Posts Tagged ‘AV over IT’

AV-over-IT, Unplanned Obsolescence, and Unintended Consequences

The audiovisual industry, like many others, is in the midst of a big paradigm shift. That term is often beaten to death, but in this case, it’s apropos as we are redefining the process of switching and distributing audio and video signals (with control and metadata thrown in). And we’re doing it by migrating to a packet structure, using standard TCP/IP headers and streaming protocols.

And we’re not alone. Broadcast, cable, and satellite video services are adopting IT-centric models for signal management, a trend that began year ago with the first streaming video services. We laughed at those early attempts, as a combination of slow networks and inefficient video compression imposed limits on image resolution and refresh rates. Remember the old jokes about “dancing postage stamps” heard at the NAB show in 1999, in the Streaming Media pavilion?

Well, no one’s laughing these days. We can send 4K video with multichannel surround over fast broadband networks to multiple homes, reliably and repeatedly. Streaming media has become so popular that it is putting a noticeable dent in subscriptions to traditional multichannel video services (like cable and satellite TV). Some smaller cable MSOs have even encouraged viewers to drop pay TV packages and sign up for streaming services – those systems are actually losing money on pay TV subscriptions!

Streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon pose a real threat to established content producers. Indeed, the industry consolidation we’re seeing in Hollywood is largely a response to this trend, and media conglomerates now have plays in movie theaters, broadcast television, and streaming services. Think Disney, with its recent acquisition of Fox and its ownership of Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar, plus the ABC network and ESPN.

But that’s all old news. And while people endlessly debate the future of traditional linear video services, video-on-demand, and pay-per-view, there is another debate that isn’t happening. And that’s the future of skilled technical staff, particularly engineers.

As the move to IT structures for signal management and program distribution picks up speed, so too is a move to shed engineering staff. Yes, there are redundancies any time one company buys another, which is why so many staff positions were eliminated when Disney completed its acquisition of 21st century Fox studios. But Disney’s been cutting back for some time on the broadcast side, both at the O&O station level and at the ABC network.

A similar shift is taking place at CBS, possibly to prepare for an acquisition by Viacom. Many engineering positions are being eliminated as a result. And this downsizing isn’t limited to broadcast networks – it’s happened recently and will happen again at cable MSOs, not to mention satellite MVPDs that are seeing their days coming to an end in favor of lower-cost streaming.

The question is, why? And the answer appears to be along the lines of “since everything is moving to an IT network, and so much of the signal management process is automated, a few IT specialists can handle the job.” This thinking tends to oversimplify the process, but there’s no question that engineers don’t carry nearly as much weight at the TV station and network level as they used to, even a decade ago.

There is a second undercurrent, and that’s the commoditization of hardware. To save even more money, the focus has shifted from capital expenses (CapEx) to operating expenses (OpEx) at a myriad of facilities from colleges and universities to TV stations, corporate offices, and post-production facilities. Here, the thinking is that hardware has become so powerful and so inexpensive that it’s foolish to spend lots of money on products that might be obsolete in a year.

And with all signal distribution moving to an IT structure, it’s simply easier to buy two or more of a given product so that spares are on hand when the original purchase fails. This is particularly true of video cameras – even UHD models have gone cheap – but we’re also hearing about similar purchases of things like routing switchers, monitors (even TVs are used), and audio gear. If it lasts a year and blows/burns up, simply toss it and pull another one out of the box.

There’s ample evidence of the first trend taking root across a wide variety of institutions, whereby dedicated AV departments are being replaced by IT specialists or having their job functions moved over to in-house IT administrators. There may be real bottom-line savings as a result, but how do you replace all of that technical expertise? Is an in-depth technical education in all aspects of video, audio, lighting, and control going to be worth as much down the road to employers and customers?

Similarly, are we moving to a model of planned obsolescence and commoditized hardware with short-term ROI goals? Do we get rid of old hardware like we throw out used paper plates and cups? Would it make sense for AV integrators to shift their business models away from conventional hardware installation and move to a leasing model, i.e. build out a complete room (or rooms) with all the requisite gear and lease everything to the client for a year or two, then cart it all away for recycling or disposal?

Carrying this model to the extreme, we now see the rise of “rent by the hour/day/week” flex office space in major cities. Who needs to own a building and deal with the substantial CapEx when a company can exist on paper with no real permanent office, except when you need it to impress/meet/inform a client? It’s not much of a stretch to argue in a similar manner against retaining full-time technical and engineering staff in a given facility where most of the hardware and software in use is automated.

