Business

Lights, Picture, Sound…Mergers & acquisitions abound at InfoComm14.

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InfoComm14 was what is known in Las Vegas casino parlance as a “whale,” and the whale is getting bigger. The annual showcase for new sound, video, projection and lighting systems has grown steadily, with 37,048 attendees this year, an increase of 5.5% over 2013, with a record 947 exhibitors showing across 490,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not to mention that this was also a celebration of InfoComm International’s 75th Anniversary (Sound & Communications published a timeline retrospective, “It Was A Very Good Year,” in June). The growth of the show was underscored by a recently released study by Acclaro Growth Partners, sponsored by InfoComm, projecting that audiovisual products and services will become a $116 billion global industry by 2016.

It was also addressed by keynote speaker Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, a global business-design consultancy, who stated that the future of AV will be inevitably engaged with IT and its collateral, Big Data. “One of the fastest growth vectors in the AV industry will be the importance of data in a 21st century company,” Walsh proclaimed. He also added another point, one that we saw in evidence on the show floor, that the conventional view of collaboration—bodies gathered around a screen—is changing. “The winners in the strategic visualization space will be those that go beyond screens and displays to those who can truly understand how data changes decision making, whether you’re on the factory floor or boardroom,” he said.

Ubiquity Everywhere
(Apologies To Yogi Berra)
The keyword for InfoComm14, then, might be “ubiquity.” The transition from the conventional hub-and-spoke style of video teleconferencing to a more decentralized paradigm was evident, with systems that extend the conversation to personal mobile devices obvious on the show floor. Pexip, a spinoff from the former Tandberg and presented as “an IT company solving AV challenges” by Marketing Director Anders Løkke, showed its Pexip Infinity clients that let meeting organizers simply send a link to collaborators outside the organization to join virtual meetings from any browser. Pexip also showed its Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs) that let any user, through video, voice and mobile devices, join a meeting from the most popular operating systems and browsers. “This is a software-based solution for enterprises searching for a simple videoconferencing solution,” Løkke said. “The VMR doesn’t care if you came in through an Android or an iPhone. This is all enabled by our software that sits on your IT infrastructure.”

All this disruption has been felt back up the chain to the more traditional enterprise-level VTC providers. Cisco, for instance, showed its TelePresence SpeakerTrack 60, an automated dual-camera system that allows participants in a video meeting to see the active speaker on the other end of a call in full view (the system triangulates participants’ locations from their audio), as well as 23- and 14-inch versions of the displays for its scalable EX90 desktop solution. Angie Mistrata at the Cicso booth showed us both versions, and the new SX80 codec, aimed at the custom-room environment and described by her as “a new tool for integrators: It can achieve immersion at a lower price point.” However, it still requires AV integrator expertise to fully implement. (Some of the ongoing price reductions in Cisco VTC products can be attributed to the company shifting its core manufacturing to less-expensive locations. “We’re learning a lot from the phone team about how to lower costs,” she said.)

Collaboration systems proliferated across the show floor. Vidyo introduced VidyoRoom SE, a soft room system with 4K as a software application downloadable on standard equipment (Vidyo’s 4K capability allows native Ultra HD rendering on the local display, rather than upscaling). Vidyo also extended its 4K capabilities to the VidyoRoom HD-230 and VidyoPanorama 600 solutions.
Better Sound

The shift from conventional video teleconferencing to internet-based platforms has put a new premium on sound quality. The decent tonality and intelligibility you’d expect from a microphone that’s part of a $20,000 VTC system isn’t going to be found on a tablet. That’s created a growing market niche for high-quality USB mics, like MXL’s AC-424 USB boundary web conferencing microphone and AC-410W wireless USB web conferencing microphone. Each mic has the same three-capsule design of MXL’s AC-404 boundary conferencing product, but features a new body style and enhanced features, such as a mute button, adjustable sensitivity switch and a headphone out. Users can adjust the sensitivity switch to suit the size of the room. It has three capsules for a 180° pickup range to capture people speaking around a conference room. The AC-424 has a new contoured body style. It connects to a computer via a USB cable with mini plug.

