ISE 2019: The show stoppers

Atrium at the RAI Amsterdam during ISE 2019

Paul Mac, Hurrairah bin Sohail and Anna Mitchell round up new launches from ISE 2019 and determine what the latest technologies say about where the pro AV industry is heading.

ISE 2019 put on a show. In every corner of the RAI exhibition centre companies were finding very clever ways to show off the power of the technologies they were launching and demonstrating in Amsterdam.

Display companies dominated in this regard with special mentions going to Absen’s celebration of LED, Panasonic’s showstopper that saw it project onto performers, Samsung’s stunning 8K display showcase and LG’s OLED falls. There were some fun applications too. Over on the Kramer stand we saw a video signal sent through a potato, while Daktronics encased an LED module in a block of ice.

And then to the numbers. ISE 2019 was the largest ever ISE show, with a total attendance figure of 81,268. This was a rise of just 345 people on last year’s figure of 80,923. Despite that small rise, total floor space also hit a record amount - 56,100 net square metres. The show, the 16th in the event’s history, also saw Wednesday break the largest ever one-day attendance figure for any show at the Amsterdam RAI, and the number of attendees on Friday passed 20,000 for the first time.

Audio technology

While some of the industry is still trying to work out what ‘immersive audio’ is and how it should be implemented, some manufacturers are forging ahead with object-based and multi- channel scene-based systems.

Meyer Sound officially joined this space race by previewing Space Map Live - an adaption of its Space Map theatre system, demonstrated at the show with object and ‘bed’-type panning control over three iPads. It joins systems such as L-Acoustic’s L-ISA and d&b’s Soundscape.

One immersive device, the Powersoft Mover, promises a direct (yet definitely more bumpy) route to reality. It’s an LF transducer that features a piston instead of a speaker cone. It can be attached to floors, seats, and so on to literally rock the observer’s world. Other ‘butt- kicker’ products do exist of course, but this one works in both inertia (vibration) and direct drive (connected to the piston) modes and requires only the output of an appropriate audio amp to do its thing. The VR demo of Mover on Powersoft’s ISE booth was a ‘special’ experience.

Networking was front and centre at the show. Dante was by far the most-used word in this context with new Allen & Heath Dante-enabled DT168 and DT164-W I/O boxes, new four- channel Dante networked processors from Tascam (I/O, DSP, and control app), and a host of other boxes that are now Dante-enabled shown.

For those who favour an open source-approach, there was progress in the Milan camp.

The new Adamson CS-7P is the first of a new family of products from the company with Class D amplification, DSP, and Milan- ready network endpoint, while d&b audiotechnik launched the DS20 Milan bridge into its range of I/O.

It’s also easy to see the influence of networked systems when it comes to control in the audio world. L-Acoustics announced its new Crestron Control Module for its LA8, LA4X and LA12X amplified controllers, and the P1 AVB processor.

As you might expect there was a good smattering of speakers on show at ISE 2019. L-Acoustics introduced the small but powerful X4i, a ‘weatherised’ coaxial loudspeaker that weighs less than 1kg and has the same sonic signature as L-Acoustics ARCS and Kiva.

d&b showed the KSL system, a new addition to the SL range with full broadband directivity control, extended LF response, and new rigging possibilities.

Bose launched its ArenaMatch DeltaQ array loudspeakers and ArenaMatch Utility loudspeakers, optimised specially for outdoor installations and featuring a selection of horizontal and vertical coverage options. Meyer Sound launched Ultra X40 which has a concentric driver configuration, a new Class D amp, and processor technologies from the manufacturer’s Leo family of products.

Meanwhile, K-array went discrete and really small. The new Lyzard-KZ1 is only 20mm x 35mm x 20mm, but the feature set makes it sound like it should be bigger. It has an aluminium chassis, a proper neodymium magnet, a long-excursion driver, and can manage a creditable 74.5dB SPL continuous; yet it only weighs 23g.

Biamp showed an innovative idea that aims to take the hassle out of managing audience mics for conferences and shows by putting microphones into the hands of every participant via their smartphone’s built-in mic. The Crowd Mics system lets audience members propose questions, queue to participate, vote, and lots more besides.

Display technologies

Rising resolutions and shrinking pixel pitches continue to be the name of the display game. 4K displays proliferated and there was a smattering of 8K product on show.

LED was everywhere, and it looked stunning. Samsung wowed with 8K, infiLED opted for high-contrast with specialist black LEDs, NEC (launching products after its S[quadrat] acquisition) took an ‘out of the box’ approach with application focussed bundled products.

