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Top product picks from the year so far

Installation has featured a plethora of impressive product launches so far this year, we look at the impact that the most significant solutions have had across the industry.

Starting with displays, the level of R&D and pure competition across this sector is reflected in the number of technologies vying for market share. While LCD remains the safest and most versatile option, LED has become a genuine force with more of the major players in the industry introducing LED solutions. SiliconCore is leading the way with its Camellia 0.95mm LED display, which is the lowest pixel pitch LED display in production.

SiliconCore’s LED driver chip features a high-speed pixel clock, ensuring the display has the bandwidth to reach 4K while maintaining brightness, colour depth and uniformity. Common Cathode technology reduces power consumption by up to 40%, which generates less heat as well as extending the lifespan to over 100,000 hours.

“The high-end LED display industry is driven by demands for increasing resolution, which is why we have seen such a change in the last three years in dramatically reduced pixel pitch,” says Steve Scorse, VP of EMEA for SiliconCore. “At the same time, we’ve seen costs coming down, and this has really impacted the industry in terms of increased adoption and more creative applications.”

One of the most exciting recent developments in the industry is OLED, which has significant upside such as improved image quality and reduced power consumption; however at this point the technology is still spoken of more in terms of potential. Additionally, HDR (high dynamic range) offers many advantages in terms of picture quality, promising higher contrast and a wider gamut of colours, but like other emerging technologies it is ready for some applications today but not for the mainstream, as issues with processing and distribution of content remain.

4K continues to be the focus for many manufacturers and is edging closer to becoming an industry standard. This year Analog Way launched its VIO 4K multi-format converter, a video processing toolbox offering the latest digital connectivity.

Natively equipped with seven inputs and a single multi-plug output, VIO 4K enables the conversion of signals including Dual-link DVI, DisplayPort, HDMI, 3G-SDI, SPF module cage and universal analogue, into an impressive array of output signal formats up to 4K 30Hz 4:4:4.

“The VIO 4K converter experienced a tremendous start,” says Philippe Vitali, Analog Way product marketing director. “The product was very well received by the market which appreciated its ‘anything in, anything out’ capabilities, as well as its unique functionalities for LED walls.

“To ensure a futureproof and scalable solution, we keep on further developing the product through new audio and video expansion modules. Among them, the video card capable of supporting formats up to 4K 60Hz 4:4:4 should make the VIO 4K even more attractive.”

From signal management to content management, AV Stumpfl pushed the limits once again this year with the release of the Wings Engine Raw. Able to deliver up to four times uncompressed 4K60 playback, the Wings Engine Raw is currently setting the standard for media servers.

Tobias Stumpfl, CEO at AV Stumpfl, explains: “Wings Engine Raw 8K is another example of how AV Stumpfl is continuing to raise the performance bar. It far exceeds any competition in the market today. It can be used to manage content over a virtually unlimited number of LED screens or to drive a four by 4K projection system with soft edge blending, mapping and geometry correction.”

As reported in the June issue of Installation (via Futuresource Consulting), the projector market is facing challenges from competing display technologies, which resulted in a 7% drop-off in worldwide sales of mainstream B2B projectors in Q1 2016. However, laser phosphor projectors are getting cheaper and brighter, broadening the scope of the technology and providing a source of strong growth.

The F90-4K13, from Barco’s F90 series of solid-state projectors for the simulation market, not only delivers in terms of picture quality but is also claimed to be the smallest, lightest 4K projector on the market.

It offers smearing reduction, which ensures that fast-moving objects are depicted with the highest accuracy; the laser phosphor technology provides a high level of illumination, meaning fewer channels are needed on large display areas, reducing TCO.

Barco’s director strategic marketing pro AV, Peter Pauwels, comments: “The core values of the F90 are flexibility, freedom and 4K. We are already looking forward to bringing more in 2017.”

Conferencing and collaboration

In the field of videoconferencing and collaboration, 2016 has been a big year already, seeing Logitech and Microsoft enter the market for the first time.

From Logitech, the Group Kit with Intel NUC, is the company’s first collaborative meeting room solution. The Group Kit includes a Logitech Group ConferenceCam, Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 PLUS, Intel NUC, Intel Unite application and Iluminari Quicklaunch SE. It is compatible with virtually all PC-based video and web conferencing platforms, requiring just a display and internet connection in a meeting room.

