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InfoComm: The Insider Scoop

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As in many years past, Acentech’s Technology Group attended InfoComm this June, the annual conference produced by AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. It’s the largest annual professional audiovisual show in North America. This year, 29,325 people attended visiting from 115 different countries. On the trade show floor, over 700 exhibitors showcased Pro AV products across 358,700 net square feet in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, and we visited almost all of them. At least, we tried to! It sure felt like we had by the end of the week, but that’s another story…

As expected, our schedule was quite full with a mix of booth tours, live product demonstrations, and the like. Not to mention the consultant-specific educational events such as breakfast seminars, lunchtime presentations, and other similar sessions. During the booth tours, we were introduced to countless new products that were just being announced at InfoComm or launching in the near future.

While there, I made note of some specific products and technologies that I was particularly impressed with. There are too many to list here, but these are some stand-out items on that list and their impact on my ongoing projects:

Ultra-Wide Display Technologies

There was a lot of talk about display technology. Specifically, display manufacturers were focused on 21:9 aspect ratio associated with Microsoft’s Front Row layout in Teams. This ultra-wide aspect ratio is not one typically found in commercial displays. For example, your 4K or HD televisions at home are 16:9. Display manufacturers have been exploring the 21:9 aspect ratio for products to meet this requirement. Several manufacturers were showing different kinds of technologies featuring this aspect ratio, ranging from traditional flat screens to projection screens to LED video walls. There is certainly a lot to be considered in future designs for clients that have standardized on Teams, but also hybrid meeting spaces in general.

Auto-Tracking Cameras

I came across some new auto-tracking cameras that I found quite intriguing. This technology seems to be progressing quickly, with many now becoming much more responsive, accurate, and (the best part) no longer requiring the user to wear a lanyard or other device to be tracked. The new trend is to leverage AI and facial detection (not recognition) software, which is being built right into the camera. Many of these utilize a dual-lens approach, where one is zoomed in on the “talent” and the other maintains a wide shot of the entire area. These improvements now allow a single camera to automatically detect and track human shapes and movement, with incredible precision.

New Loudspeaker Arrays

This one was my favorite and it had an immediate impact on one of my current projects. We saw a live demo of this new speaker technology, and it was impressive, to say the least. For some context, I am designing a new sound system for a concert hall renovation project. I have personally known the client for many years, and I hold him in high regard when it comes to his audio knowledge. During our first walkthrough of the project, he took me around the concert hall and described his target SPL and the challenges they have had over the years achieving even coverage in certain areas. We worked together reviewing loudspeaker cutsheets and the 3D predictive modeling I had done of the space. The specified solution ended up being a line array loudspeaker system that consisted of (2) nine-box line arrays, in a stereo configuration, with a total of (8) subwoofers flown above the stage. It also included front fills located on the stage lip, as well as the associated controller/amplifier electronics. The system cost was approximately $270k based on that design.

Later, a value engineering exercise was initiated by the owner to prioritize other concert hall upgrades. We ended up changing to another model speaker but from the same manufacturer. This alternate system was comprised of (2) five-box line arrays, again with (8) subwoofers and the same associated devices. For comparison, this revised system now totaled roughly $155k. There were some sacrifices made, but nothing that would have an overall detrimental effect on the resultant performance in this concert hall. The main difference was that the original loudspeaker was an active type, whereas the alternative loudspeaker system was passive. The performance characteristics (frequency response, SPL, etc.) were otherwise nearly identical.

With that change made, the drawings and specs went out to bid, which occurred just before InfoComm took place. At the time, this project design was complete and basically out of my hands. However, I was so impressed with the demo of this same brand’s new product that I tracked down our contact and asked what the chances were of getting the new speaker into the aforementioned concert hall. We talked about it briefly after the demo and agreed to reconnect the week after we all got home. As planned, we spoke, and he provided me with a quote for the equivalent system using this new technology. This approach included (2) two-box line arrays instead with (4) subwoofers, and the rest of the system unchanged. The new design was $175k – still significantly less than the originally specified product, and only $20k more than the VE’d system.

Equipped with this knowledge, I immediately called my client and explained the situation. I informed him of how the new loudspeaker sounds great, is a much smaller form factor, and the acoustic rejection below and behind the loudspeakers is improved (which was important given the location where the speakers were being mounted in this case). Wouldn’t you know, they were just as excited as I was!

The challenge remaining? The fact that the project was already out to bid. Was it too late to issue the change? I called our manufacturer contact back, and with the client’s blessing, recommended the bidders substitute the new product for the specified ones, even though the spec was very specific, noting that the client and I would approve the substitution. We all (myself, the client, and the manufacturer) agreed that this new product is the right product for this concert hall, and I for one cannot wait to hear it in this space once it’s installed!

One of the benefits of being a consultant is having the ability to see and hear new and emerging products and then having the ability to influence change that benefits our clients. Part of that comes from having these kinds of direct relationships with manufacturers and their representatives. As an independent consultant, we remain brand-agnostic, and as such know about a wide variety of available and future technologies coming to the market. We specify the “right” product for each project, and manufacturers provide us with all the information we need to determine if their product is the best fit. We rely on these relationships for product demos, technical information, lead times, and product roadmaps. This is in turn extremely important for our clients as it helps ensure the appropriate technology is going into their new or renovated facility. As shown in this case, we were able to swiftly transition to a new technology and save costs for the client.