Food for thought…

InfoComm 2018 In The Rear View Mirror

If you managed to make it out to this year’s running of InfoComm, you might have summarized your trip to colleagues with these talking points:

(a) LED displays, and

(b) AV-over-IT.

Indeed; it was impossible to escape these two trends. LED walls and cubes were everywhere in the Las Vegas Convention Center, in many cases promoted by a phalanx of Chinese brands you’ve likely never heard of. But make no mistake about it – LEDs are the future of displays, whether they are used for massive outdoor signage or compact indoor arrays.

With the development of micro LED technology, we’re going to see an expansion of LEDs into televisions, monitors, and even that smart watch on your wrist. (Yes, Apple is working on micro LEDs for personal electronics.)

Projector manufacturers are understandably nervous about the inroads LEDs are making into large venues. Indeed; this author recently saw Paul Simon’s “farewell tour” performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and the backdrop was an enormous widescreen LED wall that provided crystal-clear image magnification (very handy when concertgoers around you are up and dancing, blocking your view of the stage).

 

As for the other talking point – well, it was impossible to avoid in conversations at InfoComm. Between manufacturers hawking their “ideal” solutions for compressing and streaming audio and video and all of the seminars in classrooms and booths, you’d think that AV-over-IT is a done deal.

The truth is a little different. Not all installations are looking to route signals through a 10 Gb/s Cisco switch. In fact, a brand-spanking-new studio built for ESPN in lower Manhattan, overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, relies on almost 500 circuits of 3G SDI video through an enormous router. Any network-centric signal distribution within this space is mostly for IT traffic.

That’s not to say that installers are poo-pooing AV-over-IT and the new SMPTE 2110 standards for network distribution of deterministic video. It’s still early in the game and sometimes tried-and-tested signal distribution methods like SDI are perfectly acceptable, especially in the case of this particular facility with its 1080p/60 backbone.

Even so, the writing on the all couldn’t be more distinct with respect to LEDs and network distribution of AV. But there were other concerns at the show that didn’t receive nearly as much media attention.

At the IMCCA Emerging Trends session on Tuesday, several presentations focused on interfacing humans and technology. With “OK Google” and Alexa all the rage, discussions focused on how fast these consumer interfaces would migrate to AV control systems. An important point was made about the need for two-factor authentication – simple voice control might not be adequately secure for say, a boardroom in a large financial institution.

What would the second factor be? Facial recognition? (This was a popular suggestion.) Fingerprints? Retinal scans? A numeric code that could be spoken or entered on a keypad? The name of your favorite pet? Given that hackers in England recently gained access to a casino’s customer database via an Internet-connected thermometer in a fish tank, two-factor authentication for AV control systems doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

Another topic of discussion was 8K video. With a majority of display manufacturers showing 4K LCD (and in some cases OLED) monitors in Vegas, the logical question was: Could resolutions be pushed higher? Of course, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Display analysts predict there will be over 5 million 8K televisions shipped by 2022 and we’re bound to see commercial monitors adapted from those products. But 8K doesn’t have to be achieved in a single, stand-alone display: With the advent of smaller 4K monitors (some as small as 43 inches), it is a simple matter to tile a 2×2 array to achieve 7680×4320 pixels. And there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of customers for such a display, especially in the command and control and process control verticals.

The other conversations of interest revolved around the need for faster wireless. We now have 802.1ac channel bonding, with 802.11ax on the horizon. For in-room super-speed WiFi, 802.11ad provides six channels at 60 GHz, each 2 GHz wide or 100x the bandwidth of individual channels at 2.4 and 5 GHz.

But wise voices counsel to pay attention to 5G mobile networks, which promise download speeds of 1 Gb/s. While not appropriate for in-room AV connectivity, 5G delivery of streaming video assets to classrooms and meetings is inevitable. Some purveyors of wireless connectivity services like AT&T and Verizon insist that 5G could eventually make WiFi obsolete. (That’s a bit of a stretch, but this author understands the motivation for making such a claim.)

The point of this missive? Simply that our industry is headed for some mind-boggling changes in the next decade. Networked AV, LEDs, 8K video and displays, multi-factor authentication for control systems, and super-fast wireless connections are all in the wings.

