ISE 2016: Collaboration, Networking and Digital Signage
For European AV professionals – and, it seems, their counterparts from all over the world – ISE has become a ‘must attend’ event. Ian McMurray was there, and here he focuses on what’s going on in digital signage, collaboration and networking.
You can’t help but be amazed by the success of the ISE Expo. First held in Geneva in 2004, it attracted 3,500 visitors and 120 exhibitors. This year, attendance was over 60,000 – coming to see what 1,000+ exhibitors had to show. I think that makes it the world’s largest AV trade show – outstripping even InfoComm.
Such is its success that this year, for the first time, the event ran over four days rather than three.
One of the best things about ISE is that every year brings forth new exhibitors. This year, remarkably, there were over 200 companies who had never exhibited before – and coming up to half of those claimed to have something to offer the digital signage market. Inevitably, for some, that connection was a little tenuous – but for others, there was no mistaking it.
One that particularly caught my eye was Magic Schaufenster (translation: Magic Shop Window) and its Magic Mirror. The proposition is a digital signage system that allows you to virtually try on clothes – while you’re standing outside the shop. Hmmm…
At the less exotic end of the scale, Panasonic was making a big deal about its new screens with an SoC (system on chip) digital signage player (‘OpenPort’) attached. It’s a little late to the game – I can’t think of any major screen vendors who don’t have such a capability – but I guess its announcement demonstrates that it’s an offering that every display manufacturer believes it has to have, and a sign of how important the digital signage market has become.
Meanwhile, there’s still room for new dedicated players – at least, first time exhibitor, Swiss company My-Touch Digital, seemed to think so. It’s probably not alone.
Over on the BrightSign stand, the company seemed to be focusing on rounding out its product/service offering. Adding to its powerful dedicated players, the company was showing its new BrightPlates online template-based sign creation service as well as its BrightWall seamless video wall.
A lot of digital signage people at ISE were overheard to be excitedly discussing ‘the customer journey’ and ‘omnichannel’ and – surprise, surprise – ‘the omnichannel customer journey’. For those of you not fluent in the jargon, the customer journey describes all the ways a customer interacts with, and experiences, a brand.
As for ‘omnichannel’? Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory – but in digital signage, what it’s increasingly meaning is ‘mobile’. If your digital signage deployment doesn’t include getting to people via their phones, the thinking seems to be that you might as well go back to sticking up posters. Broadsign’s offering is a good example of what’s going on.
The digital signage market seems to be maturing – part of the mainstream. Other than odd-balls like Magic Schaufenster’s offering, not too much caught my eye. The emphasis was on incremental improvements and the continuation of existing trends. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Some of the biggest news in the collaboration market actually came a couple of weeks ahead of ISE, when Lifesize (which, strangely, was conspicuous by its absence from ISE 2016) announced it had moved itself out from under Logitech. For many, though, the significance of the announcement was that Lifesize seems to be committing itself to the cloud as the future of unified communications/ collaboration, with a SaaS business model. Not, though, that anyone at ISE was in much doubt – and this applied pretty much through all 14 halls – that the cloud is the next big thing and the future not just of collaboration, but of the whole AV world.
Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s Surface Hub was getting a lot of attention – and plenty of competition from the likes of Sharp’s Big Pad, InFocus’s MondoPad and the Kapp iQ from SMART, the company that pretty much created the IWB market of the last decade or so. (There were probably others that I overlooked). What will be intriguing, with the Surface Hub, will be whether the (much delayed) installed reality lives up to the year-long hype. Or is just an IWB under another name?
What was interesting was how companies you wouldn’t necessarily associate with collaboration were making themselves known as players in the market – companies like Atlona and Kramer. I’d always categorised them as AV signal distribution companies – but they, and others, are positioning themselves in the UC market with solutions like Kramer’s Collaborative Classroom and Via Campus. Atlona launched a new collaboration system at ISE, but I don’t recall its name. It’s not just ‘distribution’ companies either: Barco is another example of a company you thought you knew – but it too had a lot to say about its collaboration offering.
In collaboration terms, though, ISE 2016 was the year of the ‘huddle room’. Everyone, it seems, is huddling. The idea is that formal videoconferencing suites, in communication terms, are going the same way as sending letters. Now, we like to get together informally in ad hoc gatherings in spaces that may not even be classified as meeting rooms – and the AV industry is responding with smaller, lighter, more flexible solutions. Crestron, for example, was showcasing its newly-announced HD-MD-400-C-E (sexy, memorable name – right?) low-cost HDMI switcher and extender pair aimed squarely at that market.
The conclusion? Collaboration is a hot market that pretty much everyone wants to be in.
If customer journeys were what they were talking about on the digital signage vendor stands, and huddle rooms were the focus for – well, just about everyone else, it seemed – then there was no surprise to hear what everyone else was talking about: networking and IP.
What was fascinating about ISE this year is that the show was much more strongly marketed to IT professionals. Over the past few years, there’s been much talk of AV/IT integration as AV applications have become more mission critical in many corporate environments, and as the network has become increasingly central to how AV works. AV/IT integration is now very much a reality.
As well as the show floor, ISE is a great opportunity to get educated. This year, more than 150 training sessions were convened – and, among them, for those still trying to get to grips with AV/IT integration, was a half-day session designed to demonstrate to AV integrators how IT personnel in large companies run their departments and networks. Indicative of how ISE is changing is that the course was also designed to show IT professionals how modern media systems operate. It’s a two-way street.
IP is now pretty much at the heart of AV. Exterity, for example, was showing how it can enable integrators to create complete, end-to-end IP solutions. tvONE apparently had a new AV over IP module, although I didn’t get to see it. Just Add Power launched four additions to its HDMI over IP platform.
The target audience for exhibitors at ISE isn’t just integrators, consultants and end users. It’s also manufacturers – and a company I’ve been following for a while is AptoVision. Its ‘big idea’ is AV distribution using simple, low cost Ethernet switches – and to that end, the company has developed its innovative BlueRiver NT chipset. It’s said to eliminate the need for custom AV cross-point switches and allow the use of 10GbE switches instead. All too many technologies are announced as ‘game-changing’ or ‘ground-breaking’ – but this one may just merit the description. ISE 2016 saw AptoVision announce increased signal extension capabilities for the chipset.
Audio networking is becoming, it seems to me, something of a big deal – but, unfortunately, I’m not really an audio kinda guy. That said: I couldn’t help but notice that Dante seemed to figure prominently in a number of places. And, just to add to my confusion, the Media Networking Alliance was at ISE for the first time to promote AES67. I’m sure there are people out there who understand the relationship between AES67, Dante, AVB – and CobraNet even, or the AVnu Alliance (which also hosted a half day training session the day before ISE opened) – but I’m not one of them. The loss is almost certainly mine.
Yet again, ISE was thoroughly enjoyable. The show had a great buzz, as it always does, as well as providing insights into where our industry is going. On that note, let me leave you with one final thought. LCD is dead. The future is LED and OLED. You heard it here first.