Report: ISE 2019: The Showstoppers

Paul Mac, Hurrairah bin Sohail and Anna Mitchell round up new launches from ISE 2019 and what the latest technologies say about where the pro AV industry is heading.

ISE 2019 put on a show. In every corner of the RAI exhibition centre companies were finding clever ways to demonstrate the power of the technologies they were launching and demonstrating in Amsterdam.

Display companies dominated in this regard with special mentions due to Absen’s celebration of LED, Panasonic showstopper that saw it project onto performers, Samsung’s stunning 8K display showcase and LG’s OLED falls. There were some fun applications too. Kramer sent a video signal over a potato, while Daktronics encased an LED module in a block of ice.

And then to the numbers. ISE 2019 was the largest ever ISE show, with a total attendance figure of 81,268. This was a rise of just 345 people on last year's figure of 80,923. Despite that small rise, total floor space also hit a record amount - 56,1000 net square metres. The show, the 16th in the event's history, also saw Wednesday break the largest ever one-day attendance figure for any show at the Amsterdam RAI, and the number of attendees on Friday passed 20,000 for the first time.

Audio technology 

While some of the industry is still trying to work out what 'immersive audio' should mean for their own audiences, and how best to implement it, some manufacturers are forging ahead with object-based and multi-channel scene-based systems, allowing the keener consultants and engineers to propose ambitious sound fields for their clients.

Meyer Sound officially joined that space race by previewing Space Map Live - an adaption of its Space Map theatre system, demonstrated at the show with object and 'bed'-type panning control over three ipads. It joins systems such as L-Acoustic's L-ISA and d&b's Soundscape.

Of course, it's possible that control and integration with existing FOH tools and console snapshot systems might have a role in determining the success of such pioneering creative technologies, but one 'immersive' device - the Powersoft Mover - promises a direct (yet definitely more bumpy) route to reality.

It's an LF transducer that features a piston instead of a speaker cone. It can be attached to floors, seats, and so on to literally rock the observer's world. Other 'butt-kicker' products do exist of course, but this one works in both inertia (vibration) and direct drive (connected to the piston) modes, and requires only the output of an appropriate audio amp to do its thing. The VR demo of Mover on Powersoft's ISE booth was a 'special' experience.

Meeting room systems were, as usual, plentiful at the show, with full system releases from Audio-Technica (the new ATUC-IR infrared secure conference system), and from Shure.

The Shure Microflex Complete wired system (a wireless version was also launched) can be scaled up to an impressive 3,800 participants and 200 interpreters. The Shure Microflex Complete wireless system is a version that includes AES-128 encryption and is aimed at venues where wires won’t cut it. 

Meeting room microphones focused on the directional systems that can follow participants around the room - possibly to complement the surge in electronic whiteboard technologies that were being launched at the show, and the trending 'huddle-spaces'.

The Sennheiser TeamConnect Ceiling 2 is a 28-capsule array with beam-forming technology that now has Dante connectivity and integrates with the company’s Control Cockpit software.

The Audio-Technica ES954 quad capsule is a steerable mic array that can be connected directly to the ATDM-0604 auto mixer for full 360-degree coverage. The Biamp Tesira TCM Series Beamtracking microphones are another example, with Voice Activity Tracking, array steering, intelligent mixing, and more; and the TOA AM-CF1 Integrated Audio Collaboration System uses an array microphone and voice tracking to maintain the quality of service for presentation and team collaboration.

Biamp also showed an innovative idea that aims to take the hassle out of managing audience mics for conferences and shows by putting microphones into the hands of every participant via their smart phone's built-in mic.

The Crowd Mics system lets audience members propose questions, queue to participate, vote, and lots more besides.

Networking was front and centre at the show. Dante was by far the most-used word in this context with new Allen & Heath Dante-Enabled DT168 and DT164-W I/O boxes (portable and wall-mount), new four-channel Dante networked processors from Tascam (I/O, DSP, and control app), and a host of other boxes and widgets that are now Dante-enabled.

The most interesting Dante news though was Dante AV - a new development of the protocol that integrates video into the stream.

For those who favour an open source-approach, there was progress in the Milan camp.

Milan is a pro AV-specific implementation of AVB with its own specific network and application layer requirements and the full support of the Avnu alliance. It's still early days for the standard, but there are lots of plans and several manufacturers are already onboard with Milan support in their products.

The new Adamson CS-7P is the first of a new family of products for the company with Class-D amplification, DSP, and Milan-ready (AVB) network endpoint, while d&b launched the DS20 MIlan bridge into its range of I/O.

It's also easy to see the influence of networked systems when it comes to control in the audio world.

L-Acoustics announced its new Crestron Control Module for its LA8, LA4X and LA12X amplified controllers, and the P1 AVB processor.

