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A Futurist’s Guide to InfoComm

We are one week out from one of the most important events related to the Audio/Video, Unified Communications, and all things Collaborative industry – InfoComm 2019 in Orlando. There is plenty of information out there about the event, and every vendor (including my own company) has probably bombarded readers with “Come to our booth!” messaging. I’ve seen some great publications about how to approach the show in general. This guide is for those of us who want to seek out the broader trends, look for patterns, or, in short – predict the future.

There are many techniques you can use to look for trends. One I’ve found successful in the AV space is a method I know gets used often in computer science called Extrema Testing. If you note a trend—for example, pitch-width on LEDs seems to be going down every year and, at the same time, the cost is falling dramatically. Ask yourself, what happens at the extrema of the trend? Hypothesize that you could purchase an LED display that is effectively continuous, large scale, and nearly free. What would happen to the AV market? What would users do? What companies would succeed in that environment? Which ones are no longer needed? And so on.

If you’re a consultant, product manager, business development executive, technologist, or even investor and you want to leave the show with insights (not just booth swag) print out the cheat sheet below, wear comfortable shoes, and dive in on these three areas:

  1. Will Unified Communications ever be unified? What role does Bring Your Own Conferencing play?

Quick Summary: There is a trend towards users bringing their laptop and wanting to “run the meeting” without having to worry about interoperability, special SIP/H.323 setups, or even cloud-interchange. Can this trend unify the global conferencing infrastructure into a uniform service? What will that imply?

Overview: The world has done a strange thing to itself. It’s tough to use one vendor’s video conferencing system to call a different video conferencing system. When I first setup a Skype for Business endpoint in my office, I was pretty excited to see it in operation only to learn that my day is filled with video conferences that other people set for me ( via WebEx, Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.), and my cool new room system simply won’t work. Of course, there are standards that can, in theory, connect my room to other endpoints, but they require dedicated systems and backflips from a user-interface perspective. This is why Pexip has been so successful. It provides a transparent transcoder in the cloud to address this very problem. But I’m still not convinced it’s been solved.

Unification shouldn’t mean deep infrastructure changes. It should mean a unified front-end and a simple “click to start” mentality. My Verizon phone can call your AT&T phone without additional licensing or an IT team here at Mersive to deploy new infrastructure. UC needs to get there. 

There are cracks in the armor of UC companies who once seemed determined to force the world to adopt a single platform. At ISE, for example, I saw an interesting demo from Cisco who has added a “bypass” cable on their system so users can plug in and get access to the room system without running WebEx. A brave move. I applaud any company willing to support user needs over their local battle for conferencing dominance. Will this take hold?

If it does take hold, it will have deep implications on room design, and how we view both hard and soft codecs. It will likely move the “codec wars” to the background and allow us to simply have a video conference without focus on the particular codec that hosted the meeting.

Places to Visit Checklist

check Pexip | Booth 3881 – Get a demo of the Infinity platform. Focus on the workflow. How do ad hoc meetings from a huddle room unfold?

check Cisco | Booth 3443 – Take a look at RoomKit Mini and pay special attention to the USB “passthrough” option as an approach to an agnostic room.

check Logitech | Booth 3681 – The Tap device is a game changer for both huddle rooms and larger spaces. Will it act as the agnostic glue to bring Microsoft, WebEx, Zoom together? Get a demo and decide for yourself.

check BlueJeans | Booth 4675 – Take a look at how BlueJeans has integrated with Microsoft Teams. Is this the construction of another silo or a hint at better, more integrated days ahead?

check Attend AV/IT Best Practices for UC | Tuesday, June 11 @ 11:30am | Room W304H – Be the skeptic in the audience. Is there a real appetite from the vendors running these events to put the user first?

Get the UC Booth Guide

  1. Can AV events and staging move to prime time?

Quick Summary: Is it time for the technologies and practices of the rental staging market to have an impact on corporate enterprise? Can workplace designers, collaboration specialists, IT, and facilities begin to take advantage of the amazing tech developed for events and apply them to their problems? 

Overview: I have to admit, there are two areas of InfoComm that I don’t spend much time—the pure audio and rental staging vendor booths. That’s about to change. I’ve begun to pick up on a potential trend that will transform the importance of those markets.

While this division of AV has some of the coolest, most interesting, high-end technologies, they simply haven’t focused on large and mainstream use cases. Instead, favoring generating reliable “wow factor” at specific events that can afford amazing productions. But what if the cost and complexity of a projection-mapping system could justify its use in your workspace. Imagine using video production software to curate the screens in a workplace throughout the day for emotive effect—to set the tone for your collaborative areas. The new focus on environmental design both in shared office spaces (i.e. WeWork) and in-house facilities could make use of these tools. Can the events and staging market find a home in the (much bigger) enterprise market? Walk these booths and see if it’s on the horizon.