“Web conferencing has become the norm for many businesses that have employees and associates all over the world,” said MXL Sales and Marketing Director Perry Goldstein. “The internet has made telecommuting possible, but it takes the right hardware to allow people to communicate naturally online.”

In fact, sound quality in general for microphones used for teleconferencing and boardroom/meeting-room environments was the topic of a session entitled “Wireless Versus Wired Microphones: Successful Conferencing for Every Setting,” by Revolabs’ Senior Product Manager Holger Stoltze, which covered the various types of microphones available to applications within typical conference and boardroom settings.

Other notable conferencing products include VuWall Technology’s SkyRec record/playback feature on its VuWall, the result of a strategic partnership with SkySoft-ATM, which enables full-quality, real-time recording of external operator PCs for post-event analysis or training purposes. Prysm, among several other manufacturers, showed off its new 15-foot-wide by 9-foot-high, 5° curved-canvas 4K display.

Prysm and other 4K display providers were certainly pleased with the introduction at the show of BrightSign’s 4K media player, which can decode H.265 4K content at a resolution of 3840×2160 and output it via HDMI 2.0 at a frame rate of 60p. And at a cost of $600, it has the potential to inject further impetus to uptake of the 4K format for a number of applications, including digital signage. Ann Holland, the company’s Director of Marketing, said that the arrival of the 4K player solves the content player issue for the industry, and that actual content has been building.

“Commercial agencies have been shooting luxury products in 4K for some time now,” she said. “It’s definitely overkill for burger-menu digital signage, but as prices for displays come down, you’ll eventually see 4K there, too.” (Interestingly, one early application for the 4K player will be as a content source for consumer 4K televisions for sale in Best Buy stores. Consumer uptake of the format is expected to drive down prices for all 4K displays.)

Projectors
If tablets and signage screens are getting bigger, the show reflected the fact that projector throws are getting shorter. Panasonic announced the ET-D75LE90 ultra short-throw lens for three-chip DLP projectors and a new ET-ELW22 short-throw lens for LCD projectors. Casio’s new XJ-UT310WN offers WXGA resolution with brightness up to 3100 lumens and an ultra short throw ratio of 0.28:1. Hitachi introduced its CP-AX2503, CP-AX3503, CP-AW2503 and CP-AW3003 Ultra Short Throw projectors. Canon offered the WX400ST short throw projector, part of the company’s compact installation range. Ricoh’s PJ Ultra Short Throw Business projection system, pitched to education, corporate and other markets, can make walls and fixed physical whiteboards interactive, and presenters can display, underline, highlight, annotate, capture and share projected images.

Digital Signage
Digital signage is one of the AV industry’s fastest-growing sectors and that was evident at the show, underscored by InfoComm’s new educational program Solutions Summit: Digital Signage, sponsored by Panasonic and the Digital Signage Pavilion, featuring the largest collection of digital signage solution exhibitors in North America with all of the top brands for LED display, content serving and distribution solutions. Case studies and best practices from industry experts and leading manufacturers were heard at the Digital Signage Presentation Stage.

Peerless showed off its 3×3 modular, movable videowall, easily reconfigurable to accommodate what Peerless AV President John Potts said is a desire on the part of retailers, such as restaurants, to change both the look and the content of their messaging. “Larger displays are what’s driving digital signage now, as well as the ability to see the content in full daylight,” he said. Low power consumption is another request that is starting to be heard more often, he added. Peerless also has a digital signage kiosk in beta that includes an integrated camera and card reader, that will work in conjunction with a downloadable app.

For single-screen digital signage solutions, size will apparently matter going forward, as companies rolled out ever-larger units. 3M Touch Systems showed a 55-inch Projected Capacitive prototype touchscreen capable of up to 60 simultaneous touches, as well as a range of smaller 32- to 46-inch displays. Planar and LG tied, with both showing 98-inch 4K displays at the show. Planar’s Becky Connors made the point that, with the arrival of BrightSign’s new 4K media player, 4K is poised to take off in several verticals. But the winner was certainly the 260-inch, 8.3-million pixel Magnolia display from SiliconCore that loomed over the (equally huge) Crestron booth.

