I’ve just spent a few days at InfoCommShow 2011, the biggest event for audio/visual systems, solutions and devices in the US and probably worldwide, which took place in Orlando. It attracted more than 900 companies to exhibit and more than 30.000 visitors. The event was also running several educational sessions and demonstrations.
InfoComm is a trade where to find most A/V solutions for professionals and enterprises. To ease navigating the exhibition, the floor was divided in a few thematic areas (which is quite consistent with the Orlando spirit of hosting several theme parks): unified collaborative conferencing, 3D, digital signage, audio, lighting and staging. In fact around the show you could find displays and projectors, telepresence systems, multi-touch technologies, A/V cables, racks, cameras, microphones, mixers, speakers and more. Most of the best of breed companies of the sector were present, including Cisco, HP, NEC, Samsung, Bose, Barco, LG, Sharp…
The A/V market is flourishing, with a positive CAGR of about 9%. Yet the market is changing: convergence with Information Technology is stronger and stronger, most content is today transported on IP and cables have been joined by wireless as well.
A quick glance to show floor would have given the impression of being in Time Square, New York, more than at the Orlando Orange County Convention Center, due to the massive presence of displays all around: LED displays of different sizes and form-factors, bezel multi-monitor displays, and multi-projector displays. The latter were mainly powered by an edge-blending software solution patented by Scalable Display Technologies, an MIT spin-off, capable of running up to six projectors on one GPU. Scalable enables to create highly immersive displays with a relatively inexpensive solution. Some of the LED displays were used to visualize 3D content, but requiring eyewear, which severely limits their scope. Autostereoscopic displays were not present at InfoComm.
Several telepresence systems were demonstrated with real-time conferencing sessions. I personally attended a demo of the new Halo prototype by HP, which integrates a touch-screen control instead of the classic IP phone and can integrate other incoming videocalls, and demos of other telepresence systems by Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize. The telepresence main cues are currently HD video quality and a set-up to provide virtual eye gaze (to provide realism), stereo sound (to identify who is talking). From the technological point of view not much has been done in order to increase immersiveness: when I asked if 3-D displays were going to be adopted, the experts told me that they envision them to support presentation delivery but not to augment the visual impact of the virtual meeting participants. A few companies, like TelepresenceTech, were proposing to add a fake 3-D effect leveraging on the Pepper’s Ghost effect: the solution consists in putting a semireflective glass at 45° in front of the LCD display to reflect a selected background and creating the sensation that the virtual person was standing beyond this background.
VGO Communications, an American start-up recently getting $4,5 million funding in Virtual Capital, created a “telepresence” robot that moves on wheels and integrates an LCD display on its head together with speakers and micro. The robot is telecontrolled by the person that wants to remotely communicate. What the VGO robots do is in fact to carry our “physical” avatar around. This concept is particularly interesting for disabled people who want to extend their presence in the place where they live, without installing videocams, micros and speakers in each room.