Thursday, June 12, 2014

Infocomm 2014 - For What I'll be Looking (A Pixel-and-Ink Stained Look Ahead)

Infocomm time is almost here! I'll resume my tradition from last year and  share with you my thoughts on things for which to look on the show floor. Those of you following the discussion online should be aware that my esteemed colleague, AV wunderkind Alex Mayo has already weighed in on this from the cubicle next-door. He has much of it right, and perhaps missed an item or two which I'd have found interesting.

Things for which I'm not looking:
I'll start off taking a step backwards at what I'll not be looking for. If you're looking for me on the show floor, this is where to not find me (and if you're avoiding me, this is where to go):

HDBaseT. Yes, I still use HDBaseT in many, many designs and don't see it going away. It's just reached the point at which it is somewhat commodified and not all that interesting. Without thinking too hard, I'm sure most readers of this blog can think of a half dozen or more companies  with the same product line: modular matrix switcher, all-in-one presentation switcher, 2-gang wallplate transmitter, standalone transmitter, scaling receiver, etc. Nice technology, but the differences have become fine enough that there isn't all that much more to learn. It certainly isn't the future.

Big Manufacturers. I don't like to do "booth tours" with the big players in the industry: the Crestrons and AMXs and such. It's one reason that Extron's disappearance from Infocommland doesn't affect me all that much; I know what Crestron and AMX are up to. I know what QSC and most of the Harman family are up to. Between training classes, social events and the like I'll probably only have about 6 hours or so on the trade floor; I don't want to chew those up visiting things that I'll read a press release about the next day anyway.

So for What Will I Look?
That's the big question: what is the story this Infocomm? Last year part of what caught my attention was the UC pavillion with various hardware, software, and virtualized MCUs and bridging services. Last year also showed us the first Lync room systems, which represented a push for Microsoft to leverage their success in desktop conferencing  to larger spaces. What will we see this year? A few things.

AVB. "The breakout year for AVB" has been predicted every year for at least three years now. In the meantime, Dante has overtaken it as the defacto standard of audio transport over networks (and yes, I know that Dante isn't an open standard. Neither was Cobranet, but that had a very central place for a long time). That said, I've heard some rumblings about finally sending video over AVB, including rumors of some video products in varying stages of development. If we're to move towards a more "converged" world there will need to be some way to synchronize audio and video streams from different network devices. It is my hope that AVB's time synchronization protocol (IEEE 802.1AS) will achieve this. If so, AVB suddenly becomes very interesting. There's been at least one manufacturer teasing a video product, which may or may not see the show floor.

Dante: With AVB dragging its heels, Dante has emerged as the dominant technology for audio transport over networks. Audinate has announced that their 150th partner product will be unveiled at Infocomm AND that they have a new and "disruptive" (their word) software update. Is this a grab for attention, or is there something exciting there? Audinate's track record is such that I'll at least check.

4KUncompressed: Like it or not, have skepticism or not, 4K is coming. With the Valens HDBaseT chipset lacking the bandwidth to deliver 4K (or UHD) content at 60 frames per second with a 12-bit color depth the field is wide open. A few manufacturers have teased solutions and strategies, some of which may see the show floor. 

4K, Compressed: 4K content requires quite a bit of bandwidth, and that means some form of compression. Haivision unveiled an HEVC  (aka H.265) encoder at NAB; one other manufacturer has hinted that they might be looking at the open-source VP9 as an alternative. Which of these takes the biggest market share is an interesting 

Something Different
This falls under the "I'll know it when I see it" category. There's a temptation to take the new and treat it as an extension of the familiar. To think of an IP-based AV transcoder, for example, as an endpoint for a virtualized "matrix switch". To think of Dante and AVB as audio transport busses rather than routable protocols adding some freedom. As I said in the HDBaseT category, there are quite a few manufacturers - on the audio and video side - offering near-identical product lines. For an example of thinking differently, I'll look at one product not appearing at Infocomm: Extron's five-mic input Dante expansion box. This isn't a break-in box so much as a complete DSP with no analog outputs. Rather than send audio from a break-in box to a centrally located DSP for processing, Extron chose to apply filters, EQ, and even AEC locally in a little half-rack sized mini-processor box, then send the processed audio (plus dry) via Dante.  It's a fundamentally different approach and, along with Virtual Soundcard, can lead to some interesting design alternatives.

That's where my eyes will be on my whirlwind through the show floor. As I said, I'll also be taking some classes (more on those when I get back), and meeting some AV friends. Socially, you can expect to see me at the AVTweeps Tweetup and, of course, to see the Drunk Unkles at the Hardrock. Fun fact: With my current position at Shen, Milsom and Wilke I've now worked with two of the "Unkles" - Steve Emspak now, and Felix Robinson back in my AVI-SPL days. 

I'll close with some random snapshots from last Infocomm, in no particular order and for no particular reason. I look forward to seeing some of you, my readers, there. If you spot me, feel free to say hello!

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