Trends and Innovations for the Workplace At InfoComm 2019

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Chair of the Month

We engaged with our friends at Tangram Interiors to get the inside scoop on InfoComm 2019, the premier trade show for commercial audio-video solutions. Mark Coxon, Technology Sales Director at Tangram shares with us the most important technology trends from this year’s event.

With their thin and flexible materials, OLED displays can be used in large arrays and shaped to conform to curved surfaces for dramatic effect.

Earlier this month, InfoComm hosted their annual conference and exhibition in Orlando, FL. The event is the largest commercial audiovisual trade show in North America and attracts nearly 45,000 attendees each year. Attended by technology managers, audiovisual service providers and manufacturers, the show educates participants on best practices and new products, as well as opportunities to grow their professional networks.

I attend InfoComm every year to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry and maintain my strong, personal relationships with my peers in the space. It is all too easy for someone like me to get caught up in the technology itself, but we all know that technology has implications in the workplace that reach well beyond “tech” and into the actual design of the space as well as infrastructure requirements. As there are over 1000 exhibitors and thousands of products filling the Orlando convention center halls, it can be difficult to prioritize your time. With that in mind, here’s a brief recap of the show including a look into how some of the new products can reduce the burdens that designers and facilities managers may face when trying to implement technology into their spaces.

OLED display technology delivers high brightness and resolution using thin, flexible, lightweight film for a wide range of creative applications.

The Versatility of OLED

If you’ve been to a store that sells TVs in the last couple years, you may be familiar with the acronym OLED for organic light emitting diode. I’ll spare you the potentially boring details of how the technology works, but basically, it’s a flexible film that can be electrified to create a picture. This development obviously represents some amazing opportunities from a creative design perspective, as the films can be arranged in a large array and curved to create imagery that is immersive and scalable as opposed to playing back video on traditional flat rectangles.

However, OLED can also potentially make those flat rectangles more interesting and easier to manage as well. Transparent OLED films can be placed on windows or glass to create displays that seem to float in mid-air, and rollable OLED films can be built into credenzas or low-profile structures like mantles to allow a screen to rise or drop out of a very small space, rolling back up when not in use.

From an infrastructure perspective, both OLED films and the displays that utilize them are much lighter and thinner than their LCD screen counterparts. They can solve many of the issues a designer of facilities manager may face when navigating ADA requirements for leading edge protrusion; and seismic issues or OSHPD requirements for securing heavier items to a wall or ceiling.

Power over Ethernet speakers utilize power routed through network cables for simple installation and management.

Everything Over IP

Another major trend at InfoComm has been the transition of pushing audio, video and control signals through a data infrastructure. In the past, extensive conduit or specialized cabling were often needed to distribute audiovisual signals throughout a facility. Changing the layout or locations of items became prohibitive at times based on that infrastructure. To compound the problem, adding displays or speakers often required adding expensive and bulky audiovisual switches and amplifiers as well. This practice resulted in workplace technology not being dynamic enough to change quickly and adapt to the ever-shifting needs of the modern workplace.

A major theme of this year’s InfoComm was leveraging the traditional IT infrastructure to distribute all types of signals. Granted, some of these IP-based devices have been around for a few years, but this year everyone seemed finally to be embracing the power of the network. Today there are more choices than ever, and the products have become exponentially easier to configure and integrate, making them increasingly more viable.

Not only are devices easy to connect, as they just need Cat5E or Cat6A network cabling, but expansion is much easier and more cost effective. Traditional network switches can now distribute the signals at a fraction of the cost of traditional AV hardware. Add to this that many new speakers and peripherals can also be powered by that same cabling via Power over Ethernet or POE, and even the electrical infrastructure becomes much easier to plan and manage.

Rollable OLED displays can be built into a variety of furniture or other structures for quick deployment and hidden storage.

Software and the Future of AV

Finally, this year showed an even greater role of software and the cloud in the future of AV systems. Obviously, software will never replace a speaker, camera or display in a space. However, software is replacing many of the other small, proprietary black boxes that used to fill that rack of mysterious equipment in a clandestine closet at the back of the building.

Cloud-based conferencing like Skype and Zoom has been rapidly displacing hardware-based conferencing at a fraction of the cost for a few years now. That same cloud-based approach is now starting to replace the need to purchase and manage audio-video control processors as well. Software is also being used instead of digital signal processors and format converters.

Even the IT infrastructure itself is becoming less hardware-centric and nimbler through software-defined networking. The point is, where these tasks used to require an appliance, now, in many cases, they just require an app. The big advantage from a design perspective is that many of those random boxes, taking up rack space, drawing power and producing heat, are now being virtualized on a small server or in the cloud.

This year’s InfoComm was a fantastic show to attend. The large displays, mega booths and experience-driven designs provided a wow-factor that made the show not only informative, but also fun! It also facilitated the unearthing of some of the latest trends in technology that make our spaces less intensive to plan, easier to change and manage, and more dynamic. And that, in turn, ensures a better and happier workplace for all.

Our thanks for AVIXA for another wonderful and informative event.

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