And if you were observant at InfoComm, you know it’s coming…and quickly.

NAB 2018 In The Rear View Mirror

I just returned from my annual visit to the NAB Show in Las Vegas and the overall impression was of an industry (or industries) marching in place. Many booths were smaller; there were plenty of empty spaces filled with tables and chairs for eating and lounging, and at times you could hear crickets chirping in the North and Central Halls.  (Not so the South Hall, which was a madhouse all three days I visited.)

There are a number of possible reasons for this lack of energy. The broadcast and film industries are taking the first steps to move to IP backbones for everything from production to post and distribution, and it’s moving slowly. Even so, there was no shortage of vendors trying to convince booth visitors that AV-over-IT is the way to go, chop-chop!

Some NAB exhibitors that were formerly powerhouses in traditional media production infrastructures have staked their entire business model on IT, with flashy exhibits featuring powerful codecs, cloud media storage and retrieval, high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, and production workflows (editing, color correction, and visual effects) all interconnected via an IT infrastructure.

And, of course, there is now a SMPTE standard for transporting professional media over managed AV networks (note the word “managed”), and that’s ST 2110. The pertinent documents that define the standards are (to date) SMPTE ST 2110-10/-20/-30 for addressing system concerns and uncompressed video and audio streams, and SMPTE ST 2110-21 for specifying traffic shaping and delivery timing of uncompressed video.

No doubt about it – the Central Hall booths were definitely smaller and quieter this year.

 

Canon’s Larry Thorpe and Ivo Norenberg talked about the company’s new 50-1000mm zoom lens for Full HD cameras.

 

BlackMagic Design’s Pocket Cinema 4K Camera is quite popular – and affordable.

Others at NAB weren’t so sure about this rush to IT and extolled the virtues of next-generation SDI (6G, 12G, and even 24G). Their argument is that deterministic video doesn’t always travel well with the non-real-time traffic you find on networks. And the “pro” SDI crowd may have an argument, based on all of the 12G connectivity demos we saw. 3G video, to be more specific, runs at about 2.97 Gb/s, so a 12G connection would be good for 11.88 Gb/s – fast enough to transport an uncompressed 4K/60 video signal with 8-bit 4:2:2 color or 10-bit 4:2:0 color.

I’ve talked about 8K video and displays in previous columns, but mostly from a science experiment perspective. Well, we were quite surprised – perhaps pleasantly – to see Sharp exhibiting at NAB, showing an entire acquisition, editing, production, storage, and display system for 8K video. (Yes, that Sharp, the same guys that make those huge LCD displays. Now owned by Hon Hai precision industries.)

Sharp’s 8K broadcast camera, more accurately the 8C-B60A, uses a single Super 35mm sensor with effective resolution of 7680×4320 pixels arrayed in a Bayer format. That’s 16 times the resolution of a Full HD camera, which means data rates that are 16x that of 3G SDI. In case you are math challenged, we’re talking in the range of 48 Gb/s of data for a 4320p/60 video signal with 8-bit 4:2:2 color, which requires four 12G connections.

Sharp is building 8K cameras for live coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

NHK demonstrated an 8K 240Hz slow motion video playback system, along with other 8K goodies.

 

Soliton demonstrated H.265 encoding across multiple platforms, including Android devices.

And this isn’t a science experiment at all. Sharp is building cameras for the live 8K broadcasts to take place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, originating from Japanese broadcast network NHK. By now, this should be old hat, as NHK has been covering the Olympics in 8K since 2012 and showed different approaches to home viewing in Las Vegas. They also impressed with demos of 8K “slo-mo” video at a frame rate of 240 Hz, and yes, it is practical and ready to roll.

In the NHK booth, you could also watch a demonstration of 8K/60 video traveling through a 10 Gb/s switch using so-called mezzanine compression based on the TiCo system. In this case, NHK was using 5:1 TiCo compression to slow down a 40 Gb/s 8K/60 video stream to 8 Gb/s. (Four 12G video connections would result in a bit rate of nearly 48 Gb/s in case you’re wondering.)

Not far from NHK’s booth last year was a virtual city of companies showing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) hardware and software. That was about twice the size of the VR/AR exhibits in 2016, so I expected to find a sprawling metropolis of VR goodies. Instead, I came across a very large food court and lots of partitioned-off space. Turns out, what was left of the VR companies occupied a small pavilion known as “Immersive Storytelling.” Is VR the next 3D? (Probably not, but you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that.)

