No Mickey Mouse show

Having returned from Orlando, Chris Fitzsimmons reflects on another successful InfoComm show. Questions answered include; How would attendance hold up in America’s worst economic crisis since the 30’s? Can you do serious DSP on a PC chip, and last but not least, when is multi-touch not multi-touch?

Let’s get the easy one out the way first: attendance. Firstly, let me make it clear that I have never come across a trade show organiser who would readily admit that attendance has dropped, nor would I expect to. However the fact remains that this year’s show felt a little less full than in previous years. The official figure is somewhere in excess of 29,000 and whilst InfoComm is touting it at the biggest ever East Coast event (topping 2006’s figures) there’s no escaping that the fact that 2008 in Las Vegas saw an attendance of nearly 35,000.

However there is always more to these things than numbers. The general consensus from the floor was that whilst figures were down, the quality of visitors was still there. Company’s that might have sent 10 staff in ‘08, may well have only sent seven or eight this year, but those who did attend were still those that needed to. The decision makers. The excess fat has been trimmed this year [figuratively at least!] partly by economic necessity and partly by the fact that Orlando really isn’t a great place for a weeks jolly, unless you like Disney.

The other big drop was noticeable in foreign attendees. Visitors from the Far East were missing en masse due to both the economy and also fears over Swine Flu, whilst Europeans may well have had any tricky decisions made for them by budgets, and the strength of ISE.

The upside of all of this of course, is that exhibitors had considerably more time for those who did attend, including yours truly, leaving me able to answer important questions for you about DSP and multi-touch.

And so onto the former. This is the second show since NSCA has been absorbed by InfoComm and the interest in the audio section of the hall has really flourished.

Biamp, Harman Pro, Powersoft, Meyersound, Soundtube and Williams Sound all made significant product announcements. Whilst Audinate was making waves with its Dante networking technology (signing up Yamaha to distribute product, and Bosch to adopt), Biamp was announcing a number of integrator focused web initiatives and also launching Red-1, its wall mounted control solution for Audia and Nexia systems.

The really big audio launch of the show though, undoubtedly came from QSC, which announced its long awaited large scale DSP solution, Q-Sys. It’s a bit of a monster, with a potential maximum matrix size of 512 x 512. The product follows a familiar architecture, with a central processor unit supported by a variety of I/O breakout boxes.

Q-Sys operates via Q-LAN, QSC’s proprietary standards-based Gigabit Ethernet solution, and the company claim a maximum guaranteed latency of 2.5ms from input to output over 10 network switch hops. Q-Sys also supports streaming of audio over WAN.

The really interesting thing about the system, to my mind, is that QSC have eschewed traditional DSP processors, and instead opted to run things off a 64-bit, quad-core Intel Xeon processor. For you non computing geeks out there, that’s what IBM uses to make its business servers and grants the system a massive amount of overhead processing grunt that you’d struggle to use in most audio applications. QSC’s Dale Sandberg wouldn’t be drawn on what they might find to do with all that spare processing power, but my guess would be Video. Answer to question two: Yes!

SoundTube announced a whole host of new surface mount speakers, with some nice ease-of-installation features, as well as showing off the sound shower (Focus-Point series) and speaker-in-a-rock (properly named the XT-rocksolid).

Meyer Sound was heavily focused on Acheron, it’s previously announced cinema speaker solution, but also on the booth were additions to its ceiling speaker range and a new mid-sized arrayable speaker, the JM-1P. Significantly, John Meyer was also on the booth each day, giving a presentation on an as-yet unnamed digitally steerable column array product. I’d expect more info on that in time for ISE 2010, if not sooner.

Powersoft’s press conference focused heavily on their continued growth in the US market, but also it was clear that their green message has finally been taken up by the industry. You can’t help but feel a little sorry for them, they’ve been pushing the environmental qualities of their products for half a decade, and now everyone and his dog has a green initiative of some sort or another. The company announced new amplifier modules for OEMs as well as additions to its K-Series amplifiers and Powersoft Audio Suite - a new control software solution for its network enabled amps.

Another area that benefited greatly at the show was system control. Crestron and Extron fought it out (no change there then) for the most significant announcement at the show on that front. I’m not going to call a result though as the offerings were at polar opposites of the spectrum. Whilst Crestron announced Crestron Digital Media, its latest all singing, all dancing distribution system, Extron were going comparatively lo-fi with TouchLink, a suite of pre-programmed touch panels for vastly simplifying standard boardroom and education installations.

Both of these announcements are pretty exciting, but for completely different reasons. Crestron appears to have found some very neat solutions to the thorny issue of HDCP on multiple sources / displays, whilst Extron’s simplification is sure to be welcomed by many looking to save time and resources on programming.

Not to be out-done, AMX also made some interesting announcements. The company has really started to use the synergies between its various acquisitions over the last 18-24 months, and this is showing in the newest suite of products.

Amongst other things the Autopatch line got a range of DGX fibre transmitter/receivers with built in video scalers, which can respond to EDID information from the display, a nice touch. There was also a good looking new cable management solution called Hydra. I’m a sucker for things that pop up smoothly from desks, sad isn’t it. It contains a modular attachment panel and a cunning spring loaded system for taking up slack in the cables. made a couple of major announcements. The public beta of Stardraw Design 2010 has now begun, the suite now combines all of the various design packages in one, with a variable licensing model depending on what you need. It also makes full use of Microsoft’s .NET 2.0 architecture.

Also new is Stardraw Control 2010, according to CEO David Snipp this represents a “major technological leap” thanks to its use of .NET 3.5, and support for Ajax (this allows data on an interface to be updated with the need to refresh a whole webpage). Ajax combined with the addition of an HTTP server to the package means that you can now not only control other devices remotely with Stardraw Control, you can also control Stardraw itself remotely with any device (think iPhone, PDA, web browser etc.)

To round off part one, we can answer our final question: When is multi-touch, not multi-touch? Answer: When it’s made by Altinex. Somewhat bizarrely they were exhibiting a range of touch panel controllers called MultiTouch, without any multi-touch functionality.

To allow us to provide more pictorial coverage, I’ve split this report into two parts. Part II, which contains yet more pertinent questions and answers, this time on the video side, will be available next week. It also contains InAVate’s mini-awards for InfoComm including best product, worst booth and best swag!

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