PLASA Report - Hidden Gems

Last month our show preview posed a question, one that has bothered me for the last few months. What exactly is PLASA for? Following another two days in the field I’m not sure we’re any closer to answering that question, but what is certain is that the show continues to occupy a privileged spot in the affections of both visitors and exhibitors.

PLASA being PLASA there were always going to be a couple of companies and product launches that stole the spotlight. The unveiling of at least four new digital desks on day one generated significant interest. Digico, Soundcraft, Midas and Innovason all brought new products (and champagne) to the table.
However far more significantly for the discerning systems integrator, and brought to market with considerably less fanfare was a host of new offerings from Peavey. The company has announced a significant new departure in the direction of NWare – the control programme used to manage MediaMatrix and Nion devices. The first product is the dedicated control processor that Michael Page told us about last month. Dubbed NControl it is a Networked PC, which runs NWare software and can control any Nion device or Cobranet enabled equipment. More importantly, it can also control almost any other 3rd party device. To emphasise the point, Peavey have also announced their own touch screen control panels and wall mounted controllers as well as a piece of software which will run on an Apple iPhone or iPod touch allowing you to access your control system. Crestron, AMX and Stardraw – watch out. Peavey also revealed new versions of their Nion DSP units, which are Dante-enabled. Dante, the company believes, is the next stage in the evolution of digital audio transport.

Whilst Tannoy were focusing on the UK debut of QFlex, which you might have already seen at Prolight & Sound or InfoComm, something slightly less sexy but none-the-less important lurked beneath the company’s counter. Tannoy has developed the CVS 4 Micro, a 4” ceiling speaker featuring its coaxial driver technology. Priced very keenly, it looks like serious competition for the likes of JBL’s Control series for installs where you need a little more sound quality from your ceiling speaker.

A company certainly not hiding its light under a bushel was POLAR Audio, the new face of Beyerdynamic GB. Managing Director John Midgely explained the company’s desire to shake off any confusion about its role as a distributor. “We are no longer a distributor of microphones and headphones only, we are a supplier of Intelligent Audio Solutions adding value to the products we supply.” He continued, “By far our largest and fastest growing market segment is the installation market accounting for 60% of our turn over.” Jokes about Fox’s Glacier Mints aside, it was interesting that Midgely chose to make such a statement at what isn’t really considered a prime systems integration event. At the same time, the company also announced the addition of Aviom to its stable of brands.

Competitor distribution firm Sennheiser UK announced new products from a number of its brands. Of note was Rane’s Mongoose system, which I first saw at NAMM in January and allows you to break out individual channels from a Cobranet bundle and send them to wall plates. Those plates are now ready to fit European walls. APart revealed a new pre-amp with remote RS-232 controllers and also announced new amplifiers, which will be shown at ISE.

There were also a couple of products announced of interest to the corporate events and rental market. Renkus-Heinz gave a European debut to its IC Live combo, which contains a sub unit with a top-mounted column array. Building on the success of Iconyx, IC Live looks a solid product and existing customers seem genuinely impressed.

Duran Audio re-entered the rental space with its announcement of the first two members of its G2 family – Scope and Source. Scope is a four-product line including a pair of 3-way mid/hi boxes paired with either 12” or 15” LF drivers and then a pair of subs. A single 15” and a single 18” unit are both available. Source is an active horn-loaded system, which like Scope contains some built in DSP.

Whilst PLASA is certainly more for the audio fraternity, there are still a number of companies peddling some interesting AV products. UK Distribution firm CUK Audio brought its new signing MTSi to the party, showing off the company’s range of power amps, DSP products and ION wall plates. MTSi also produces some innovative products for the education market including the Genesis wireless AV presentation solution.

LED based products were also well represented. Shenzen Aoto brought its 4.8mm indoor product, the R304, seeking UK distribution partners, as well as the SP18 temporary perimeter products. Whilst the North American market is currently the company’s best region, Sales Engineer Amanda Zheng revealed that AOTO was seeking to grow its share in the key European markets of Germany and the UK, as well as opening a European service office. The company also plans to develop its range of products for fixed installation.

Fellow LED-lovers Lighthouse Technologies demonstrated the RB-4 4mm pitch product as well as its new Mesh and Tile creative LED.

Whilst Barco’s booth focused mainly on products from newly acquired High End Systems, the company used its press event to announce a restructuring of the various divisions. Spurred on by poor results last year Barco are attempting to stop the rot by moving certain things around. It has also named a completely new division, which will focus on the installed environment in all its various guises from architectural lighting, to installed projectors and LED screens.

Whilst Sunday was a little disappointing attendance-wise, Monday & Tuesday were a full on success with the halls buzzing by lunchtime. Opinion was divided amongst exhibitors about who was there though. The usual scientific method of looking at badges to determine the level of international attendance revealed plenty of visitors from Turkey and Scandinavia but there were certainly less visitors from further afield. This is probably as much a symptom of the rising cost of air travel than any disaffection with PLASA.

A great man once described the actions of a foreign power as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, he could have been talking about PLASA. Why would a company whose main function is to produce loudspeakers for hazardous areas choose to take an expensive booth at a show, which purports to serve the entertainment industry? Especially when its next to a booth showing smoke machines.

The answer to Churchill’s riddle, and he was talking about Russia at the time, was Russia’s national interest. Perhaps the same is true of PLASA. Why do so many UK integrators come back to PLASA every year to wade through smoke and disco lights? Because it’s still the only show in the country that will entice the likes of Peavey, Electro-Voice, Harman, Christie or Meyer Sound to set out their wares and in some cases make significant product announcements.

Until that changes, I suspect I’ll be seeing you all again next year and indeed the year after that. PLASA 2009 will take place at Earl’s Court from 13-16 September.

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