InFocus has added an 80-inch Mondopad to its family of large-format touchscreen conference room “tablets” (the company’s word) and also released a new version of the Mondopad software with many enhanced features. The 80-inch 1080p HD Mondopad has 111% more interactive surface area than the 55-inch base model at more than 2700 square inches, exponentially increasing meeting-attendees’ view. Mondopad enables users to collaborate and present with colleagues across the globe with its videoconferencing capabilities, sharable interactive whiteboard, annotatable browser and network connectivity. It also comes with one year of no-cost InFocus 121 Video Calling service. Additionally, the Mondopad can communicate with all other Session Initiation Protocol-enabled (SIP) and H.323 devices, such as videoconferencing systems or video phones, regardless of make or model.

M&A
The buzz at InfoComm was also about consolidation, mainly in the form of M&A. Harman Professional’s acquisition of control systems maker AMX, and Belgium-based Barco’s buy of Montreal-based enterprise communication specialist X2O Media, were topics of conversation at the show. Audio systems maker PreSonus’ acquisition of loudspeaker manufacturer WorxAudio Technologies was announced, as well.

Each of these transactions creates synergies. In the case of PreSonus and WorxAudio, the move will enable PreSonus to add large-scale systems expertise to its stated goal of entering the sound reinforcement market sector in the near future. At a press conference on the show’s opening day, Harman Pro President Blake Augsburger told the audience that AMX will give Harman a bigger share of the installed AV market, supporting the additional reach from the company’s acquisition of Martin Lighting in January. “We have audio, video, lighting and now control,” he said, adding that a broader array of product categories would give Harman more points of contact in vertical markets, as well as more access in emerging markets, and it would commensurately increase the company’s purchasing leverage.

AMX CEO Rashid Skaf noted that AMX brings Harman new capabilities, including video distribution, digital signage, scheduling and content management in more than a dozen market verticals, including government, corporate, house of worship and education, in more than 100 countries. Describing the synergy, Skaf said simply, “one plus one equals three.” In a conversation with Sound & Communications immediately after the conference, Augsburger acknowledged that Harman was continuing to look for appropriate acquisitions, and wouldn’t rule out a projection systems provider as a possible next target.

(In a sort of flipped version of that, with a projector maker getting deeper into audio, Arlonna Seymour, Manager of Marketing Programs at Christie Digital Systems, told Sound & Communications that Christie’s VIVE cinema sound system is expected to have an installed iteration available by year’s end.)

On a practical level, Joe Andrulis, AMX Vice President of Global Marketing, told us that the merger gives AMX “scope and access, and ways to deliver our products and services to markets in ways that we never could before,” adding that, in an increasingly IT-based environment (noting that both Microsoft and Google were at the show for the first time), “Scale is necessary for AV to be noticed by the mainstream IT world.”

Sounds Good
InfoComm’s audio section was the biggest it’s been and that’s in part due to the fact that the show has become a leading showcase for large-format sound system manufacturers, with large booth presences by major industry players.

Yamaha showed its NEXO GEO M6 compact line array series, aimed at fixed installations where speech reinforcement is the primary requirement. HF dispersion is 80° or 120° horizontal, with 20° vertical coverage, 0° to 20° splay when arrayed. Using NEXO’s HRW waveguide for optimum HF coupling, the M620 performs in a variety of configurations, facilitated by a fully integrated three-point rigging system.

Community’s I SERIES family of high-power/high-output modular loudspeakers includes a suite of matching-height subwoofers, in sizes ranging from compact single 12-inch models, to dual-18-inch models, complementing the full-range I SERIES models with powerful low-frequency extension. L-Acoustics debuted its K2 line source array loudspeaker system featuring PANFLEX technology. The successor to L-Acoustics’ V-DOSC system, which the company confirmed to Sound & Communications is being phased out, K2 offers K1 performance in a rescaled package that makes it well-suited for stadium productions.

Mics, Too
It wasn’t all speakers. Shure’s 24-bit QLX-D digital wireless system features networked control and compatibility with Shure’s intelligent-rechargeable battery technology. The system’s automatic channel scan and IR sync find and assign open frequencies. Shure also announced the impending arrival of ShurePlus Channels, an iOS app, available this summer for free download from the iTunes App Store, that will provide real-time, precision monitoring of select Shure wireless systems, including Axient, ULX-D Digital Wireless, QLX-D Digital and the PSM1000 Personal Monitor System.

