Thin bezels give video walls appeal in retail, transport

Ever-narrower bezels that allow banks of displays to be perceived as a single screen are increasing the popularity of video walls in major digital signage sectors such as retail and transportation, according to new research. A report from Futuresource Consulting forecasts that 380,000 video walls will be installed this year, up 60 percent on 2011’s shipments. “Recent innovations have breathed new life into this comparatively mature industry,” said Parmjit Bhangal, a market analyst with the firm. “Since 2009, LED backlight solutions have been integrated into rear projection displays, negating the costs of bulb replacement and maintenance. “However, LCD super-narrow-bezel displays have been the real game-changer, finally offering a viable alternative to rear projection devices and plasma screens, allowing vendors to drive new revenue streams from new markets, most notably retail and public display, as well as defending their positions in video-based verticals.” That super-narrow-bezel (SNB) category accounted for more than 80 percent of the total video wall market last year, Bhangal added.

3D@Home Consortium and International 3D Society Merge to Form World's Largest 3D Organization

To better serve the growing global theatrical, television, video game, and mobile 3D marketplace and professional community, the International 3D Society (I3DS) and the 3D@Home Consortium today announced plans to merge operations and activities. With members in 20 countries and chapters in China, Japan, Korea, Europe, the UK and North America, the new organization will be known as the International 3D Society & 3D@Home. The Merger was ratified by both organizations' leadership and is effective immediately. "This newly formed organization will serve to spearhead the growth and expansion of the 3D entertainment industry across the entire ecosystem - from content conception and development, to consumer education and adoption," said Tom Cosgrove, Co-Chair of I3DS & 3D@Home and President and CEO of 3net. "Across all platforms where 3D is expanding, everywhere consumers are consuming 3D content, and in any way the 3D format is being utilized, our organization is there to support our members and advance the growth of this prolific medium."

Miracast - A Challenger to Apple's AirPlay

Between my wife and me, we have three AppleTV’s, two iPhones, two iPads, a MacBook Pro and two Windows laptops. One of the single best features we use on the Apple devices is AirPlay. Sure, the AppleTV can stream virtually anything that’s already in the iCloud or in a known location on the network, but all too often, I have friends over and have something on my iPhone/iPad that I want to show them. Rather than copying it somewhere, passing the device around the room, or have several people hunching over it, I simply turn on my 50-inch plasma and stream it to the TV using AirPlay and the AppleTV. Sure, if it’s something on YouTube, I could search on the AppleTV, but frankly, I’d rather go to the dentist than use those infernal on-screen keyboards. At one of my consulting clients, we recently equip all the meeting rooms with Sharp 80-inch screens, MacMini’s (with Bootcamp, so they can run Windows too) and AppleTV’s. Anyone sporting an iDevice or a recent Mac with Mountain Lion can stream to the TV. When it comes to content on my PC it’s a whole other, very sorry, story. One of my laptops is a fairly new Core i7 model, and supports Intel’s WiDi. At last count, there were two devices available that would connect to a TV and neither had other compelling features. There are several proprietary solutions on the market for streaming wireless HDMI, but I don’t need any more set-top boxes, especially ones that won’t work with my friend’s devices. The Apple eco system, makes it all so simple: when my iFriends come over, anyone can throw up anything on the big screen. For my Droid/WM buddies, it’s a can of mal-connected worms. The Wi-Fi Alliance has a plan to address this (WiDi RIP). Wi-Fi Direct enables peer-to-peer connections between Wi-Fi devices and Miracast (Wi-Fi Display) supports display of video content from consumer electronics and mobile devices. According to ABI Research, by 2014, 66% of consumer electronics devices are expected to support Wi-Fi Direct and the majority of these will be Miracast certified too. Major chipmakers, such as Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Marvell and Broadcom are all on board. Let’s hope Intel recognize that the writing’s on the wall for WiDi and support the open effort too.  

Is AppleTV set to become a cable box?

There have been a lot of reports of Apple negotiating content deals with the major networks and the possibility of a la carte available via the iTunes store. According to the Wall St Journal, current discussions are centered on Apple producing a fully fledge set top box. TiVo Inc. currently dominates this sector of the market, but has a miniscule installed base compared to users who are happy to rent a DVR form their cable provider for $10-15 a month. For those looking for a solution outside of their cable operator’s offering, an Apple-based device would be an attractive proposition if it provided the functionality of the current AppleTV. Such a device would allow users to get virtually all of their Cable and OTT content on a single device (and presumably stream wirelessly around the house). The device would also give TiVo a run for their money, especially fi there were no subscription fees on an Apple-branded device.

