Some technological advancements are so necessary and obvious that you can see them coming from a mile away. For example, I remember piling my laptop, iPod, camera, and cell phone into a backpack not so long ago and thinking "one day, all of these things will be the same thing." Two years later, bingo—the iPhone was invented.
I had a similar feeling way back when I acquired my first DVD-playing laptop. The process of setting it up so that I could watch a DVD via my laptop on a TV was so excruciating that it wasn't even worth the trouble. I remember sitting there, fiddling with an S-Video converter while trying to adjust to the appropriate resolution, thinking that one day, I'll just be able to press a button and, voila, what's on one screen will magically appear on another.
That promise took a bit longer to materialize than I imagined. It was more than a decade later that Apple released AirPlay, an imperfect yet somewhat passable consumer solution to the problem of media sharing. AirPlay is okay (at best), but it wasn't until last year's InfoComm, with Barco's release of ClickShare, that I felt the ease of media sharing that seemed inevitable so long ago finally came to fruition. ClickShare was a revelation, and finally brought wireless media sharing to the masses, all with the click of a button.
It is my love of ClickShare, combined with a long-running desire to make things on one screen easily appear on another, that practically made my jaw drop when I met Christopher Jaynes and Rob Balgley, the respective founder and CEO of a Denver, CO-based company called Mersive, and saw them demo Solstice, the company's new media sharing software.
Solstice makes media sharing so intuitive and takes it to such new heights that it has the potential to be one of the big breakouts at next week's InfoComm. The software not only embraces BYOD in a way that has never been seen before, but also represents one of the truest convergences of AV and IT. Mersive has put together an excellent video demonstrating the product that you can watch here.
"There aren't a lot of products that fit in between the worlds of AV and IT," explained Jaynes. "There are a lot of people and resellers who attempt to, but they're really just drawing on two classes of products. They're either saying we're a combined AV/IT shop because we can go get you unified communications gear and install it and we also know how to do displays. Solstice is a product that does both things. It solves the problems with software. It manages your displays like they're part of your IT infrastructure even though they're traditionally hardware. If you want to see what convergence actually means in a product form, it's Solstice."
Given Jaynes' IT background, it's not surprising that he would be behind a project that straddles these worlds as Solstice does. After receiving his PhD in computer vision from UMass Amherst, he became a professor at the University of Kentucky, where he launched a center for visualization.
"We came out of computer science academic research as a company—the purest form of software you could probably get brought smack down in the middle of the AV landscape," said Jaynes. "We spent years in that landscape. The AV world is so different, and being transplants we were able to solve the problem of media sharing in a dramatically different way."
"If you look at the current products on the market that attempt to solve this problem," continued Balgley, "they all come at it the same way—as a presentation system. Here's how you can get your PowerPoint slides onto the display. IT looks at the problem in a much more collaborative, interdisciplinary, multimedia kind of way, which is 'I'm not just sharing PowerPoint slides, I've got all kinds of stuff coming from all kinds of places.'"
Mersive began to develop Solstice with help from the National Science Foundation, which, according to Jaynes, allowed them to approach the project from a very high level. "Why is it that when I look at displays," he wondered, "their use model basically hasn't changed since the Xerox Star in 1972. I own this display, it's wired to a particular content source, and that paradigm hasn't changed much. It's a paradigm shift to think about displays as truly shared, and not wired to a specific owner. That's where we started. Whether it's walking into a coffee shop and there are two flat panels at a table that you could sit down and have an ad-hoc meeting, there's no expectation of that today but I think that's about to happen, and I think there are a lot of big companies that are seeing that trend. We were lucky we saw it early and started writing the base architecture to address how that's going to get managed and who's going to use it."
In the enterprise space what that means is when you walk into a conference room, you should have an expectation that you can seamlessly use that device in that room.
When I told Jaynes and Balgley that the theme of this year's InfoComm is "Collaborate. Communicate. Connect." they both started laughing and said they should probably send the organizers a thank you letter. In their eyes, Solstice is the ultimate collaboration tool.
"Everybody talks about convergence, and one reason is that people are asking to solve their AV problems by leveraging their IT investment," concluded Balgley. "And that includes training and support and everything that company has, whether it's compute or network or control. And Solstice gives AV guys the first opportunity to walk in and really work with the IT organization. And it gives the IT guys one of the first opportunities to work on the AV side of the house with technology they can understand and relate to."