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Top Tech of 2007

Dec 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

A look back at the evolution of top new products this year.

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Dolby Laboratories Lake Processor

2007 marked another banner year in the evolution of the technology that drives the AV industry. As always, new products abounded in the audio and video categories, while digital signage and life-safety systems evolved, along with the software and control systems to handle it all. With the convergence of systems technologies continuing unabated through IP control in the digital domain, it's becoming more difficult to classify products into neat little categories. Rather, it's all about functionality — examining the job at hand and finding a combination of mutually compatible technologies that will provide the functionality needed to handle that challenge.

The irony, of course, is that while many new products do an amazing job of solving problems and adding new abilities within existing categories, the array of choices can be confusing. While this article can't hope to do justice to the myriad of new choices in the marketplace, it can highlight many products honored at the industry's major tradeshows in 2007: the NSCA Innovations in Technology Awards, Sound & Video Contractor's Pick Hit Awards for new products showcased at InfoComm, and CEDIA's Manufacturers' Excellence Awards. For convenience, we're dividing them into three categories: audio, video, and beyond.

Audio-Technica SpectraPulse


InfoComm saw the announcement of 2007's biggest news in audio. Amid all the worries over the potential loss of the UHF band used by conventional wireless systems, Audio-Technica called a press conference at the show to trumpet its SpectraPulse system. Operating in the wide-open 6GHz range, SpectraPulse is designed for boardrooms and meeting rooms. Rather than modulating a carrier signal, SpectraPulse sends a stream of low-level, 3-nanosecond pulses across an ultra-wideband link, where they are converted to a digital audio stream, easily connecting to recording, conferencing, or standard PA systems. Up to 14 channels (seven per rack space) can operate simultaneously, latency is only 1.1 millisecond, and the system's frequency response is 100Hz to 12kHz — perfect for speech. While the system is inherently secure due to its unique transmission scheme, Audio-Technica also promised to offer an optional 128-bit encryption package when the system starts shipping (scheduled for December).

Audio networking is hot in the construction market, and Audio Design Associates (ADA) won an award at CEDIA for its Structured Wiring Audio Network (SWAN) system. SWAN incorporates a modular approach and innovative hardware that literally fits into the building infrastructure. In fact, an entire SWAN system can be housed in a structured wiring box. Significantly, SWAN meets Fannie Mae guidelines for inclusion in mortgages, making it ideal for any residential construction. The system can handle eight audio sources into four (and up to 48) destination zones, and it works with ADA's family of wall-plate controllers and touchscreens. The SWAN dual tuner handles XM, Sirius, and HD AM/FM ranges. Other components include an integrated amplifier, an audio input/infrared controller module, and a zone controller integrated amplifier.

AMX also took home a CEDIA award for its AutoPatch PrecisDSP, a stereo audio matrix switcher designed for high-end audio distribution installations. Available in 8×8 and 18×18 configurations, PrecisDSP allows precise customization to meet the output needs of each destination zone. Features include integrated 10-band graphic EQ; input gain; and volume, tone, and balance controls. The AMX AutoPatch PrecisDSP includes the intuitive APGraphic EQ wizard, and it offers full compatibility with AMX NetLinx and Duet.

In a world of competing standards in digital audio networking, Whirlwind took the high road with its Protocol eXchange Platform (PXP), a system designed to help digital devices of different pedigrees to coexist within one venue. For system designers, this means that legacy products can be integrated freely with whatever new ones offer the needed functionality. The PXP is offered in three models: a CobraNet device to communicate with A-Net Pro 16, an Ethersound device to communicate with A-Net Pro 16, and a 16-channel bidirectional interface between CobraNet and Ethersound.

Dolby Laboratories, meanwhile, has taken loudspeaker and EQ technology into the digital realm with the Dolby Lake Processor, a complete signal-processing system designed to control loudspeaker systems while improving their sound quality. Supporting four-in, 12-out loudspeaker applications and eight-in, eight-out EQ schemes, the Dolby Lake handles both traditional analog and native digital I/O. Its LimiterMax loudspeaker protection system ensures full real-world loudspeaker protection, while the patented Raised Cosine Equalization system makes it easy to optimize the sound quality of the system. The unit ships complete with tablet PC software, allowing the user to listen and adjust the system from any seat in the house.

With its roots as a rackmount CD player, the Denon Professional DN-C640 slot-in network audio player takes that humble concept to its logical conclusion, with the ability to read virtually any audio format from CD (music or data) to DVD data discs, plus network audio functionality for streaming audio playlists from a laptop, server, or LAN. The unit offers direct playback of WAV, MP3, CD-DA, and WMA from a single disc. Ethernet connectivity and an onboard web GUI enable centralized control and playlist programming from any web-enabled computer. Comprehensive control options include RS-232, contact closure for GPIO, RJ-45 for Ethernet/LAN, and a full-featured infrared remote — making this unit ideal for any installation incorporating audio playback.

With teleconferencing beginning its morph into immersive telepresence systems, the need for exceptional audio in telephony has never been greater. SoundStructure is Polycom's next-generation voice processor, which offers sophisticated DSP and acoustic echo cancellation for Polycom HDX video codecs interfacing with virtually any standard analog microphone or wireless input. With feedback control and wideband echo cancellation on every input, SoundStructure provides natural, glitch-free audio for even the largest teleconferencing systems, routing any input to any or all outputs (up to 128 channels) with its OBAM (One Big Audio Matrix) routing system.

Of course, sound quality starts at the input stage, and Yamaha nabbed an InfoComm Pick Hit award from Sound & Video Contractor with its unique ProjectPhone audio unit for both VoIP and telephony-based conferencing systems. Already available in Japan, the system uses onboard DSP to localize and track each talker at the conference table, activating those inputs to keep everyone “on mic” even when they move around. The PJP-100UH is a long, sleek desktop unit secreting an array of 32 microphones around its base and a set of downfiring loudspeakers underneath. USB and stereo analog interfaces ensure compatibility with any audio- or videoconferencing system, and audio clarity among multiple locations is ensured by broadband echo cancellation and noise reduction.

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