This year, Let’s Do Video is joining forces with David Danto (industry consultant and analyst) to bring you the InfoComm wrap up. David Danto will cover this year’s sessions and top level trends at the show, while our own David Maldow will provide a detailed report of the exhibitors and offerings. This article is also available on David Danto’s webpage.
This show has grown too big for just one person to catch all of it, so hopefully, by combining perspectives, we will manage to miss less of the important news.
Sessions and Panels
InfoComm and The IMCCA blew-up and reimagined the day before the expo opened this year, with a new all-day seminar on Emerging Trends. This was widely covered and previewed by industry publications, in the hope that the session and format would prove valuable. It didn’t disappoint.
Over 600 people attended the session, with so many interested a few had to be turned away until more seats were added. Nine industry experts presented the latest changes in their specific spaces, including Audio, Displays, Digital Signage, Control Systems, Unified Communications, Videoconferencing and Huddle Rooms, Team Chat Applications, and more. Attendees and presenters were also able to gather in a nearby lounge for more in-depth one-on-one discussions after each presentation. Some of the key points covered include:
- The changing world of microphones, with “Beam-forming Array” being the new buzzword, wireless frequencies getting scarce and new standards for digital audio emerging.
- New high resolution display standards (such as SMPTE 2084 EOTF) are coming that will drastically improve images, but will require new and better connectivity.
- Digital signage is moving toward creating IoT experiences to support distributed commerce
- Custom programmed AV rooms are giving way to simpler Huddle Rooms supported by cloud based infrastructure.
- Team Chat is the new UC buzzword, with platforms like Slack, Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams and others trying to gain market share while trying to encourage users to join their communities.
- APIs allow cloud collaboration services to be integrated into existing workflows. The “X as a Service” model is growing rapidly as a result.
The presenters were then honored as the first group of InfoComm / IMCCA Emerging Technology Fellows at an industry lunch the next day.
It is expected that InfoComm and the IMCCA will continue to present this program next year, with a new group of individuals being honored and presented. For details on the presenters and the topics covered you can take a look at the initial press release and you can also read impressions from Fellow Irwin Lazar here.
The IMCCA also presented the Unified Communications track at the conference, covering such topics as the current state of wireless presenting, the explosion of Huddle Rooms, the importance of security in designing collaboration rooms and systems, and more. David Maldow also presented an IMCCA session on how to embed collaboration APIs into your workflow, explaining that APIs can actually be very easy to leverage and often yield great results.
It was great to see that UC / Collaboration – which was only a minor interest at InfoComms past – was clearly the most prominent theme covered at the 2017 conference.
All of the IMCCA collaboration presentations (including Emerging Trends) are available for download, and in addition, about half the sessions will be available to watch as video files here, for free, courtesy of a new service company called AnyHows. (Anyhows.com is marketplace for professionals to share their knowledge and expertise, with a focus on helping firms and individuals share professional assets such as documents, spreadsheets, presentations and plans.)
Industry Trends and Themes
There were a number of important industry themes that emerged from the conference. In no particular order, these included:
- Partnerships are hot. Whether you’re talking about Dolby audio in BlueJeans conferencing, Polycom and Crestron adding a Zoom button, or Logitech dancing with everybody, the players in the collaboration space are partnering-up for better experiences – and to help grow their marketshare. Partnerships in the integrator world are happening as well, but in this case, despite all the cheering, it represents the inevitable shrinking of the AV Integration market. Many more small providers will close and/or sell themselves to big providers before the shakeout is over.
- Huddle Rooms are where the money is. Just about all of the collaboration manufacturers and service providers are targeting this smaller, simpler, non-customized space with gusto – just a few years since many said it would never catch-on. Cameras with wider fields of view, automatic zooming and tracking cameras, speaker format microphone/speaker/camera units and more are now being planned and delivered to the market. Many firms – established and start-ups – are working on products to simplify controlling these smaller spaces. That Taps you heard was played for the integrated room touch panel (just as I predicted years ago.) Even the new systems will struggle when secure voice control comes to the enterprise – within the next 18-24 months.
