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Futuresource finds ‘a palpable buzz’ in ISE show review

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ISE continues to attract visitors from a wide range of countries and with uncertainty around Covid and travel still swirling, attendee numbers were very positive this year, according to a Futuresource Consulting ISE 2022 show review.

There were 43,691 attendees, down 16% from 2020, drawn from 151 countries. There were also 834 exhibitors down 36% from 2020.

Futuresource sent 15 staff to the show, somewhat reassured by the successful NAB show in the US a few weeks before, but still with a feeling of uncertainty. What they found was a new venue fit for an ever expanding show, a palpable buzz from exhibitors and attendees alike, and a sense that business was being done.

While there wasn’t the usual slew of product announcements we have come to expect from ISE, perhaps with InfoComm just around the corner, or perhaps just because these are (were?) still uncertain times, the Futuresource team did see some new products launched.

Displays

DvLED

Direct View LED has been growing rapidly, but at ISE 2022 it seems it was nearly everywhere. After the two-year pause, the presence of LED displays was prominent in the main entry and across major global brands in Hall 3. Nearly every Pro AV company was either showcasing their new and improved LED offerings or utilising the technology to promote their brand. On the main aisle, it was only a few companies that didn’t have LED technologies.

Also notable was the predominance of major pro AV/consumer electronics names diligently competing for brand share and several Chinese brands maintaining or expanding in the global marketplace versus hundreds of Chinese vendors two to three years ago. This is of course in part due to continued Covid restrictions in China and the associated challenges of travel.

Many manufacturers were demonstrating new products launched over the past year while a few launched new offerings at ISE 2022 itself. The hottest products shown were certainly narrow pitch indoor varieties. While SMD remains a strong presence, the shift of marketing focus to newer varieties such as MiniLED, mostly flip-chip CoB, and multi-package IMD is certainly clear. The rapid progression of LED is expected to continue as brands whisper of upcoming product innovations.

“MicroLED” was certainly a big part of ISE 2022 buzz with many utilising the term rather interchangeably in their marketing claims causing some confusion. Futuresource defines true MicroLED as sub-100 micron LEDs mass transferred onto a glass backplane with an active matrix driver rather than a range of pixel pitches. SMD is largely relegated to pitches 1.0mm and larger while MiniLED CoB can be effective at 0.7mm and even more narrow pixel pitches as well as above.

True MicroLED technology over the next several years is expected to realise mass production at far lower production costs and higher yields with longer durability and challenge LCD technologies in a broader market.

Projection

Brands such as Barco, Optoma, Panasonic, Christie Digital and BenQ amongst others highlighted projection solutions to fulfil a rapidly growing use-case: immersive creative applications.

Exhibitions such as ‘The Van Gogh Experience’ had seen huge success and popularity all over the world, where multiple projectors work in tandem to produce animations of famous artworks which people can interact with in ways they could not before.

While the presence of projection overall decreased at ISE 2022, projection is the firm favourite tech to create this, owing not just to a price point but also how it can map onto a three-dimensional surface. This has meant it has seen applications ranging from water fountains to the Burj Khalifa to The Statue of Unity in India, the world’s largest statue.

LCD Panels, Interactivity and Tiled Displays

As the world exits the Covid pandemic, technology innovations showcased from many brands are focused on improving inclusivity and collaboration between teams coming back into office spaces as well as customers and those working from home or remotely located across the globe. The devices foster equity by allowing all participants to hear, see and most importantly equally participate from wherever they may be. While many technologies are available separately, these solutions highly integrate hardware and software interface to provide an improved user experience.

Released in early 2022, Microsoft Teams Rooms Front Row delivers a new, more immersive 21:9 aspect ratio layout for both in-room as well as virtual participants toward enabling a better connection. With the main content window utilising 60% of the screen height, this layout improves the Microsoft Teams experience by moving the video gallery to the bottom of the screen so remote participants seem more face-to-face with in room members. There was speculation Front Row might also be available in a 32:9 format in the future.

Futuresource sees this as an important driver for display vendors with stretched displays long discussed by manufacturers but rarely with a solid use case to drive significant scale.

Professional Audio

“Events are back!” has a double meaning for the professional audio industry. In the context of ISE, it was fantastic to be networking and having face-to-face meetings once again this year at pro AV’s largest tradeshow. The enthusiasm around being back was noted from almost everyone the Futuresource team spoke with and for many, it marked another key milestone in the return to a “new normal”.

