Gear of the Year 2021: The year-defining products

As a new year begins, Reece Webb looks back and quizzes expert integrators and consultants on the products that made the biggest difference through 2021.

Having the right tool for the job is paramount in this industry and in a year plagued by chip shortages, import difficulties and shipping delays, finding the right product required not just a knowledge of the market, but the savvy to harness products that can be accessed in the here and now.

2021 saw a change in focus for some as. Covid-19 altered the way we work and influenced the products that consultants and integrators used over the past 12 months. This shift saw a surge in popularity for software as well as software-as-a-service packages, transitioning to a focus on remote operation and accessibility as the world adopted a hybrid way of working.

The demand for software has never been greater, and undoubtedly this will be a trend that persists long term. Businesses all around the world, from corporate to healthcare, have made a huge and unprecedented investment in providing the flexibility to work or access services remotely and in-person, with much of the extra cash being spent on software licenses.

This transition not only presents an opportunity for integrators to expand their repertoire of services and product offerings, but also further accelerates convergence with the IT world and it’s no surprise that ‘smart working’ software systems are held in such high esteem for integrators and consultants this year given the needs of customers in this difficult time.

But that’s not to say that traditional AV products have been left by the wayside, far from it. As the world reopens, both workers and consumers are flocking to workplaces and venues alike, driving a need for more traditional display, audio and projector products after a gruelling period of shutdown for the industry.

These products not only have to function efficiently and reliably, but also deliver a punch when it comes to wow-factor, bringing back the much-needed wonder to draw audiences into venues once again.

Despite almost two years of business closures in the leisure and entertainment world, there is still an unquenchable thirst for interacting and experiencing in person, and any technology that enhances that in-person experience will be key to success.

One example of this is retail; Now, more than ever, the retail world is focusing on enhancing the shopping experience with impressive video, audio and projection to combat the comfy convenience of online shopping. Integrators and the systems they offer sit at the heart of empowering these businesses and the need has never been greater to offer high-performance products that are reliable, compact and easy to set up.

As 2022 gets underway, it’s time to take a look at the products that influenced consultants and integrators throughout 2021 and to examine the value that these essential bits of kit offered to their customers.

Christie RGB Pure Laser Range

John Tozer, Holovis says: “My gear of the year is the Christie RGB Pure Laser range. This includes the D4K40- RGB and the Griffyn 4K32-RGB. There are other models in the range, but these two are now mainstays in a number of our projects. The fact that you can get RGB Pure Laser projection into a single compact unit is brilliant. We have been deploying Pure Laser solutions requiring outboard modules and other things for years. But the fact that you now simply plug it in to a standard single-phase outlet and get to projecting is huge for us.

“This product has influenced the way we work as we have been big fans of RGB projection for years. We love the fact that we get to leverage this type of light source and have less impact to the facility. It’s allowed us to use RGB laser projection in hard-to-reach places and at a cost which is reasonable (relative statement!) and at a much lower facility impact. Five years ago, we simply wouldn’t have been able to get RGB projectors in the positions that we can now because of the huge amount of kit you used to need to drive RGB projectors. For some of our clients these projectors have become the default units they expect us to design in. The colour is out of this world and the convenience is brilliant, the standard lens offerings also meet our needs in 90% of our designs.”

Netgear M4250 switch

Anders Jorgensen, Stouenborg: “For us, the Netgear M4250 switch is not just the product of the year, but the product of the century. We finished two major installations and almost everything runs on network switches, so these switches have become the heart and the brain of what we do. The great thing about the Netgear ProAV department is that, whenever you start working on a project, you can just phone them up, give them your initial designs and they have a great support service.

They look into what you are planning and come up with suggestions and areas to improve from their perspective, followed from start to finish. The switch comes hand in hand with the support and I don’t see that support anywhere else in the market for AV switches. The M4250 has setting profiles for products such as the Crestron NVX system which are very simple to use. You can select the desired profile and then you are good to go. With some brands, you need to configure the whole thing from the very beginning.

It’s a well-engineered product that is robust and easy to use. It can also handle all the protocols that we need in our world.

