Pick of the year 2008

In January’s issue, Tim Kridel will be giving us his ones to watch for 2009 on the technology front. But first it seems appropriate to look back and see what have been the real stars of 2008. InAVate’s editorial team pitch in with three of the best each.

The tables have been turned on our regular contributors as we asked what they have been most impressed with this year, in terms of both specific products and technologies.

It seems appropriate to start with the keeper of InAVate’s crystal ball – Tim Kridel. What’s he been keeping an eye on this year?

“Telepresence is one thing, and not just because of the technology, but also because of who it’s bringing into the market, like the telcos for example. And that’s a real wild card. It depends on the telco - in some cases they are competing with the integrators because they are doing the design / installation. In other cases they are handing that work off to the integrators so it’s basically giving the integrator another sales team without having them on their staff. So I think that’s an interesting trend. Not only for the technology, but also its impact on the market place.

And then there’s wireless technology. That seems to be making more headway, I mean it’s not taking over the market, it’s not displacing wires en masse, but it is getting some more traction. And that’s not just 802.11n but various other flavours – the other types of WiFi, and cellular too. I’ve been looking at a company that has cellular modems and GPS locators on buses, and then they have digital signage on the outside of the buses. The system says, ‘ok we’re here, and here are all the merchants who are around here with content stored on the system, let’s display their ads.’ I’ve also seen examples on a train network where content and news is downloaded to carriages via the cellular network, rather than WiFi.”

Which thought segways into Tim’s final pick rather nicely.

“Out of home advertising in general is becoming a big issue here in the states, and I guess in Europe as well. There’s a lot of spending going on, but there’s a real need for a framework to measure it as well. There are a lot of ads up in public spaces, but media buyers want to be able to monitor their performance in the same way as they can on radio or TV or print.
Everyone I talk to says yeah, the advertisers love it, they are spending money on it, but what is holding them back from spending even more is a way of proving that these ads are effective.”

Regular technology writer, who moonlights as an integrator, Steve Montgomery brought up a couple of products that have particularly caught his eye this year.

“I really like Hetec’s product. I think it’s a neat and concise way of producing something very attractive. You can build a video wall in bits, using any old screen and any format and it does all the processing for you.

“The company actually uses the chips that would normally go into the displays anyway, and adding their own software to do things that the display manufacturers can’t. They are effectively just scalers.”

“Pico projectors are another thing. There are a few companies, and a couple of competing technologies for this, but the fact that you can now fit a projector into a mobile phone or PDA is really nice. There’s the LASER technology, and also Texas Instruments’ micro-DLP solution.”

Steve’s final pick is the darling of the consumer electronics world that also finding favour with the professional market – OLED. This display technology generates its own light, much like plasma does – not relying on shuttering technology like LCD. This means that one of its advantages is much better blacks. Another benefit is its slim size. Display thickness is measured in millimetres rather than inches. Finally they are flexible, which opens up a whole, new world of potential. Low power consumption also makes it attractive for portable devices (such as wireless control panels).

In terms of actual productisation Sony showed studio monitors for broadcast applications using OLED, and Samsung has a 40” concept display on the skids. Expect to see the likes of the control manufacturers adopting it for their controllers as the price become more competitive.

As for myself, the first things that have really caught my eye this year are developments on the loudspeaker front. The loudspeaker cone itself might not be changing appearance much, but the ways that people are using it continue to get more and more creative.

A case in point is the steerable array. Tannoy, Renkus-Heinz and Community have all come to market this year with products based on the principle of vertical arrays of drivers, giving very controlled beams of sound. This is not a new idea particularly, the first products of this type were around five years ago, if not more. But in 2008 the audio manufacturing community really seems to have taken this idea onboard and each company has approached it in a different way. The resulting competition has led to a suite of excellent products each with a slightly different niche. We’ll be looking at them in greater depth in January’s issue.

My second pick for 2008 is definitely 3D. I started the year watching Beowulf in 3D in my local multiplex. I then headed off to Norway to visit Cyviz’s visualisation centre (see May’s issue) where they demonstrated active stereo 3D at incredible resolutions for industrial and geological imaging applications. At June in InfoComm projectiondesign drew a lot of praise for its single chip 3D projection platform, the F10AS3D, which essentially made 3D projection portable. At the bigger end of the scale Christie Digital announced, late this year, it’s new 3D platform for digital cinema Brilliant3D. There are apparently more than ten Hollywood movies produced in 3D slated for release in 2009 and the question will be can the cinemas afford to upgrade their theatres.

My final choice is another InfoComm spot. Although it’s still not quite ready for release yet, I was really impressed with Biamp’s AudiaFUSION concept. The promise of decentralised DSP and amplification is very exciting from an integration point of view. Freedom from the rack, as the marketing fluff puts it, means a shared infrastructure for a whole range of audio applications – paging, sound reinforcement and audio conferencing.

It should come as no surprise that several of the things mentioned above have been nominated as finalists in the InAVation Technology Awards (see page 6). I am interested to see how you rate them amongst their peers and the other products up for an award, so don’t forget to vote. Equally if there are things you think deserved to be in this piece, that I’ve omitted, then feel free to drop me an email – inavate@imlgroup.co.uk.

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