Tech Trends 2012
Going out on a limb about new technology isn’t so scary these days. Any one of us can see trends gathering on the horizon (and/or use a Web browser). And if one person says something like, “3D will be all the rage,” and it doesn’t turn out to be true, then all is not lost (though as you know, one person’s rage is another’s abject failure).
For AV professionals—who are all about applying technology, rather than technology for technology’s sake—the question usually isn’t “What will be the next great technology?” It’s “How will the next great technology affect AV installs?” Take HDBaseT, for instance. The companies that threw their weight behind this long-run, uncompressed HD video-over-CAT-5/6 technology were wishing a lot of consumer electronics manufacturers would be on-board by now. But guess which companies currently make best use of HDBaseT? Companies that commercial AV pros know well, like Crestron, Extron, AMX, and Atlona.
So as I review information coming across my desk and digest a slew of tech forecasts, and with the International Consumer Electronics Show in our rear window, here’s a taste of what may be worth caring about in 2012:
The cloud. But not the cloud we’re used to talking about—not the one where content is stored elsewhere and delivered over the Internet. Nor the one where software is delivered online as a service. Sure, maybe the application tools that AV pros use may be delivered a new way, but I wonder: What will be the effect of the cloud on the basic building blocks of an AV installation? So maybe you don’t install a media server for your next project because the client uses the cloud for content delivery. Or you integrate systems to ensure they can consume and distribute Internet-based media. Pros can handle that.
Things get interesting for AV when processing enters the cloud, in addition to content and applications. If the cloud can deliver an audio stream and process it—if a video stream can be scaled in the cloud then delivered to the right screens—well now you’re starting to talk about foundational AV system functions. Remember, before “cloud computing” there was grid and clustered computing—basically lots of computers processing data and delivering it to users (mainly researchers) over high-speed connections. But that’s how Siri, star of the Apple iPhone 4s, works. Voice commands are processed in the cloud, not on the phone. That’s also how the Amazon Kindle Fire’s Silk browser works. Web pages are (supposedly) downloaded to the Fire faster because requests are processed in an Amazon cloud.
Whether either feature works perfectly is, for now, minimally important (there have been reports that imply Fire owners should turn off the Silk cloud processing to get better performance). While it may seem impractical to run audio through a cloud-based DSP or send analog video into the cloud and have it arrive at an end-point in digital format, don’t you suspect we’re headed in that direction?
iPad competitors. Speaking of Apple and Amazon, you knew it was just a matter of time before someone built a viable competitor to the super-popular iPad. I was at a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve. He happens to be a gadget freak and head of technology at a pretty big hospitality company. Yes, he’s got an iPad, but it was a Kindle Fire he left sitting on his coffee table in order to control the AV systems in his house. I don’t really care which tablet is better (I own one, but not the other). But Amazon has sold way more Fires than analysts expected and you can bet there will be fresh tablet competition ahead. Many are predicting iPad market share will fall. Again, none of this matters per se.
Not to bury the lead, but the iPad will likely not dominate the tablet market as it has to date, thus it will not dominate the software platform for tablet-based AV control. There were iPads all over last year’s InfoComm 2011 show in Orlando, and some Android-based devices. Companies will need to invest as much time and effort into app dev for Android (and perhaps others) as they do for iOS. Please! I’ve seen a few too many iOS apps ported to Android that don’t work nearly as well as they did on iOS.
Voice control. Speaking of AV control apps, Apple taught us to feel more comfortable controlling systems with our fingers (they were not the first company with a touch interface). This year, several companies are going to lead us further down the path of controlling systems with our voices. Brand-spanking-new technology? Not exactly. You can certainly control some functions of Apple devices and others with your voice. And voice recognition has been around for a while.
But now here comes Microsoft’s Kinect, enabling voice commands for the Xbox 360. And at CES 2012, we have Intel teaming up with a company called Nuance which does, that’s right, voice recognition. Apparently, Samsung’s showing off a TV with voice control (and noise cancellation to help separate commands from ambient noise). Will there be an Apple TV with voice control, as rumored?
Sure. Why not? Then why not a voice-controlled videowall or classroom AV system? “Projector on. Screen down. Video input one.” Word out of Las Vegas has Carnes Audio Visual out of Little Rock, Ark., marrying Crestron to Apple’s Siri to control home automation.
This feels like the AV control paradigm that’s ready to sneak up on us this year. And as we know, based on recent years of experience, if consumers latch onto something, they’ll want it on the job, in their conference rooms, at their events, etc.
3D. Speaking of consumers, in a prior life, I was on record as skeptical of widespread consumer adoption of 3D display technology. Today, the technology has gotten and will continue to get better. And I tend to agree with those who say that 3D has a great shot to woo consumers via gaming (they put on headsets to play online, what difference does a pair of 3D glasses make?). But in the larger scheme of things, for now, 3D still feels like the wheelhouse of pro AV.
If 3D is still a front-burner technology come InfoComm 2012 in Las Vegas, people should not to discount it, but seek out the top-of-the-line 3D systems on the floor – the high-end (too pricey for consumers), full-HD, non-interlaced projected 3D systems. Then think how those systems might make sense for education, research, government, medical, and other clients. Like videoconferencing 20 years ago (and look where it’s come today), the most recent generation of 3D displays have attracted some criticism, but there is technology out there that can create stunning 3D results.
OLED. Speaking of 3D and 3D displays, if you’re looking for a more immersive, rich visual experience, maybe what you need is a more advanced 2D technology. I’ve seen LED projection at past InfoComm shows that, given the right content, fooled me into thinking I was looking at 3D. I’m not saying the brand-new, 55-inch (!) Organic LED displays that LG and Samsung showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show this month can accomplish that feat (I haven’t actually see the displays yet, ‘cept for on the Internet), but it’s always great to have a fresh display solution to talk about with clients (LCD, plasma, LED, Christie MicroTiles, Prysm LPD…). Who doesn’t want to get a 55-inch OLED in-house and start hooking it into larger systems?
Finally, speaking of “who doesn’t want?”… what new technologies are you excited about this year?