Top Technology Products of 2005
Dec 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney
Sound, video, and contracting award winners.
What's the next big thing? New products are brought to market at an ever-increasing pace. We see them at trade shows; we see them advertised. And, as your caretakers of industry news, we try to separate the “me too” variations from the innovative visions, the flexible solutions from the one-off idiosyncrasies. Of course, superiority, cleverness, and technical acumen alone do not ensure a great product. If it were that simple, we'd all be watching Beta format videotapes. Time tells the tale.
We took a look at the award-winning products from three 2005 industry trade shows — NSCA (Innovations in Technology Awards), InfoComm (Pick Hits), and CEDIA (Electronic Lifestyles Manufacturers Excellence Awards). All three programs are sponsored or co-sponsored by Sound & Video Contractor. The winning products have been semi-cleverly organized in accordance with the magazine name: Sound, Video, and Contractor. Although the first two areas are (mostly) obvious, the third includes software, control systems, convergence products, and hardware.
Systems approaches dominate the installation industry, so it's no surprise that system-based products dominated the audio awards this year.
With the introduction of its HiQnet control system, Harman International has created a comprehensive audio communications protocol. The core of HiQnet is its System Architect PC software, containing device-specific plug-ins for each of the Harman Pro brands, thus covering the full audio chain. This approach effectively integrates brands like JBL, BSS, Crown, Soundcraft, dbx, AKG, Lexicon, and Studer into a one-stop audio shop, with products and software drivers developed and optimized for use within the system. HiQnet supports Ethernet, CobraNet, USB, and serial control; sample rates up to 96kHz; and up to 64 channels of streaming audio.
Aimed at the custom home installation market, the iHome Multi-Center I from Audio Design Associates (ADA) is essentially three components in one: a 250GB music storage device with dual hot-swappable hard drives, a Media Center PC, and an IP control server. This makes it possible to control a multi-room music system from any PC, web tablet, or PDA using an Internet browser. The Multi-Center can store a full library of CDs and is fully compatible with both Apple iTunes and Microsoft Media Center software.
With its new Soundweb London, BSS Audio accepted the challenge of upgrading its programmable Soundweb DSP/matrix system (without replacing it!). Using the industry-standard distributed processing architecture of the original, Soundweb London offers new hardware, more flexible configurations, and dual-redundant CobraNet audio networking, as well as double the DSP power and more efficient protocols for using it. The basic building block module of the series is the BLU-80, which accommodates all common I/O configurations and is easily expandable with other London components. The system also features auto-IP addressing, browser-based diagnostics, and Ethernet-based system control.
An often-overlooked factor in effective teleconferencing systems is audio quality. Biamp Systems created the AEC2w acoustic echo-canceling input card for broadband technologies, designed for use in its AudiaFlex platform. In contrast to the frequency-limited technologies of the past, AEC2w uses a proprietary algorithm to provide full-bandwidth (20Hz to 20kHz) echo cancellation, so teleconferences sound as natural as possible. The card provides two channels of selectable echo cancellation, with assignable reference points for each input for seamless integration. It also suppresses background noise, using onboard DSP to preserve AudiaFlex system resources.
Lest we forget, great output starts with great input, and that means microphones. The DPA 3552 compact stereo microphone kit was a Pick Hit at InfoComm 2005. According to company president Bruce Myers, these mics use the same capsule and have “the identical sonic signature as our classic studio mic,” the B&K 4006. Designed specifically for low-profile piano miking, the mic easily and securely mounts on the harp with a pair of magnetic gooseneck bases. Mics are matched within ±1/2dB for frequency response, self-noise, and sensitivity, as evidenced by the serialized calibration chart packed with each kit.
Finally, we can't talk about serious sound without talking mixing desks. In 2005, digital mixing came into its own, with significant penetration into touring sound and growing acceptance among installation designers. Two new consoles garnered awards this year: the DiGiCo D1 Live (InfoComm Pick Hits) and Yamaha's PM5D digital mixing console (NSCA Innovations in Technology). See our Web Extras for all the details.
