InfoComm 2018: Getting comfortable with networked AV, what’s next?

InfoComm 2018, held June 5 to 8 in Las Vegas, saw an increase in maturity and ubiquity of AV-over-IP products on offer, showcased breathtaking LED displays and acted as the launchpad for some clever conferencing and collaboration tools. It also offered a few hints as to future technology trends.

InfoComm 2018 was a mixed bag, the show had a noticeable buzz yet numbers were down on last year. The big boys disappointed in delivering headline-grabbing new technology yet this left the door open for smaller companies to get noticed.  There was very little, if anything on the LG, Samsung and Panasonic stands that we didn’t see at ISE 2018 in February.   

Many of the manufacturers we met with happily admitted they were being pushed into delivering 4K hardware (either by buyers or competitors launching 4K products), despite a continuing lack of 4K content out there in the market. 

Predictably LED was everywhere at InfoComm 2018, with Leyard, Roe Visual and Absen hosting particularly impressive stands (and products) this time around.  Leyard launched a third-generation of its LED video wall system: DirectLight X LED Video Wall System. ROE Visual showed its Black Marble floor, Diamond LED and Air Frame systems. Absen built a huge and visually stunning curved tower out of M2.9 tiles that was visible from almost every point of the north hall. 

Sony, is being far quieter about its cinema ambitions for LED than rival Samsung (perhaps because it also sells projectors into the space) but was talking about LED cinema screens at InfoComm 2018. It showed its Crystal LED Display System and it was enough to stop most visitors in their tracks as they walked by. If you visited ISE – yes you would have already seen it, but this time Sony used double the number of display tiles to create 32-ft x 18-ft screen. 

We found four companies – Avocor, Pexip, Kaptivo and Media Vision – out on the show floor, really trying to push technology forward, out of the glare of the million dollar stands. 

One area where innovation was the most keenly felt on the show floor at InfoComm 2018 was in touchscreens, which will probably come as a surprise to many reading this. Microsoft moving into this sector with Surface Hub undoubtedly gave this product segment a boost, and since the IT giant has announced Surface Hub 2 will only come in one size – 50-in – it has opened the door for other companies to supply larger solutions for Windows 10 users. One of those to fill that gap is Avocor, who announced a partnership with Microsoft at the show.  One particularly clever feature which caught our eye was a built-in sensor in the touchscreen that connects to Azure IoT, so facility managers could gather environmental data on how often the screen was used, power usage, room temperature, amount of lighting in the room etc.

Whilst maybe not as high-tech, the offering was Kaptivo is equally as useful.  A micro-optical camera fitted onto any dry erase whiteboard turns it into an interactive whiteboard.  Five years ago this product would have been launched at budget conscious classrooms, but now the demand for collaboration has seen this product offer as much (if not more) into the corporate market, who are crying out for easy-to-use and easy to setup meeting rooms system, and this fits both those criteria. 

Interoperability was a strong theme throughout InfoComm 2018, thankfully the days of the ‘walled garden’ are coming to an end.  One company to exemplify this was Pexip, who announced integration of its collaboration software platform with Google Hangouts Meets and Microsoft Teams.   This means that any meetings scheduled in Google Hangouts Meets /Microsoft Teams can bring participants into a video conference regardless of their VCon endpoint, which is surely the way forward for the industry.

MediaVision meanwhile was talking about Kudo, a cloud-based platform for live meetings and web conferences with simultaneous interpretation. The software has been two years in the making but is at a stage when Fardad Zabetian, CEO of Media Vision, wanted to highlight it at InfoComm.

He noted that traditional language interpretation would remain hardware based but outlined the quickly growing requirements of multinational corporations and web based conferencing that needed a different model. 

In a landscape that will be increasingly dominated by software (and with integrators needing to adopt software-as-a-service models) Kudo represents a very interesting proposition. 

Networked AV
AV-over-IP continues as a major theme with two key announcements from custodians of some of the protocols and standards being used for AV networking. 

First up Dante developer Audinate announced it would join the SDVoE as contributing member. The two organisations kicked off their collaboration with a demo of an integrated control environment on the Audinate stand. 

Josh Rush, vice president of marketing and product management, said initially the company was keen to see how manufacturers would use the integration in their product development and reported huge interest at the show from existing Audinate partners. 

The SDVoE Alliance now boasts more than 100 design partners and was pushing education at InfoComm with a busy schedule of on-stand sessions across the three days. 

Bob Michaels from ZeeVee, a founding member of the SDVoE, referenced the huge array of over IP products on show at InfoComm to demonstrate that the industry had got over a “denial stage” regarding networked AV and was “starting to pay attention”.  He did underline however that AV-over-IP systems shouldn’t be pushed on every project and the right technology should always be found to suit the application. 

The second major announcement was related to AVB/TSN. At the show, a number of Avnu Alliance partners announced a protocol: Milan. This could give AVB the leg-up it quite sorely needs (prior to the show, an Avnu representative conceded adoption was slow and had even dropped a little).  Milan offers the protocol requirements to build control software and offers developers a way to ensure users can guarantee interoperability between certified products. 

Within AV-over-IP product development the discussion between 1Gig and 10Gig systems continues. Crestron continues to firmly back its 1Gig NVX solution. Jeff Singer, executive director of product marketing at Crestron, demonstrated the quality of the Crestron system arguing that it was fit for the future. “10Gig doesn’t scale as well,” he said, adding that integrators preferred working with 1Gig solutions.

Meanwhile Kramer was keen to demonstrate it had systems for 10Gig or 1Gig, confirming to InAVate before the show that the company would support both, which was backed up by its InfoComm showing.

Land of opportunity
Regardless of whether there was more or less new technology at InfoComm, one trend that was markedly different from previous years was the number of companies that had their sights set on America as a market offering huge growth potential. 

There’s also a general consensus that if you want to access that potential, you need to have feet on the ground. 

Clevertouch, Datapath and B-Tech opened US subsidiaries or announced increased focus on existing operations in the country this year. Meanwhile Evoko noted an increase in US business that it was also responding to with increased presence in the region. 

Side show
Aside from the exhibits InfoComm continues to ramp up its surrounding education and conference programme. AVIXA’s TIDE conference returned for the third time to another very positive reception. A conference highlight came from Amar Bakshi creator of ‘Portals’, gold shipping containers packed with immersive AV technology that allow users to interact in real-time with people all over the world. Portals use Biamp’s Devio microphones, NEC projectors, Community Professional loudspeakers and Zoom videoconferencing.  

The future?
InfoComm 2018 wasn’t packed with technology launches but it did show an industry settling into some of the recent technology trends such as AV over IP and 4K/8K. Technology maturity and ubiquity in both areas is steadily growing. 

So what’s the next innovation? Perhaps it lies with AI and the IoT – both of which are still to make a significant impact but, if InfoComm 2018 is anything to go by, we’re starting to see moves in the right direction. 

Check out how Christie is using AI to help content generation in Pandora’s Box for one. The company previewed a really powerful automated content generation system that promises to allow users to generate original, dynamic content from simple image resources.   

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