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An InfoComm Road Map. By Tom Stimson

  • As I head to InfoComm in Orlando, Im wearing two hats: my hat as chair of the InfoComm Rental &Staging Council, and my stagers hat, the one I wear most of the time, doing business development for a major staging company.
  • First things first: There are two things you need to know about the InfoComm Rental & Staging Council: 1. Membership is open to any InfoComm member involved in the rental or staging business and 2. The Council makes a difference. Tuck those two thoughts into the back of your head and get yourself to InfoComm to take advantage of the resurgence in Rental &Staging at the show. Rental &Stagers have committed their support for up to date education, more staging-relevant exhibits, and a increased participation from its growing community. And InfoComm has responded with an emphatic yes.
  • This years show begins with a Rental &Staging Super Tuesday session with separate management and operations tracks. Both groups will start the day with a wakeup call on Rigging Safety and a primer on inventory control utilizing RFID technology. As the day progresses, operations professionals get their own sessions on Event Management, Logistics, and Leadership for Supervisors. The management track will learn about Recruitment &Retention, Loss Prevention, Insurance Protection, plus a primer on Financial Analysis.
  • After class there is a couple of hours to get ready for a big evening that kicks off with the AV Awards Banquet. Then the traditional, civilized, and booooring opening night reception has been replaced with THE InfoComm Party. What a difference a year makes. Two national acts and an InfoComm member opening act will perform on a concert stage with projection, lights, and sound provided by big name manufacturers. (Rumor has it that we will see/hear the new Midas XL8 digital console in use!) This room will remain up all week for demos and other events. Not only will we see the latest technology in action, we get to eat, drink, and leave before tear-out. This will be a high-tech gift to all the Rental & Stagers who put on shows for a living.
  • When you stagger down to the Exhibit floor on Wednesday, head straight to the Lighting and Staging Pavilion. There you will see live demos of best practice rigging techniques, get to visit with dozens of new exhibitors of lighting equipment, and see the latest LED displays. Around the floor you will also find purveyors of RFID technology, event logistics specialists, and plenty of rental software companies. Plus there are expanded audio listening rooms and even more live sound exhibitors than ever before. This is just a sampling of the improvements that will make this years InfoComm even more constructive for Rental & Staging attendees.
  • In my role as Chairman of the Rental &Staging Council, I represent all rental members of InfoComm International. But at the show I am also an attendee with fifteen years of AV-for-rental purchasing experience. As you consider new products, you need to keep in mind where your company is headed in your particular market. What makes a great buy for one company might be a fiasco for another. Here are some technology trends as I see them.
  • First, audio. Its digital now, period. Dont throw away your analog front-of-house consoles; just think twice before you buy another one. When you consider the cost of all the outboard processing needed with an analog desk, the higher price of a digital console seems pretty reasonable. There are folks who express concern about the quality of digital sound, but they generally fall into two categories (with a few notable exceptions). 1. They have never done a side-by-side comparison or 2. They are afraid of learning something new. As a manager, you should be suspicious if your audio department is still saying no to digital.
  • HDTV looks great, but its not necessarily the greatest. It is often promoted as the new video standard for live events. But in fact there is no standard format for projected video. Best practice still is to scale source material to the resolution that works best with the projector in use. The tipping point for using HD in live events will be when customers start to demand HD recording. When this happens, it will make sense again for both the screen and the record to use the same signal format. This will increase demand for projectors with native HD chips. Change might be just around the corner, but then again maybe not. Most video recording done for corporate meetings is archival or intended for low-resolution distribution, and many customers are not ready for the costs associated with HD cameras, switchers, and recorders when their real goal is stunning video projection for their live show. HD is truly impressive on the right projector, but an HD source is just one of a multitude of video and computer formats encountered on a typical show. If you focus on getting signals converted to the best format for the job at hand, you can fulfill the promise of HD without buying into the expense of living in an HD broadcast world. Understand HDTV, be able to work with it, but embrace all video and computer formats. They are not going awayyet.
  • When video for lighting first appeared on the market, the effects were original, exciting, and to many video professionals, completely illogical. Why compromise the quality of the image by using MPEG-2 video shown from dim, low-resolution display devices? Nonetheless Lighting Designers embraced these creative tools and continue to incorporate more video content into their designs as the overall quality of image continues to improve. This has resulted in the occasional turf war, at least in the corporate AV world, and the issue in my opinion is content management. Media servers for lighting and LED effects products need to function like every other media server. When they do, the shows graphics department will manage this production tool and the departments that need its material can then utilize it equally. Visual Effects Designers will eventually work with graphic imaging consoles that allow them to manipulate source material in real time. That signal can then be sent to whichever display device needs them, which will include those managed by the video department. The trend of Lighting Designers using video content and displays is not going away, but it will one day work seamlessly with established video and computer technology.
  • It is amusing to draw a line in the sand and say that technology stops here, but it is not realistic. From time to time even the best companies will make regrettable equipment purchases, because keeping up with technology means taking some risks. Sometimes the bigger mistake is staying with the tried and true. When I attend InfoComm, my expectations include changing my mind because manufacturers are often two steps ahead of their customers. One extraordinary product can transform an industry and when it does, you will see it first at InfoComm.