This switch allowed us to create working systems with no failures. It gives us the ability to do more complex work reliably. The network switch is critical for infrastructure in an AV system and this range of switches are truly designed for AV. As an off-the-shelf switch, it’s the best choice in the market for AV switches.”

QSC Core 510i

Jamie Sweeney, Sysco Productions: “The Sysco team have used this product for many installations over the past year at various sites including visitor attractions, exhibitions and distillery experiences.

The QSC Core is a powerful DSP with integrated show control. It is supported by its own design software QSC Designer that offers a platform for designing, programming and setups for audio and show control, creating and distributing all setups through the one product. It is unlike previous systems where these elements were controlled separately, and there are currently very limited products on the market that can offer an equivalent package. It is a highly compatible product that can deliver flexible IO, show control, as well as analogue, digital and networked audio connectivity.

The installation process has become much more simplified as there is less technology to integrate and an overall reduction in cabling required onsite.

QSC Designer allows for off-site creation and testing of the show control and DSP, particularly for complicated audio setups, and provides the option for emulating how the show control will work. For exhibitions with multiple rooms on different levels with numerous exhibits, all these elements can communicate with each other via QSC IO to route audio from these areas anywhere in the building using the QSC Core.

It provides a powerful and reliable audio and show control system and makes a lot of aspects of the installation more seamless, integrating as the audio and show control so programming can be done simultaneously resulting in a more flawless end user experience.”

Unreal Engine

Paul Marshall, Recursive: Unreal Engine provides us with ultimate flexibility on virtually every project we work on. It allows us to create dynamically changing and highly realistic visualisation in a ‘gameplay’ style, free-roam format. This helps with everything from space planning to demonstrating our ideas to our clients, embedding example content, and exploring the space in a visual way. In many cases this will be the first time that they have seen their vision fully animated and brought to life in front of them. Unreal also allows interactive and experiential content to be developed and rendered in real time, providing an amazing user experience.

Unreal has massively influenced the way in which we work not only to visualise 3d models of spaces quickly and easily, but to plug these models into our realworld outputs. Recently we delivered a project where we created an immersive space utilising multiple projectors blended with depth sensing & tracking information from cameras fed directly into Unreal. This allows content to change dynamically, rendering in real-time based upon visitors’ movements.

For our clients, Unreal Engine has made it simple and quick for us to create virtualisations, content, and dynamic interactive elements, bringing projects to life from day one. This helps to build confidence that the client's vision can be delivered, demonstrating what the client is going to get, how it will look and most importantly the end user experience whether it is in the real world or the metaverse. To quote the Matrix, “ask yourself, what is real?”.

Pockethernet Network Analyser 

Martin Clay, PureAV: “For us, the gear of the year is the Pockethernet network analyser. This isn’t a product that we’ve installed, but it’s an integration tool that allows you to test network infrastructure. With AV today being so reliant on IT infrastructure and AVoIP relying on a solid network, having the assurance that the cable is functional without any doubt is imperative, as you will be chasing your tail while setting up the AV gear.

Traditional ‘fluke testers’ are expensive and it’s not the sort of item that you can give out to all your engineers. The Pockethernet does the same thing as a ‘fluke tester’, allowing you to carry out advanced tests on your cables for a fraction of the price of a traditional tester. The network analyser tells you where the problem is, how far down the cable run it is, and also fits nicely in your tool bag. This little gadget allows you to be 100% sure that your cable is up to scratch, improving the efficiency of your time on site and improves the service that you give to your customer.

For a small and simple product, it makes the world of difference on our projects.”

Digital Projection Satellite Modular Laser System 

Peter Coman, PTS Consulting: “I think that the Digital Projection Satellite projector is the gear of the year. The Satellite is such a departure from traditional projectors as we were able to mitigate the size, weight and noise constraints of more typical large projectors. All of the difficulties of hanging and distance were avoided by the design of the Satellite.

The Satellite can be kept in a rack where it remains nice and cool and nobody can hear the noise. Some people look at it and think “That’s it? You’re getting 4K resolution out of this tiny projector?” so having the back end of the projector in the rack is a huge game changer.

