Back at world HQ, where it is 20 degrees F cooler and my thoughts extend beyond sources of water and/or beer. Orlando did not seem as hot and humid as it did two years ago, but still …
The final event numbers for InfoComm 2011 eclipsed 33,000, so this is a show that is roughly a 10X multiple of the industry-focused trade shows like DSE. But that doesn’t mean, by any stretch, that is 10X more valuable to be there as an end-user or as a vendor.
The crowd – the BIG crowd – that attends this show consists of people from companies that put everything from massive projection systems and display walls into airports and museums to videoconferencing rooms in the regional offices of insurance companies. Many of the largest booths were put up by companies like AMX, Crestron and Extron, who may or may not have much or anything DS-related (certainly AMX does). These guys sell lighting and room controls and endless little boxes and thingies that do video distribution and other stuff.
I get asked a lot if this is a show that needs to be attended, as a buyer or seller, and the answer depends a lot on perspective and need.
For buyers of all the various bits of gear that make up a digital sign network, no other forum in North America covers the waterfront like this in terms of variety and scale. For display options, it won’t get much better. If you need a video encoder or focused speakers or specialty mounts, this is it.
But over two or three days a buyer needs to know what he or she is looking for, as it would be easy spending hours tied up in discussions with people who sell stuff that’s not at the core of a project’s needs. Stop to ask what some company does and it might take 20 valuable minutes to back out of a conversation.
For sellers, if your gear is moved through distributors and/or resellers this is an important, efficient way to build up awareness and business ties. Guys like Omnivex, X20 and Visix see this as a very big event. I know some hardware and software guys who attend simply because it is a cost-effective way to see multiple customers quickly, in one round-trip.
But if your business is focused on selling direct to Digital OOH network operators, for example, InfoComm is not your show. The ad sales people don’t go. I don’t do the seminars but my sense is they also skew heavily to the how to make it happen and have less to do with the “why would you do it” stuff.
I was very impressed with the state of visual technologies. As was noted earlier in the week by a Samsung guy, the cost and capabilities of displays – be they panels or projections – is no longer a barrier to deployment. The bezels on panels are now very thin and almost seamless. LED back-lighting is making LCDs crazy-thin and light. And plasmas are getting much better in terms of weight, energy consumption and operating life.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the software guys because, with some exceptions, the majority of the vendors have all the bells and whistles someone could ever need to run a network. Just about all of the platforms are easy to use and have competitive pricing, so it comes down more to the state of the businesses behind the platform and their industry acumen and customer service/support.
Content on screens is much better, particularly with the big display guys, who had material that was clearly planned and developed for the booth and event. I still see way too many companies demo’ing carved up screens. I suppose it is to show that’s possible with the software, but is also reinforcing the notion that multi-zoning screens is a good idea (it rarely is).
I saw three types of interactive screens: look-ups for finding things; wayfinders for directions; and multi-touch for … something. The first two, I understand the importance of showing capabilities in context. The multi-touch thing was not well handled by many exhibitors because they continue to do stuff that has no evident commercial value. I don’t care that I can stretch a photo, spin it and flick it out of view. I don’t care if I can paint on a screen, or play a giant version of Angry Birds or Solitaire. Show me the real-world business (like retail) applications that would get me thinking this is worth the big-dollar investment in hardware and content.
3D – Still not getting the commercial implications. Someone’s man-cave, sure. Out in public, nope. The glasses-free auto-stereoscopic stuff has to get a LOT better to get beyond one-off novelty projects and into rollouts.
Co-locating in a booth is a very cost-effective and relatively low hassle way to be part of a big show. But it has its drawback is, and I am not sure how they get worked around. There were a few companies I wanted to drop by and see, but the way the InfoComm directories and maps work is they list the companies who “own” the booth space. So if you were a small company in a bigger booth, the only way I was finding you was by accident. I know because on Friday, on a quick swing through before heading to the airport, I went looking for two companies and could not remember just where I had seen them, in passing, a day earlier.
My content partners at rAVe shot hundreds and hundreds of product demo videos at booths and those will start showing up here, if they haven’t already.
Next year, the show is back at the blast furnace on Las Vegas in mid-June. Different kind of heat.
Oh yeah, flash-mobbing AV-style:
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.