What’s new in AV?

What’s new in AV?
Once more the North America AV community descended upon a convention centre. This time it was the turn of the Anaheim Convention Centre in California. Once again they were joined by the InAVate team, along with a selection of international visitors, all there to see…

If at any point in the future, the AV industry adopts the Chinese practice of naming each year - and given the continued rise of Eastern manufacturers that’s not such a far off dream as one might think – I humbly submit that 2007 be named the year of the projector. By my estimation, at this year’s InfoComm, around 30 distinct models of projector were announced by ten different manufacturers. Eight of these were announced by Sony, under the slogan: “The proudest past. The brightest future.” Which leads onto my second possible name for 2007: the year of the marketing slogan. These aren’t new things of course, but it just seemed to me that this year more than ever, these were the things that one took away from a booth. Am I becoming more sensitised to marketing or did the marketeers just do a better job this year? I admit I was more than a little disturbed by Harman Pro’s choice of “One language, One interface, One system” to sum up the philosophy behind HiQ Net. Are you having network worries? Never fear, because Sanyo claim to be “In tune with networking” – that’s ok then.
Marketing slogans are useful though, because they tell us what the company thinks is important, or rather, what the company thinks that we, the buyer, think is important.

Sanyo certainly weren’t the only ones to think that networking is important. On the Monday afternoon before the exhibition, the Manufacturer’s Forum, moderated by consultant Gary Kayye, put the great and the good of the AV industry in front of a room full of dealers, integrators and distributors. This year’s panel consisted of Extron CEO Andrew Edwards, Crestron CEO George Feldstein, Christie Digital’s Gerry Remers, Harman Pro’s EVP of Marketing Michael McDonald and finally Rick Snyder of Tandberg.

The five panellists were asked questions by Kayye before being subjected to open questioning from the floor. And here networking again was high on the agenda. Several of the panellists bemoaned the AV industry’s slow start in getting its people trained in networking technologies, whilst the network also featured in Rick Snyder’s explanation of why videoconferencing would be more widely accepted the second time around.

Network functionality is certainly much beloved of projector manufacturers at the moment, but Barco appears to have taken this to a whole new level with the announcement of its iCon NH-12. The projector comes with the bewildering list of technical specifications you’d expect from a new release, but the single most important feature is that it has a built in, Windows Vista-capable PC. This means that only can it be controlled over IP, but it can also act as a master in a network of slaved projectors in remote sites all over the world, opening up the possibility of collaborative work and eliminating requirements for scalers, presentation switchers or PiP modules. All of these tasks can be carried out by onboard software. And because it has a PC on board, you can control it using one of the many KVM extension products dotted around the show from the likes of Magenta Research, RBG Spectrum and Avocent.

Sticking with the network theme, another technology that is really making inroads at the moment is fibre-optic transmission. Jim Jachetta, Sr. Vice President of Sales & Marketing for MultiDyne, reported a significant growth in fibre sales in the past year. He attributed this to “increased demand for network bandwidth, and the rise in the price of copper.” Certainly as we put more and more over networks, bandwidth and copper cost will become significant drivers, a fact recognised by Extron. Last year the company debuted some fibre extender units, this year it has returned with a further range of fibre accessories including a full fibre optic matrix switcher the Fibre Matrix 6400. Extron also debuted a new video wall control product the MGP464W WindoWall System.

Not to be left out of the fibre frenzy, Gefen’s suite of new products for InfoComm included a USB 2.0 extender over fibre optic cable, which can run USB signals over 1650ft. Whilst fibre optics specialist Opticom announced their new catalogue of products including numerous additions for the show.

Now there are cynics out there who suggest that when people say AV, they mean all video. And certainly InfoComm is a very video centric show, however there is almost an entire hall of audio on view, and with the likes of the Harman Pro group, EV and audio-technica making important announcements there was plenty of the audiophile to consider. The latter threw a party on the Monday evening to celebrate the launch of what they termed “A revolution in wireless audio technology”. Spectrapulse is termed an ultra wideband wireless microphone system, which the company claims solves issues surrounding RF and other interference, security, and frequency hunting / coordination.

Biamp used the show to announce two new products. The first is a new networked paging system named Paging Station, which harnesses the technology behind AudiaFLEX and combines it with an innovative user-interface. There was also a soft launch for the company’s distance court interpretation technology. This allows interpreters to join in a court case remotely via a standard touch-telephone.

Danish congress specialist DIS gave a world’s first showing of its impressive new conference recording and archiving solution. The software enables institutions to record proceedings and then make them instantly available from a web server. Metadata such as who is speaking , the agenda, and voting results are automatically attached to the video recordings and these can be retrieved seconds after a speaker is finished.

One of the joys of visiting shows such as InfoComm, or any other technology event is that there is invariably a selection of very cool stuff to see. Humour me for a brief moment while I extol the virtues of playing a Sony Playstation 3 on a 4mm pitch LED wall. Playing Virtua Fighter with characters that were taller than me, was a lot of fun. The LEDs in question were Lighthouse’s R4 panels, and the PS3 was given away to one lucky attendee of their cocktail party. Swag of the year, without a doubt.
Another impressively innovative gadget I came across was courtesy of GestureTek, whose software combines web cameras with excellent gesture recognition. This allows extremely interactive projection displays to be made on floors, in kiosks or through shop windows. Watching your face emerge through a cloudy background on a shop window as you move closer is also rather disturbing, but the applications for interactive signage seem endless.

For the stat-hungry amongst you, InfoComm say that more than 31,300 people attended the show over the three days. That represents around an 18.5% increase on last year’s Orlando event, which itself was a record breaker. Interestingly the international attendance is also said to have increased from 4,000 to 4,400. Whilst there is no information currently available about where those venturesome folk came from, it’s worth saying that despite the continued rise of ISE and other regional trade shows, InfoComm still has to power to attract people from all over the world to see the latest, loudest, biggest and brightest technologies available to our industry. Long may it continue.