Twenty-seven of The Sextant Group’s designers and consultants have just returned from the largest professional AV event in North America, InfoComm 2018. The result? A diverse report that reflects the remarkable creativity and innovation of the audiovisual industry. Here are the team’s top tech and trend highlights.

Sensational Visuals: Sony’s Crystal LED

Sony’s Crystal LED display was a conversation starter at InfoComm. According to Project Consultant Alex Acero CTS, this solution provides “The most beautiful large-scale moving images I have ever seen, with super deep blacks and resolution so high you could actually see the texture of both the racing asphalt and the lovely model’s face,” he said. More impressive than that was the smoothness of motion (120Hz refresh rates). Very Impressive. Very Expensive.”

Project Consultant Mark Adams CTS, PMP was equally moved. “The display is an LED wall that is 18-feet high by 32-feet wide, 4K x 8K,” he said. “It is made with 228 tiles and cost $4 million dollars. Super huge display with amazing clarity.”

In a sea of new products, Director of Project Services Sean Weida CTS also found the Sony Crystal LED display to be among the most compelling. “The massive display was nothing short of amazing, and the image quality was unsurpassed,” he said.

Boundless Potential: Projection Mapping

Dovetailing with the desire for clearer and larger visual solutions is the projection mapping trend. As Principal Consultant Joe Bocchiaro III, Ph.D., CStd, CTS-D, CTS-I, ISF-C explained, “The world is a projection screen. Thanks to the incredible digital video signal processing power now available, video artists are able to visually transform any surface into an entirely new form. Using technology called ‘projection mapping,’ or ‘video mapping,’ a projected image is adapted to the shape, size, curvature, and color of almost anything. Only a few years ago, this technology was expensive and exotic. Now it is commonplace and is even built into the signal processors within affordable video projectors.”

“This year at InfoComm, projection mapping was everywhere,” Bocchiaro added, “from large-scale to small. We could even say now that this is an entirely new artistic medium, a new art form, with boundless creative potential for entertainment, art, advertising, etc. The mind reels when considering how architects could adapt this concept to visualizing exterior building envelopes on 3D printed models.” The possibilities are endless, and the AV industry is at the heart of the innovation.

APIs, AV, and IT

InfoComm trends that resonated with Senior Consultant JP Bonin were the broader manufacturer acceptance of open versus closed software and AV’s adoption into general IT procurement and management. “Nearly every significant player was able to talk about an API that would allow for their product to work in synergy with third-party tools,” Bonin said. “Of course, this must be taken with a grain of salt, as the level of features or data that can be pulled out of any particular API is still up to that specific manufacturer. This is still a significant departure from last year’s show where many were still closed/proprietary architectures, primarily intended to protect their dealer sales channels, by which the vast majority can’t write programming code in anything other than the software tools they have been provided.”

Bonin added that as cloud services and deployments continue to become more mainstream, AV—AVoIP systems in particular—will definitely be seen as another endpoint in the IT solution architecture discussion. “I still believe that the consulting model around how AV gets worked into the IT realm is valuable and naturally creates a more direct relationship with the end-users after the architectural process,” Bonin said.

Open-Source Software in AV

Software Specialist John Donohue CTS-I was inspired by InfoComm’s educational sessions and how they contextualized trends. “The most interesting trend that I noticed was that there were multiple sessions on open-source software development in the AV industry. At the top of my list would be Brigham Young University where they have developed a complete enterprise-grade classroom AV control system out of a Raspberry Pi with a built-in seven-inch touch screen. So their control system is very cost-effective.” Donohue explained that by working with open source hardware, BYU can implement up-to-date software techniques not supported by any of the major AV manufacturers. They are also using DevOps processes like continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD). What’s the main takeaway, according to Donohue? “If the AV industry is moving in a direction where more hardware functionality is becoming virtualized, and manufacturers are increasingly focusing on software offerings, then entities making use of open source platforms are able to take the lead in implementing current day best practices. That’s pretty exciting.”

Making Sense: Coda’s Sensor Sub

Senior Systems Designer Dan Nelson CTS-D, RCDD was excited by a smart audio solution. “Coda Audio released a sensor-controlled subwoofer that sounds amazing.”

Blended and Breathtaking: Christie Digital’s Guardian

Senior Systems Designer Roger Campbell CTS-D, CTS-I is currently working on a 20-foot curved, blended projection image featuring Christie’s boxer line of projectors, so he might be a bit biased in his top InfoComm pick. Christie Digital’s Guardian tops his list. “Guardian is an optional auto-alignment feature that not only aids the integrator in the setup of multiple blended projectors, but it also continuously monitors the image and adjusts the blending/alignment on the fly, during the presentation without interrupting the show,” Campbell said. “This is quite a value-add for the ongoing care of a blended projection system.”