Catering to the needs of the high-end home theater, Runco International offers CineWide with AutoScope, a motorized anamorphic lens system. The system is available on a variety of Runco and Vidikron projectors, enhancing the high-definition viewing experience, especially for movies filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, by eliminating the black bars that would otherwise be present. CineWide with AutoScope uses the full height of the screen, regardless of the movie's aspect ratio. Because black bar masking is eliminated, resolution is maximized and brightness increased. The lens system is easily activated, sliding into place at the push of a button, while AutoScope provides RS-232 control for optimizing the system, affording a home theater that reproduces all popular aspect ratios with total original quality.
The PocketProjector from Mitsubishi Digital is so small it can fit in the palm of your hand: Even rounding up, it still measures less than 5"×2"×4" and weighs only about 1lb. This tiny LED DLP projector supports native 800×600 SVGA resolution for RCA video, S-Video, and VGA inputs, yet comes at roughly the same cost as a couple of lamps for a conventional projector. In addition, the PocketProjector requires no warm-up period and can operate on AC power or an optional battery pack.
Named a chip company to watch by Silicon Valley watchdog publication Red Herring, Silicon Optix offers Hollywood Quality Video with its Realta HQV video processing chip. Performing more than one trillion operations per second to support dual high-definition image streams, the chip includes the industry's first fully software-programmable video array processor with end-to-end true 10-bit imaging. Realta HQV supports advanced picture-in-picture split-screen (side-by-side) windowing modes. Each window can be independently processed, scaled, sized, and positioned without limitation. Connectivity and networking are similarly advanced, with a PCI interface on board to accommodate software and programming upgrades via web access.
In the competitive world of video projection, Sony is the top-of-mind brand. The company's new SRX-R110 is a digital cinema projector designed to maximize the high-definition viewing experience. With unprecedented 4096×2160 pixel resolution, a high contrast ratio, and 10,000 ANSI lumens, the SRX-R110 achieves nearly four times the pixel count of previous HD displays, producing an image size of up to 40ft. diagonally. This projector can also operate in dual- or quad-screen mode with full 1920×1080 resolution on all images, making it ideal for large venues, or any application where multiple, simultaneous high-definition views are required.
Video security systems are unique because they require accurate image quality across a wide range of lighting conditions. The new TLC 0495 DinionXF day/night camera from Bosch Security Systems does just that. With a mechanically switching IR filter, this digital CCD camera offers the highest image quality possible, whether it's high noon or after midnight. When light levels get low, the Dinion automatically switches from color to monochrome mode, preserving critical image details. The intelligent video motion detection feature is fully programmable and sends an alert signal when triggered. With 15-bit digital video and XF processing for color accuracy across a wide range of conditions, the camera provides the image detail needed for identification purposes in high-security installations.
As our industry moves toward integration and convergence among seemingly disparate technology platforms, a diverse offering of products appears in this category — everything from $30 connectors to control systems costing well into the six-digit range. For your reading convenience, we've created subcategories for these contractor products.
Control Systems: The $1.5 billion home automation market segment is expected to double in size by 2008, so that area was a focus of many of this year's award winners.
The AMX Amenities Solution is a home automation system designed for luxury condominiums. When each building unit is equipped with an AMX Modero touchpanel, the Amenities Solution acts as a community concierge, handling home-owner maintenance requests, scheduling access to community facilities, and even offering access to local weather and traffic conditions. When homeowners are away, touchpanel functions can be accessed via a web portal. Integrating the Amenities Solution requires a backbone throughout the building consisting of an AMX NetLinx integrated controller to process each request and send it to a centralized server that manages workflow and data. System service administration is handled via a web portal.
One of the companies working to bring the obvious benefits of home automation to a more affordable level is Control4. Its Composer software package is powerful and inexpensive, allowing designers and installers to bring high-end features to mid-priced home system installations. Working via Internet protocol, Composer allows integration of home theater, AV, lighting, HVAC, security, and many other devices through use of Control4's library of supported device drivers. Integrators can configure and troubleshoot systems onsite or remotely. Composer's strong suit is ease of use, including drag-and-drop functionality and an interview mode to make configuration painless.
