By David Drain
Executive Director, Digital Screenmedia Association
Last week I attended InfoComm, the annual trade show for the audio-visual industry, run by the association of the same name. For you hash taggers, it was known as #InfoComm12. It was my fourth InfoComm show to attend in the past five years and, as always, it was a feast for the senses. For many exhibitors, it was certainly a "go big or go home" strategy: huge booths, with mammoth screens and visually compelling content.
With more than 34,000 attendees and 933 exhibitors, the show is crazy big. Just when you think you've reached the end, there is another hall to explore. My main area of interest was the digital signage pavilion, though not everyone in that pavilion necessarily fits that moniker and certainly several digital signage providers (particularly the screen manufacturers) are not in the digital signage area.
Digital signage is one of four main pavilions or special exhibit areas; the others being audio, unified collaborative conferencing (aka video conferencing) and lighting & staging. Even though I was only interested in one out of the four areas, it still takes a solid two days to see the show in my opinion.
While this is mainly a hardware show, there are some software providers and even a few content providers. Here are some trends I noted from the show:
1. Tiles. While I give credit to Christie for introducing the tile-type screen with its MicroTiles product, there are other square-shaped tile screen providers such as eyevis, Planar, Prysm and Samsung Electronics.
2. Transparency. Though not new, transparent screens proliferated and continued to get a lot of attention at the show. Providers of such screens include Planar, Samsung, LG Electronics, ViewSonic Corp. and Vinyl I/The V (dba Translook). It's difficult to tell whether each of these companies manufactures their own product or if any of them buy from the same source.
3. Large-format multitouch. The technology has advanced to where multitouch on 55-inch screens and larger are possible. 3M, Christie (powered by Baanto ShadowSense), Elo, GestureTek, Lumio, NextWindow and Perceptive Pixel (Jeff Han's company) are some of the notable providers, but this is not an exhaustive list.
4. Unusual shapes/configurations. If someone is concerned that the rectangular 16:9 format screen on the wall might be ignored, screens now come in all shapes and sizes. Or you can take rectangular screens and place them in unusual configurations. German-based eyevis' omniSHAPES product is a tile that not only comes in square, but also in polygon and hexagon, shapes that can be used on a flat, concave or convex wall. LED manufacturers tout the versatility of configurations and flexibile products like Nanolumens.
5. Outdoor. There are special considerations and enclosures needed to make an outdoor screen work, or one facing the outside (think outward-facing shop windows) or even in an indoor environment with a lot of ambient light. LG's new "Shine Out" display is not only bright, but deflects ambient light and prevents color wash (blackout). SunBriteTV also introduced a new all-weather display.
6. Kinect interaction. GestureTek was the pioneer in gesture interaction, but now that there are all sorts of Microsoft Kinect camera hacks (and I mean that positively), several exhibitors showed off their Kinect interaction capability. A woman in the Advantech booth was selecting clothing that appeared on her frame a la augmented reality. When she selected a handbag, the bag moved around with her as she moved her arm. Probably not practical, but could be fun in retail.
7. Fewer computers/media players. I can get in over my head in a hurry when things get too technical, but I heard from more than one exhibitor how their media player can drive multiple screens, independently off one player. Actineon's new Wiisper model can run 12 1080p signals off one player. It was voted one of the best new products of InfoComm in a contest sponsored by NEC Display Solutions.
There were several other notable items at the show:
Projection mapping. Christie wowed visitors to its booth with 3D projection mapping on a pyramid.
3D. Though less dominant at the show than previous years, there were still plenty of people donning glasses to view 3D screens. LG actually had a 3D video wall. Exceptional 3D was showing its glasses-free 3D screen in the X2O Media booth. Mike Egan said that there would be 821 Exceptional 3D screens running X2O by the third quarter, mostly in convenience stores, groceries and travel plazas.
Gorilla Glass. I was pleased to see Corning, manufacturers of Gorilla Glass, exhibiting at InfoComm for the first time. You'll find Gorilla Glass on the iPhone and hundreds of other mobile devices. It's thin and durable. It can now be scaled to 55- and 82-inch multitouch applications, which were being shown in the Perceptive Pixel booth. If you haven't seen their "A Day Made of Glass" videos, you've got to check them out on YouTube.
Turnkey solutions. Since digital signage can be complex, many companies offer an all-in-one solution. EZ Sign TV has doubled LG's hybrid business, according to Dan Smith, director of signage sales. He said that 90 percent of screens used for digital signage are still consumer grade, which shows that buyers still need a lot of education when it comes to why consumer-grade screens are a short-sighted decision in a commercial application.
Projector stacking. NEC was one exhibitor demonstrating how to get very high resolution on a large screen by assigning a projector to one quadrant and seamlessly integrating the image.
What caught your attention at the show or what did I miss? Leave your comments below.
Photos courtesy of David Drain.
Read more about digital signage trends.