InfoComm 2016 Roundup: Any Surface Is A Canvas

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InfoComm 2016 in Las Vegas left systems integrators and visual designers with a vast menu of possibilities for turning just about any surface into a digital canvas.

The annual pro-AV show – which focuses on audio-visual gear – had two full convention center halls of diverse technology, and attracted 10s of 1,000s of attendees – from AV pros to architects, to retail brands and airport authorities.

Probably the biggest theme coming out of the show was the dominance of direct view LED displays. They were everywhere on the show floor – from major manufacturers like Samsung to countless unfamiliar companies marketing product manufactured in China’s Shenzhen tech corridor.

LED vendors have been at InfoComm for years, but most were marketing low resolution products such as LED curtains. But in 2016, there were seemingly dozens of options for fine pitch LED product with pixel pitches as tight at 0.85 mm. That means LED lights on these displays are packed so densely the visuals rival the clarity and sharpness of LCDs when viewed from just a few feet away.

Fine pixel pitch was generating a lot of interest at the show because the better product eliminates any visible seams. That matters to visual designers and their clients, whose primary option now is LCD video walls.

Sony had its first showing of a new product, called Canvas, that used ultra-fine crystal LEDs that were so small viewers needed to get quite close to the huge display to sort out what was being used. It was arguably the first technology, using direct view LED, that doesn’t still require viewers to be a minimum 8 feet back to properly view the display and not see the individual LEDs.

Even with super-thin bezels on pro displays, these video walls still have evident seams between the displays. They look great, but when designers see an option that has no seams, they’re interested.

Display manufacturers marketing both products expect the transition of video wall business from LCD to LED will be gradual, as direct t view LED is currently five times, on average, as costly as LCD. The cost gap will close over time, but not quickly.

Projection-mapping surfaces will also grow more common, based on what was showing at InfoComm. Christie was showing a software suite called Mystique that removes much of the complication and labor time in developing show-stopping projections that map to surfaces such as pro hockey ice surfaces or NBA basketball courts.

What was also obvious at InfoComm is that display technology is getting smarter. Instead of “dumb” devices that just receive and display signals from computers, more and more displays – even fine pixel pitch LEDs – are getting smarts built in to them.

Companies like Samsung have been embedding System on Chip (SoC) technology in its displays for several years, and now most commercial display manufacturers have also followed suit. The change that was evident at InfoComm 2016 was how those smart signage displays are getting even smarter.

Previously, the software used was proprietary and limited. But now the four major manufacturers using SoC are all running sophisticated mobile operating systems to help drive programming and scheduling, and remove the need for external PCs as media players.

Samsung made some waves at the show by announcing its 4th Generation line of Smart Signage displays will be installed with Samsung’s own mobile operating system, Tizen. The computing and graphics processors inside will also be more powerful than previous generations, and optimized for display jobs like digital signage. That means smart signage displays are no longer constrained in terms of the kinds of sophisticated projects where they can be used.

Other manufacturers like Philips and Panasonic are using Android for SoC. LG uses its own operating system, WebOS.

The show also made it evident there are few restrictions on how displays can be used. A walk through the two sprawling exhibit halls would lead attendees to things like mirrors with hidden LCD displays behind them, LED floors and ceilings, electronic ink used as morphing architectural surfaces, projection-mapped walls, lighting synced to displays, and transparent displays that also now support multi-touch interaction.

If your job involves the visual experience of a building – from shops and airports to hospitals and corporate campuses – shows like InfoComm really should be on your annual calendar. Technical people can see a lot of new gear quickly. Non-technical people can get a broad sense of trends with visual displays.

Encouragingly, more and more focus is being placed by big display vendors like LG, Christie and NEC on the content they show in their booths. End-users get a lot more excited about content in context, and high quality purpose-built video, than they do about stock 4K aerial footage libraries and nature film.

Note: This is a piece I wrote for a vendor, but for crossed wires reasons, it didn’t end up getting used.

Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes

Editor/Founder at Sixteen:Nine
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than a decade. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He's based near Toronto.
Dave Haynes

@sixteennine

Decade-old blog about digital signage and related tech, written by industry consultant and shit-disturber Dave Haynes.
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