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The Top CES Products with Commercial Promise by Christopher Maione

  • The world’s largest consumer electronics show took place Jan 6-9, 2011, in Las Vegas. The show statistics reported over 125,000 attendees from all across the globe. Anything and everything “electronic” was displayed at this show. For electronic geeks – this was heaven and a showcase of the latest and greatest technologies from every manufacturer of electronics (worldwide). This is the show where you are encouraged to see, touch and play with products in audio, computer software & hardware, content distribution, digital imaging, electronic gaming, emerging technologies, entertainment content, lifestyle electronics, telecommunications, internet based multi-media systems, wireless technologies and just about every electronic gadget known to man and a few that we didn’t know about yet.
  • This show is primarily “consumer” electronics; however there are always some interesting new products on display which clearly have application in the commercial AV market. I often get asked if this is a show worthwhile for the commercial AV industry type person. The answer is, sort of. By the name “Consumer Electronics” it’s clear the focus is on the consumer market. But, as we all know, many technologies which make their way into the commercial market have their start in the consumer world. I wouldn’t pass up Infocomm for CES, but there are definitely evolving technologies that are displayed here which will have an impact in the professional AV world, so if you want to get ahead of the curve it’s certainly worth a look.

For those of you that couldn’t make it to the show, here’s a look at what I feel were the top products on display at CES with commercial AV applications.

#1 LED Flat Panels
Prices continue to plummet and panel sizes continue to grow. They are bigger, brighter, thinner and with higher contrast and faster scanning. The leaders in the field were Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba. The Samsung and LG array of flat panels on display was endless. Both displayed brilliant, large (55 inch+) very thin panels, just over ¼” thick. The Samsung LED9000 stopped traffic with its spectacular image.

As a matter of record, it is becoming increasingly difficult to cost justify a “commercial grade” flat panel as consumer (or prosumer) panels continue to decline in price and provide additional functionality. One end-user from the show commented – “Why should I buy a commercial grade panel when I can buy a consumer panel for a fraction of the cost?” Unfortunately flat panel pricing structure is one of the products that are leading the “commoditizing” of the commercial AV industry. For more on AV as a commodity see: avtechnologyonline.com/blog/46178.aspx

#2 Tablets
Tablets were on display at a host of booths, most notably HP, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Research in Motion (Blackberry). Interestingly, Apple, the mother of all tablets, the iPad – doesn’t display at CES.

Tablets play two roles in the commercial AV market; first, they are slowly replacing touch panels as the user interface device to AV Systems. The leading commercial control system manufactures, AMX, Crestron, and Extron each provide apps to interface with iPhones / iPad devices. As other tablets hit the market, it makes sense they will support these new tablets, especially the RIM / Blackberry tablet – as the Blackberry is still the number one choice in the commercial / corporate world of PDA’s. Interestingly, the new Blackberry tablet, the “Playbook” actually acts as a slave expansion tablet and connects to a users existing Blackberry device (phone).

Second, as a business tool for the AV professional, the next generation of tablets will make it easy for project managers, engineers and field technicians to have access to specifications, drawings, installation details, schematics, pictures, etc.

Considering that the present generation of the iPad is still considered “a toy” in the commercial environment, I wouldn’t take an AV Consultant or Systems Integrator too seriously if they showed up on a project carrying an iPad as a “business tool”. As more business oriented tablets come to market, it is likely they will find more acceptance and slowly replace laptops and net books.

#3 Camcorders
Camcorders for video acquisition are getting better, smaller, have ample memory (card) capabilities, are less expensive—and of course are full HD. Leaders in the camcorder arena were Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic. The Sony SR and HDR lines were getting a lot of booth traffic. Gone are the days of spending $20,000 on a near - broadcast quality camera. Now, for under a few thousand dollars you can purchase a high quality HD format camera. This type of camera is perfectly suited for in-house corporate video acquisition, recording, and streaming applications.Other Notables
Other notable booths to mention, the closest thing to what we would see at Infocomm, were the Da-Lite and Chief booths. Da-Lite was showing a wide variety of their “consumer” projection screens – geared for the Home Theatre / 3D market. Chief (and their consumer division Sanus) showed all sorts of new sleek brackets that mount just about any electronic device to the wall – as well as a full complement of even slimmer wall brackets for large LED flat panels.

3D – Not Yet Ready for Commercial

The show was (again) overloaded with 3D. The push on the consumer market is still VERY strong. Aside from 3D flat panels, we saw 3D digital cameras (Fuji 3DW3), 3D camcorders (Sony HDR- TD10-3D) and 3D creation software (NVIDIA 3D Vision). The verdict is still out if 3D is just a consumer fad, here to stay—or will eventually make it a mainstream business tool. There were a few booths depicting commercial products and applications for3D in engineering, design, medical and simulation and clearly 3D would have significant benefits in these areas. But will we see 3D PowerPoint slides in the Boardroom? I don’t think so, at least not until they can perfect a glasses-free 3D solution.

Whether CES is just a great consumer show or it is a great predictor of the future technologies that we will employ and integrate into our corporate projects and commercial facilities, this much is clear: CES pushes the envelope and makes us consider for a moment, things that 5, 10, and 15 years ago would have been considered virtually impossible. As an AV professional, will attending CES provide you infinite wisdom on commercial technologies, I think not. But it can open your eyes and expand your horizons and get you ready to consider technologies that you would normally not consider or see at InfoComm. I plan to be there next year, if for no other reason than to be able to see for certain, what from this year, makes it into our commercial AV market, and to stay ahead of the curve on evolving technologies.

For more information regarding CES, visit cesweb.org.

Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, emerging trends, and marketing strategy. Reach him at: cmaione@chrismaione.com