Ghosts and Gobos

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AV Concepts explores new technologies to give clients overall value

AV Concepts started out as many rental and staging houses do, out of someone’s garage. Fred Mantrik and Nick Smith worked in the corporate AV industry for several years until they realized they could fill a void that existed in the industry. Twenty-two years later, the partners still run the business together and have seen it grown beyond their wildest dreams.

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Top: AV Concepts worked with Masergy,Musion, and Christie to put together a demo of the Pepper’s Ghost technology at InfoComm Expo 2009 in Orlando, FL.Bottom: The Pepper’s Ghost projection technique uses a glass screen to project life-like images live to the screen.

In 1987, Mandrick and Smith opened the first AV Concepts office and warehouse in Phoenix, AZ’s east valley. This would eventually lead to a second office/warehouse facility in San Diego, CA. What would set AV Concepts apart from other companies were its beginnings in video engineering. Nick Smith, president of AV Concepts recalls, “Our engineer, Clark Williams, who went on to start Vista Systems, was originally at the same company we were, and he had left to join us when we started AV Concepts. We started to look for ways to take component video farther, which was mostly broadcast related at the time. After developing products in our warehouse, such as dissolving component video, Williams would take off-the-shelf products that manufacturers had developed, and we’d bring them into the shop. We’d do R&D work on them, and start learning how to take video signals and manipulate them for corporate situations. That developed into edge blending, and that’s when he left to start Vista.”

While Williams left the company, it wasn’t the last time that he would work with AV Concepts. “We’ve worked with him quite a bit since then,” Smith explains, “becoming a beta site for his new products and we’d use them on our shows. We’ve always pushed towards the cutting edge to come up with something new for our clients. At that point in the industry, everyone was trying to bring computer inputs into shows, because there was nothing really off the shelf to achieve it. So we worked towards that, and created a whole industry in itself.”

Smith and his crew’s passion for the latest technologies lead him to discover an old projection technique that inspired him to see if it could work in a corporate setting. “We’ve always tried new things,” he says, “but there hasn’t been a ton of new stuff recently until I got the hint of the Pepper’s Ghost projection technique. It made me wonder how I could integrate that into a corporate event, so I jumped into it. A friend of mine owned a company in New York that worked with it and he invited me out to see the technology firsthand. Eventually our company hooked up with Musion, and became a licensed reseller of the technology. That was just the beginning on figuring out what to do with it.”

Smith and his crew decided to explore uses for the technology in corporate events, from telepresence to a digital signage. “We set up theaters in New York and in our offices in San Diego to further explore the technology. For the past 18 months, we’ve been bringing people in and out to brainstorm how to utilize this technology. It’s really driven us into lots of different applications, like retail, digital signage, government command control, and eventually telepresence, which I thought was pretty exciting,” explains Smith. “Video conferencing has been out for a long time, and it still looks like web casting. But with low latency, an HD signal, and combining both with Musion’s Pepper’s Ghost technique, we just saw a natural application for creating life-like images. I instantly knew our customers would connect with it, and there hasn’t been one person that’s checked it out that couldn’t find an application for it.”

At InfoComm Expo 2009, AV Concepts joined forces with Musion, Masergy, and Christie to show the technology off to attendees. The companies set up a glass screen to project images of two musicians live from a London office to show the technology’s potential. “There was a lot of interest at the show and we have some telepresence programs that are being planned right now,” notes Smith. “While we have all the technology and the know-how to make it work, the biggest factor we have to face is the bandwidth. We teamed up with some pretty good partners, such as Masergy, and they’re working with us because they see a niche market. They know they have to be flexible in order for all of us to succeed.”

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AV Concepts sees a lot of corporate AV potential with the Pepper’s Ghost technology, like in digital signage and telepresence applications.

AV Concepts presence on the cutting edge of technology has caused a lot of manufacturers to seek out the company for inspiration as well. “One thing that’s interesting in our world is that a company such as Christie, who we’ve worked with a long time, watches what we’re doing because of the types of programs we work with and the types of products we use. Companies that want to compete with us will buy those products, too, so everyone has to be flexible if they want to succeed,” explains Smith.

In the midst of an economic downturn, Smith is thankful that his company is still doing quite well. “While we see this year as a bit of a downturn, we realized how good we’re really doing,” he says. “The stories I hear of companies losing 50 or more percent makes me realize that. Our company is very strong, and we think a lot of the effort that we’re putting in this year will slingshot us through next year when the economy turns around. It’s a changing world, and one thing that’s going to be interesting with this economy is the buyer’s habits are definitely going to be changed. Now they’re geared towards value. So we have to understand how to create a better value for our customers, and that’s why we’re always exploring the latest technologies.”

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