- Everybody has an interactive whiteboard. You couldn’t spit without hitting one. Even the food cart vendors seemed to be selling an interactive solution. As I predicted in my whitepaper on the space we’re now firmly strapped into the hype-cycle roller coaster heading up the mountain. At next year’s InfoComm there may still be a flood of devices, but by the following year this niche product will likely take its rightful place – considering it is useful in less than 15% of enterprise applications – leaving many of the new entrants currently riding the wave dealing with a “wipe-out.” Expect the survivors in this sector to de-emphasize the touch screen part of what they do and focus on the fact that they have all-in-one collaboration solutions – a trend that actually has the legs to continue.
Booth Visits and Vendor Briefings
Visiting the exhibitors on the floor, there were a number of exciting announcements, products and services on display. While it was impossible to cover everyone, we tried to visit as many of the key players in our industry as possible.
Until recently, videoconferencing solutions were almost exclusively marketed to, and sold through, the IT teams. While a quality experience for the users has always been part of the pitch, the real deal-closers were the enterprise IT capabilities and features like security and manageability. Today, we have actual growth and adoption stemming from the users themselves. Popular products are going viral among users within enterprises before IT steps in and manages the deployment. This means a cutting edge, user friendly, UI is more crucial than ever. Mark Strassman (CPO), gave me a sneak peak of their new user experience and my first impression was that it was very clean and easy. I think the future of UIs is minimalist. I want to feel like I am looking through a window at someone and that is the approach BlueJeans is going for here.
The BlueJeans team also pointed out to me that recent market events have somewhat validated their interop cloud approach, and their BlueJeans Relay solution in particular, which allows users to “touch-to-join” BlueJeans meetings from traditional H.323 endpoints. While certain competitors have recently created this capability through partnerships and API sharing with certain endpoint vendors, BlueJeans has been supporting this for some time now. While there was a lot to see and demo at the booth, I think their integration of Dolby Audio is particularly significant because of the importance of quality audio in video meetings.
Jason Ambion (National Sales Director) game me a close look at ClearOne’s new Versa 150 solution which includes the new UNITE 150. The solution comes with a convenient USB hub, allowing you to connect all your in-room peripherals (camera, mics, displays, keyboards, mice, etc) so you can simply plug in your laptop and control the room. The bundle is priced at $1,999 while the camera alone is $1,199. This puts it with the budget for more spaces and is significantly more affordable than some similarly specced competitor options.
Robin Raulf-Sager (Head of Global Communications), showed me a very compelling demo of the use case for their new MeetUp solution. Following the success of their new BRIO 4K webcam, the MeetUp is designed for the huddle space and features a 120 degree field of view. In the demo, they simply switched camera inputs between the MeetUp, and their GROUP room system camera, which offers a traditional 90 field of view and is suited for larger meeting rooms. The MeetUp captured people located close to the display, as they would be sitting in a small huddle space, whereas the traditional camera missed people on both sides. What I really like about the MeetUp is the speaker bar configuration which takes mics, speakers, and wires, off of the conference room table.
Hellene Garcia (Director, Business Development) gave me a 45 second demo in which she took a new Huawei endpoint of the box, physically connected it, powered it up, selected StarLeaf from the start-up menu, and a few seconds later made a video call using her StarLeaf directory. It is suddenly very easy for Huawei hardware customers (and there are a lot of them) to use the StarLeaf cloud. I was even more interested in checking out the new StarLeaf App. The new app embraces the persistent team messaging workflow, which I believe is the future of UC. What makes the StarLeaf App particularly noteworthy is where it’s coming from. Many team messaging apps start with chat, and then bolt on audio or video, which can result in a less than seamless experience. The Starleaf App appears to have started with their mature video cloud experience, and wrapped the new team workflow around it.
Janelle Raney (Product Marketing) walked me through some of the latest Zoom partnerships and developments. Riding off the big Polycom announcement in May, Zoom has now added Cisco and Crestron to the growing list of enterprise device manufacturers looking to connect to the Zoom cloud. There were a lot of conversations among analysts and users at the show trying to pinpoint the secret to Zoom’s success. While there are clearly a lot of factors, most discussions concluded that a primary factor is the simple strength of their product. It’s reliable, and users like the experience to a point where they are pushing adoption, rather than being pulled by IT. That is how you win in today’s UC market, and why we saw several updated UIs and new apps from other vendors at the show.