Offering robust storage, access, distribution, and playback of audio, video, and multimedia content, the MAX by AMX content management system is the perfect product suite for home theater applications and whole-home AV systems. The heart of the system is the MAX server, which interfaces with the user's home IP network, offering customized search functions via touchscreen or outboard PC. The MAX system shines in the area of distribution as well, with custom playlists, simultaneous playback, and parental control functions, all with native resolution and quality. Taking advantage of home IP networks already in place, MAX by AMX provides routing flexibility, with various hardware configurations available to meet specific customer needs.
System Design Tools: For designers and integrators, the key to business success lies in the bidding process.
With System Integrator 4 from D-Tools, success becomes part of the designer's workflow because the software combines the power of AutoCAD and the ease of use of Visio software into a single tool. System Integrator 4 lets you design and engineer a system, estimate its costs, and create presentation documents. The software even provides project management for back-end activities like customer documentation, product order status, and labor costs. All processes are then tied together in a single portable project file, so that everybody using the software is working from the same data. D-Tools SI 4.5 is available in several versions to meet the needs of any size operation.
Stardraw offers a software solution to disparate system integration issues with an intuitive environment for system design, configuration, and control. Stardraw Control plays well with others, working with any type of remote-controllable gear from an ever-growing online library of more than 165,000 devices. The software allows the designer to create an interface for any combination of protocols (including TCP/IP, RS-232, DMX, UDP, infrared, EtherSound, and CobraNet) without writing a line of code. Freely downloadable at www.stardraw.com, the Stardraw Control program is supported by usage licensing. System design can be tested and approved at the client level in test mode, so there is no upfront cost prior to winning the bid.
Teleconferencing AV/IP: This category probably created the most news in 2005, as major manufacturers and new players alike strove to develop systems and products that integrate the power of the PC with other protocols.
Sony Electronics' IPELA products embody the company's vision of an open-standard future for integrated visual communication. It would be shortsighted to call this AV over IP or teleconferencing, but those are the functionalities that serve as jumping-off points for this suite of products designed to make remote business locations feel and act as if they were in the same room together. Current Sony IPELA offerings include the PCS-G70 and the PCS-TL50. The PCS-G70 teleconferencing system offers dual-stream video for boardrooms and custom installations. The PCS-TL50 combines a desktop LCD computer monitor with a full videoconferencing system and readily switches from PC to conferencing mode, or even displays both simultaneously.
Crestron is attacking the convergence concept head-on with its UPX2 presentation system. This totally self-contained unit supports multiple digital media and video formats. The UPX2 does more than simply aid with the actual presentation, however. When an AV presentation elicits discussion, the system also supports realtime annotation via a wireless pen/stylus and Crestron's touchscreen control to promote greater productivity. Annotations can be saved to a Flash card or exported to a network. In a single package, the UPX2 includes a host of video hardware, plus an embedded PC that incorporates both media player and presentation software for seamless communication via Ethernet and Crestnet protocols. Presenters can view up to three presentation streams simultaneously on the touchscreen, and can even preview program material prior to display.
Once we've achieved the goal of converging technologies to stream multimedia teleconferences around the world, how are we supposed to save our work? Advanced Media Design has an answer with the MediaPointe DMR300 digital media recorder. Designed to work with the company's MediaPointe platform, the DMR300 enables the simultaneous, high-resolution recording of all aspects of a videoconference, including all PC content, plus camera and audio output from both ends of the conversation, all preserved in native resolution. Multiple playback layouts allow users to choose from various views, so those who missed the meeting can experience the entire recorded event. With a recording capacity of up to 400 hours and support for AMX and Crestron control systems, the MediaPointe DMR300 is an archiving solution that helps realize the full potential of videoconferencing.
