InfoComm 2005 Hot Products
Twelve products you absolutely should have seen at InfoComm 2005.
The numbers speak for themselves: Attendance at InfoComm 2005 was up 10 percent over 2004, with a record-breaking number of exhibitors and an astounding 170 first-time exhibitors. The pro AV industry is definitely rebounding, and at the same time changing, as evidenced by some of the new products shown at InfoComm this year.
Our team of Pro AV editors and contributors scoured the show floor to find the hottest products introduced at InfoComm. But what exactly makes a product “hot?” Our list includes products that:
- Were new at InfoComm 2005;
- Offer real advantages or solve problems for customers;
- Attracted attention and generated excitement from InfoComm attendees;
- Signal a trend or present new opportunities for AV integrators.
There were several underlying themes to many of the products displayed throughout the exhibit hall — even among those that didn't make our list. Simplicity, ease of use, elegant design, and real, verifiable benefits were apparent in the majority of products we saw. As an industry, pro AV seems to be getting over the “technology for technology's sake” phase. It's not that the products aren't technology-driven, but rather quite the opposite. The truly significant products share the common trait of being both extremely complex on the inside as well as extremely simple on the outside, which is a sign of a maturing industry. And that's definitely a good thing.
Another noticeable theme was the absence of radically new technology-based products. Instead there were many examples of truly innovative applications of previously existing technologies, which resulted in “new” products. There were also several examples of branding or re-branding technologies that have previously been on the market. Even so, the assortment of new products was quite impressive, which signals a strong pro AV industry.
Altec Lansing Viper
Altec Lansing's new Viper all-digital distributed sound system is an example of a well-thought-out installed sound system that will make life easier on many levels for installers and end-users alike. The system's components include 6.5-inch, dual-drive, bi-amplified powered loudspeakers in a ceiling mount or weather-resistant enclosure, a mixer/processor/ power supply, and an expander power converter for large-scale installations. While ease of use pervades the entire system design, perhaps its most appealing feature is the plug-and-play capability of using a single Cat5e cable to interconnect up to eight loudspeakers with two-channel audio and 48 VDC for the loudspeaker's built-in amplifiers. These loudspeakers are also easy to install: With a simple twist, a single installer can secure the loudspeaker into ceiling tiles of various materials and thicknesses. Price: N/A.
Grass Valley Turbo iDDR
It's obvious when a company has done its marketing homework and applied it to the development of a new product that specifically meets the needs of systems integrators exploring rich media recording and delivery. That's what Grass Valley has done with its new Turbo Intelligent Disk Recorder (iDDR). The Turbo was designed specifically for event, corporate, institutional, and worship production applications, and leverages the digital storage, networking, and clip-creation capabilities of the company's Profile line of video servers. The Turbo iDDR can hold 10 to 40 hours of storage, perform the work of up to three VTRs, and capture and deliver complex content in multiple formats, including compressed high-definition video. Users can control its features via a touchscreen interface or with a keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The system can also be operated and monitored using popular control systems from companies such as AMX and Crestron. The Turbo iDDR's list price is $9,995 for a basic unit.
Communications Specialties Pure Digital Fiberlink 7240/7241
In typical fiber optic installations, separate cables require the ability to run both control and AV signals. Now that's changed with Communications Specialties' Pure Digital Fiberlink 7240/7241 transmitter/receiver pair. The system supports a combination of high-resolution RGB, stereo audio, two-way 10Base-T, and two-way data transmitted over one single-mode or multi-mode fiber. It's ideal for outfitting campus-style installations where a centralized AV hub uses a LAN for maintenance and support of equipment located at dispersed presentation sites. The two-way data channel supports RS232, RS422, and RS485 protocols. Each unit lists for $2,000.
Extron System Integrator Series
The new System Integrator loudspeakers from Extron Electronics created a buzz at the show, not so much because they sound great (which they do), but because of their impact on the Extron product line. With this family of seven speakers designed for AV integrators and professional applications, Extron becomes one of the few companies to offer a nearly complete AV solution —with the current exception of source or display devices. Maybe it's only a matter of time before that changes, too.
The System Integrator speakers include all of the features you'd expect from Extron, with special attention paid to the critical crossover network, which is usually the challenging part of any full-range speaker design. The line ranges from $135 to $495 list.
AMX MAX-CSE and MAX-CSD10
With the increasing use of rich media capture, store, and playback, it was only a matter of time for a control systems company such as AMX to jump into the category. As an expansion of its MAX digital content storage and delivery products, the new MAX Commercial Solutions Encoder (MAX-CSE) and MAX Commercial Solutions Decoder (MAX-CSD10) are specifically aimed at commercial, corporate, and educational markets — or any environment in which large banks of content need to be shared. The devices allow multiple audio and video sources to be easily delivered across any IP network. Targeted applications include digital signage, distance learning, training, multicasting, webcasting, conferencing, security, surveillance, and news distribution.
The MAX-CSE ($5,900 list) and MAX-CSD10 ($2,900 list) provide the architecture to capture video from multiple video sources, encode it into an MPEG format, distribute the encoded content over an IP network, and play it over any television, projector, plasma, or AMX touchpanel. For customers who want to stream content to either one or multiple locations, the architecture will also support point-to-point or multicast configurations.
Polycom, maker of the industry-standard SoundStation conference phone, has introduced a new add-on that enables anyone using the company's conference phone to easily and securely share computer content with remote meeting participants. Polycom's QSX Voice+Content solution enables fast, ad-hoc content sharing for anyone on the conference call — without requiring special software applications, ongoing usage fees, or document uploading. Participants in QSX-enabled rooms automatically see content though the room's projector or display, while participants in locations without QSX can view content through a standard, Java-enabled web browser.
