TEECOM staff were on hand in Orlando for InfoComm 2019, reviewing the latest products and talking shop with manufacturers. Here is what stood out to us this year.
We saw a lot of technology around huddle rooms, capturing data about huddle rooms, and products that are designed for huddle rooms, like room scheduling displays and interactive whiteboard displays. This is not surprising, given huddle rooms are built by the hundreds of thousands every year. Evoko showcased a particularly impressive-looking room scheduling solution.
8K LED screens
These products become more exciting each year. A number of big exhibitors, like Sony and LG, displayed impressive arrays of large screens, including LG’s microLED screen and curved OLED video wall.
This automated AV design software was one of the most unusual things we saw this year, though it still has some tweaks to be made. It’s not just CAD optimized for AV; it’s an integrated suite that creates a variety of documents. It uses a Q&A-based, frontend query interface (e.g. ‘I want a display in the room, I want a projector, ceiling microphones, table microphones.’) With AI built in, it’s adaptable. XTEN-AV could enable the design of lower to medium-complexity rooms without a design engineer. You still need someone to make sense of the data you get, but it could save time when creating DD-level documents. It also gives you not just wiring diagrams but a 30,000-ft overview of the system, with little component pictures. You could show someone who doesn’t have the needed AV skills the inputs and the pathways signals travel through. For instance, a contractor in the fire alarm business could use this to design a simple classroom with a projector.
E-ink is a technology increasing its presence in the AEC world as the cost of these displays continues to decrease. We saw numerous e-ink products, one of which, designed for hot-desking, was only $19. Sony presented a “classroom of the future” in which every student had an e-ink tablet they could use as a notepad. The teacher could see student responses on their own tablet.
USB-C connections for laptop screen-sharing seemed to be everywhere, but only one company’s product (that we observed) provides power to keep laptops charged: Atlona. Because of the inherent complexity, few companies have developed cheap solutions for negotiating the USB-C power delivery (charging) mechanism – laptops and peripherals aside, there are still not a ton of cheap, commercially available chips and chipsets that can perform the required kind of communication between the power source and device. It’s not always that easy and not many companies have done it well, but it may be something for next year as the hardware and software matures.
Everyone is using a REST (or RESTful) API now, which we’re glad to see after we widely advised this last year at InfoComm. This is important as we think about the huddle room and all these different devices talking to each other. We believe collecting and sharing data amongst devices and services is paramount to crafting a better building experience. So with USB-C, Linux, and open platforms, it’s sort of this new age of smarter technologies coming together to inform new uses. But the increased use of these high-tech, open systems also bring security considerations, among others. We asked everyone about California’s new password law (going into effect Jan. 2020), and only four or five knew what it was. We got a lot of blank stares.
From HDBaseT to AV-over-IP
Last year, everyone had an AV-over-IP solution. This trend continues with HDBaseT falling off rapidly in favor of network solutions – except in the niches for which it’s a particularly good fit. For instance, a slightly larger room with tables in the middle, where you need to plug in your laptop 20 feet of cable away from the display. That’s still probably a cheaper sell with HDBaseT than most AV-over-IP solutions. It’s quicker and easier to configure. Classrooms will probably continue to be holdouts, but it seems likely that HDBaseT will continue to be relegated into these point-to-point applications, especially as the hardware for AV-over-IP continues to get cheaper and cheaper.
What happens to the network as everyone moves to AV-over-IP? If you’ve got a single conference room and all of the AV sources are going to all of the AV destinations through a single Ethernet switch dedicated to that conference room, then none of the content is necessarily traversing the network at all. If you’ve got an application where the content has to go over the network, then you absolutely have to architect the network to support the number of streams that’s going to generate. In some cases, it will necessitate the choice of different, more robust switches for sites that otherwise would be able to suffice with cheaper switches down that same manufacturer, like Cisco’s product line.