InfoComm Day One Impressions: LED Everywhere, WTF Is MLED, And TCL Is Coming

June 15, 2023 by Dave Haynes

Sitting back in my hotel room quite impressed with myself for doing the wise thing, for a change, by getting the hell out of a cocktail party that had a live band, a very open bar and some old friends who were bent on having as much fun as possible at  InfoComm in Orlando.

Back in my room by 10ish borders on miraculous, given the endless cocktail party temptations.

North America’s biggest pro AV trade show was kinda sorta back to normal a year ago in Las Vegas, but the 2023 version in steam bath Florida seems very normal. I’m no judge of crowds, but 2023 seems as busy as pre-COVID.

Day One at these things, for me, is usually spent doing a big walk around looking for new and interesting stuff. As you might expect, there are roughly three trillion LED manufacturers on the trade show floor, from the big pure play manufacturers and established display brands to all kinds of Chinese manufacturers trying, I guess, to break into the North American market.

There was everything from the spectacular, to the cheap, cheerful and kinda crappy. The good stuff keeps getting tighter, brighter, lighter and other words with “er” in them. I will have a better look tomorrow, but the premium LG and Sony video walls were massive and gorgeous. Same with Christie. I’ve no doubt there are others from the major manufacturers that are equally impressive.

Big chunks of my day were tied up in meetings and presentations, so I did not cover as much of the floor as hoped, but here are some quick impressions.

The huge Chinese flat panel manufacturer TCL has its eyes set on the North American market for pro displays, via a business unit called Moka. The company has a substantial stand at the show and a whole bunch of professional displays, including one series that has a BrightSign media player built in. Moka will be marketing its own brand for pro displays, but will also, I am reliably told, eventually be making pro displays with BrightSign inside for other pro display brands.

Stupidly, I did not get a photo … but it looks like a typical, skinny flat panel.

Another Chinese display giant, BOE, is also at InfoComm. As guys like STRATACACHE CEO Chris Riegel have long been saying, the Chinese are coming and it will be very hard for the established pro display brands to compete, at least on price.

BOE is demo’ing what it calls MLED. I asked if that was miniLED or microLED. “Both!” I was told, which made me cross-eyed, and compelled me to move on.

I had a lengthy chat in Samsung’s “whisper suite” – an invite-only room away from the trade show floor – about what’s called Samsung VXT, the cloud-centric platform that will take over from MagicInfo within two or three years.

I will do a much deeper post on this when I have more time, but the quick hit is that this is Samsung continuing its inexorable push to try to dominate and somewhat own the full digital signage solution stack – starting with display and playback hardware, but now including a much more modern CMS (when compared to MagicInfo’s legacy code) and, very interestingly, programmatic capabilities. The idea there is that end-users can monetize their screens by turning on targeted ads. This is the territory companies like Broadsign and Vistar Media play in.

The push for VXT and ad capabilities will undoubtedly annoy the hell out of a lot of CMS software companies that invested resources and time to “partner” with Samsung on its smart display platform and its proprietary Tizen operating system. Now Samsung is a direct competitor, though it could be easily argued that’s been the case for years via MagicInfo. Development has ceased on MagicInfo and it will be end of life’d in two to three years.

In an interesting twist, I learned VXT is not a Tizen-only thing, and it can be applied to different operating systems. Samsung is suggesting CMS software companies can work with VXT via widgets and focused functionality – like zeroing in on QSR and going deep with that, while using VXT as the foundational software platform.

I have my doubts that will be warmly received, but at the same time, I think it is already difficult for software companies that go to market with a general solution and really only compete with others on price. If a software company’s pitch is “We power digital signage for anything and everything,” its main attribute is going to be low cost – which is a rough business to be in when there are a bunch of others with that same attribute.

My pass through the LG booth left me thinking it is on a similar path to Samsung. For years, the big display guys have tended to have numerous software partners with small demo spaces. This year, LG’s SuperSign software is front and center and its CMS partners were listed on a display off to the side – kinda like sponsor logos on the back of a 5K road race T-shirt.

LG is going hard with OLED, as it did at ISE. That tech is a clear differentiator, and OLEDs are beautiful. But it is a bit of  reach to think a fast food restaurant is going to use $9,000 transparent OLEDs as menu boards, as was demo’d here. Same with some of the other scenarios shown – though it is clear it is just booth eye candy (which is fine and normal).

Weirdly, the giant LG stand took on some of the black fortress characteristics of the Samsung stand at ISE, with big, black divider walls. But to Samsung’s credit – and undoubtedly because of my ISE whining (kidding … sorta) – there are no silly booth tour booking requirements at InfoComm. I had my badge scanned and wandered in to see what I wanted, when I wanted.

Speaking of big display companies, I chatted/hollered back and forth at a party with a couple of very nice people from Turkey, who are with the team charged with establishing a North American presence for Vestel. The company is largely unknown around here, but is a huge manufacturer of consumer and professional products in Europe. They have had a big presence at ISE for many years.

Some other quick observations …

Some manufacturers continue to misrepresent their products, though I suppose you could argue the big guys were doing that years ago by describing LCD video walls as seamless or zero-bezel, when they weren’t. I passed by stands touting naked eye 3D displays (the 3D is in the content, not the display tech) and invisible LED screens that aren’t.

It is not even in the same galaxy as a hologram, but is quite transparent. But up close …

Oh well … smart people will just shrug and say “Whatever …” But I worry about end-users who don’t know any better and buy naked eye 3D genuinely thinking specific display tech is needed to realize these visual tricks.

The show looks good. People are VERY happy to be back at it and seeing each other. There were countless networking parties Wednesday night – though I will go to my grave wondering how people network when the volume dial is set to 11. I spent a lot of time nodding, pretending I could hear people and hoping they were not asking if it was OK if they stuck a fork in my right pupil for giggles.

Hat tip to the Canadian wing of distributor Exertis Almo, which went HARD with a Crazy Canucks-themed event. There was poutine. Montreal smoked meat. Moosehead beer. A Mountie. And a selfie station with Bob and Doug MacKenzie in front of a Great White North backdrop (the kiddies can look up that reference). They even had Rush on the speakers.

More insights to come from Day 2!

Leave a comment