The international trade show landscape has taken on a pleasantly uplifting complexion this year. While the credit crunch continues to bite, the year's early European forums - at ISE in Amsterdam and Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt - could scarcely have been more positive.
Would this bullish reaction continue when the caravan moved out to the Middle East or would there be a sense of anti-climax now that the vast level of development in Dubai has dried up?
Unquestionably PALME 2009 was down in terms of both attendance and participation but there was nonetheless a fairly universal sense of satisfaction - particularly among integration companies.
While some complained that the show's proximity to Frankfurt (measured in time if not in distance) had a negative effect, the biggest debate was centred on whether the balance of power was finally moving an hour and a half down the Sheikh Zayed Road to Abu Dhabi?
While many exhibitors believe that Abu Dhabi is where the investment money is right now, they reported visits from a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Jordon, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan_ and beyond; this seemed to have consolidated Dubai's position as an international hub.
However, the fact that the Middle East has full exposure to the world's cutting-edge products - from beam steering arrays to remote access security and interactive and IP networks - further underlines the need for local technician training (rather than continuing to rely on expat skills).
Jerome Gueras, Extron vice president of sales, EMEA, summed it up when he said: "We spend a lot of time on training and this show is the result of two years' worth of investment. We have trained 114 people over four days, and we are delighted with that, as Dubai has the most advanced projects in the world."
Alexander Hennig, creative director, LOBO electronic, confessed: "We were scared we would suffer from the economic situation but we have just broken our all-time record for the number of contacts taken on the second day at this show. We didn't expect it, and it caught us by surprise."
Visitors had come from across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area and India, and as far afield as Europe and the Mediterranean to see their spectacular laser show, he said. The product in focus was the new Sparks laser, which provided the engine. This year's spectacular show was called H20, developed with the creative team Oceans Discoveries and combining underwater footage with 3D animation and the use of two water screens.
Gold sponsors Mindstec Distribution had the only two-deck stand this year and presented a range of dynamic products from various companies. These included QOMO HiteVision - which specialises in providing interactive whiteboards (up to 105in), visual presenters, RF wireless tablets, document cameras - and a range of interactive screen-based products from other suppliers including U-Touch, Vtron, Cabletime and Mitsubishi.
Touchscreen expert U-Touch's transformation of the 103in Panasonic plasma into the largest interactive plasma screen on the market was a real show highlight, while Mike Cuckow demonstrated how the range of Cabletime Media Star Evolution devices can be used to deliver TV, multimedia and digital signage to a wide audience over IP networks. Vtron interactive multicube digital display systems were also on view.
Christie provided an irresistible display built around a 3D cinema, to display their new CP2000-M digital projector - and plenty were willing to don the 3D active glasses.
This was backed up by Christie's new cubes and wall controller, the M Series - and most importantly the new Christie Vista URS-1608 Universal Routing Switcher. Independent of any particular format, the URS-1608 is an all-in-one matrix switcher that accepts multiple sources. The 16 inputs can be a mix of analogue BNC and DVI signals, while the eight outputs natively support any display from component analogue 480i to digital 4K. This means that a source in any format connected to any of the 16 inputs can be routed and scaled to any display that is driven by any of the eight outputs of the URS-1608.
In the control automation market AMX has an enviable market share in the Middle East, with grand projects such as Burj Dubai, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and Giorgio Armani Hotels in its portfolio. This is largely due to the company's alliance with Brivo, whose IP-based secure access control integrates seamlessly with AMX automation controls and IPTV solutions.
Also on the stand was Sabrine Dobbelaar of Chief Manufacturing, which offers a complete line of mounts, lifts and accessories for projectors and plasma and LCD/plasma flat panel screens.
New at the show was the ingeniously engineered Fusion universal mounting system, which focuses on usability and speed of installation, and was designed to solve some of the toughest installation challenges; it is available in fixed or tilt models for 26in-75in TVs.
Mitsubishi showed a full range of projectors, LCD monitors, DLP rear-projection cube and indoor and outdoor LED projectors (with HD and WXGA widescreen projectors).
New at the show was the Seventy Series, which introduces new levels of automation and machine intelligence to make it easier to maintain display walls. With an increased mean time between failures equivalent to over 10 years of continuous operation, new levels of automatic image maintenance and all built-in processing (controlling up to six windows per screen) the Seventy Series is a sophisticated display wall controller.