Sennheiser showed the Control Cockpit software for full management of a range devices - currently SpeechLine Digital Wireless, Evolution wireless 300 G4, Evolution wireless 300 G3, and the TeamConnect Ceiling 2 microphone.

Ashly Audio took a leap forward with its new mXa-1502 mixer amp: Programmable mic pres. four zones of mixing and DSP, 2 x 150W of power amp, all in a 1U box with an integrated web sever, that means you can control and set-up the system from any device with a browser and WiFi, and even VPN to a remote site and take control. According to Ashly, this is the tip of the iceberg - the start of a modular ecosystem that can be tailored to need.

Genelec also developed its networked offering with Smart IP.

This system is more than simply network control; it's control and audio combined with Power-Over-Ethernet to offer a scalable loudspeaker system with central configuration, supervision and calibration... And the only thing you have to plug into the speaker is an Ethernet cable.

As you might expect there was a good smattering of new speakers and radio mics on show at ISE 2019.

On the speaker side, L-Acoustics introduced the small but powerful X4i, a 'weatherised' coaxial loudspeaker that weighs less 1kg and has the same sonic signature as L-Acoustics ARCS and Kiva.

d&b showed the KSL System - a new addition to the SL range with full broadband directivity control, extended LF response, and new rigging possibilities.

TOA took its HX-7 variable dispersion line array and noted that the system is currently being tested to EN54 fire standards.

Bose launched its ArenaMatch DeltaQ array loudspeakers and ArenaMatch Utility loudspeakers, optimised for outdoor installations and featuring a selection of horizontal and vertical coverage options.

Meyer launched Ultra X40 - something the company bills as the most innovative redesign of its point source loudspeakers for 20 years. It has a concentric driver configuration, a new class D amp, and processor technologies from the LEO Family.

Genelec demonstrated the new S360 high SPL two-way loudspeaker with an interesting titanium diaphragm compression tweeter design which, along with the waveguide delivers higher volume, long throw, and premium-quality audio.

Another alternative tweeter design was in evidence at Pan Acoustics, which launched the P 261-AMT loudspeaker. 'AMT' stands for Air Motion Transformer and describes the concertina-type driver found in some high-end studio and HiFi monitors.

Meanwhile, K-Array went discrete and small… Really small. The new Lyzard-KZ1 is only 2cm x 3,5cm x 2cm, but the feature set sounds like it should be bigger… It has an aluminium chassis, a proper neodymium magnet, a long-excursion driver, and can manage a creditable 74.5dB SPL continuous; yet it only weighs 23 grams. That’s an impressive bit of miniaturisation.

A few of the new radio microphone systems included the TOA D5000 wireless microphone system, which features in-built feedback suppression and transmission encryption; Electro-Voice showed its new RE3 UHF system with a range of interchangeable capsules; and Sennheiser showed its new and impressively tiny SK 6212 body pack transmitter for the 6000 Digital system - only 63 x 47 x 20mm in size and approximately 112g, including the battery. In fact, if you take the back off, you'll see it's mostly battery, which accounts for the 12 hour operating time per charge.

Taking a more general glance around ISE, another stand-out aspect was the more prominent presence of Harman Professional, not just on its stand, but in sponsorship opportunities around the halls.

Now settled in its Samsung ownership Harman is seemingly ready to make progress, with new boundary mics and secure wireless systems from AKG, new JBL monitors, new Ui software for Soundcraft, and an interesting angle on the Samsung Nexshop analytics and contextual marketing platform, which could utilise other technologies across the group for customised customer experiences.

Biamp was also talking about its recent acquisition of Cambridge Sound Management - a company that claims to have around a 50% market share in the interesting world of sound masking, where shaped noise is piped into busy open offices, health care facilities, retail environments and so on to mask conversations that are not in the immediate vicinity.

Cambridge audio uses its own secret spectral recipe for more effective voice masking while at the same time making the noise less obtrusive.

Display technologies

Rising resolutions and shrinking pixel pitches continue to be the name of the display game. 4K displays proliferate and there was a smattering of 8K product on show.

LED was everywhere, and it looked stunning. Samsung wowed with 8K, infiLED opted for high-contrast with specialist black LEDs, NEC (launching products after its S[quadrat] acquisition) took an “out of the box” approach with application focused bundled products.

Christie gave MicroTiles an LED facelift. The product – much loved for its flexibility in creative applications - is launching as a narrow pixel pitch LED product.

How low can you go is the question when it comes to pixel pitches. Barco showed 0.9 to 1.9mm products with the launch of its XT series of direct view LED.

Unilumin claimed the first 0.9mm LED to be mass produced for high end applications. Absen claimed its CR Series (with 0.9mm pixel pitch CR0.9) could provide five times the strength of traditional LED screens whilst consuming 20% less power. Daktronics’ 0.9mm Optica product offers outdoor brightness levels.