Streaming Wars Heating Up

  It seems a day doesn’t go by without the announcement of a new music or video streaming service. Of course, many of them never get off the ground, but new developments among the heavy hitters are about to make things interesting. Netflix has returned to profit —albeit at a lower figure than last year; however, this can be partially attributed to expenses it has incurred expanding into non-US markets and creating its own Content Delivery Network (CDN). No doubt, the loss of subscribers after its recent price hike is still hurting the bottom line, but subscribers are growing. Besides alienation a large percentage of its customers, Netflix now faces several real and present dangers: RedBox, HuluPlus and Amazon. RedBox has begun alpha testing of its RedBox Instant streaming service with its partner, Verizon. Partnering with Verizon may help in the short term, but will cap growth unless subscription is extended to the general population. Two weeks ago, the Amazon Instant Video app was released on the iTunes App Store. With thousands of titles available from Prime Instant Video at no additional cost with an Amazon Prime membership, Amazon’s instant video service is gaining ground rapidly. Recent exclusive content deals (The fringe and West Wing) will also hurt Netflix who seem to be plagued by stale content. Last, but by no means least, HuluPlus is now available on AppleTV. One day Apple will wake up and realize the AppleTV could be as successful as the iPod and iPhone. Last quarter’s sales topped out at 1.4m and the current installed based is now estimated at about 6.3m. That’s a lot of potential HuluPlus subscribers. (Since HuluPlus appeared on the AppleTV, I signed up . Prior to this, I never found what I consider to be a usable interface on my many streaming-capable devices.) I predict stormy waters ahead for Netflix; better dig out the lifejackets!    

Ultimate Projection Mapping Display

Many of us—knowingly or not—have seen large scale projection walls with pretty good mapping and edge blending, Not many of us have seen as setup with 44 projectors, having a combined brightness of 840,000 lumens and covering a surface 600ft wide x 351ft high. This impressive display was put together by Obscura Digital to celebrate the United Arab Emirates National Day.   Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Projections from Obscura Digital on Vimeo .

Going Big on Healthcare AV and IT

If, as an AV professional, you still scratch your head from time to time wondering why InfoComm and the InfoComm Board spend so much time and resources on things like standards, industry innovations, and ANSI-accreditation of the Certified Technology Specialist program (or even if you don’t), I’d like you to meet Kate Berry. We talk a lot about the AV industry having a more prominent seat at more prominent tables. Kate is the type of person AV professionals can expect to meet when they commit themselves to standards and raising the overall profile of the industry. Recently, Kate joined InfoComm officials on a trip to the University of Central Florida’s new high-tech College of Medicine to check out the school’s AV and IT systems. She is CEO of the National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC). And her organization is joining InfoComm in launching a first-of-its-kind conference on the intersection of AV and IT technology in the healthcare market. Full Interview here:

Digital signage now part of AAA hotel ratings

AAA recently updated its diamond rating system for North American hotels — and included digital signage as part of its rating evaluations.  The organization revamped its "Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines" for lodgings, the blueprint for assigning ratings of one to five AAA Diamonds following successful on-site inspections at more than 30,000 hotels throughout North America. Digital signage and self-service kiosks, and how they contribute to hotel atmosphere and services, were among the considerations noted in the inspections, AAA said. "Traveler expectations and travel industry capabilities continue to evolve," AAA tourism information development director Michael Petrone said in the announcement. The new guidelines address changes that have occurred since the last update in 2007. With input from AAA's full-time hotel inspectors, AAA members and industry professionals, the updated guidelines reflect current AAA member expectations and travel trends.

Don't expect lower cost OLED's any time soon

  According to DisplaySearch, manufacturing costs for 55” OLED panels are 8-10 times higher than LCD. LG, who employ WRGB OLED on an IGZO substrate, will be able to do so for eight times the cost of a comparative LCD. Samsung, will be looking at a cost of ten times LCD for their direct-emission OLED. Although, Samsung can produce OLED at a 30% premium in small sizes (e.g. for phones and tablets), producing large panels still has comparatively lower yields and higher material costs. It will be interesting to see if Samsumg will be able to recoup that additional 25% at retail. With such a huge manufacturing differential, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll be seeing 55” OLED’s in stores for $10,000 before the end of 2012.

