NSCA 2006 Hot Picks
Must-see products from the show floor of the 2006 NSCA Systems Integration Expo.
Once again this year, Pro AV editors, contributors, and collaborators combed the Las Vegas Convention Center at the National Systems Contractors Association's (NSCA) 2006 Systems Integration Expo to sort through all of the new product introductions and demonstrations. Following is our collection of this year's NSCA Hot Picks — products that we believe were among the most important and significant shown. Criteria for inclusion was based on not only the subjective judgment of our anonymous panel of experts, but also those that generated general show floor “buzz” among attendees. What's interesting this year is the variety of products and companies that made the list. There are both major “one-stop supplier” manufacturers and small specialty vendors. If it provides a unique, cost-effective pro AV solution that makes life easier for the systems integrator and end-user, it's probably a Pro AV Hot Pick.
Avocent Emerge EWMS 1000 Wireless Media Streamer
Many pro AV systems integrators are hesitant to incorporate wireless video signal transmission into system designs because signal quality hasn't always lived up to the promise of the wireless world enthusiasts. But that may be changing as Avocent continues to launch wireless video transmission products that, well, really work. Following last year's buzz of the LongView wireless extender product, Avocent introduced the Emerge Wireless Media Streamer EWMS 1000. The EWMS 1000 is a wireless media streamer that broadcasts high-quality, full-motion streaming video (30 f/s, up to WXGA resolution) from virtually any source to multiple display devices, up to 1,000 feet using 802.11a bandwidth. It can be deployed in either a point-to-point (extension) or point-to-multipoint (broadcast) configuration, and supports various input/output formats, including component, S-video, composite, VGA, RS232 control, and stereo audio. The Avocent EWMS 1000 is currently available with a list price of $645 for the transmitter and $545 for the receiver.
Dolby Lake Processor
Since Dolby's acquisition of Lake Technologies in 2003, we've been waiting to see what kinds of products these two high-end brands would be capable of creating. The new Dolby Lake Processor doesn't disappoint: It's a fully networkable digital signal processing (DSP) hardware and software system, providing advanced loudspeaker management and equalization functionality with unique styling and an even more unique user interface. The Dolby Lake Processor is a configurable hardware platform, so engineers can configure it to provide up to eight independent channels of Lake's own “Mesa EQ” functionality, or up to 4x12 channels of Lake loudspeaker processing. There are five factory configurations available, any one of which can easily be upgraded or reconfigured to fit specific requirements. One of the more interesting features is its unique “Iso-Float” ground isolation technology. Iso-Float provides all of the benefits of transformer-isolated inputs and outputs for preventing ground loops in audio systems, without the expensive upgrades. Iso-Float is built into all new converter cards and provides superior performance to transformers, which can be lossy and provide less than ideal frequency response. The Dolby Lake Processor lists for $4,850 to $6,549, depending on configuration, and is currently available.
EAW Ubiquity Network
You may have missed this one on the show floor, because you can't actually “see” it. But it's indicative of what may be the most important trend in pro AV —the evolution of networking in system control and signal transmission. For years, we've borrowed networking concepts from the IT world, and have forced technologies like Ethernet and IP to work for our pro AV requirements, which has resulted in major trade-offs such as unreliable data delivery, unacceptable latency, and system complexity. Now the engineers at EAW have borrowed another one — mesh networking — and have adapted it to develop a networking concept called “Ubiquity.” Unlike conventional networking technologies, Ubiquity is a “constant-bit-rate” network; rather than allowing random access on a first-come, first-served basis, it passes constant bit rate streams at scheduled times. This “guaranteed, on-time” delivery feature is especially important in AV networks for obvious reasons. Ubiquity-enabled products already exist in the EAW and Mackie product lines, and several new ones were previewed at the show. But as cool as these products are, the “hot pick” in this case is their integration, which is enabled by Ubiquity. We suspect you'll be hearing a lot more from EAW about Ubiquity in the future.
