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Picture This: InfoComm 2006

Jul 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Display industry growing by leaps and resolutions.


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InfoComm's image display menu has grown quite a bit since the heady days of the great Projection Shoot-Out. Sure, there's still the Large Venue Gallery, but as InfoComm 2006 illustrated, the show has moved far beyond just projection. Today, digital signage, videoconferencing, video over IP, and flat panels are all vying to be headliners in a maturing industry, along with good, old, reliable projector news.

Christie Digital HD12K

Much like NAB earlier this year, a lot of the video-related buzz at InfoComm 2006 had to do with supporting high-definition video, even in the videoconferencing category. Sony's Ipela, also shown at NAB, offers excellent, broadcast-quality picture quality, but also demands a fairly high bandwidth commitment. LifeSize's now-shipping version of LifeSize Room, meanwhile, uses long GOP H.264 compression to achieve full-resolution 1280×720 video at bit rates of roughly 1Mbps. The image quality can admittedly falter if there is a lot of movement on screen, but for customary videoconferencing usage, picture quality is very good. LifeSize Room is an all-in-one suite of products that includes an HD camera, an audio phone, and the H.264 codec for about $12,000.

THREE-CHIP 1080P

The biggest news in front projection also involved support for native HD video, with both Christie Digital and Barco introducing the first native 1920×1080, three-chip DLP projectors using the 1080p chip announced by Texas Instruments last fall. Of course, several projectors have been available with native 2048×1080, but these are the first three-chip DLP models to match the video resolution of 1080i and 1080p HD video. While it's true that 1920×1080 LCoS and LCD projectors have been available for a long time, DLP's reflective micro-mirror technology offers a brightness advantage for rental and staging and fixed-install markets, where ambient light, or just filling a large venue with light, is critical.

At InfoComm, Christie Digital introduced no fewer than five new three-chip DLP, native 1080 projectors in a variety of brightness categories, ranging from the 4000-lumen Christie HD5Kc up to the 12,000-lumen Christie HD12K. If the 5K part of the model name for a 4000-lumen projector strikes you as odd, don't worry, you're not alone. Christie actually has two HD5K models that are almost the exact same physically, both with the same light engine and Xenon Bubble lamp system. The difference between the HD5K and the HD5Kc is a yellow notch filter that affords a more pure set of primaries, and therefore truer colors for studios and other color critical applications, but ultimately blocks some of the brightness compared to the base model. Christie's 8000-lumen HD8K and 7000-lumen HD8Kc share the same technological difference.

If it's brightness you need, Barco's 18,000-lumen FLM HD18 and 14,000-lumen FLM HD14 pack an even brighter punch. They're both also three-chip DLP models using the same 1080p (1920×1080) DLP chips as the Christie models. Both Barco models and all five Christie projectors feature 10-bit processing for the highest possible video image quality.

Extron Fox 500

MATURING INDUSTRY

Presentation switchers and seamless switchers are nothing new to InfoComm, but this year, we saw a clear sign that the AV and presentation industries are becoming more sophisticated. Three companies introduced new switchers that felt a lot more like video production switchers of the broadcast world than the relatively modest, front-panel, button-controlled switchers we've seen before.

Indeed, Grass Valley, with its enormous broadcast production legacy, debuted a working prototype of the new Indigo AV mixer. Indigo is a tactile control panel, complete with audio faders and a video fader bar for smooth dissolves, and other 2D and 3D transition effects. It accepts SD and HD video sources, as well as DV, and it offers a number of advanced production features such as memory keys and macros. However, it's significantly smaller, and therefore both more portable and less intimidating than a broadcast panel, and more focused on the needs of the AV industry.

Analog Way's Axion, shown as a non-working technology statement at InfoComm, is a similar tabletop control unit, with even more programmable keys for setting up specific effects or series of effects, and a video fader bar for smooth manual transitions. Axion will be able to control one or multiple Analog Way Octo FX switchers simultaneously, including the new OctoVue FX that debuted at NAB.

Broadcast Pix's new Slate 100 comes from the other direction. Broadcast Pix already has a mature control panel switcher, although arguably one that is closer to a broadcast switcher, and therefore more intimidating for a small AV presentation production crew. The new Slate 100 brings all video I/O down to a series of expansion cards in the Slate Windows XP computer, and more intriguingly, puts all your switcher and source controls on a touchscreen LCD monitor. So instead of hitting buttons that correspond to graphics, video clips, and effects, now you are touching pictures of the graphics and video frames directly on the touchscreen. This makes video switching intuitive, while remaining both powerful and professional.

Extron also introduced a more traditional six-input presentation seamless switcher called the ISS 506 seamless switcher, but it's one that supports both SD and HD inputs, as well as optional SDI and HD-SDI, through Extron's customary programmable inputs. There's also a preview-out facility (akin to that of broadcast switchers), as well as dual-program out. The ISS 506 seamless switcher also supports six channels of audio.

Fiber optics got a big boost this year, with both Magenta Research and industry super heavyweight, Extron, deciding that now is the time for fiber. Extron's new Fox 500 is a transmitter/receiver combination for sending high-resolution (up to 1600×1200) RGB, plus audio and RS-232 control. Magenta's Infinea DVI, meanwhile, can send native DVI over fiber or Cat-6.

You might think that competition from a market force like Extron might make life difficult for smaller existing fiber companies such as Communications Specialties, but that's not how I see it. Instead, I suspect the increased attention on fiber, especially from big names like Extron, will only cause more installers to see fiber as a serious option. If so, Communications Specialties' broader fiber product line offers more solutions, including the newly announced Fiberlink 7500 capable of 1920×1200 resolution DVI over fiber.

The big digital signage news at InfoComm 2006 was Scala's launch of InfoChannel 5. It's a new version of Scala's powerful digital signage suite that offers significantly better playback by leveraging the graphics card of the local display system, including local rendering of 3D effects and objects, and video backgrounds. InfoChannel 5 also now supports Java, J2EE, and Ajax in an easier-to-use Infochannel Designer, and a much better database and content management within a new Infochannel Content Manager.

Finally, Avocent offered a modest improvement to an existing product this year at InfoComm. Avocent showed a new set of optional, directional mouse ear antennas for the Emerge wireless streamer, which dramatically increases transition distance. The 802.11a wireless technology remains the same, but with a clear line of sight, you can now send video up to 1,000ft. without cables using the improved antennas.



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