ISE 2018 In the Rear View Mirror

I just returned from a week in Amsterdam in what is now the largest AV trade show in the world, Integrated Systems Europe. The organizers claim that 70,000 people attend this event and that number is certainly believable: The RAI exhibition center had to erect two additional temporary “bubble” halls to hold all of the manufacturers, and the foot traffic was crazy in the main halls.

If there was an overarching theme to the show, it had to be the migration of AV signal distribution to IT networks. Booth after booth featured exhibits of video encoders, demonstrations of compression and picture quality vs. latency, giant signs extolling the virtues of video and audio distributed over 1 Gb and 10 Gb networks, and plenty of “us vs. them” comparisons.

There are so many players in the AV-over-IT world that you need a scorecard to keep track of them. Of course, everyone has their own “special sauce” when it comes to sampling, compressing, and recovering video (audio is easy!), and those “us vs. them” demonstrations usually featured (a) a live video source, (b) that same video as processed through the manufacturer’s encoding system, and (c) that same video as processed through the competition’s video encoding system.

Crestron claims near-zero latency for their DM NVX codec, compared to SVSI…

 

…except that the SDVoE exhibit showed that DM NVX does have latency – at least, more than SDVoE’s Blue River system.

Latency was a big topic at the show. It’s defined as the time delay between a frame of source video and that same frame of video after recovery from a decoder and is typically measured in milliseconds. For some reason, the AV industry is obsessed with “near zero” latency in AV installations and I lost track of all the booths claiming their products had “little,” “near zero,” and “almost none.”

Crestron had a large exhibit in their booth, touting their DM NVX system for signal distribution and control over IT using 1 Gb network switches while maintaining image quality. To drive the point home, they had a side-by-side comparison of SVSI and HDBaseT transmission with DM NVX to show that it had the lowest latency. Time code was shown on all displays and visitors were encouraged to “take a picture with your phone” to confirm their claims.

At the back of another hall, the SDVoE Alliance had an exhibit saying, “Not so fast!” Their demo compared a video source to DM NVX and an SDVoE Blue River NT codec and appeared to show that the Crestron product had higher latency (and once again, visitors were encouraged to take a picture and confirm what they saw). The big difference? SDVoE promotes the use of 10 Gb switches instead of 1 Gb switches (a point I concur with) so even signals with 4K resolution can travel with light compression.

I’m not sure what codec Crestron is using, but the Blue River codec is adapted from VESA’s Display Stream Compression (DSC), an entropy-based compression scheme with extremely low latency that is well-suited to packing down 4K and even 8K signals.

Epson was mapping images onto a projector (right) that was projecting onto a large screen (left). Did you get all that?

 

Optoma is now in the LED display wall business.

Consider that HDMI version 2.0 is only fast enough to transport 2160p/60 with 8-bit RGB color and you can see the advantage of 1.5:1 and 2:1 compression to increase color bit depth – essential to distributing signals with high dynamic range and wide color gamuts, not to mention high frame rate video. (For those keeping score at home, a 2160p/60 signal with 10-bit RGB color requires a data rate of 21.39 Gb/s, so with a little over 2:1 compression, it will pass through a 10 Gb/s network switch.)

This looming battle between codecs and Valens’ HDBaseT format will only heat up as more manufacturers adopt ‘pure’ AV-over-IT solutions. HDBaseT is still limited to 328 feet of cable length and data rates of 10.2 Gb/s, although Aurora Multimedia claims their IPBaseT hybrid product can push HDBaseT speeds much higher and accommodate 4K signals with deeper color. Further confusing the issue is the TiCo (Tiny Codec) which is based on JPEG XS, a “mezzanine” codec that will permit lighter compression of video so that it can travel through a 10 Gb network.

Another trend was the explosive growth of LED signage. Hall 2 had so many Chinese LED manufacturers that I couldn’t keep track of the all. The “hot” technology nowadays is micro LED, or LED pixel elements with a pitch less than 1 millimeter. Consider that a 50-inch plasma TV from 1998 had a pixel resolution of 1280×768 or about 1.2mm, and we can now install a wall-sized LED display with a dot pitch approaching .8mm.

There’s no question that these products are having an impact on the projector industry. As I’ve mentioned in the past, every concert I’ve attended in the past 3 years has relied on large LED displays to show live video and graphics – none of them employed projectors, so far as I can remember. One consequence of this trend is that projector manufacturers including Barco, Christie, Panasonic, and Digital Projection chose to emphasize LED displays and walls in their booths (like covering their bets) alongside their flagship products. (Even Optoma did this!)

Absen had a humongous booth at ISE and is becoming a major player in LED signage in the U.S.

 

4K LCDs are here for digital signage and Leyard was promoting a full line of them.

In contrast, the challenge for Chinese LED display companies is that no one really knows anything about them, not to mention how reliable their products are. So now we’re seeing familiar names from the U.S. AV industry showing up in engineering, marketing, and sales positions for the likes of Leyard/Planar, Unilumen, Absen, and other brands, a strategy meant to bridge the familiarity gaps and increase sales.

Another area of interest is collaboration. Mersive’s Solstice had an exhibit that stressed the importance of analytics, gathering data on who was logged into a presentation sharing system and when. Kramer’s VIA product also has an analytics function and it looks like other companies are heading in that direction. DVDO, formerly owned by Silicon Image / Lattice, is independent again and has joined the collaboration space with their Tile product. This can stream and tile five independent sources of Full HD video, not to mention share screens and cast.

You wouldn’t think of “Sharp” and “broadcast video camera” in the same sentence – yet, here they are with exactly that.

 

Panasonic showed an 8K workspace, made up of two side-by-side 4K LCD monitors equipped with touchscreen overlays.

The 800-pound gorilla in this space is, of course, Barco’s ClickShare. There are three iterations of the product, with the top-of-the-line CSE 800 allowing 8 shared screens at the same time through dual 4K display outputs. Crestron had a demo of AirMedia that claimed higher bandwidth than Solstice (1.6 Mb/s), full network security, .05 seconds latency (there’s that latency thing again!), and enterprise management software.

There was even a minor controversy at ISE. Barco posted a press release stating that they had “instructed bailiffs to approach the booth of Kindermann and collect evidence of its Klick & Show wireless presentation system present at the show” to be used in patent infringement suits. Apparently, the same thing happened last year with Kanex Pro at ISE. What really happened was that nothing was taken from Kindermann’s booth, but the press release did create some discussion.

The continuing decrease in hardware costs are the real elephant in the room. Consider that it was possible to buy a 50-inch RCA 4K TV at Shop Rite the week before the Super Bowl, and you can clearly see just how quickly value is being sucked out of consumer and commercial AV gear. In addition to the “hang and bang” projector market getting hammered by ever-cheaper and larger LCD displays (which are moving quickly to 4K resolution exclusively), AV signal management equipment – switchers, distribution amplifiers, and extenders – is susceptible to this ‘dollar store’ trend as more and more brands come to market with hardware largely manufactured in Asia.

The AV-over-IT business is a clear example. Most IT products are sold through distribution and it’s likely that most AV products will follow that path in the near future. The core products for any AV-over-IT installation are encoders and decoders, and more than a few products I saw are being sourced from China. Indeed, more than one booth at ISE featured the same exact product in a different housing, the only differential being price and perhaps a few bells and whistles.

One thing is for certain. Many large companies who have ruled the AV roost for decades are finding themselves in an unfamiliar position these days, trying to keep up with the pack as the migration to AV-over-IT continues. We’ll see how the trend plays out at InfoComm in June…