Sennheiser debuted its TeamConnect audio conferencing solution. The system integrates speakers, mics, a central control unit and connectivity management; everything needed to handle audio meeting rooms with up to 16 users onsite. Sennheiser also introduced its ADN-Wireless conference system, the wireless extension of its existing ADN conferencing system, which supports up to 150 simultaneous wireless discussion units, all controlled by a single central unit.

Console maker DiGiCo’s Matt Larson said that, as demand for more complex audio has increased among live-event producers, they are turning to digital consoles to manage it. DiGiCo showed new software for its SD 5 through SD 11 range, including the integration of the Dan Dugan automix feature, which Larson said is helping big shows manage with a single mixer.

Dan Duffell, Head of Marketing at Solid State Logic (SSL), which was exhibiting at InfoComm for the first time and showing the company’s recently introduced live-sound console, Live, said that the attraction for pro audio companies is what’s become the show’s breadth of sectors, including event-based live sound and installed sound. “There’s a much wider range of products here, and as importantly, a lot of potential crossover, so even broadcast audio products can find applications.”

Networking System
Audinate’s proprietary Dante audio networking system announced its 150th licensee at the show. Audinate also introduced Via, a software app that transforms Macs and PCs into networked I/O devices, allowing users to build a complete, standalone audio system of networked PCs without the need for any dedicated Dante-enabled hardware to be present on the network.

The same day, Audio-Technica unveiled its first Dante-enabled microphone. Using an Ethernet connection and a single Cat5 cable, the ATND971 cardioid condenser boundary network microphone can communicate across an existing network of Dante-enabled devices and, with the microphone’s programmable user switch, can control any of those devices at the push of a button.

Meanwhile, the AVnu Alliance, the consortium backing the open-source AVB protocol, held hourly in-booth AVB educational courses from Alliance members on topics including the design, deployment and management of large-scale AVB networks.

Listen Technologies introduced its Wi-Fi Personal Listening RF products, which broadcast audio from multiple televisions or other audio sources using digital WiFi transmission and deliver it to any WiFi-enabled device with audio streaming capability, such as an iPhone or Android. This system allows contractors and systems integrators to upgrade the listening experience for customers in venues such as fitness centers, sports bars, airports and waiting rooms.

InfoComm14 showed that the steady stream of new technologies and formats that AV has been experiencing is nowhere near running dry. And the business environment around it is equally dynamic. With the continuing convergence with IT, it’s guaranteed that next year’s InfoComm show will be even bigger and even more interesting.
Awards

During the show, a number of awards were presented:
•    Adele De Berri Pioneers of AV Award: John Meyer, Founder/CEO of Meyer Sound
•    Distinguished Achievement Award: Jack Emerson, Founder of CEAVCO
•    Educator of the Year Award: Joseph Cornwall, CTS-D, ISF-C, FOI, DSCE, Technology Evangelist for C2G, a division of Legrand, Inc.
•    Harald Thiel Volunteer of the Year Award: Ratnesh Javeri, CTS-D, CQD, CQT, Founder/Chairman/Managing Director of Innovative Systems and Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
•    Sustainable AV Award: Freeman AV Canada
•    Women in AV Award: Cory Schaeffer, Listen Technologies’ Co-Founder/Vice President of Business Development Worldwide, and Jan Sandri, FSR President
•    Young AV Award: Justin Kennington, Technology Manager at Crestron, and Derrick Lund, CTS-D, AV Telemedicine Systems Architect with Seattle Children’s Hospital
Next year’s event is set for June 13-19 in Orlando FL. For more information, go to www.infocomm.org.
Editor’s Note: For additional product introductions and other news about this year’s InfoComm, be sure to see Part 1 and Part 2 of our New Product Wrap-Up (this issue and next month), which supplement our June issue New Product Spotlight, and InfoCommTV News (bit.ly/1jkArGH).

Dan Daley has covered the confluence of technology, business and culture for almost 30 years. He has also been a successful composer and recording studio owner, and authored the book, Unwritten Rules: Inside the Business of Country Music.

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