Nuts and Bolts: Although high-cost, high-profile system control may be eye-catching and memorable, the ultimate success of an installation rides on factors like ease of integration and labor costs. See our Web Extras for details on these innovative, award-winning products: Middle Atlantic Products UQQFP-4D ultra-quiet fan panel (InfoComm Pick Hits Award), the BTX EZ-9 solderless terminal block (CEDIA Best New Products), and the Neutrik OpticalCon fiber-optic connector (InfoComm Pick Hits Award).
Software and the Web: Industry awards were presented to Serious Magic, for its Ovation software (InfoComm Pick Hits Award), and to Listen Technologies, for its redesigned website, www.listentech.com (NSCA Innovations in Technology). See our Web Extras report at www.svconline.com for more details.
So there you have it. Another fine year, another huge mass of technology to sort through and learn about. In the coming months, you will decide which among these products are the real winners. Good luck!
Jack Kontney is founder and president of Kontney Communications, a Chicago-area marketing communications consultancy specializing in the written word. He can be reached at Jack53@comcast.net.
We’re please to present the following products, all part of our Top Technology Products review in the December 2005 issue of Sound & Video Ccontractor. Each of these products won major industry awards this past year.
DiGiCo D1 Live
Infocomm Pick Hits Award
With a clearly stated design goal of providing the power of digital mixing with the simplicity of an analog topography, the DiGiCo D1 Live mixing console boasts a frighteningly powerful feature list in a deceptively compact package. Available in several upgradeable configurations, the low-latency D1 Live includes all the key features of the company’s D5 Live board in a smaller, lighter package. This machine has power to burn.
The D1 Live can process 64 mono/stereo channels simultaneously and can be expanded by up to 160 addition channels in any mono/stereo combination. Each channel provides full routing from remote microphone preamps, 240-millisecond delay, high- and low-pass filters, four parametric equalizers, and dynamics with side chain filtering.
The work surface includes 25 physical faders and three pressure-sensitive touchscreen controls, each with an adjacent bank of rotary knobs, allowing instant, realtime adjustment of dynamics and EQ. Metering is comprehensive and precise, with 30-segment LED strings showing input level, gain reduction, gating, and more. The 25 layered faders are grouped in blocks of eight, with six user-definable fader banks per section.
The D1 Live also incorporates a new MADI card, providing a fully digital link from stage to FOH for up to 100m of coax cable, dispensing with the need for expensive optical fibre. Session settings (any number of full-console snapshots) are easily saved to a USB key for use at the next show, or for transfer to an entirely different D1 Live chassis. And, of course, you can burn an entire performance direct to hard drive in realtime.
NSCA Innovations in Technology Award
The industry leader in the transition to digital mixing is Yamaha, which has made a lot of inroads in this area with trailblazing products like the PM1D and DM2000. Always moving forward, the company has further refined its offering with the new Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console, with features optimized for live performance environments.
The PM5D series provides state-of-the-art digital performance with a dedicated control surface that is optimized for sound reinforcement applications, and is offered in two basic versions, the PM5D and PM5D-RH, with the latter offering digital recall of mic preamp settings. While it has the appearance and footprint of a modest 24-track board, the PM5D actually boasts a total of 130 input connections, with simultaneous mixing of up to 64 inputs, 24 mix busses, and 500 scenes of total recall.
Its digital engine handles 24-bit, 96kHz audio without compromise, with all channels and processing available. To ensure full audio quality throughout the signal path, internal processing is all 32-bit. And speaking of processing, this is an area where Yamaha’s really leverages their wealth of product development. Supplied onboard effects include 56 gates, 92 compressors, 97 delays, and a dozen graphic EQs. If that’s not enough, don’t worry: You’ll also get eight independent SPX2000-class multi effects.
The PM5D also offers further refinement of Yamaha’s famed user interface for a relaxed, intuitive mixing experience. In addition, this console is surround-ready, coming equipped with 3-1, 5.1, and 6.1 modes which are easily set up on mix busses, with panning controllable either via the track pad or by using external controllers through the MIDI or GPI ports.
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