InfoComm '13 Review: Technology, the Verb

6/20/2013 6:32:00 PM
By Margot Douaihy

InfoComm '13... we were sad to see you end. The booth visits. The maelstrom of hashtags. Innumerable cups of coffee. M&Ms in lieu of lunch. It was a terrific show for AV Technology magazine. We honored two outstanding technology managers—one from Harvard, one from North Carolina State University—with $500 awards for industry training. We caught up with old friends and made new ones. We traded ideas with technology managers in AV and IT departments. We played skeeball (thanks, Vaddio!). Education technology was front and center at both InfoComm and the neighboring UB Tech show. A classroom is no longer a "room" and myriad new apps and supporting technologies reflect this change. We listened to the concerns of our readers and manufacturers. We observed, and, in the process, we acknowledged some dominant industry trends: Conferencing vs Conference Rooms, Custom Content on Every Screen, All Cloud All the Time, Learning Everywhere, Portable Production Studios, and BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything). There were too many new products to review in one article, but contextualizing the major threads will give us a decent "state of the state."
 
Conferencing: It's a Verb!
Vaddio's HuddleSTATION. AMX's Enzo. Barco's ClickShare. Crestron RL. The InfoComm '13 spotlight was on a new breed of system—a super intuitive, easy-to-use collaboration suite designed to make tech managers' and end users' lives easier. The AMX Enzo (hovering near the $2,000 price point) eschews touchpanels altogether and puts collaboration control right onto your smartphone instead of an external controller or touchpanel. It's a clever solution with QR, some neat security features, and instant Web connectivity, of course. It also utilizes PoE, like many other systems of this ilk. Check out this video and this fun infographic.

Crestron's RL is a scalable, turnkey solution that includes the Crestron UC codec for Lync, an HD camera, mic, 65-inch touch display(s), 10-inch tabletop touch screen, and more. The system (which won an 2013 AV Technology Award) connects over the corporate LAN. Mount the display, connect Crestron RL to the network, and authenticate. No MCUs or gateways are needed. No system design or programming is required.

The Vaddio booth was also packed with great products (and arcade games). I was impressed with their new GroupSTATION and HuddleSTATION. Vaddio, author of the slogan "The Art of Easy," wants to take the guesswork out of BYOD environments with these new solutions. Vaddio’s HuddleSTATION (good for about 4 participants) and GroupSTATION (good for ten or more people) are all-in-one audio, video, and connectivity systems for meeting spaces or offices designed for collaboration in person and with remote participants. Users can connect laptops and tablets easily and share presentations or stream videos from the Web. The step-up option, the GroupSTATION, has the same feature set as the HuddleSTATION plus added enhancements (e.g., a wider angle camera and support for larger rooms).

Barco's "one-click wonder," ClickShare, debuted last year to favorable reviews. This year's model (which is carried by both Almo and Starin) included a host of upgrades: dual-display and audio functionality, Windows 8 compatibility, and iPad connectivity (with a free app and software update). I liked how ClickShare was being demonstrated in real-world scenarios on the busy show floor; it was a successful litmus test.

Mobile videoconferencing including UC (unified communications) is another big trend. Companies like Vidyo and Blue Jeans have amped up their offerings. Since Blue Jeans launched two years ago, the CA-based company has gained more than 1,000 users in 220 countries with their unorthodox approach to hosting interoperable videoconferences in the cloud. Blue Jeans offers an alternative to proprietary "hardware-based" sales models with a pay-as-you-grow SaaS. Since I last saw them at InfoComm '12, they revamped their UI and seem dedicated to getting the user experience right. (FWIW, I just had to ask about the Blue Jeans company name. Apparently, it reflects the founders' interest in making VC as easy and common as wearing a pair of jeans.)

LifeSize debuted a new infrastructure-based mobility solution, while Polycom's Realpresence system and app continue to add customers who need reliable and easy-to-use mobile VC on-the-go.

"The question I asked for any videoconferencing solution was if it had full Lync and Skype integration, two very important UC factors and those that will be important to the end user," DC Smart AV/IT Solutions and Consulting CEO Corey Moss explained.
 
Moss believes that the InFocus Monopad is another viable solution for the higher ed and corporate market. "I found a mobile solution with InFocus that I had been looking for, for quite some time—an interactive application for a mobile device (Windows, iPad, and Android) that does real-time, two way interactive collaboration with annotation with an interactive display—the Mondopad."

Custom Content on Every Screen
Crestron's Jeff Singer and AMX's Joe Andrulis and Lane Shannon showcased their respective companies' solutions for integrated and networked multimedia that connects more easily to building systems. Crestron's AirMedia lets tech managers wirelessly move AV content to a room display, or view it remotely from a laptop or smart peripheral. Users can collaborate and share content from up to four personal devices simultaneously on one room display.

Besides the new Enzo portfolio, AMX showed off its XPort Data Integration Software, cloud-based room monitoring, a new H.264 encoder (think: custom video experience on any screen), new "Inspired Signage Players," and new Vision² enhancements.

