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Infocomm 2006

Although InfoComm has transitioned to an applications show, there were plenty of interesting product introductions.

InfoComm isn't the “must attend” show it once was for unveiling cutting-edge, innovative display technologies. Even so, while the show's focus is more on applications these days, there were still a few gems to be unearthed.

Ten years ago, you could always count on some big surprises at InfoComm. Whether it was the first portable single-chip DLP projector (nView's Diamond D-455, $11,995), Sony's first portable LCD projector (VPL-V500Q, $7,990), or high-power, large-venue SXGA projectors from AmPro, Barco, and Hughes-JVC, there was plenty of “oohing” and “aahing” to be heard in the old Shoot-Out.

Incidentally, those “high power” projectors from 1996 were rated at 2,500 lumens — a staggering amount of image brightness for the time — and their prices ranged from $62,000 to $85,000. Today, Dell's 2400MP cranks out 3,000 lumens in a 5.5-pound box for $1,100. How times have changed.

The show has changed, too. Attendance is routinely more than 24,000, and there's more of an end-user, applications focus than ever before.

Falling prices for former big-ticket AV products has had its impact on booth sizes. Gone for the most part are the monster booths that Sony, NEC, Hitachi, InFocus, and others used to assemble. A typical VGA (640x480) LCD front projector was priced between $7,000 and $10,000 dollars back in '96; today, your garden-variety XGA box can be had for less than $2,000. With more products having three or four zeros in their price tags extensive re-branding and OEM deals, and the expansion of distribution channels and direct sales at the expense of the smaller pro AV dealers, many manufacturers just can't justify the expense of a larger booth. Consequently, what we see are more “concept” booths with simulations of classrooms, conference rooms, and even home theaters, all featuring the company's latest projectors and flat-panel displays.

Another change from the old days: The professional version of a product was introduced first, followed by a consumer version a year or so later. Today, the consumer market is all-important for display technology, and the timing is often reversed — we'll see a large flat-panel plasma or LCD consumer HDTV before the commercial version is released.

While cruising the booths looking for unique and different products, I found that many products had already been shown at NAB 2006. Still, there were a few surprises. Epson, which had been noticeably absent from the show for several years, re-appeared in a modest booth with a new installation projector, the PowerLite 6100i. It's a networkable XGA (1024x768) projector with 3,500 lumens of brightness, anti-theft bars, remote LAN monitoring, and an improved air filtration system. In addition, the PowerLite S4 is a bargain basement SVGA (800x600) LCD projector with 1,800 lumens for $699.

Hitachi's ED10X XGA projector is a clever design — it incorporates custom full-color housings for color-coding to deter theft. It seems that a bunch of projectors were being removed from classrooms in England for viewing the World Cup, so the unique colors should identify where the projector was pilfered. Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Epson also provide USB ports for playback of JPEG and MPEG files without a PC. Mitsubishi's XD-435U ($2,495) is a representative sample of a single-chip DLP projector with XGA resolution, and it offers 2,500 lumens in addition to the USB interface.

Down the aisle, projectiondesign had several single-chip SXGA+ (1400x1050), 720p, and even 1080p DLP projectors out for inspection. The 6-pound EVO2 SX+ ($5,495, 2,500 lumens), 6.5-pound F1+ XGA ($6,499, 3,000 lumens) and Cineo3+ 080 (1920x1080, $24,495) all caught my eye.

Canon showed its commitment to SXGA+ with the 3,500-lumens REALiS SX6 and 2,500-lumens REALiS SX60. Both were previously shown at NAB. Optoma's HD81 continued to tantalize; this single-chip, 1,200-lumens 1080p DLP design is still in the beta stage, but looked pretty darn good in demos.

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