InfoComm 2012: Growth and Re-Invention, by Pete Putman
- Published on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 17:02
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
As InfoComm 2012 recedes into the rear-view mirror (along with Las Vegas, thankfully), I’ve had a chance to think about some of the more significant trends I spotted at the show. Some have been picking up speed for almost a year, while the others are still moving in fits and starts.
Amazingly, the show has managed to glide smoothly over every potential speed bump it has hit in the past 15 years (the demise of the Projection Shoot-Out, the 2007-2009 recession, collapsing retail prices and dealer margins on hardware, consolidation of brand names, and infiltration of consumer electronics into the professional space).
InfoComm absorbed its nearest competitor (the National Systems Contractor Association’s trade show) a few years back. It has expanded to Asia and Europe. Its education and certification program is second to none, with over 8,000 holders of Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certificates out there – I’m one of ‘em – and ISO certification of their education process.
I started attending InfoComm in 1994 as a journalist. Over the years, I’ve become more intimate with the education side of things, and now about 60% – 70% of my time at the show is taken up with teaching classes. This year alone, I had nine hours of individual instruction to offer to a total of over 750 students during a three-day period. (And I once swore I would never be a teacher. Ha!)
In fact, class attendance this year was the highest I’ve ever seen it, and the attendees were predominantly end-users – colleges, hospitals, institutions, corporations, non-profits, churches, and government agencies. The transition from analog to digital has swept everyone up in its wake, and InfoComm attendees don’t want to be left behind.
As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time to walk the trade show floor. But the significant products were out there, if you knew where to look. I even managed to feature a few of them in my classes – I’m VERY big on ‘show and tell,’ rather than ‘death by Powerpoint’ – so that attendees could get more information on the hardware and software than they’d find in the average booth tour.
The first trend is ever-larger and cheaper LCD displays. You may have heard that Sharp unveiled a 90-inch professional LCD monitor in Las Vegas (1920×1080, no price yet, but probably under $10K) and followed that up with the announcement of the TV version (LC-90LE745U, $10,999) on June 19.
Don’t underestimate the significance of this product. Since its introduction last fall, Sharp’s $5K 80-inch LCD TV product has proven to wildly successful, but not necessarily in the home: No, AV dealers are installing them by the truckload in commercial AV projects, with a special emphasis on financial institutions and corporations who don’t want a two-piece projector/screen ‘solution’ that requires frequent lamp changes, filter maintenance, and ambient light control.
If the 80-inch is a projector ‘threat,’ then the 90-inch is a projector ‘killer.’ Maybe not at $10K, but you know that price will come down quickly as market demand rises – and it will rise – so expect it to be selling for $7,000 – $8,000 before very long.
You’ll know this trend has really picked up speed when Sharp’s nearest competitors (Samsung and LG) start pushing their big LCD screens aggressively. Samsung showed a 75-inch edge-lit LCD display at the show with the ominous caption: “Time to Replace Projector in Your Conference Room.”
Another trend is ‘ergonomic’ control systems. At CES, there were numerous demonstrations of gesture and voice control, and Samsung has already brought a TV to market (ES7500 series) that combines both with facial recognition. I didn’t see too many demos of either in Las Vegas, but Panasonic had an interesting demo that combined body recognition with gesture control to navigate a series of maps and locate yourself on a virtual campus.
The challenges to design such systems are clearly outweighed by the advantages. A conference room or classroom that can recognize a user, power itself up, and load and operate any preferences in hardware and software operation is a very attractive proposition. No doubt we’ll see some more stabs at this built around the Leap platform in the near future (Leap can detect hand motion as slight as .1 millimeters).
Wireless connectivity goes hand-in-hand with gesture and voice commands, and I’m not talking about WiFi-based solutions – they are generally the most unreliable choice, although abundant. No, I’m referring to a slew of proprietary technologies that run on separate but parallel highways to WiFi, free of bandwidth-hogging TCP/IP traffic.
Right now, the most promising of these is the Wireless High-Definition Interface (WHDI), which operates at 5.8 GHz, has a range of several hundred feet, and can support dozens of discrete channels that carry 1920x1080p/60 video, multichannel audio, and data. Hitachi showed a six-port (two HDMI & two VGA) wireless projector switch at InfoComm, along with a super-tiny document camera that also has WHDI built-in.
