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InfoComm 2017: Observations from a Weary Warrior

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InfoComm 2017: Observations from a Weary Warrior
    

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16 Jun 2017
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I had forgotten how long the walk is from one end of the InfoComm exhibit hall to the other, but if done swiftly and with purpose, the world’s largest AV show definitely fulfills the need for an exercise regimen.  The show is also a combination of old-home-week and a fraternity reunion for those in the video conferencing industry.  You get to see all your old friends and competitors and share yarns about the good old days.

This year’s show had a very upbeat tone to it.  And while some might argue that on one level there’s nothing really new, on another level, things are shifting.  This year, for example, touch screens and various forms of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and interactive flat panels (IFPs) were everywhere on the show floor.  Call this a new trend, or at least a new level of interest, even though the product category has been around since Napoleon marched on Moscow.  Some of the products turned your typical legacy flat screen TV or monitor into an IFP.  The low end of the price range starts with TouchJet, where newly hired EVP of sales Jim Fairweather is chartered to solve the go-to-market challenge for an enterprise solution selling at a $299 price point.

Of course, every vendor with a pulse had a cloud story, even if it didn’t make sense.  But video conferencing (VC) is the focus on this author.  And VC was everywhere, in both cloud and CPE versions.  On the cloud front, lots of improvement in ease-of-use and attention to the UI.  And, for reasons unknown to this analyst, multiple vendors seem to be competing on the number of users that can participate in a meeting.  Zoom, Videxio, Starleaf, and Lifesize all have raised the limit from 25 to 50 participants or even higher.  Werdna, a new entry in the VCaaS space, announced a limit of 40,000 users per meeting, with up to 225 visible in a 15x15 display.   

Moving on – here are my top picks from the show floor.

In the video conferencing world (my top five NEW things):

Lifesize:  the company has streamlined its user interface for both its software client for Lifesize Cloud as well as on the company’s phone (which also controls a Lifesize room system).  As you can imagine, I’ve used dozens of UIs over the years, but none are as intuitive in my humble opinion as the latest version from Lifesize.  

Owl Labs:  Hidden in a 10x10 booth on the outskirts of InfoComm Orlando, Owl Labs demo suggests the company is finally emerging from its super-secret development cave.  But straight to the point, the OWL is the camera I’d want in my huddle room.  It combines 360-degree coverage (based on a patent-pending lens) with smart software to do the right thing at the right time; I’ll leave further details to future WR coverage.  The camera has been in beta with around 50 customers and GA is coming soon.  As is always the case on an exhibit show floor, evaluating audio quality is really not possible but the Owl has not neglected this important media stream.   The company has an interesting background, founded by guys from iRobot here in Red Sox country.

Polycom:  A dazzling demonstration of Polycom’s new Pano wireless presentation system (WPS) showed just how high-functionality and attention to ease-of-use could be combined as Polycom enters an increasingly-crowded field.  Polycom of course will have several advantages besides ease-of-use and image quality, including the fact that Pano will be integrated with its room video conferencing systems, (and presumably with Trio in some time); and the company has a well-established channel partner network.  My colleague Ira Weinstein has dived in WPS systems over the past few years, and agrees that Pano is well worth considering in a variety of meeting room environments.

StarLeaf:  Fresh from its announcement of a strategic partnership with Huawei (Huawei now supports StarLeaf’s QuickConnect protocol), the company was also touting its new app that embraces messaging, file sharing, P2P video, and multipoint meetings.  The new app and user interface really move StarLeaf into the UC&C world one or two steps beyond just CPE and cloud video conferencing.  You can think of the StarLeaf offering as “What’s App” for the enterprise, according to CTO Will MacDonald.  I suspect he is right, or maybe he’s just suggesting that StarLeaf should be valued the same as What’s App.   Wouldn’t that be nice!

Videxio:  The Videxio story at InfoComm was a bit more subtle.  Lots of work in the backend was demonstrated to those who paid attention.  Examples of Norwegian subtlety include a new internal development platform (dubbed Midgard after the ancient Viking god of revision control) to speed feature enhancements and support higher levels of scalability, the opening of new PoPs around the globe, a single sign on (SSO) feature for enterprise IT buyers, and the integration of streaming and recording functions.  The streaming integration allows customers to stream to Facebook Live, YouTube, and Periscope SIMULTANEOUSLY for those who have lots of friends (or employees).

In the InfoComm but non-VC world:

Three show-stopper demos I had a hard time leaving:

LG:  Dubbed “the OLED Twister” this was an amazing demonstration of what might be coming with large organic light emitting diode screens.  They are bendable, so someday you might be able to roll up a high resolution LED screen much as you would a window shade.  This demo involved two large displays, each made up of a 2x2 array of OLED devices, bending and twisting to a sound track.  Like many in attendance, you weren’t sure if it was an optical illusion or whether someone had slipped something into your coffee, but it was simply amazing.  

Sony:  Imagine a display 32 feet wide by 9 feet high and you get the picture.  This was made up of 144 display elements dubbed “modules” put together in a totally seamless way.  Yes, totally seamless – standing 3 feet in front of the display, you could not see any borders between the modules.  The contrast ratio was 1,000,000:1 and whatever the dot pitch was, you could not discern any individual pixels either.  

Yipled:  Fresh from Shenzhen, Yipled was featuring a variety of transparent displays.  Intended for the advertising market, not the corporate boardroom, these are electronic displays that would typically be used in front of a glass wall such as a storefront.  There is an augmented reality aspect to the effect since you can look through the display to whatever is behind it.

Yipled unleashed

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