The LED pixel pitches were tighter, the displays were bigger, and 4k seemed to be the phrase of the week.
The offerings at InfoComm 2015 showed great promise for the future of IP integration and smart technology, while further blurring the lines of AV/IT. Show-goers this year found a refreshing focus on fully immersive and connected environments and offering solutions. It was clear from the keynote address that we were in for an Infocomm show dedicated to further advancing and integrating smart solutions for IP-enabled devices as well as the future of drones. The Internet of Things (IoT) has arrived.
The industry is adapting to the fact that consumer markets drive demand for the professional solutions we design. Samsung shared its vision of the future, where a customer can walk into a store and have the signage systems recognize the individual, and proceed to intelligently guide them through the store while recommending selections, achieved through the use of Bring Your Own Identity (BYOI) technology, the next stage in the evolution of BYOD.
As I walked the floor, I looked for companies focusing on the 'Why' first, with less emphasis on the 'What.' I wanted solutions, not products, and Infocomm delivered. Here are some of the trends and solutions that caught my attention.
A Soft(ware) Focus
Stemming from the theme of selling solutions, many manufacturers focused on various software-based products that allow integration with BYOD platforms and cloud-based solutions.
Microsoft showcased a single solution: the Surface Hub, an excellent example of software/hardware duality. From the outside, the product appeared to be another interactive flat-panel display posing as an interactive whiteboard-type product. The device has vertical speakers and two built-in cameras for smart switching between angles, depending on which side of the board the instructor is standing. Although I've seen similar features in other interactive whiteboards and flat-panel displays, what makes the Surface Hub a success is the integration with Office 365 and Microsoft's Surface tablets and the nearly seamless transfer of files between devices and cloud-based platforms.
This company is doing some really interesting things with touch interactive technology and user interface design. MultiTaction's product features an interactive display technology with infrared cameras mounted to an LED backlight layer behind an optically bonded display. The infrared cameras allow users to create rich, interactive content through touch, or specialty objects sporting a QR type barcode very similar to a Reactable. The interface allows content to unfold exponentially to create a vast workspace.
What I found most welcoming was that the interface works just as a user would expect. If I want to drag an image from a webpage onto my workspace and begin annotating, then I can do that with one swipe. Plus, that content can now be shared and stored on a cloud drive, or even integrated with a third-party BYOD solution. The user-friendly and intuitive interface made me forget about the technology and instead think about adapting the platform to fit my work style.
It was nice to see technology playing nice with other competing platforms, and breaking down barriers for the benefit of the end user. With consumer smart-home integration platforms like HomeKit and Brillo promising to do this very thing, consumers are coming to expect this from the professional realm, as well.
Dante vs. AVB
Over the past few years it seems like having to choose between Dante and AVB has been like choosing between the chicken or the fish. This year, the audio pavilion was packed with products sporting the catchy sign proclaiming, "Dante Spoken Here," marking booths that were showcasing products compatible with Audinate's networked audio protocol, Dante. However, AVB was under represented. Some companies, like Biamp, have decided to give you both the chicken and the fish by utilizing the AVB protocol for networking devices together, while offering I/O cards to support Dante devices. Implementation of networked audio allows manufacturers to take full advantage of the processing power of DSPs through the virtualization of routing and processing. CPUs with expandable memory can be inserted in these DSP units to further weave them into the fabric of the AV system by allowing them to achieve more than just audio processing.
It was great to see more products adopting some form of networked audio solution, but after talking with some of the manufacturers, many of the show-goers still see Dante as a foreign language.
It is extremely beneficial to utilize networked audio solutions to their fullest potential. Networked audio vastly improves the ability to interconnect spaces and systems together when dealing with campus-wide designs that share resources from a centralized location. From there, the specifics of routing and processing are done virtually through programming and commissioning of the system. To see more solutions utilizing networked audio shows progress towards a fully matured Internet of Things.
4k is Here
For a while now, 4k has been tugging on the pant legs of the industry and we have mostly ignored it, but now it’s time to pay attention. The tools and components for extraordinary 4k systems are here and within budget. They range from Blackmagic Design’s new line of 4k production cameras to miscellaneous 4k displays, projectors, and LED video walls. If clients aren’t currently thinking about 4k solutions, then it’s time to look into considerations for near-future deployment. I have been hopeful that 4k is finally going to gain some major traction since Avid's adoption of 4k into their Media Composer software. We may finally start to see a stronger implementation of 4k now that there are a variety of tools for content creation, processing, and management.
Attack of the Drones
Perhaps the most unusual introduction to the show this year was the use of drones in the professional AV industry. Drones have lately been seen flying around sports arenas and concert venues as a tool to capture high-quality aerial shots. While mostly a fun distraction at the show, drone technology in the AV industry is very real — and useful.
Compact 4k cameras are a great way to get the most from drones in AV. Video taken by the camera can then easily be digitally zoomed and panned using the high-res 4k image. The future of drone technology shows the aircraft being nearly completely autonomous and programmable. The ability to pre-program a drone's movements can allow programmers to sync movements with the rest of the stage production like lighting. Drone piloting consists of telling the device to make small adjustments in the auto piloting feature. This puts most of the control in the CPU's hands, which leaves little margin for user error.
This year’s show required attendees to dig past the physical product and explore the features that drive user experience. The show’s focus was on how the physical products and software can enhance the user experience, while bringing the user something familiar. For these reasons, it was difficult to simply walk around and window shop. Getting the most out of the truly innovative solutions required spending time learning and getting hands-on experience. The borders between AV/IT have been all but erased, and we are heading into a new frontier. IP-based networked audio and video open up a world of possibilities for intelligent systems with user-device integration, and the future looks bright (at least 20,000 lumens).
Jonathan Owens is a multi-disciplinary Consultant at Shen Milsom & Wilke, LLC. Owens has more than 10 years of experience in audio and audiovisual design, engineering, acoustics for a wide variety of projects including corporate, commercial, fine arts performance centers, entertainment facilities, higher education, K-12 schools, and healthcare facilities. Owens is also a professional recording/mixing engineer and sound designer.