For professional audio, the return of ISE has not only allowed for positive conversations and for big deals to be closed, but it also took on a symbolic meaning this year, against the backdrop of a revitalised live events market and opportunity within the industry. The pains and strains of supply issues, component shortages and geopolitical problems were never too far away, but the show was a breath of fresh air for many, and conversations were positive.

From a manufacturer standpoint, many were pleasantly surprised at the attendance. For pro audio it took quite a while for attendees to make it all the way to hall 7, but when they did make it; they stuck around. There were some manufacturers which didn’t attend for a range of reasons, and there were also issues with shipping products from Pro Light and Sound the week before. However, those that weren’t at ISE were likely to be at InfoComm and/or NAMM, having only been able to commit to one large trade show in the timeframe.

In terms of product releases, there wasn’t the swathe of audio releases we’ve seen in the past, and the list of releases is filled by “debuts” of products which had been released over the past two years. The lack of brand-new products isn’t necessarily an indication of industry health or a major lack of new products, but just a shift in the way that companies announce products. Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen brands shift away from a trade-show or specific date-centric types of release, towards a free way of announcing products, using social media, press and virtual engagements to generate awareness. The fact that ISE was also delayed meant that many decided not to prolong their roadmap just for the show.

All that said, there were still some very interesting and powerful introductions at the show, which tell a lot about the direction the industry is heading. Audio this year at the show focused on the commercial markets but there were also many interesting announcements in the live sound space. Clearly there was a message of diversification, which is only expected considering the events of the last few years.

Conferencing was again a big focus, but brands also showed diversification into recovering areas such as background music. From a technology perspective, beamforming, beam-steering and immersive sound were big topics at the show. At the same time, broader themes around demonstrating “in-application” solutions, sustainability and key areas of opportunity were also noted.

Collaboration Technology

Since the last ISE in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has radically shifted the way in which millions of people work. There has been an explosion in the use of Unified Communication and Collaboration platforms, and now that people have begun to return to the office, attention is turning to how workplaces will manage a hybrid work pattern with some employees on-site, and others remote.

This interest fed through to ISE, with many attendees noting the increased focus on collaboration throughout the event, and the energy and enthusiasm in the Unified Communications Pavilion.

Despite this buzz, there were few truly exciting new product launches. This reflects perhaps the postponement of ISE from February earlier in the year, with many vendors having already launched new products during Q1 and earlier in Q2 2022, or else saving large announcements for InfoComm 2022 in June.

Nevertheless, it was notable that vendors in the collaboration space have realised that they need to offer a full range of products to cover the increased range of locations and use cases provoked by the shift towards hybrid work. Video conferencing was once largely confined to meeting rooms, of various sizes, but now encompasses home working, on-the-move, focus rooms and office desktops, in addition to meeting rooms of all sizes.

Before the pandemic, for many people home-working was essentially the same as working from a cafe or train – i.e. a laptop and possibly some peripherals such as a mouse, keyboard or webcam. Now it is a fixed and long-term work location, requiring technology investment to optimise the experience. In addition to the now near-ubiquitous enterprise-grade webcam, vendors are encouraging the use of speakerphones, headsets and additional displays.

There has also been the emergence of new product categories such as the Logi Dock from Logitech, which combines meeting control with a speakerphone and USB hub, and personal conferencing devices, like the Webex Desk Mini from Cisco.

Many exhibitors noted the slowing pace of innovation during the last two years. Rather than any breakthrough products or new technologies which looked likely to hugely change the collaboration landscape, ISE 2022 confirmed the trend of vendors moving towards a standard set of product offerings.Most of the serious players in the industry now have video options from laptop to boardroom, and everything in-between, and this is becoming table-stakes for anyone wanting to compete in the wider market.

With component shortages and supply issues challenging the market, several vendors noted that R&D had shifted away from the development of new products to focus on trying to make existing products with fewer or easier to source components. While demand remains strong, many product roadmaps have had to be postponed, in some cases for more than a year.

One of the big talking points at the show was meeting equity: how can the experience of remote and in-person meeting participants be as inclusive as possible, without leaving remote participants feeling isolated from the meeting?

Virtual meetings where everyone is remote have worked surprisingly well. The one person per endpoint model allows for everyone to have equal status within the conversation, with each participant displayed in their own “box” during the call. The key question raised by hybrid work is how to replicate this when some of the meeting participants are grouped together in the same physical location.

As yet, there is no simple solution to this issue, though everyone recognises that the previous model — a single point of view meeting room camera at one end of the meeting room, offering a wide view of people gathered around a table is not the right answer.