This projector ticked all the boxes for a recent client and it makes the design of installations so much easier as we no longer have to worry about annoying factors that we have to consider when working with a larger projector. Our clients have very high expectations and I’ve lost count at the number of projectors we’ve looked at that didn’t meet expectations. The fact that Digital Projection has a very high-spec system really made the world of difference”.

Evekto Supervision centralised management system

Bernd Schindler, IB Schindler: “In many of our projects in 2021, we started to use a new software system for AV system management and monitoring called Supervision. It’s an interesting piece of technology because it is a manufacture independent solution working with Crestron, AMX as well as software solutions on Windows and Linux.

We specialise on making hundreds of identical meeting rooms for our customers and these are IT driven projects which demand IT-like features such as automatic deployment of rooms. Until Supervision, there was no software that could meet this demand. It allows us to monitor the state of systems, get proactive error management and while other software solutions can do this, they are not manufacturer-agnostic.

The same software features strong analytical capabilities which is important for developing large numbers of rooms. It allows us to eliminate the repeated planning for every type of device and system, how we want to monitor it etc. Supervision has allowed our clients to have proper centralised management. Until Supervision came along most clients did not have this and they did not have the possibility to remote control or schedule rooms.”

Three-10 X AV-IT software

Michael Kottke, Macom: “We find this product to be a very versatile and powerful immersive presentation toolkit. The open software architecture makes three 10 X our preferred choice to support a wide range of impressive and future-proof use-cases for our demanding clients. In our projects we are now able to design and engineer the user journeys, content workflows, and graphical user interfaces a lot more thoroughly, interactively and intuitively which enables us to expand our service portfolio significantly.

We can now achieve a truly customised and smart solution experience for our clients which helps us to deliver use-case driven, fully integrated AV-/IT-technology services and designs rather than just traditional AV consulting.

With three 10 X we can create a wide range of flexible and impressive showcases ranging from interactive boardroom presentations and town halls to innovative show rooms and brand experience centres. The open product portfolio supports a truly creativity-based approach and supports us in rethinking our technology consultancy and design processes by overcoming established technology boundaries.

Xyte cloud platform

Hod Gamliel, Hed Cinema: “This year we deployed Xyte’s cloud platform in our operations centre to remotely manage and support our customers’ workplace technologies and deliver 24/7 proactive support. We were really impressed by Xyte’s solution and the immediate value it created both for us and our customers.

Being a vendor agnostic platform, Xyte enables us to offer our customers a single pane of glass where they can manage and monitor all their connected devices such as Crestron, Avocor, Zoom, and others. Xyte’s open API provides flexibility and allows us to add any third party device as our customers’ needs evolve.

In the past, we had to develop our monitoring solutions in-house, which was not optimal both for us and our clients due to higher costs involved. Xyte provides an enterprise-ready solution that is easily configurable and takes a fraction of the time to deploy.

Xyte’s platform enabled us and our clients to facilitate proactive maintenance, increase up-time and reduce costs through remote services. In addition, our client now has an ability to manage all spaces from a centralised location.

Extron NAV AVoIP series 

Sercan Atkas, Red Mouse: “T he Extron NAV series AVoIP solution was very useful for me this year. It gave us some flexibility, allowing us to address issues with the network infrastructure of the client. The Extron NAV series allowed us to play with it and to deploy our system as required.

This solution made our lives easier, especially considering the shortage of products brought on by the global chip crisis and lead time issues. Sometimes it is hard for us to find the products that we need, and this series gives us the flexibility that we need, it’s a product that can save the day on projects.

The flexibility for bandwidth and ultra-low latency, with real-time lossless video offered by the NAV series gave us the chance to overcome difficult situations and complex network issues. There is a built-in error concealment in the NAV series that ensures reliable transmission of high-quality images even in network errors. That gave us the strength to overcome any issues on site. This product is also available for a good price, reducing the budget requirements for the end user. The entire system can be easily managed from one point, and everything can be controlled from a single point, bringing ultra-flexibility to the customer and if there are errors, they can be easily fixed. What more could a customer want?

Lead photo credit: rustamank, Shutterstock 

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