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EDITOR’S NOTE: As some readers may already have heard, Pro AV magazine ceased publication on June 30. This column was originally scheduled to run in the July/August 2011 issue, which will not go to print. I’ve opted to run it here instead as the show was an important one and many significant trends emerged from Orlando, not the least of which is the cross-over of consumer-grade display products into the professional channel. This trend is already generating some interesting discussions on LinkedIn.

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The bags are unpacked. The flash drives have been downloaded, as have the photos. The expense reports are done, and my voice has finally come back after five straight days of teaching classes, enduring loud music during even louder conversations at dinner, and engaging in robust give-and-take arguments at trade show booths.

Yes, InfoComm 2011 is fading rapidly into the distance.  It is my busiest trade show, as I teach at least three courses every year and sometimes present at the pre-show Projection Summit. In between setting up and taking down all of the gear in my classes, I find a little free time to walk the show floor – unscheduled, as usual.

Pretty much all of my classes these days revolve around digital signal technology, whether it be digital video, wireless digital displays, or digital television. The wireless AV class had over 100 attendees, which is impressive considering most of the technology I showed isn’t available for purchase yet, but remains lurking in the wings.

The digital video class – which can get ’dry’ at times with discussions of MPEG, bit rates, and IPTV – also drew a strong crowd. Plus, I had a strong sense this year that more attendees were ‘getting it’ about digital video.

And no wonder, considering all of the encoder/decoder products shown in the Orlando Convention Center. In addition to the usual suspects, some companies I’d not heard of previously were set up and showing their encoders, decoders, switchers, and distribution products. More and more of these products were using optical fiber and category wire than ever before, along with the usual mix of HDMI and DVI ports.

Now THAT'S the way to watch HDTV!

In no particular order, here’s a baker’s dozen of interesting products and demos I found in my travels:

Sharp had a small booth, but got everyone’s attention right away with their announcement of the LC-70LE732U, a 70-inch 1080p LCD display for digital signage and other pro AV applications. It’s got four HDMI inputs, Ethernet connectivity, uses a full LED backlight array, and will retail for $3,700. (Yes, you read that right, $3,700!) Think that’s gonna put a crimp into the front projector market?

Casio now has a pro installation version of their lamp-less (laser and LED) DLP projectors. The PRO XJ-H1650 is rated at 3500 lumens and has a full range of connectivity options, although (inexplicably) it comes with two 15-pin VGA ports and just one HDMI input. There’s also a short-throw version with optional interactive whiteboard, a combination I saw in at least a dozen other booths.

Casio's got a new lamp-less installation projector (and yes, it IS mounted upside-down!).

Kramer Electronics is one of several new members of the HDBaseT Alliance and had two new transmitters and one receiver in their booth. The TP-581T/582T transmitters combine HDMI video and audio, bi-direction 100BaseT Ethernet, RS232, and IR controls into a single Cat 5e cable at distances up to 328 feet. The TP-582R receiver converts all signals back to their native format. Maximum bandwidth is 2.25 Gb/s per graphics channel.

Sanyo has a high-powered 3LCD projector offering for the business and education channels. The PLC-WU3800 is rated at 3800 lumens, but will be ticketed at just under $2,000. It’s a wide XGA design (1280×800) fitted with a 1.6x zoom lens and instant shut-down power cycling. Sanyo also had a panoramic 3D demo using ultra short-throw projectors that attracted a bit of a crowd.

BenQ is in the installation projector game with their SP981, a full 1080p single-chip DLP chassis. It’s rated at 4500 lumens and has a 1.5x zoom lens, manual lens shift in both axes, and HQV image processing. It seems that 3500 – 4000 lumens is the ‘new’ 2500 lumens these days!

Sharp's new 70-inch pro AV display for $3,800 generated lots of buzz (and this wasn't even the real thing).

Sanyo showed a clever ultra short-throw 3D projection demo.

Visionary Solutions came to Orlando with a full rack of MPEG encoder products. VS is considered to be one of the best at what they do, and their new AVN441 H.264 encoder ‘blade’ is now shipping. It’s an ultra-compact plug-in card that converts DVI, HDMI, component, or (ugh!) composite video into an MPEG4 stream for digital distribution. Maximum bit rates are 5 to 20 MB/s for HD signals.

Arrive Systems had one of the more unusual new products at the show. It’s a rack-ready, all-in-one AV switcher with support for DVI, HDMI, analog video, an Ethernet router, analog audio-follow switching, and an 8-outlet power strip, plus low-voltage control, phantom power, and an Ethernet port to monitor everything. The whole shebang is fitted to a recycled, formed aluminum housing that doubles as a heat sink, and the company claims to be ‘green’ in its manufacturing process as a result.

Panasonic has a new, easy-to-set-up high definition videoconferencing system. It runs on the popular H.264 codec and supports a wide range of connectivity options, including a robotic wide-angle camera and a conventional consumer-grade camcorder that fits to a tiny tripod and allows close-up views of everything from schematics to circuit boards. The buy-in price is around $12,000 for a basic system – watch how fast that price comes down – and picture quality was excellent.

Talk about immersive! Canon had this parabolic projection demo in their booth.

Prysm is pushing its laser-phosphor displays into retail signage.

Ciil Technologies (pronounced See-All) showed waterproof, dustproof 1080p LCD monitors at the show, designed for outdoor and other rugged installations. The glass is impact-resistant and the monitors have automatic light sensing to adjust brightness for high ambient light environments. Not the first time we’ve seen this type of product, but more of them are now coming to market at full HD resolution.

Extron showed its first home-grown MPEG-4 H.264 encoder. The SME 100 accepts analog RGB or DVI signals to a maximum resolution of 1600×1200 with embedded or discrete audio, and 1920x1080p video at a maximum frame rate of 60 Hz. It also contains a three-input switcher.

Salitek had a ginormous LCD videowall at the show, made up of forty Orion OPM-4260 plasma monitors. You don’t often see plasma used in videowalls, but this one was truly spectacular (as the press release claimed). The only drawback might be power consumption, which would be on the order of 12,000 watts (40x 300 watts per panel). Each OPM-4260 has a 2mm bezel for a nearly seamless presentation.

The professional AV channel is just as nuts about ultra-thin displays as the consumer marketplace is.

Stewart Filmscreens is tackling the tricky task of combining an optimized 2D low-gain screen with one for 3D that has higher brightness while minimizing hot-spotting. The result is something called Silver 5D screen material (clever, eh?), and it’s available in sizes up to 40’ x 90’. Silver 5D is designed for passive 3D viewing and can also be microperforated.

Mitsubishi showed the first integrated fiber optic interface modules I’ve ever spotted in a rear projection cube. The company’s Seventy Series DLP rear-projection cubes (1920×1080, 70”) now have a Thinklogical fiber optic input card. The complete TX/RX set encodes DVI signals to a parallel data format with a maximum data rate of 6.25 Gb/s.

Finally, Haivision took the wraps off their Viper streaming/recording product. The Viper is an H.264 appliance that can capture, play back, and stream SD and HD video content through either dual DVI or HD-SDI inputs at full frame rates. Everything is controlled through an intuitive touch panel, and the Viper can also function as a standalone IP video server. (Plus it’s named after a ‘super-cool aquatic animal,’ as the press release states.)

Posted by Pete Putman, July 6, 2011 9:26 AM

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.