Also shown was Resolia 140, a plug and play 4mm 3-in-1 LED display. The Resolia's discrete, single-module construction makes it a very flexible, high-quality LED solution, ideal for wall or suspended mounting.
Projectiondesign introduced a number of new products, co-exhibiting with Dataton with its Watchout multi-display software and screen manufacturer Projecta.
Revolutionary active stereo 3D projector, the F10AS3D, demonstrated full 3D stereoscopic visualisation from a small, single-lens chassis.
Alongside this the F22 sx+ featured the latest VIDI lamp technology from Philips, along with a revised colour management and enhanced configuration options, while firing onto a large 16:10 aspect ratio screen was the F80 WUXGA projector.
Finally came the extra-wide 7m x 2m screen which showed edge-blended images using Watchout multi-image display software from Dataton from three F32 WUXGA projectors, showing a total resolution of 4200 x 1200 pixels.
Extron showed The Annotator for the first time. This is a high-performance, hardware-based annotation processor that offers live annotation capabilities plus high-performance scaling and switching on any type of display. With an intuitive graphical user interface, a presenter can easily draw, point, or add text to motion video or still images using a touchscreen display and/or a keyboard and mouse. The Annotator's seven-input switcher supports analogue and digital video formats including RGB, DVI, and HD-SDI, simplifying system design and significantly reducing overall system.
Harman distributor GSL introduced the BSS-BOB output expander to its acclaimed Soundweb London family of digital signal processors. This break-out box complements the seven other members of the Soundweb London family and represents an inexpensive solution to increasing the number of outputs in a Harman HiQnet networked system.
From sister company dbx, the new 1260m, 1261m, 640m and 641m joined the existing 1260, 1261, 640 and 641. The new ZonePRO devices share the same total numbers of inputs and outputs as their equivalent siblings but feature additional mic/line inputs.
Bosch Communications, represented by Helmut Seidl and Klaus Seitz, have good representation in the GCC countries, and several other companies (such as AVL and NMK) were showing their product.
On display were Electro-Voice Q Series amplifiers, Innovation fixed installation speakers, N8000-1500 powerful loudspeaker controller (with FIR-Drive) and CPS (Contractor Precision Series) amplifiers. From Dynacord came the CXM 15 monitor, DSA multichannel and two-channel power amplifiers, P 64-1500 Digital Audio Matrix Manager Audio System Controller, PROMATRIX 8000 (uniting the requirements of a large-scale sound system with an evacuation system), EVA (Expandable Vertical Array) and SL Series amplifiers.
Tannoy followed up the launch of QFlex self-powered, digitally steerable loudspeaker arrays last year by introducing the 'line array killer' VQ series. This is designed for any application where precise directional control, outstanding sonic performance, and high SPLs are critical issues. Following on from this is a touring version of the VQ speaker system - VQ Live.
Graham Hendry, Tannoy director of business development, stated: "This show is still a platform for what is going on outside Dubai. All the project work is outside Dubai but Dubai is still the place to network, it's the international hub."
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Meyer Sound showcased a number of products including D-Mitri, digital audio platform, and seven new loudspeakers targeting high-end cinema (with Cinema Experience), commercial sound, and live sound production markets.
Mauricio Saint Martin, director of Middle East sales, said: "We need to be here and although there are not many large-scale projects at present there are a few smaller ones. We are seeing more activity in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman and we are starting to see a lot more requests from Saudi Arabia."
Especially encouraged by the reaction at PALME were Algis Sidiskis and Robertas Lucinskas of AMC Baltic: AMC produces its own range of public address and voice evacuation products, acoustic systems, amps and preamps, and announcement mics. It had come to Dubai looking for distributors.
"We have had interest from Oman, Syria, Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, India, Bahrain, Qatar and Nigeria - all serious people - and we have literally filled our contacts book. We didn't plan to come here until 1 April - thank goodness we did, as we will end up with both distributors and firm orders," said Sidiskis.
Many other leading companies were represented on the stands of distributors. One of them, Thomsun, had a relatively complex Optocore system rigged up with dual independent Optocore networks using two DD2FE devices to create a MADI matrix between the networks so that audio could be passed between them. This enabled Optocore to demonstrate both Yamaha Head Amp control from a PM5D on one network, as well as EtherSound audio transport and Head Amp control from a Yamaha M7CL on the second network, perfectly illustrating the principle of using Optocore as a backbone infrastructure product.
So, all in all, a satisfactory convention, in which education played its part; the emerging Emirates territories will have learnt much by their exposure to this show.