

The first is a hidden mirror array capable of projecting 3D images with the car’s interior,  the  second is an  ultrasonic  sound  system  that  sits just  behind  the  mirror  array  and  is hidden  under  a  permeable  mesh.  It uses speakers to send a collection of soundwaves that focus on a fingertip.  The third component is a small camera in the steering wheel column that lets the ultrasound system know where the driver’s finger  is,  so  it  can  focus  the sound waves in the exact right spot. As  with  all  concept  cars,  how  much of this we will actually see in a BMW in five to ten years time is debatable, but it’s certainly an indicator of where automotive design, and VR/AR could
be headed.

The  consumer  market  will  always attract  far  flashier,  glitzier  products than  the  proAV  market,  one  is  for entertainment, one is for professional use. But  there  is  no  doubt  those worlds are closer now than they have ever been before, through a mix of new players  coming  into  the  market  and changing behaviours.  What we have to do in the AV world is try to make sense of new consumer products, and make a sound assessment on whether they  fit  or  not,  regardless  of  how much  the  client  demands  it  ‘really needs’ them.