One option is using ePTZ functionality within the camera, with individual speakers found and framed, such as with Jabra’s Panacast 50, which uses in-bar AI to stitch together multiple views to give 180-degree coverage. Other solutions, particularly those in larger meeting rooms, will combine multiple cameras to give more than one view, for example offering the whole room, as well as close-ups of different people.

During a panel on hybrid work, Logitech’s VP and General Manager of Video Collaboration Scott Wharton pointed to a future in which meetings were more like sporting events, where the experience of watching from home is in many ways superior to that of being seated at the event. Having multiple camera angles, with the feed switching between them, is one way to achieve this.

Connectivity and Services

A lot has happened in the AV over IP (AVoIP) space since the last ISE event in 2020. The return to the office and new ways of working are driving an always-on, collaborative approach to the way AV is being utilised. The blending of the physical and digital world requires flexibility, interoperability, and a stronger focus on the end-user rather than the space itself.

There is a greater need to connect end-users across multiple platforms and an increasing appetite for IP-based solutions which address these challenges, reflected in the significant increase in the number of vendors currently pushing AVoIP solutions. However, enterprises are still wary of placing all their bets on a single platform and are looking for solutions which can support interoperability between their AV silos.

Professional Video

The development of professional video hardware and services has traditionally been led by the media and entertainment industry, with the broadcast and cinema industries representing the two key drivers of technological innovation. However, as high-quality video acquisition has become a feature in a more diverse range of devices from DSLR cameras to smartphones and tablets, the barrier to entry for video content creation has fallen away.

The cultural shift brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has also been an enabler for professional video. The global pandemic has driven a radical shift in working practice for many organisations to quickly implement remote and virtualised work and collaboration environments, at scale.

While standard collaboration devices like integrated webcams and collaboration software are sufficient for many companies, others have required more sophisticated integrated systems and workflows to achieve their goals. The dependency on video solutions through the pandemic has cemented a widespread understanding that video is fundamentally a communication technology that can be utilised not only for the creation of media and entertainment but to facilitate operational efficiencies, enhance education and training as well as create commercial opportunities for businesses that operate in other vertical markets.

As video collaboration technologies have become an everyday tool, the workforce at large has gained an increased level of “video literacy”. A common understanding of what constitutes bad image and audio quality has developed and a reaction against this is a desire from many organisations to set themselves apart by delivering high-quality video. This has awakened an ambition among decision-makers in verticals from corporate to government and houses of worship to do more with video technologies.

ISE 2022 marked a timely opportunity for vendors in the professional video industry to demonstrate the capabilities of their products and highlight solutions that have been developed over the past two years. The event also offers mainstay brands from the world of broadcast and cinema to showcase how their products can be applied in real-world scenarios for “non-traditional” vertical markets like corporate or government settings. This lends an opportunity for more varied booth displays and an emphasis on products and workflows that may not typically be foregrounded at mainstay media and entertainment tradeshows such as NAB Las Vegas and IBC.

As in many other product categories, manufacturers of professional video acquisition devices such as pro camcorders and pro PTZ cameras are contending with supply chain issues and despite a consistently strong level of demand from end-users, vendors are held back from fully realising the extent of demand due to limitations on inventory. This is expected to have reduced research and development capacity for new products, however, where new innovations and products were demonstrated at ISE, AI auto-tracking was a common theme.

Pro PTZ cameras have been a standout growth category in the pro video equipment sector for a number of years, even pre-pandemic, due to their adoption across corporate, education, and government verticals and given their relative ease of use and simplified integration making them attractive to these “non-traditional” verticals for pro video hardware.

The implementation of auto-tracking into these products followed two distinct pathways at ISE. Some vendors have opted to place the AI processing “on the edge” adding dedicated hardware into the camera itself whilst others have chosen to develop software applications that can sit across multiple cameras and guide shot framing and selection. The former solution benefits reliability as there is no reliance on external compute, yet the latter will be more conducive to iterative improvement and innovation over time. Which solution prevails as the most successful in the market is yet to be seen but could strongly influence the competitive landscape in terms of brand share over the next few years.

The prevailing trend when it comes to professional video at ISE however is not presenting discrete video production products but demonstrating them as part of an overall solution, whether that be for a hybrid meeting room environment or for a more sophisticated distance learning environment. Partnership and interoperability are therefore becoming of greater importance, yet it is still attractive for brands to be able to present a complete single-vendor solution.

Crestron’s recent acquisition of 1Beyond was a key talking point at the show as this has enabled the brand to add pro PTZs to their product portfolio and present a true “end-to-end” professional video proposition.

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