InfoComm is an audiovisual pro’s paradise: a six-day, 545,000-sf expo where top product manufacturers unveil their coolest stuff and whisper about trends to come. To cover the huge show, which also includes more than 100 educational sessions and countless meet-and-greets, TEECOM sent a five-man crew, including Gil Lopez, Luke Goodloomis, Josh Srago, Jason Brounstein, and Scott Kelley. Now that they’re back and rehydrated, we sat our InfoComm TEEm down for insight into audiovisual trends that will affect the architecture of spaces.
1. Less room will be required for AV equipment in conference rooms: We saw a concerted effort from manufacturers to allow for audiovisual devices to be placed easily under furniture or behind displays. Also, the shift to video-over-IP products can result in less hardware located in rooms, with a focus on user connection endpoints and display connection endpoints as opposed to full arrays of equipment. This means we can reduce the size of equipment racks and the quantity of equipment that has to be housed in conference rooms.
2. Single-product solutions for small conference rooms: AV manufacturers are providing more and more single product solutions that provide a USB/microphone/speaker/camera integration for smaller conference rooms using soft codecs like Zoom, GoTo Meeting, and Google Meet.
3. Thin, “sculptable” OLED displays: OLED is an easy one. These are centimeter-thick displays that can be curved and molded to custom shapes. The biggest eyesore in conference rooms is a display that doesn’t blend in. OLEDs are almost seamless. Besides the conference room application, OLEDs can be used for creative spaces signage, lobbies, hallways, and walkways. The displays can be curved and applied to the wall easily because of their malleability and weight — they weigh a couple pounds. There is no light or processing required behind it; it’s literally just the film. That opens up a lot of possible applications.
4. Improved finish palettes for technical furniture: A couple of companies (like Middle Atlantic) have expanded their technical furniture lines (AV-integrated conference room tables, credenzas, lecterns, etc.), and now offer many more finish selections, which will interest designers.
5. Projection systems that work with higher ambient light: Projection screen manufacturers over the last year have increased the number of screen surface material options that reject ambient light. Whereas ten years ago you could choose from white and maybe one model that was gray, now there are dozens of screens that are gray, which helps contrast, and many of those are light-rejecting. So the very restrictive requirements concerning ambient light and having to turn lights down in a room is no longer a requirement. That goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in price of higher light-output projectors. For instance Salesforce Chicago has a corner conference room with two glass walls that uses one of these systems. The shades were not installed day one, but they were having conferences using the projection screen with sunlight coming through and it was totally usable.
6. Expanded outdoor LED display types: We’re starting to see a demand for more creative outdoor LED installations, and the product offerings at InfoComm were robust this year. The displays are getting brighter and cheaper, and there are some interesting new installation capabilities — things like transparent LED film that can be applied to existing glass, or flexible “woven” outdoor LED screens, which are essentially little strips that present a cohesive display image at a distance.
7. Less obtrusive ceiling mics: Manufacturers are coming out with unobtrusive or almost invisible microphones for conference rooms and low-ceiling auditoriums. There used to be just one. Now there are three to choose from. There’s clearly a larger trend toward getting AV to be less obtrusive and integrate better with the overall design aesthetic.
8. Increasingly integrated building control systems: Some of the control and device monitoring solutions that were on display provide a lot more value than they have in the past to the end user. Now you can integrate a whole host of systems like HVAC, lighting, and conferencing. This kind of integration provides a whole lot of leverage for an IT admin or facilities admin to have an overall view of their building’s health and status on one platform.
9. Glasses-free 3D displays: 3D displays have been out a while, but now you don’t need glasses to view them. By putting another layer of glass on top of the display, and dialing in how far away viewers will be standing, manufacturers can deliver the same effect. The content must be custom-created, however — you can’t just bring up a football game and watch it in 3D. There could be interesting applications for digital signage, or lobby wow factors.
10. Flip-disc displays: Another possible lobby wow factor, and a good novelty product, was a reinvention of flip discs. You may have seen these in old bus or train displays where there’s a physical disc that flips to render text or numbers. A manufacturer called Breakfast has re-engineered the technology to make interactive flip-disc displays. You can wrap them around architectural elements. Set them to music. I imagined they’d be interesting stage back-drops.
11. Small pitch LED display technology: “Small pitch” means higher resolution at closer distances. In the past, LED walls were large pitch, which meant you had to be at a distance to view them. Small pitch means you can use these in spaces like lobbies. Small pitch allows allows for better imagery and more colors, closer to what you’d see in flat panel display or projection. Prices are coming down, too. Now they’re not hundreds of thousands of dollars, just thousands.
12. Improved wireless presentation and collaboration: Another nice technology taking hold is wireless presentation, which is making a lot of progress in ease of use of BYOD. You’re no longer limited to only connecting your devices with wired connections; you can show your phone, tablet, laptop, just by entering a password. So it has simplified connectivity in huddle rooms, conference rooms, and the like.
13. New laser projectors: Multiple companies introduced new laser projectors, including HD and touch-interactive versions. One of the advantages of laser projection technology is that you don’t have to replace a lightbulb. Lamps for traditional projectors run in the hundreds or thousands of dollars to replace and last only hundreds of hours. Lasers have an extremely long lifespan, up to tens of thousands of hours.
14. Immersive dome projection: More manufacturers are making lenses that project on a dome. These were traditionally for planetariums, but smaller and cheaper technology means they could also be used to create immersive environments. Designers might think about using these as lobby wow factors, or in educational settings.