Christie gave MicroTiles an LED facelift. The product – much loved for its flexibility in creative applications – is launching as a narrow pixel pitch LED product.

How low can you go is the question when it comes to pixel pitches. Barco showed 0.9mm to 1.9mm products with the launch of its XT series of direct view LED. Unilumin claimed the first 0.9mm LED to be mass produced for high- end applications. Absen claimed its CR series (with 0.9mm pixel pitch CR0.9) could provide five times the strength of traditional LED screens whilst consuming 20% less power. Daktronics’ 0.9mm Optica product offers outdoor brightness levels.

Not to be outdone, projection technologies were out in force. Bart Kresa’s debuted his Sviatovid projection sculpture and Vioso staged a 75 square metres dome outside the RAI. Inside, several stands demonstrated the flexibility of the display technology. Epson’s Vortex took visitors inside an interactive projected tunnel powered by 16 projectors. Projection mapping let Barco demonstrate the capability of its UDX-4K40 projectors that each weigh less than 100kg.

The last word on projection goes to Digital Projection which debuted the Insight HFR360 multiview projector. One projector can accommodate multiple, tracked viewers that are each fed an appropriate view according to their changing position.

The charge that there are limited signal distribution technologies available to handle the ultra-high resolutions on offer today is also being keenly and vigorously challenged.

One example of this was Adder Technology which touted simplicity (and associated cost savings) as it brought 4K into its Infinity range with the AdderLink Infinity 4000 series, a 4K IP KVM matrix over a single fibre. The launch allows a gradual upgrade path for existing customers who may need to mix resolution requirements as well as 1Gb and 10Gb networks.

AV over IP

Transmitting video over IP networks has been accepted by the AV industry. The debate is over the choice of 1Gb or 10Gb infrastructure. Both have their own advantages and the market has yet to crown a clear victor. The product releases and technology showcases at ISE 2019 reflected this fractured nature.

In fact, new entrants to the AV over IP realm chose to unveil exclusively 1Gb solutions.

The case in point can be seen with the addition of video to QSC’s Q-Sys platform which was already able to bring audio and control together. Speaking with QSC on its stand at ISE revealed that the manufacturer approached video over IP with spreadsheet usage as a starting point. QSC then built its own codec, called Shift, from a DCT base to help it differentiate its offering from the competition.

Still on the topic of codecs, Crestron also introduced its new Pixel Perfect processing technology along with a new range of DM NVX products for video over IP applications. Pixel Perfect processing technology has been developed together with Intel and intoPix and replaces JPEG2000 which was the codec previously used by Crestron.

Another move to bring the ‘A’ and the ‘V’ of AV together was made by Audinate. It introduced Dante AV, which aims to solve the problems of networked video and audio synchronisation by using a single network clock for sub-microsecond accuracy. The product is meant for use with 1Gb architecture and is based on the JPEG2000 codec.

Dante AV aims to make audio and video signals routable in a single interface using the Dante Controller software. From an end-user perspective having a single ‘pane of glass’ or one dashboard to manage and route both audio and video signals on the network would be a significant step forward.

Kramer introduced a new marketing push under the heading ‘Kramer Platforms’ which is meant to highlight how the manufacturer provides hardware with a software focus across control, enterprise, booking and AV over IP. SDVoE was also in the mix with its focus on interoperability and the advantages offered by 10Gb infrastructure.

ZeeVee, a founding member of the SDVoE, highlighted the fact that its encoders and decoders are certified for use in hospital environments. Coupled with the fact that 10Gb AV over IP solutions can offer lighter compression and more video details, it makes ZeeVee encoders and decoders particularly suited to applications in the healthcare industry.

AV over IP might have dominated conversations and grabbed the headlines at ISE 2019 but it is important to note that it is not a panacea. There still exist applications where investing in IT infrastructure to transport video does not make sense. The HDBaseT Alliance was present at the exhibition to offer a well-presented counter- point to AV over IP.

Chipset maker Valens was keen to highlight that HDBaseT is based on ASIC whereas competing AV over IP products used FPGAs. The former provides a range of benefits such as better energy efficiency and weight. However, more interesting was the fact that the spokesperson from Valens stated that the next generation of HDBaseT chipset may be able to transmit 4K60 4:4:4 video uncompressed.

It was not so long ago that compression was a dirty word never to be used within our industry. Rising resolutions and bandwidth constraints have meant that video transmission has had to make its peace with shrinking file sizes down. If HDBaseT can deliver 4K60 4:4:4 without compression, then the conversation around latency and quality is about to get a lot more interesting.

ISE returns to the Amsterdam RAI for the last time next year (February 11 to 14, 2019) before relocating to Barcelona in 2021.