Polycom QSX is a natural extension of how people meet in conference rooms by simply dialing the conference phone and presenting through a projector or VGA display. QSX meetings can support a total of 15 sites, which is more than enough to handle the average number of locations on most conference calls today. It supports a combination of up to five QSX systems and up to 10 web viewer participants. Systems start at $1,299.
Vikuiti XRVS-120 with sound enhancement
Although companies have attempted to combine audio with screen technology to create the ultimate AV product, most have suffered from frequency response, output level, coverage issues, or all three. 3M's Vikuiti division appears to be on its way to resolving these issues with the new XRVS-120 with sound enhancement. As the name implies, transducers attached to screen mounting points resonate the screen's rigid surface and create a non-localizable sound source that seems to emanate from the image. While not truly “high fidelity,” the sound is perfectly adequate for voice reproduction and low-level music, and will find applications in digital signage and corporate presentations. The Vikuiti XRVS-120 rear-projection screens use microbead technology to provide a bright, sharp picture at all angles, which is perfect for an in-store retail application. The XRVS-120 with sound enhancement lists for $2,275 to $5,190, depending on configuration.
Stardraw, the company that's made the process of designing and documenting AV systems simpler and faster, has taken intuitive design a step further by adding Stardraw Control, which provides a software-based, unified control framework to control any type of remotely controllable equipment from any manufacturer using any protocol. Judging by Stardraw's booth traffic, what really appeals to pro AV system integrators is the added ability to use a drag-and-drop interface to configure and control systems without having to write a single line of code. Offering a completely open architecture, Stardraw Control can communicate with and control any device using any protocol, including TCP/IP, RS232, DMX, UDP, infrared, EtherSound, CobraNet, and more. Stardraw Control is free to download. Compiled programs include a licensing notice that can be disabled upon payment of a nominal compilation fee, which varies depending on the nature of the system and control program (typically around $500 per program).
Samsung 400pn and 460pn
Although it was impressive, the 102-inch plasma didn't attract all of the attention at the Samsung booth. The company's latest family of LCDs has particular application to the growing digital signage market. Samsung featured two new models at the show: the 46-inch SyncMaster 460pn ($8,949 EST) and the 40-inch SyncMaster 400pn ($6,749 EST). Both models feature an Ethernet connection and Samsung's MagicNet technology, which allows users to send content to any networked MagicNet display from a server. MagicNet allows users to show different content on different displays at different times, schedule content up to a month in advance, and view current programming on any selected MagicNet display. The result is a system that offers the benefits of digital signage without the need for a dedicated PC for each display.
For architecturally-sensitive installations where multiple users need full touchpanel control of AV functions, Crestron's QM-FTCC-TPS offers an elegant solution. The industry's first flip-top touchpanel controller mounts flush into any tabletop, concealing all cables. The device's flip-top lid opens to reveal a 3.6-inch active-matrix touchscreen, AC power outlet, and computer connectivity, including VGA, audio, and LAN cables. The cables are neatly managed and stored in individual slots. All signals leaving the QM-FTCC-TPS are converted to Crestron's exclusive QuickMedia transport and transmitted on a single CresCAT cable (standard RJ45 connector). With 18-bit Isys graphics, the QM-FTCC-TPS produces astounding 3D graphics, dynamic text, and full-motion animations complete with WAV file audio feedback. The controller, which lists for $1,800, also includes 10 programmable, translucent pushbuttons with white LED backlighting and an engraveable faceplate. To prevent any inadvertent button presses, the QM-FTCC-TPS disengages the touchpanel whenever the lid isn't fully opened.
EAW NT Series
On the outside, the new NT Series from Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW) looks like any another well-designed powered loudspeaker the company makes. But there's a radical, yet invisible difference. The NT Series' new digital filter algorithms, called Gunness Focusing, address many of the limitations of traditional DSP in combating transducer-based time smear. Using typical fast DSP filters sacrifices response accuracies in the upper audible octaves with accompanying phase anomalies, while another common DSP approach, using FIR filters, introduces unacceptable latencies. Gunness Focusing uses proprietary tools and analysis methods to derive the exact filter set to solve these problems in DSP. The result is sonic performance comparable to premium direct radiating studio monitors, but at much higher output levels.
The EAW NT Series includes four two-way, full-range loudspeakers and a subwoofer model — all self-powered with built-in processing. The NT26 and NT29 are 12-inch, two-way models with a 60- by 45-degree pattern and 90- by 45-degree pattern, respectively. The NT56 and NT59 are 15-inch, two-way models with a 60- by 45-degree and 90- by 45-degree pattern, respectively. Price: N/A.
Video broadcast and production equipment has used the FireWire interface for some time, and in short-run interconnect applications such as nonlinear video editing, its benefits are tough to beat. The new VS-66FW six-port matrix switcher from Kramer Electronics enables the switching of six bidirectional FireWire devices and can even function as a FireWire hub. The VS-66FW offers automatic branch/leaf configuration and can be operated with FireWire/iLink implementations of IEEE 1394-1995 and IEEE 1394A standards at data rates of up to 400 Mb/s. The VS-66FW supports isochronous and asynchronous transfers, and can source the power to all ports. It can be controlled via front panel buttons, an infrared remote control transmitter, or remotely via RS485 or RS232 serial commands transmitted by a touchscreen system, PC, or other serial controller. The VS-66FW lists for $900.