Electro-Voice NetMax N8000 Matrix Audio Unit
Audio manufacturer Electro-Voice is advancing the cause of digital networked audio with the introduction of its new NetMax N8000 matrix audio system. The NetMax N8000 is a unique modular digital audio system controller that can be fully customized to the application. It's designed to work with Electro-Voice's IRIS-Net, which is the company's own comprehensive control and monitoring network for Electro-Voice components, Midas consoles, Klark-Teknik signal processors, and other Telex products. In addition, CobraNet functionality can be added to any configuration to handle digital audio signal transmission. One unique feature that will make system designers happy is its ability to allow the NetMax N8000 to handle all of the processing functions, or to let an external DSP elsewhere in the chain — for example, an EV RL Series amplifier — do the DSP work. The NetMax N8000 is currently shipping with a list price of $4,000 for the base chassis without modules, and $8,800 for a fully loaded N8000 including four I/O cards and a CobraNet module.
Gefen DVI to HD-SDI Scaler
The company that specializes in digital interconnectivity brings another product to market that allows even greater application of DVI-enabled AV products. Always looking to maximize the digital video chain, Gefen introduced the DVI to HD-SDI Scaler, which will be a major benefit to users of HD-SDI servers wanting to bring in sources that output DVI. This product provides simple, high-quality conversion of HD digital video from DVI computers and sources to HD-SDI displays, along with several bonus features that make it most effective for integrating two previously incompatible interfaces. A full-screen, intuitive operational menu allows users to correct color balance, filter extraneous noise and scale the video up and down as needed. Multiple video formats are supported including SMPTE, HD-SDI, NTSC, and PAL in multiple resolutions up to 1080p or 1920x1200 at 60 Hz. The product is currently shipping at a list price of $1,299.
JBL Venue Performance Series Loudspeakers
We may be at the transition point in pro audio history where powered loudspeakers are now more of a rule than an exception in pro applications. So the timing couldn't be better for JBL Professional's new Venue Performance Series of powered loudspeakers. JBL has managed to bundle many of the best of JBL transducer and Crown amplifier technologies into a series of high-performance loudspeakers intended for both installation and portable use. And each model is equipped with a modular input bay that accepts either the standard DPAN analog audio input module or the optional DPCN CobraNet digital audio input module. Both input modules feature sophisticated onboard DSP technology, including bandpass limiting, pre-equalization filters, and automatic self-test functions. Network control and monitoring is enabled through a 100 Mb Ethernet connection using HiQNet, Harman Pro's own network control protocol. The series includes three full-range models ranging in price from $5,334 to $7,500, and a powered subwoofer with a list price of $5,334. All models are currently available.
Magenta Research Mondo Matrix Cat5 Switcher
In pro AV, time is money, and so is space. System control and signal transmission electronics that save rack space also save money and time. That's why the aptly named Mondo Matrix Cat5 switcher from Magenta Research was generating so much interest at this year's NSCA Expo. This is the first Cat5 full-matrix switcher scalable to 256x256 and capable of 2048x1536 resolution computer video. By transforming RGBHV switching from the coax realm with five BNC connectors per image to the Cat5 realm with one RJ45 connector per image, the Mondo Matrix dramatically impacts the rack space and connections needed to accomplish the same switching task. This, in turn, greatly reduces the costs of cable, installation, power, and rack maintenance. Converting to video over Cat5 requires the use of Cat5 transmitters and receivers, but even with the addition of these devices, the cost and space savings can be dramatic. The Mondo Matrix is currently available, and starts at a list price of $10,250 for the 16x16 unit.