Places to Visit Checklist

check Green Hippo | Booth 7673 – Can the Hippotizer act as a platform for day-to-day environmental control? See if you can get some time with Nigel Sadler–he’s wicked smart and may have examples where this is already happening.

check Dataton | Booth 3215 – The Watchout software had a start in the more traditional signage space. But it’s now a multi-display control system, where do overlaps between Watchout something like Crestron’s DM/NVX system occur.  

check Christie Digital | Booth 2543 – Avoid the noise in the Christie booth (projectors get cheaper, higher resolution, more mobile, and have better color, but we knew that). Instead, look for their projection mapping solutions. Ask about pricing and deployment models. What’s keeping a designer from spec’ing a common area with, for example, a ceiling mounted projector that textures white flowers into different colors based on time of day? Pretty cool, but can Christie take us there someday?

check Vioso | Booth 7679 & Scalable Display | Booth 300 – Both of these companies continue to refine multi-projector displays–allowing them to create very large, potentially immersive displays. It’s a community we emerged from (long story), but can projected illumination be viewed as the ultimate in controllable lighting in the corporate enterprise? After all, a projected, blended image can do more than projection mapping. It could, for example, refine the ambient lighting, wall colors, and target specific spaces for illumination on demand. Is there sufficient ease-of-use and low-cost for this to happen?         

Get the Event and Staging Booth Guide

  1. Sensors + Analytics: When (and how) will AI Impact the AV Market?

Quick Summary: No surprise, the world of IoT has arrived. It has started to impact the AV community through device-to-device communications and sensor proliferation in new AV designs. It also has the potential, when combined with AI, to have a real impact. But when will this happen?

Overview: My background is Artificial Intelligence (more specifically Computer Vision), so I’m keenly interested in how AI will disrupt the AV market. You should be, too. It has the potential to remake the role of the consultant community as they shepherd insights generated by AI into actionable designs.

It will disrupt managed services as users no longer think it’s good enough to roll a truck when an incident occurs, instead, the managed service will need to predict where problems may occur and address them ahead of time.  

It will transform static AV designs into reactive/predictive environments that setup rooms based on learned user preferences and will bring a concierge-like service to all users.

These are all interesting and, potentially, exciting disruptions. But when and where will they start to emerge? I’ve had some great conversations with the Alexa for Business team. They are driving towards this vision, but, understandably, have hit a few adoption barriers related to trust, security, and end-user interest. It’s not enough for a system to replace a button with speech recognition –AI must find it’s a killer use case. Is it at InfoComm 2019? You’ll have to look for side effects and partnerships here.

The most important AI companies in the world (nVidia, Qualcomm, Google, etc. )won’t be directly at the show demonstrating what they’re building. Instead, look for AV companies who are leveraging AI advances and bringing them to our space. Let the hunt begin.

Places to Visit Checklist

check Utelogy | Booth 5243 – This company has been leading the charge on wrangling IoT devices and sensors into a single monitoring platform. It remains to be seen how all that data will go beyond data management and awareness into predictive analytics.

check Mersive | Booth 3961 – Take a close look at the Kepler cloud platform. Find Mike Tolliver; he’ll give you a demonstration of how Kepler can provide a unique view of how teams are meeting together. He’s always up for a debate about the future of AI and how it’ll transform the AV space. Ask him about the AI roadmap and Kepler Insights in particular.

check Samsung | Booth 2043 – A large percentage of broadband-connected homes are already controlling their devices with voice, and intelligent assistants are starting to appear as part of consumer applications. What better place to see if these technologies will have an impact on professional AV than the company who is leading the charge. Be careful; this is one of the top-10 largest booths at the show, so you’ll want to stay focused. After you snap some cool pics of their incredible video wall, focus on their software that drives “The Wall”. See if you can find a demo of their upscaling technologies that are reportedly based on AI techniques. Will “deepfake” make an appearance? Can lessons learned in consumer and residential technologies become disruptive in AV?

check AVI-SPL, Managed Services | Booth 3852 – See if Symphony, the AVI-SPL managed services platform, has the potential to transform into a big data/analytics platform. If Frank Mehr, SVP of Technology is in the booth, see what he thinks.

check Attend “The Impact of AI and Machine Learning on the Future of UCC.” – (June 12 at 11:30 am, W304H) This session will be a great example of how AI is starting to impact specific applications in our space. Plus, they will undoubtedly cover Face Recognition, a major focus of my previous research career! Can this model of data collection and insights be extended to other areas?

Get the AI for AV Booth Guide 

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