Kramer Electronics' KDS-EN1 is a video over IP media player. Its H.264 HD encoder provides real-time encoding and compression supporting just about every AV signal input you could imagine. All signals are encoded and transmitted as an IP stream of live video. The KDS-EN1 is also HDTV-compatible.

The Pico Broadcaster system from the ever-evolving Peerless AV allows HD content to be streamed wirelessly up to 350 feet to an unlimited number of digital televisions from a single unit—a breakthrough in signal reach.

All Cloud All the Time
I test drove numerous cloud-based AV and infrastructure solutions at the show — from projectors to control solutions to flat-panel displays. The Samsung Smart Digital Signage platform is a cloud-based system that offers an all-in-one approach to cut labor and install cost and complexity. No external media player required.

Mitsubishi’s "PC-free" WD390U-EST Cloud Projector uses integrated thin-client functionality to serve as it's own display device. Mitsubishi’s James Chan showed me how to fire up the WD390U-EST, log onto the network, and display content (you can use this whether it's a local server, an Internet site, DropBox, or the cloud). The projector essentially becomes your file storage solution.

According to ProjectorCentral's Bill Livolsi, who spoke to AV Technology last month, "As a standard projector, the Mitsubishi WD390U is fully featured and well-made, putting plenty of light onto the screen and making presentations look vibrant and high in contrast. But it's the projector's network features that make it really shine, and it is people searching for a networked projection solution who should really sit up and take notice."

Learning Everywhere
The college campus is a veritable laboratory of technological innovation. It is easy to forget that Facebook started in college as a way for students to keep tabs on each other. As a university-level end user and AV Technology editor, I see the ways digital technology radically transforms the campus experience: interactive signage, cloud-services, tools always available, 24/7. For the facility directors in higher ed, all these new technologies also bring new challenges. How about more and more AV moving onto the campus network? Another challenge: satisfying digital natives who aren’t that impressed by AV tools. Technology is not a novelty to most 18-year olds—it’s a utility. And once they move on from higher education, they will carry those expectations into the workplace. So how do we keep up with the rising demands, manage inventory, and make smarter buying decisions for hundreds of classrooms, food courts, dorms, and multipurpose room? Sonic Foundry, Panopto, Creston, Haivision, and many (many) more offer various video over IP and lecture capture solutions that are as easy to use as an iPhone.

Sonic Foundry's Mediasite SaaS now offers instant upload to their host site, so a professor or authorized user can capture and upload that exciting physics lecture from a smartphone.

There were also dozens of new app introductions that will lend themselves well to all commercial verticals—especially higher ed.
 
I was interested in Crestron's new apps for iPad and iPhone feature "Smart Graphics." Smart Graphics are a little bit like an SDK—they gives programmers all the elements they need to deliver the same Crestron AV and control UX on iOS devices as on in-wall touch screens (sliders, knobs, dashboards, scrolling lists, widgets, and all the other iOS-like features that we know and love).

Audio
For every audio solution I got to play with, I surely missed twenty. But here is what I did get to see: amazingly durable, modular earset mics from DPA (yep, the TED Talks mic); Meyer Sound's impressive CAL speaker system; new wireless solutions from Line6; 70 (yes, 70) new outdoor and indoor speakers from Atlas Sound; and an updated HD Executive line of wireless mics from Revolabs.

For Your Studio-on-the-Go
NewTek and Roland Systems Group definitely seem to set the trends in portable HD production. Roland's VR-50HD is an all-in-one, portable HD production solution that is ideal for schools, churches, council meetings, corporate events, sports, trainings, and ilk.

The key with the VR-50HD is that recording and streaming live to web are streamlined and user-friendly for your tech staff. The device integrates an audio mixer, video switcher, multi-viewer touch screen and USB video/audio streaming into one portable unit. The video side includes a 12-input, 4-channel multi-format video switcher that includes a still store channel for graphics, logo, or frame capture. Inputs can be 3G/HD/SD SDI, HDMI, RGB/component and composite. The audio side is equipped with a 12-channel digital audio mixer with inputs from analog sources or embedded in the 4 SDI or 4 HDMI inputs. The USB 2.0/3.0 output enables web streaming and recording by plugging into a USB port. So whatever your production needs are, you're covered.

Stay Informed!
Technology is a moving target. From AVB to 4K, the only constant in the audiovisual industry is flux. Continuing professional development and education is one way tech managers can stay on top of the latest trends, as well as increase your job worth and security. From three-day seminars to free webinars, to 45-minute courses for $45, there's something for everyone. WAVE (Women in AV) is partnering with Kramer Electronics to offer educational, engaging webinars this summer. I'm excited to tune into the "HDCP in a Mac World" webinar next week. Check out www.womeninav.com for more info.
 
 

Margot Douaihy has taught at Marywood University and covered AV integration trends for the past fourteen years. She is the editor of On|Off Campus and AV Technology.

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