I’ve been a fan of the PanaCast solution since it was conceptual. When it first hit the market, it was one of very few alternatives to the traditional pan/tilt/zoom camera. Today there is a consensus in the industry that users do not like remote controls and we need an automated way to properly frame speakers during video meetings. Not only that, but it appears that the PanaCast approach in particular is being adapted (and thereby validated) by market competitors. The approach is to capture the entire room in high (4K) definition, then digitally crop the image to provide the best experience for remote viewers based on what is happening in the room. This allows the solution to not only frame speaking participants, but follow them as they move around the room. The solution is so smart, it can now even detect if there is a whiteboard in the room, and pop its image into a new window during a video meeting. This allows remote participants to put video meeting on one monitor, and the close up of the whiteboard on another. This was just one of the futuristic applications being developed by President and CEO Aurangzeb Khan, who also showed me an augmented reality application for the PanaCast at the booth. Expect more to come from this innovative crew.
The integration giant had a big announcement about an alliance with Asia-based Vega, to solidify their global lead in the market. I also caught a demo of the latest version of their Symphony Management Platform. AVI-SPL needs to keep this platform cutting edge to manage all the new technologies in today’s increasingly complicated AV environments.
No new big news for Cisco at this show, although they are continuing to get new awards for their most recent Spark products. There was certainly a lot of traffic around their Spark Board and Spark Room Kits at the booth as I saw when Angie Mistretta (Sr. Director of Collaboration Solutions Marketing) walked me through the booth and caught me up on the latest developments and roadmap plans. The key is a meeting centric focus. They have a vision for how meetings should work, and they are designing a virtual experience around that with the Spark brand of products and services.
I caught up with Mitchell Hershkowitz (Vice President, Customer Experience & Digital Workplace), who briefed me on their new endpoint lifecycle managed services. Managing corporate apps on personal iOS devices is a particular challenge that many organizations are starting to face. This new program includes a dedicated Apple practice, to meet this challenge. We also discussed today’s holistic approach to collaboration environment design and the improved results that Dimension Data’s customers are seeing as a result.
Eric Murphy (General Manager, Americas), showed me how HRT’s unique approach to meeting room videoconferencing works. Each person in the room wirelessly connects their personal device (laptop, tablet, mobile), to the Huddle Hub One device. Their video signals are then merged into a single signal which connects to your cloud video service of choice. Remote participants see the active speaker in the room, or a gallery view of everyone in the room. Those in the meeting room can all view the remote video participants on their own personal device. If everyone is looking down at their screens during a meeting anyway, we might as well put the meeting there. It will be interesting to see how much the appeal of using our own devices will make this an attractive option.
“Did you see anything cool and different?” This is the question I am most frequently asked at InfoComm. This year I had an answer. The Owl is very cool, and very different. CEO and Co-Founder Max Makeev (former iRobot engineer and product manager), took the Owl through it’s paces with me in a whisper room at the show. It uses the methodology I described above, of capturing the entire room in high resolution and then digitally framing active speakers, but with a unique twist. The camera on the Owl is a fish-eye lens, and it points directly up. That allows it to truly capture an entire room from the center of the meeting room table. It then digitally removes the fish-eye effect and crops the active speakers for the remote display. It connects to your laptop via USB like any other meeting room camera, and can use your video app of choice. It is so different that it is a little hard to explain, so this video may help.
I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the Nureva Span for a long time. Rob Abbott (Director, Product Management), and Dan Oleskevich (Product Manager) were kind enough to give me the grand tour. The entire concept of a massive virtual workspace allowing your entire team to share files and work simultaneously in person, or remotely, is extremely compelling. Nureva’s implementation, and the product’s workflow have made this product an analyst favorite and has supported some really cool customer use cases. Nureva was also showing their new HDL300 audio conferencing system at the show. I wasn’t expecting an audio product from Nureva, but this system is very impressive and has already won at least one “Best New Product” award. It appears that Nureva isn’t simply a virtual workspace provider, they are focused on creating and supporting collaborative environments. As such, they saw a need for better audio to complement Nureva Span collaboration sessions and decided to solve the problem themselves with the HDL300.
Always one of the coolest demos at any show they attend, I obviously enjoyed my time at the Oblong booth. Steve DeSisto (Director of Channel Sales) let me check out the controls for the Mezzanine and shared its new features, and explained their new product series. The power of this solution and the visual impact of a well done Mezzanine presentation are hard to put into words. It is just an extremely smooth and feature rich implementation of wireless share and control.
