The Year In Review

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Looking Backward to Get a Better Sense of What’s Ahead

As years go, it’s the beginning of the end.

The kind of year it has been in rental and staging has been described (mostly by me) as a 3.5 on the Richter Scale. Not enough to bring down most of the sturdier structures, but plenty enough to shake up the occupants. Most have felt the need to lighten the load on the structure to keep from taking damage. (Okay, enough of the earthquake metaphors. I guess I lived in California too long.)

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This year may go down in the annals of staging history as the year that a lot of folks hunkered down a bit — not in terms of being busy, but in terms of not immediately jumping on the new gear bandwagon. On the one hand, not being a stellar year in the economy in general, there was not a lot of, “I’ve got to be the first one to buy that new XYZ projector, and get it into my inventory.” “If you build it, they will come” largely became a thing we stopped saying. It seems a bit outdated, like the Kevin Costner movie it came from. Instead, although we didn’t completely stop buying, we became a lot more cautious.

On the other hand, there was in fact quite a lot of new technology innovation for IMAG offered up by the big gun projection manufacturers. Head-end technology increased as well, especially in encoding, software, and connectivity. With a number of the things that came to market this year, or that we know are coming early in the next year, I finally can see that I’ll get the capability to produce the complete, network-centric staging control system I’ve been whining about for nearly five years.

In the larger world of projection, we heard a lot about 3D, about extremely short-throw projectors, about LEDlight source projectors (i.e., “lampless” projectors), but are these things making their way into staging? A look at my own inventory, and calls to a number of friends in significant positions in the staging industry, say “Sure…a little.” We’re certainly going that way, but just like Kevin Costner himself, we’re finding fewer blockbusters on the horizon that pay for that new Ferrari. Or 3D projection system. Or media server.

In fact, 2009 has been an awesome year for the release of new technologies and the refinement of existing ones. One of the biggest developments to the rental portion of the industry, while not garnering the kind of excitement that 3D does, was the mainstream arrival of lampless, LED-powered projectors. The bane of renting projectors to the public has always been lamps. As with ink jet printers in the computer world, the cost of consumables can far outweigh the cost of the original equipment — in fact, if it doesn’t, you’re not renting them enough. Couple this with the fact that lamp life is decreased both by the vibration of movement and by changes in temperature, and you can see the impact the reduction of a cost like this could have on the rental side of the business.

We also saw significant development in video wall technology for staging. LED walls became lighter, more compact, and easier to use. In the indoor types, dot pitch decreased to the point that we’re at last finding them useable as a replacement for projection in some moderately sized indoor meetings, where we had really relegated them to use for IMAG or effect, or for use in the largest venues. The resolution and the complication factor had kept the mid-size, computer- based presentation in projection. Also, the release of new wall technologies, such as Christie’s Microtiles, threatens to change the way we use walls in staging — giving them higher resolution along with more flexible configurations.

In short, 2009 produced quite a bit of “wait and see.” What we’ve seen has been good — and the spring will tell us how much of it we’ll be able to take on in 2010.

See you next year.

Joel R. Rollins, CTS (joel@rpsystems.net) is a trainer, designer, and author whose career spans all facets of the audio-visual and multimedia industry. Currently a partner in Rollins Performance Systems, Inc., Joel brings the benefit of his experience with a range of noted North American companies, including Riverview Systems Group, Extron, and the ADCOM Presentation Group, to each project. Rollins’s experience also includes 15 years as an instructor at the ICIA Institute for Professional Development.

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