Panasonic’s got a 55-inch 4K OLED monitor for client viewing.

 

Epson showed an ultra short-throw laser projection system with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness.

 

The gadgeteers at NTT built a drone with a spinning LED sign shaped like a globe. Why? Because they could, I suppose.

Upstairs in the South Hall, there were dozens of companies hawking video compression tools, streaming and cloud services, targeted ad insertion, audience analytics, and a bunch of other buzzwords I’m probably getting too old to completely understand. (It will be interesting to see how many of these enterprises are still around a year from now.)

But my primary goal in that hall was to talk to folks from the Alliance for Open Media coalition. In case you haven’t heard of this group, they’ve been promoting an open-source, royalty-free codec labeled AV-1 for “next-generation 4K video.” There are at least 18 prominent members of the group and you may recognize a few of them, such as Google, Apple, Mozilla, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, and VideoLAN.

And that they’re promoting is a codec that is very similar to HEVC H.265, which is made up of lots of intellectual property that requires licensing from an organization known as MPEG-LA (Licensing Authority, not Los Angeles). The AOM contingent thinks it is taking WAY too long to get H.265 off the ground and would rather just make a suitable codec free to anyone who wants to use it to speed up the transition to 4K video.

In addition to giving out red, yellow, green, and blue lollipops, Google had its jump 360-degree camera out for inspection.

 

Technicolor claims to have solved the problem of rapid switching between different HDR formats streaming in the same program.

 

Keep an eye on the AV-1 codec. It could really upset the apple cart.

Of course, they didn’t have a ready answer when I questioned the future viability of any company that had sunk millions of dollars into H.265 development, only to see their hard work given away for free. The stock answers included “there will be winners and losers” and “some companies will probably be bought out.” Note that the primary goal of the members I listed is content delivery, not living off patent royalties, so that gives you some insights to their thinking.

The last puzzle piece was the new ATSC 3.0 standard for digital TV broadcasting, and it’s being tried out in several markets as I write this; most notably, Phoenix. ATSC 3.0 is not compatible with the current version 1.0 as it uses a different modulation process (ODM vs. VSB) and is very much intertwined with IP to make delivery to mobile devices practical. WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina has been broadcasting in this format for almost a year now.

ATSC 3.0 is already being tested in several TV markets. Will it take off? And how will consumers choose to watch it?

 

CreateLED had this cool LED “waterfall” in their booth.

ATSC 3.0 is designed to be more bandwidth-efficient and can carry 1080p and 4K broadcasts along with high dynamic range video. At the show, I saw demos of ATSC 3.0 receivers married to 802.11ac WiFi routers, ATSC 3.0 set-top boxes, and even an autonomous shuttle vehicle between the Central and South Halls that was supposedly carrying live ATSC 3.0 mobile broadcasts. (It wasn’t working at the time, though. More crickets…)

All in all; a very subdued show, but reflective of an industry in transition from a world of deterministic video traveling uncompressed over coaxial cable to compressed audio and video packets streaming through wired and wireless networks with varying degrees of latency. Where do we go from here?

 

 

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…

InfoComm 2017 In The Rear View Mirror

InfoComm 2017 has come and gone, and left us with lots to think about.

For me, this year’s show was hectic, to say the least. I presented my annual Future Trends talk on Tuesday to kick off the Emerging Trends session, then conducted a 3-hour workshop on RF and wireless that afternoon to the largest crowd I’ve ever had for the class. (It may be the largest crowd I ever get as I’m thinking of shelving this class.)

Bright and early on Wednesday morning, I taught a 2-hour class  on AV-over-IT (the correct term; you could also use “AV-with-IP”) to a full house. There were even some folks standing in the back of the room. I guessed at least 200 were in attendance.

Thursday morning found me back in the same space, talking about 4K and Ultra HDTV to a smaller crowd (maybe not as “hot” a topic?) and urging them to set their BS meters to “high” when they headed to the show floor to talk to manufacturers about 4K-compatible/ready/friendly products.

With other presentation commitments, it worked out to nearly 15 hours standing in front of crowds and talking. Tiring to say the least, but I did get a ton of great follow-up questions after each session. People were paying attention!

AV-over-IT was a BIG theme at InfoComm, and it was hard to miss.