Artificial Intelligence Gets Smarter

Principal Consultant Greg Clark CTS, INCE was inspired by the artificial intelligence trend and correlating products at InfoComm, specifically the gathering and execution of AI with the use of video cameras and facial recognition software. “Several manufacturers were using these tools to collect data for automation and/or analytics,” Clark stated. “Many are using it for auto-tracking features, but some are also collecting data to provide business insights related to room usage, demographics, behavior patterns, etc. I’ll also note that the 8K video displays were stunning.”

Senior Systems/GUI Designer Jesse Fishman CTS-D, DSCE was also energized by AI at InfoComm. “Panasonic’s facial recognition software was truly a stand-out. Other manufacturers may have had similar products on display, but this is the only one about which I was able to ask questions to the engineer,” Fishman said. “While intended for auto-tracking for capture, Raj, the product engineer, said that we can create custom programming and use their API for other applications. This is a product seemingly ready to implement [into enterprise-grade applications].”

Dazzling Displays and Practical Mapping

Vice President of Client Services John Cook CTS was delighted by the creative use of displays that he witnessed at InfoComm. For example, he saw LED fans that made an image appear to be 3D and floating. “It includes affordable, changeable content, which is key,” he said. He also highlighted projection mapping on a scale that actually looks practical. “I could certainly see a campus mascot hanging in a dining area of a student union and using projection mapping effectively. The mascot could be 3D-printed and changed as needed.” Next-gen projectors—hidden in furniture and shaped like lighting fixtures—also impressed Cook.

Also on the practical mapping front, Senior Systems Designer Dan Nelson CTS-D, RCDD discovered that “Lightform has brought the price of projection mapping down to under $700.”

Problem Solver: Lightware OPTJ

Projection mapping and LEDs bring the sizzle, but smart products that solve real problems are what Project Consultant David Davis CTS-D, CTS-I enjoys finding. “The Lightware OPTJ extenders and rack mount kit allows up to 16 HDMI transmitters and receivers to be housed in a single 1U chassis,” Davis said. “To accomplish the same thing, previous solutions have consumed more than 5U and required much more power and heat dissipation.”

Edge of the Cutting-Edge: OLED and VR Audio

With all the exciting technologies, Senior Systems Designer Ed Dukstein CTS-D couldn’t choose just one favorite. Dukstein gave high marks to the Hologruf 3D Holographic display, Sony Crystal LED Wall, LG Digital OLED Wallpaper and Open Frame flexible OLED Signage, and Samsung FliP and 32:9 displays. But it wasn’t all video that caught his eye. He also lauded the SSL Live consoles and the Sonic Surf VR spatial audio.

Like Dukstein, Project/Software Consultant Matt Keene appreciated LG’s OLED innovations. “The transparent displays and signage wall paper have endless possibilities,” Keene said.

Why Give a Hoot About 360? Check Out Owl Labs

Senior Consultant Tim Engelhardt’s head was turned by the Owl Labs Meeting Owl, a 360-degree camera and mic for small room videoconference applications. The audio tracks the speaker and sets a view of the person while maintaining a panorama view on screen of the entire room.

Acoustician Approved: d&b Soundscape

Senior Julie Fischer INCE, LEED AP BD+C was intrigued by the d&b soundscape audio demonstration. “I was fascinated by the ability to localize where a person was standing and turn the speaker on above that person so that the audience can better focus on the speech and not where the sound is coming from,” Fischer said. “As an acoustician, I would always rather see a room designed properly rather than rely on technology to make a space usable. However, it is nice to know that there is a system out there that sounds good for those spaces that are either challenging, such as an outdoor opera, as well as spaces that may already be designed and are looking for a solution,” she said.

Senior Consultant Jim Viviano CTS was also impressed by the d&b Soundscape software. “Being an audio enthusiast at heart, I have been waiting a lifetime for this development and was amazed at how d&b is able to precisely place a sound source exactly where it sits in the physical space.”

Need to Stream? Try the Turret

Systems Designer Don Fisher CTS-D admired the prototype version of the Marantz Professional Turret. “The Turret delivers a unique, easy-to-use solution for users who have a need for a complete high-performance system for streaming and podcasting. It was introduced last year. However, the new version this year has a boundary mic instead of one on an arm. I think this makes it perfect for use in public library podcast rooms, ‘one-button’ studios, and one-to-one VTC systems.”

