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On the Circuit

Jun 18, 2014 5:35 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

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Earlier this year, I crowded into London’s Greenwich market on a sunny afternoon and joined the crush of smartly dressed business types on lunch. We pushed past the stalls of vibrant international food, through waves of intoxicating aromas, into a pub near the back of the building.

We were there to retrace the founding of Electrosonic as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Two of the three founders—the redoubtable Bob Simpson and his alter ego Mike Ray—told stories that conjured a very different Greenwich market circa 1964, where the rent was cheap and the odd electrical fire would go unnoticed. I could imagine the pub was the conference room.

Simpson, Ray, and their partner Denis Naisbitt wanted to do things with light, image, and sound that were new and seemingly impossible. Sound familiar? In those days that might involve dozens of synchronized slide projectors or giant “portable” mixing desks. At the time, these things were just as cutting edge and out of reach as the large-scale 4K 3D custom projection systems that Electrosonic would build for the entertainment industry in the decades to come.

For many years, Electrosonic made products because the ones they needed didn’t exist yet. The company became renowned as an early developer of videowalls and cubes, and went on to develop unique compression technology as part of a products group that was acquired by Extron four years ago.

But Electrosonic has remained, above all, a systems integration company and a pioneer in applying new technology. The company builds projects all over the world that push the boundaries of projection, control, networks, and imagery. I worked with them when I was a theme park designer. I have seen the results of the company’s technical imagination in Japan, Korea, Europe, and throughout the U.S., most recently at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Co-founder Bob Simpson is a well-known figure in the industry and a fascinating champion for AV technology through his many books, lectures, and articles. His latest book, “50 Years on the Audio-Visual Frontline,” reads like an adventure story for engineers (and proves that engineers have adventures). It also demonstrates that professional AV has always been a technical frontier and always will be. As fast as one thing is sorted out and taken for granted, the next crazy demand appears on the near horizon. Simpson will be at InfoComm (you can look for him at booth N534). He’ll be talking about 4K, 8K, and LED control like it was 50 years ago and he was debating the potential for multi-image slide projectors with Mike Ray in the pub in Greenwich market.

As we make our way through another InfoComm, I also like to wonder about the transformative engineers and companies that may be in the smaller booths, unknown, maybe starting off on their 50 years.

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