Mitsubishi had a very nice fine-pitch LED display at the show – one of the few that are not built in China.

The migration to using TCP/IP networks to transport video and audio instead of buying and installing ever-larger and more complex HDMI switchers and DAs is definitely catching steam. My colleagues and I have only been talking about this for over a decade and it’s rewarding to see that both manufacturers and end-users are buying in.

And why not? Computer hardware couldn’t get much cheaper. For my AV/IT demo, I was streaming a local TV station, broadcasting in the 720p HD format, using an H.264 AVC encoder/decoder pair running through a 1GigE NetGear managed switch. The streaming rates were in the range of 15 – 18 Mb/s, so I had plenty of headroom.

It worked like a champ. I was able to show how adjusting the group of pictures (GOP) length affected latency, along with the effects of constant bitrate (CBR) vs. variable bitrate (VBR) encoding. If I could have dug the gear up in time, I would have demonstrated UHD content through a 10 Gb/s switch – same principles, just a faster network.

I saw more companies than ever this year showing some sort of AV-over-IT solution. (Almost as many as those showing LED walls!) Lots of encoders and decoders, using H.264, Motion JPEG, and JPEG2000 formats; connected through fast switches and driving everything from televisions to projectors.

If it’s REALLY happening this time, then this is BIG. Migration to AV-over-IT is a big shot across the bow of companies that sell large HDMI-based matrix switches, not to mention distribution amplifiers and signal extenders – both made obsolete by this new technology. With AV on a network, all you need is a fast switch and a bunch of category cable. For longer runs, just run optical fiber connections to SPF fiber connections on the switch.

LG showed off its unique curved OLED displays – and they’re dual-sided.

Meanwhile, Samsung unveiled the first digital signage monitors to use quantum dot backlight technology for high dynamic range and wide color gamuts.

Hand-in-hand with this migration to an IT-based delivery system is a steady decline in the price of hardware, which has impacted the consumer electronics industry even harder. Consider that you can now buy a 65-inch Ultra HDTV (4K) with “smart” capabilities and support for basic high dynamic range video for about $800.

That’s even more amazing when you consider that the first Ultra HD displays arrived on our shores in 2012 with steep price tags around $20,000. But the nexus of the display industry has moved to mainland China, creating an excess of manufacturing capacity and causing wholesale and retail prices to plummet.

There is no better example of China’s impact on the display market than LED display tiles and walls. These products have migrated from expensive, coarse-resolution models to super-bright thin tiles with dot pitches below 1 millimeter – about the same pitch as a 50-inch plasma monitor two decades ago.

Talk to projector manufacturers and they’ll tell you that LED displays have cut heavily into their business, especially high-brightness projectors for large venues. LED wall manufacturers were prominent at the show, and some are hiring industry veterans to run their sales and marketing operations; removing a potential barrier to sales in this country by presenting potential customers with familiar faces.

Panasonic showed there are still plenty of applications for projection, especially on curved surfaces.

Absen is an up-and-coming LED brand, and they’re hiring veterans of the U.S. AV market to push sales along.

At the other end, large and inexpensive LCD displays with Full HD resolution have killed off much of the “hang and bang” projector business, and large panels with Ultra HD resolution are now popping up in sizes as large as 98 inches. The way things are going in Asia, Full HD panel production may disappear completely by the end of the decade as everyone shifts to Ultra HD panel production.

Even the newest HDR imaging technology – quantum dots – made an appearance in Orlando in a line of commercial monitors with UHD resolution. Considering that QD-equipped televisions have only been around for a couple of years, that’s an amazingly accelerated timeline. But compressed timelines between introduction and implementation are the norm nowadays.

This was my 24th consecutive InfoComm and the 21st show (so far as I can remember) where I taught at least one class. When I went to my first show in Anaheim, CRT projectors were still in use, a ‘bright’ light valve projector could generate maybe 2000 lumens, LCD projectors cost ten grand and weighed 30 pounds, and composite video and VGA resolution ruled the day. RS232 was used to control everything and stereo was about as ‘multichannel’ as audio got.

All of that has passed into oblivion (except for RS232 and VGA connectors) as we continue to blow by resolution, size, speed, and storage benchmarks. The transition to networked AV will result in even more gear being hauled off to recycling yards, as will advances in wireless high-bandwidth technology, flexible displays, cloud media storage and delivery, and object-based control systems.

Can’t wait for #25…