The Group Kit offers 1080p video and professional-grade audio and is optimised for use with Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx, Cisco Jabber, and a number of Logitech Collaboration Program members including BlueJeans and Zoom.

“Customers across Europe have expressed a need to easily procure, manage and deploy affordable videoconferencing in meeting rooms without being locked into a single platform. Logitech and Intel have joined forces to address this need and taken the guesswork out with a fully tested and pre-configured solution,” says Anne Marie Ginn, senior category manager, Logitech, EMEA.

Something of a watershed moment, the hugely anticipated release of the Microsoft Surface Hub (pictured main) proved to be worth the wait. The fervour surrounding the Surface Hub led to high initial demand, which only grew while Microsoft ‘tuned’ its manufacturing process, with shipping delayed till March this year.

Available as a 55in or 84in solution, the Surface Hub combines key collaborative scenarios, including general communications, visualisation brainstorming, remote collaboration and data insights.

Both versions are integrated with optically bonded displays capable of detecting 100 touch points and up to three simultaneous pen inputs, as well as dual 1080p front-facing video cameras, and a four-element microphone array that detects and follows voices to eliminate background noise during videoconferencing sessions.

“Surface Hub was always going to be a game-changer in the AV industry as a collaboration tool, because it stepped in as a completely new solution and a transformation to the way people worked,” says Mark Tildesley, collaboration director at distributors Maverick UK (see Roundtable, page 30).

“While previously collaboration tools existed, Microsoft brought them together in the Surface Hub product, while at the same time, creating a new hardware category that bridged AV and IT.”

Shure Microflex Advance networked array microphones proved to be one of the highlights at this year’s ISE show. The premium network solution is designed specifically for AV conferencing, whether in a high-end executive boardroom, meeting room or huddle room.

The system consists of MXA310 Table Arrays and MXA910 Ceiling Arrays, which feature a new pattern with more targeted directivity, unlike the polar pattern on traditional solutions.

For greater control, they feature built-in browser-based software for set-up and configuration. The microphones also have preconfigured templates for quick set-up.

For third-party control system compatibility, Shure uses Ethernet commands to communicate to audio DSPs or control systems, so the mics can be controlled via touchscreen.

“The launch of Microflex Advance has been a major milestone for both Shure and audio conferencing technology,” comments Duncan Savage, manager, systems group, Shure Distribution UK.

“We are noticing a sea-change in the way integrators and their clients think about conferencing sound and the great impact it has on their business, from client perceptions to productivity, collaboration and the health and the well-being of staff.”

Networked audio – and lighting

With networked audio solutions on the rise, backed up by a survey conducted by Installation in conjunction with RH Consulting, Audinate stands to benefit the most with the results indicating Dante was far and away the most popular industry protocol.

To spread Dante functionality, Audinate introduced Dante Via, which brings Dante functionality to IT networks as well as any audio device connected to it and any audio applications it is running. The software allows a Dante network to be created without the need for dedicated Dante hardware, providing a straightforward approach to routing audio using only computers.

Dante Via also enables integrators, engineers and end-users to create and extend audio systems using cost-effective computer based networked I/O to virtually anywhere.

Brad Price, Dante’s senior product manager, explains: “Dante Via has expanded the ways that people are using Dante, bringing previously non-networked equipment and software to Dante audio networks in installations and stages alike, at minimal cost. We think we are just beginning to see the creative possibilities that Dante Via opens up in products that our customers already have.”

In the lighting sector, the next big step is the use of PoE and IoT in lighting control systems such as the SmartCore from amBX, with PoE representing a “paradigm shift in lighting,” according to John Niebel, CEO of amBX.

The new software delivers more ‘human-centric’ control, as well as less programming compared with traditional lighting control systems. It also offers cost savings with reduced infrastructure costs from sharing Ethernet cabling.

SmartCore uses input readings from sensors as well as direct control by users to produce the best possible implementation of the desired outcome using the light fittings that are available. The five different sensors include daylight harvesting, occupancy, colour temperature, air quality, and room humidity and temperature.

“Interest in amBX SmartCore from the lighting industry has been excellent since its launch in March this year,” says David Eves, director, CTO and founder. “From the immediate reaction and ongoing engagement with the industry, we have seen that a software solution is certainly the right approach for the new generation of connected lighting.”