Revolabs Solo Wireless Microphone System
As pro AV technologies mature, it seems that only the largest manufacturers with massive R&D budgets can afford true innovation and product differentiation. That's why it was refreshing and somewhat surprising to see a newcomer to the NSCA Expo, Maynard, MA-based Revolabs, with an entirely new approach to videoconferencing audio. The Solo system moves the microphone off the table and closer to the source to dramatically reduce extraneous ambient noise that can lower productivity in meetings. Solo also incorporates full-duplex, wideband audio capability, and wireless transmission in the 1.9 GHz band, which enables participants to move freely and naturally while in a meeting — even to the point of leaving the room while remaining engaged in the call. Solo will be available in two form factors: the Solo Executive System, which can be configured with up to 24 wireless microphones in a single room; and the Solo Desktop system, which provides the same performance benefits, compact size, and security to individual professionals in their own offices for VoIP and IP telephony applications. The Solo Executive is priced at $8,000 (with a set of eight mics, charging base, receiver, and ear buds), and the Solo Desktop lists for $500. Systems will be shipping by the end of the month, according to the company.
Sharp PN-655 LCD Monitor
In the world of flat-panel displays, it seems bigger really is better — and the competition between plasma and LCD flat-panel technologies rages on. Plasma still has the lead in both cost and size, but many prefer the image quality and performance of LCD. Sharp's new PN-655 65-inch LCD panel certainly attracted attention on the show floor, and despite being mounted high above our heads in the booth, it still looked big. Billed as “the world's largest full-spec, high-definition commercial monitor,” it has 2-megapixel high-definition (HD) resolution for accurate and precise image reproduction and DFE (Dual-Fine Engine) technology, which enables the customer to display both computer and video content flawlessly for professional applications. With a pixel count of 1920x1080, 400 cd/m2 brightness, and a 170-degree viewing angle, it's going to be a big hit in high-profile digital signage applications. Sharp expects the PN-655 to be available in June at a list price of $27,995.
TOA DA Series Digital Multichannel Amplifiers
Recognizing the need to conserve both rack space and power requirements, TOA Electronics launched its new DA Series of digital multichannel amplifiers. Following the recent trend of “pro audio” components with “consumer electronics” styling, the first models in this series are sleek, black-faced beauties capable of four channels of 250 W into 4 ohms (or 70 V) — in a single rack space. Cooling is accomplished via front-to-back fan venting, so you can stack amplifiers without worrying about heat dissipation. But they don't get very hot anyway, because there are highly efficient, discrete digital switching power supplies on each channel. Other features include recessed stepped attenuators for precise gain calibration, removable dust filters for easy maintenance, and optional 250 W output transformers. The DA Series amplifiers will be available in May and list for $1,668 each.
Vaddio TrackVIEW Camera Control System
For presentation applications that require hands-free, automated camera tracking and preset control for instructor/presenter camera tracking, Vaddio introduced the TrackVIEW presenter control system. Used with pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, the TrackVIEW incorporates both motion-based camera tracking and camera preset tracking in one system. For applications such as distance learning, training, presentation rooms, and town hall meetings, this system enables presenters to have the camera follow them as they walk between preset camera views at the podium, whiteboard, etc. When presenters walk between shots, they stay on-camera as the system tracks them. The presenter doesn't need to wear anything, and the use of external sensors isn't required for activating the tracking camera feature. The Vaddio TrackVIEW is currently available at a list price of $7,495 to $12,995, depending on the camera used.
Xantech XTR39 Color LCD Touchscreen Remote
Resembling the ubiquitous Apple iPod, Xantech's new XTR39 touchscreen remote is sure to have instant aesthetic appeal. And its functionality extends far beyond a simple handheld remote control — it's really a room control system in a handheld device. In fact, the XTR39 can be configured to control virtually every major room system including AV systems, lighting, HVAC, and more. The large (3.9-inch) LCD touchscreen display of the XTR39 can be customized to the customer's needs, or it can be set up with programming and graphics that function identically to Xantech's Commercial in-wall LCD touchpanel. The XTR remote would be a great addition to conference rooms, training rooms, boardrooms, advanced classrooms — or any installation where the presenter or operator needs immediate access to system controls. The XTR39 LCD touchscreen remote control will start shipping to authorized Xantech dealers and distributors by the end of the month, and will list for $999.