ISE 2019 – Final Thoughts and Impressions

Back at World HQ after a week in Amsterdam – and for the 2nd time in four ISE visits dealing with a whopper of a cold no doubt picked up when amongst 80,000 people.

I have not seen formal attendance numbers, but assume foot traffic would be similar to or exceed 2018. It didn’t SEEM as busy, except for Wednesday, but the actual numbers will tell the story.

The show has its swan song in Amsterdam in 2020, a week later than this year – so the weather will be vastly improved, I’d imagine. It was gray and wet almost all week, and chilly. In 2021, the show shifts to Barcelona, where today it is 16C and generally lovely.

I had a few chats with people who, on one hand, were excited to see the show move there, but also wondered if attendance would drop. People from France, Germany, Belgium and so on can get in a car and drive to Amsterdam in relatively short order, or take a high-speed train. Barcelona is MUCH more of a journey, so will the same numbers make the journey?

Some last impressions and notes from the show:

If you need to see and make informed decisions about pro displays, this is THE show. It is bigger and much more robust, in terms of display vendors, than InfoComm in June. There were scores of companies from Shenzhen and the rest of the China showing different types and qualities of LED, but they in no way dominate the show. What was striking to me was how good some of the supposedly inferior Chinese stuff looked. The devil is in the details of components used, and manufacturing processes, but it is no longer a case of seeing a handful of legit Chinese LEDcos, and then a bunch of other stuff that looks awful.

I call the new generation of LED modules hardened, because they have some sort of epoxy that is applied to the LED chip arrays and protects them. I learned last week the term that seems to be sticking for this is Glue On Board.

I also learned that while numerous companies have versions of this – all the way up to Leyard now – there are others who remain uncertain. They worry about things like shorter operating lives for the encased, heat-trapped (maybe) LEDs, as well as discoloration.

LG’s OLED-centric booth was stunning, but lots of people I spoke with continued to have concerns about the cost of OLED displays, their shorter operating lives than LCD or LED, and technical issues like image retention and degradation from UV light. LG told me an algorithm with the displays is dealing with burn-in, and suggested commercial OLEDs would easily run the course of a typical five-year install (many larger networks are based around five-year refresh cycles for hardware).

There were numerous CMS software companies, of all sizes, at ISE. Scala, Navori, Spinetix, SignageLive, Four Winds Telelogos and others had significant stands. Even X20, acquired by Stratacache, had its own stand. I did NOT see nearly as many little guys as I have in the past. For years now, I have been going to trade shows and being astonished to find yet more companies entering the overcrowded CMS space. That seems to have slowed.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to the gear guys who have boxes that move or switch signals, and while I have enormous respect and appreciation for the big display mount companies, I also don’t have enough time even in three full days to spend getting caught up on their hardware advances. I leave that to the pro AV trade press.

Stuff I noticed …

There are many, many, many companies selling outdoor displays and enclosures – most aimed at digital OOH, wayfinding and smart cities applications. Drive-thru is way less of a thing on that side of the Atlantic.

There are still efforts being made to market super-thin bezel pro LCD displays, some with the bezel thickness the same on all four sides. But LCD video walls are definitely being supplanted by direct view LED. This is likely accelerating now because the cost per square metre for sub 2mm LED is coming down rapidly.

While Samsung’s The Wall and Sony’s CLED got a lot of the attention, if you looked around the many halls of ISE you’d seem numerous fine-pitch products using mini-LED that looked very good. Part of the secret there was good, smart content. An industry friend made the great point that he’d like to see all of these products running white content – as darks hide any flaws and whites really expose them. His argument was that some of the lesser-known Chinese companies can show stuff at ISE that looks amazing on the show floor, but with the wrong content, their shortcomings would be obvious.

Semi-transparent LED companies were everywhere. Some of that mesh wall product looked really good.

I didn’t see much in the way of gimmicky stuff – with only one 3D LED screen (looked awful) and a few off-shaped LED sculptures. Don’t think I noticed a single hologram – though Denmark’s Realfiction has product that looks better each year (what they do is more of a reflected illusion than hologram).

Projection, I’d say, was more of a thing than I have seen in a while, in the context of signage. On glass and on objects.

There was not a specific stand or piece of technology that people I know told me I had to go see. No big leap forward in display tech or something else. That’s no surprise, as the industry’s tech tends to be more about evolution and stead improvement.

Always enjoy ISE, and I will be back. I have, in fact, already booked my 2020 hotel. Room rates are a lot better 360 days out than they are 36 days out.

Next up – Shoptalk in Vegas (first time for me). I know some people don’t go to “cover” trade shows unless someone else pays their way over, and so on. All the shows I attend are on my own nickel – though I get a break in terms of no-cost press access privileges. I figure if I am going to cover this stuff, I need to be there to see it and talk to the people behind it.