I caught up with Jordan Owens (VP, Americas) of Pexip. Although not exhibiting this year, Pexip is a big part of any videoconferencing conversation. More and more services are being built off the Pexip platform as they continue to make new deals and partnerships. I also had a very interesting conversation with John Vitale (Sr VP, Product Management at Yorktel), who gave me an in depth explanation of how Pexip’s API’s allowed Yorktel to build its Univago offering using Pexip, in ways that he believes would not be possible with any other platform.
Phoenix Audio Technologies
The Phoenix dev team seems to have something new every year for us from these audio experts. This year, Jonathan Boaz (VP of Sales and Marketing) showed me the new Stingray. Significantly more affordable, and easier to configure, than the competition, this device mixes up to 60 microphones. I also learned their Condor microphone array, and Spider speakerphone are continuing to see nice traction in the market.
The big attraction at the Polycom booth was their new Pano wireless share solution. Andy Cuneo (Senior Manager, Corporate Communications) helped me participate in a demo. I was particularly pleased to see that this was not another “me too” offering in this increasingly crowded space. In fact, the Pano offers a somewhat unique experience in that users don’t have to take turns sharing the screen. Up to four users can share at once, with a four way split on the monitor. I can think of a lot of collaborative use applications where this will be handy.
Tolga Sakman (Managing Director, Collaboration Advisory Group), shared a quick demo of a new product from Synergy Sky, known for their management and analytics solutions. This new offering, the Synergy SKY Meeting Server allows users to create meetings in Outlook that can be joined by traditional room systems, Skype endpoints, browsers, or all of the above. It further simplifies things by pushing the meeting information from the invitation to the actual meeting room endpoints, allowing for one touch to join functionality. Endpoints can also be automatically dialed at the time of the meeting. This is a freemium offering, with no cost for the first 3 video systems connected to the service.
Dan Freeman (CEO) and Michael Baker (VP of Sales) were proud to show me the new addition to their line. The new TeamCam is made for huddle spaces (they prefer the branding of “Team” over “Huddle”) and has an MSRP of $389. We also talked about their continuing development of auto-tracking technology to solve the problem of manually controlling pan/tilt/zoom
The Videxio team has been busy with vendor endpoint integrations, more PoPs for a stronger global presence, a new app, a new internal development platform, and more. I was impressed by their integration with social medial streaming, as demoed to me by Tom-Erik Lia (CEO) and Karl Hantho (President, Americas). Many cloud vendors now offer the ability to stream a meeting over YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Periscope, etc. Videxio, however, is the only one that I am aware of which can stream to all of them simultaneously. I love the idea of blasting it out on all channels, and letting your audience decide how they want to watch it.
Jacob Borgeson (Product Expert) and I chatted about the increasing complexity of collaboration environments, and the increasing need for analytics to help us make the most of our deployments. Their recent partnership with Pinnaca, will make these analytics available to Pinnaca’s global customer base. As our tools get smarter, and more capable of capturing more sophisticated data, we should expect to see a lot more development from Vyopta.
The new Yamaha CS 700 got a lot of attention at the show, as well as the news that Yamaha is getting very serious about the UC space. Randall Lee (Director, Strategic and Channel Marketing) joined Yamaha with the Revolabs acquisition, which is a big part of Yamaha’s UC strategy. I got a close look at the CS 700 (as stated before, I am a big fan of the speaker bar design for video systems) and I enjoyed an excited discussion about the future of Yamaha in the market. Having once owned a Yamaha motorcycle, as well as a Yamaha acoustic guitar, I know this company can make a quality product in just about any market. I’m looking forward to seeing what joins the CS 700 in Yamaha’s new UC product line.
Full Disclosure: Several Let’s Do Video sponsors were exhibiting at InfoComm this year. LDV strives to provide neutral, third-party coverage of sponsors and non-sponsors in our day-to-day writing, as well as event coverage. While coverage of our sponsors is highlighted at the top of the “Vendor Briefings” section above, everyone that we found interesting and had time to brief with was covered. None of the content of this article has been paid for or pre-approved by any vendor or sponsor. Apologies to those we missed. Let’s set up next year’s briefings early!
This article was written by David Danto and David Maldow and contains solely their own, personal opinions.
David Danto has had over three decades of delivering successful business outcomes in media and collaboration technology for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds – including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He is now a consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV industries. He is also honored to serve as IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.