During my Wireless AV class, we treated attendees to the first public demonstration of WiSA – a multi-channel (7.2) wireless audio system that requires nothing more than AC power for each speaker. The room size was 50’ wide, and the technology is scalable to larger rooms. Combined with a WHDI connection to the Blu-ray player and my Toshiba computer, we were able to cut just about every cord (except for power).
Projector manufacturers are well aware of the challenges posed by ever-larger and cheaper LCD displays. One way to fight back is to move away from traditional short-arc mercury vapor lamps to lampless projection engines employing LEDs, lasers, or both.
Casio took a substantial lead in this market a few years back with its laser/LED hybrids, and finally plugged a hole in its line with the XJ-H2650, a wide XGA (1280×800) design with 3500 ANSI lumens brightness that made its debut at InfoComm. Now, BenQ has joined the fray with a pair of laser-only single-chip DLP projectors, both rated at 2,000 lumens (LX60ST, XGA, and LW61ST, WXGA).
But the bigger news came from Panasonic, who not only embraced hybrid technology but jumped all the way to 1920×1080 resolution while doing it. They’re rolling out two different versions – one for education, and one for commercial applications – and the PT-RZ470 is claimed to develop in excess of 3,000 lumens. There is a wide XGA version as well, known as the PT-RW430, and it’s also rated over 3,000 lumens. Both BenQ and Panasonic claim you’ll see about 20,000 hours of operation from the laser/LED light engine before it poops out.
Other companies showed ‘lampless’ projection technology at the show, including Optoma. But most of these demos were small, pocket-sized projectors that are good for a few hundred lumens at most. Digital Projection and projectiondesign also showcased LED-only offerings that can hit the 1,000 lumens barrier, but we still haven’t seen a ‘pure’ LED design that can beat the 2,000 lumens benchmark…for now.
Haptic control technology – i.e. touchscreen LCDs – was in abundance at the show. Samsung showed a demonstration of a large LCD touchscreen table that can be used to display images of retail merchandise. These images can then be ‘dragged’ onto a Windows 8-equipped smart phone and create a shopping cart, or even a checklist. Whatever is dragged into the smart phone is automatically mirrored to a nearby sales associate tablet, supposedly simplifying the shopping process for both parties.
One of the more impressive demonstrations took place at Planet Hollywood, where a new musical was finishing up rehearsals. Based on songs by the Beach Boys (who are celebrating their 50th year with a nationwide tour) , ‘Surf: The Musical’ uses five walls of 60-inch Sharp LCD monitors for all of its scenic backdrops. The walls were designed and built by Adaptive Technologies and can slide in and out and raise/lower during the performance as needed to accommodate some real 3D constructed sets.
Each wall weighs about 8,000 pounds and it took some experimentation to figure out an adequate damping system to raise and lower the walls without any bouncing. Dynamic video processing keeps the displayed images static as the walls move up and down, creating the illusion of a curtain. If you get a chance to see the show, you will be impressed with the Ferris Wheel sequence – it felt real to me.
I can’t wrap up this piece without mentioning the absence of one of InfoComm’s largest members and long-time exhibitors, Extron Electronics. You’ve probably heard numerous reasons why they opted to skip the show (none of which made any sense to me, particularly since Extron did participate at NAB in April). Extron is a nearly 30-year-old bellweather interfacing company and without them, the Projection Shoot-Out wouldn’t have been possible. (Neither would the annual Extron Bash party, now R.I.P.)
Suffice it to say that there was plenty of chatter and speculation in my classes about Extron’s absence, along with more than a few delighted competitors who ‘stayed the course’ and reported strong booth attendance on the show floor. The enormous turnout for any classes that had the words “EDID,” “HDCP,” “HDMI,” or “digital video” in their titles and/or descriptions apparently also meant a tide of visitors to booths showing those products, such as Kramer Electronics.
So, there you have it – a quick fly-by of InfoComm. Next year, I’m going to try more ambitious wireless demos (including some products I just found out about at the show) and will expand my digital video curriculum with Web-connected TVs, if everything works out. Try and make it, we’ll be in Orlando a year from now. Should be fun!
See you there?