Consumer tech: From living room to boardroom
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
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.