Immersive Audio Advances

For Principal Consultant Mark Gillis CTS-D, the trend that stood out in Vegas was immersive audio. “A number of manufacturers in past years—Lexicon, Yamaha, and Meyer—have all made a big deal with their DSP electro-acoustic capabilities. I think this with the recent advancements in beam steering microphones and DSP power has enabled a push way beyond the 5.1, 7.2, or other iterations of surround sound. A number of speaker manufacturers were all demonstrating their own version of immersive audio. I visited L’Acoustics, Renkus-Heinz (using TiMax software), and d&b (Soundscape software), I was most impressed with the d&b demo.” Gillis even sat in the Ford Motor Company VR motion chair with immersive audio in the headset as part of the experience.

App Collaboration: Quirk Logic Quilla

Principal Consultant Mark Grassi CTS-D chose The Quirk Logic Quilla as an InfoComm showstopper. “It is a digital whiteboard product that uses e-paper technology and app-based collaboration,” he explained. “The product allows multiple boards to collaborate and show annotation from near or far. It has extremely responsive annotation capabilities. It can work wirelessly on batteries and Wi-Fi or it can be hard-wired to power and network. Up to 10 boards can collaborate on the same content and, via the app, unlimited virtual users can collaborate.”

Bar None: Leon

Sound bars are not new, but not all are created equally. Vice President of Operations Pat Padovan CTS-D said that Leon Commercial Audio Solutions’ custom sound bars for FPDs are sensational.

Wireless Wonder: Intel Unite

Next-gen software was everywhere at InfoComm, but Project/Software Consultant Matt Keene points to Intel Unite platform as a standout. “Rooms with an Intel computer can be configured to share content wirelessly from other user devices like laptops and tablets without additional hardware,” Keene said. “The application is quite easy and actually adds additional features like the ability to distribute wireless content across multiple monitors. This free application flexes Intel’s hardware and software without the need for costly third-party devices.”

Art of Sound Masking: Plantronics

Senior Consultant Alexis Kurtz LEED AP was impressed by many products in Las Vegas, but as an acoustician and a sustainability expert, she was moved by the The Habitat SoundScaping. “Plantronics developed a new sound masking system following the failure of the typical sound masking system they had installed in their open office,” Kurtz said. “The white noise was causing headaches and fatigue in their employees. So, they turned to some white papers (one by the Finish Institute) that showed worker productivity increased dramatically in acoustic environments with natural sounds, and others that showed trickling water has noise levels in the same frequencies as human speech, lending itself to being used as a good noise-masker.”

Unique USB

Sometimes a small product makes a big impression. Principal Consultant Matt LeFeber CTS was struck by “One of those little booths, Inogenie, with a niche product that can get you out of a bind. This product will take two USB cameras and either switch between them to one USB 3.0 output or mix them as a side-by-side or PiP,” LeFeber said. “Pretty cool little box.”

8K All the Way: Digital Projection

Project Consultant Matt Letsinger CTS said, “The best thing that I saw at the show was the 8K projector by Digital Projection. This was the first 8K projector ever at the show—pretty impressive.”

Pricey But It Pops: The Wall by Samsung

Senior Consultant Kelly Stumpf CTS thought Samsung’s “The Wall” was very impressive, including the price. “It has a super thin construction and really impressive clarity, all for the price of a starter home in Colorado,” she said.

Killer App From TIDE

InfoComm innovations started before the show even began for President and CEO Mark Valenti. “On Tuesday, I attended the unexpectedly excellent TIDE Conference. The opening speaker described to us a program he developed to connect disparate peoples around the world using a portable, low-cost videoconferencing system developed under a program he dubbed ‘Shared Studios.’ This inflatable portal was very powerful and strikes me as a killer app for our community library projects,” Valenti added.

IT-Friendly Solutions and BYOC

Principal Consultant Tim Waters CTS discovered technology solutions that will be particularly applicable for his higher education and corporate clients. “Barco’s Overture Meeting Room Management Platform is an IT-friendly, scalable for enterprise-wide deployment,” Waters said, “and it offers centralized AV control, management, and monitoring. It runs as a Virtual Machine (VM) ‘on-prem’ which can be hosted by most enterprise IT virtualized server environments OR via Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in the Cloud.”

Waters also highlighted the BYOC (Bring Your Own Conferencing) ‘Wrapper Middleware’ UI Software. This is a new category of software released to improve and simplify user experience when utilizing software-based BYOC. Examples include ZiipRoom and Quicklaunch by UC Workspace. “I’ve coined the phrase ‘Wrapper Middleware’ to define the role it may play in providing a consistent user experience regardless of conferencing software in use such as WebEx Teams, Microsoft Teams, Citrix GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and more.”

These 27 insights reflect extraordinary product achievements, but perhaps the most promising picture that emerges is that there are no limits to where AV can make an impact. When it comes to integrated audiovisual experiences, with bold ideas and a talented team, anything is possible.