Not to be outdone, projection technologies were out in force. Bart Kresa's debuted his Sviatovid projection sculpture and Vioso staged a 75sqm dome outside the RAI. Inside, several stands demonstrated the flexibility of the display technology. Epson’s Vortex took visitors inside an interactive projected tunnel powered by 16 projectors. Projection mapping let Barco demonstrate the capability of its UDX-4K40 projectors that each weigh less than 100kg.  
bart kresa
The last word on projection goes to Digital Projection which debuted the Insight HFR360 multiview projector. One projector can accommodate multiple, tracked viewers that are each fed an appropriate view according to their changing position.

The charge that there are limited signal distribution technologies available to handle the ultra-high resolutions on offer today is also being keenly challenged.

One example of this was Adder Technology which touted simplicity (and associated cost savings) as it brought 4K into its Infinity range with the AdderLink Infinity 4000 Series, a 4K IP KVM matrix over a single fibre.

The launch allows a gradual upgrade path for existing customers who may need to mix resolution requirements as well as 1Gb and 10Gb networks.

AV over IP

When it comes to the convergence of AV and IT, there is an ideal outcome that everyone aspires to bring about.

In this ideal outcome, AV systems and IT services reside on a converged network. Audio, video, control and data are all streamed over the same cables and routed seamlessly through the same switches and infrastructure.

How this outcome is to be achieved remains a matter up for debate. If ISE 2019 is anything to go by, things are going to get a lot more complicated before we can even begin to think about ideal outcomes.

Transmitting video over IP networks has been accepted by the AV industry. The debate is over the choice of 1Gb or 10Gb infrastructure.

Both have their own advantages and the market has yet to crown a clear victor.

The product releases and technology showcases at ISE 2019 reflected this fractured nature. In fact, new entrants to the AV over IP realm chose to unveil exclusively 1Gb solutions.

The case in point can be seen with the addition of video to QSC’s Q-Sys platform. The move represented an expansion in the direction of the ‘ideal outcome’. Q-Sys was already able to bring audio and control together. At ISE 2019, video was also added to the mix.

Speaking with QSC revealed that the manufacturer approached video over IP with spreadsheet usage as a starting point. QSC then built its own codec, called Shift, from a DCT base to help it differentiate its offering from the competition.

On the topic of codecs, Crestron also introduced its new Pixel Perfect processing technology along with a new range of DM NVX products for video over IP applications.

Pixel Perfect processing technology has been developed together with Intel and intoPix and replaces JPEG2000 which was the codec previously used by Crestron.

Another move to bring the ‘A’ and the ‘V’ of AV together was made by Audinate. It introduced Dante AV, which aims to solve the problems of networked video and audio synchronisation by using a single network clock for sub-microsecond accuracy. The product is meant for use with 1Gb architecture and is based on a JPEG2000 codec.

Dante AV aims to make audio and video signals independently routable in a single interface using the Dante Controller software.

For an end-user perfective having a single ‘pane of glass’ or dashboard to manage and route both audio and video signals on the network is a significant step forward.

On the whole, AV manufacturers realised the importance of delivering the right ‘platform’. IT cables and switches will form the core of the infrastructure. But the base layer upon which all the applications are built and manages remains undecided.

The products unveiled by Dante and QSC both seem like concerted efforts from the manufacturers to be selected as the chosen platform.

Other manufacturers were not far behind in declaring their candidacy. Kramer introduced a new marketing push under the heading ‘Kramer Platforms’ which is meant to highlight how the manufacturer provides hardware with a software focus across control, enterprise, booking and AV over IP.

SDVoE was also in the mix with its focus on interoperability and the advantages offered by 10Gb infrastructure.

ZeeVee, a founding member of the SDVoE, highlighted the fact that its encoders and decoders are certified for use in hospital environments. Coupled with the fact that 10Gb AV over IP solutions can offer lighter compression and more video details, it makes ZeeVee encoders and decoders particularly suited to healthcare applications.

AV over IP might have dominated conversations and grabbed the headlines at ISE 2019 but it is important to note that it is not a panacea. There exist applications where investing in IT infrastructure to transport video does not make sense. The HDBaseT Alliance was present at the exhibition to offer a counter-point to AV over IP.

Chipset maker Valens was keen to highlight that HDBaseT is based off of ASIC whereas competing AV over IP products used FPGAs.

The former provides a range of benefits such as better energy efficiency and weight.

However, more interesting was the fact that the spokesperson from Valens stated that the next generation of HDBaseT chipset will be able to transmit 4K60 4:4:4 video uncompressed.

It was not so long ago that compression was a dirty word never to be used within our industry. Rising resolutions and bandwidth constraints have meant that video transmission has had to make its peace with shrinking file sizes down.

If HDBaseT can deliver 4K60 without compression, then the conversation around latency and quality will get more interesting.

ISE returns to the Amsterdam RAI for the last time next year (February 11 – 14, 2020) before relocating to Barcelona in 2021.

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