Sony, Sharp highlight Japan electronics woes

A profit warning from Sony and a massive loss forecast from Sharp have highlighted the depth of the problems facing Japan's consumer electronics industry, beset by an expensive yen and evaporating competitiveness in televisions. Sony, which is coming off a Y457bn ($5.8bn) net loss for fiscal 2011, on Thursday said that a promised rebound this year would be smaller than it initially expected. Sharp, meanwhile, widened its full-year net loss forecast more than eightfold, to Y250bn from the Y30bn it predicted in May, and said that it planned to eliminate 5,000 jobs -- its first workforce reduction since 1950. Japanese tech groups such as Sony and Sharp had invested heavily in production facilities for liquid crystal TV displays, only to find themselves unable to compete as prices for flatscreen sets plunged. The yen's 50 per cent rise against the currencies of Japan's trading partners since mid-2008 has made them that much more vulnerable to cheaper Taiwanese and South Korean producers.

33% of Cord Cutters Gone for Good

I’m a cord cutter, so I can relate to this. I don’t miss my $100+ per month cable bill and with prices set to hit $200+ per month by 2020 , I don’t think I’ll ever go back. In a recent survey by deal aggregator TechBargains.com , 33% of the 1604 respondents have already cut the cord and said they would never return at any price. The survey also found that 29% of respondents  are cord cutters, with 83% of those stating that subscription is too expensive. The remaining 17% primarily cited content being limited in quality and variety. At 74%, Netflix is the leading streaming content provider, beating YouTube by 13% I cut the cord a few years ago. It was a bit of a learning curve getting everything setup and there’s some upfront investment required, but it’s getting easier every day. Hulu’s recent support for the AppleTV is just another stepping stone to cord cutting nirvana. Cable companies are not sitting on their laurels. Most are now offering multi-room systems, home automation, cloud-based energy management and several hundred megabit download speeds to try and retain subscribers.

NPD DisplaySearch Revises Digital Signage Display Forecast

The global market for public displays remains strong, but in recent quarters, flat panel display manufacturers have emphasized revenue and profit over volume, thus lowering the overall unit shipment outlook for this category. As production of plasma displays continues to wind down, LCD-based commercial displays have yet to fully fill the void, according to the recently released NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly FPD Public Display Shipment and Forecast Report. With reduced production of plasma, the public display market fell 13 percent year to year; however, LCD public display shipments were up 23 percent year to year, according to the report. Forecasts still show strong growth, with the market set to push near 12 million units sold in 2018, an increase from just under 3 million units in 2011. Growth will be driven by new applications for public displays such as digital signage, interactive white boards, video walls, electronic menu boards, as well as the global trend toward urbanization in developing countries seen most visibly in China.

Leviton Acquires Home Automation, Inc.

Leviton today announced the acquisition of Home Automation, Inc. (HAI), a leader in home automation controls for residential and light commercial applications. HAI enhances Leviton's current home automation offerings by providing homeowners with solutions that combine security, energy management and entertainment controls, in user-friendly applications. Integrating HAI products with Leviton's solutions provides homeowners with a smart choice for automation and remote access capabilities. HAI has a wide-ranging product offering, from systems that allow homeowners to control their automated video surveillance system and audio devices over the Internet to programmable thermostats and light switches accessible directly from a smart phone. "Leviton's acquisition of HAI represents a significant expansion of our offerings in the residential market, and furthers Leviton's commitment to providing customers with the latest technologies as affordable, easy-to-use solutions," said Daryoush Larizadeh, Chief Operating Officer of Leviton. "Leviton and HAI are two established brands coming together to offer a complete whole home automation solution that customers can trust."  

HuluPlus now on AppleTV - How to get a 2-month free trial.

Cord cutters rejoice. Hulu have just announced that HuluPlus is now available on AppeTV. For $7.99 a month, billed to the subscriber's iTunes account, users can get access to content from top broadcast channels, such as ABC, NBC, FOX, The CW and Univision as well as many other content partners. Unfortunately, paying $7.99/month does not excuse you from advertisements; although, the shows claim to have “limited ads”. Prior to the announcement, the only TV content available on AppleTV was via the iTunes store or Netflix. I’m sure Apple is getting a cut of the subscription revenue, but it’s bound to hurt sales of TV content on iTunes. Eagerly, I fired up my AppleTV and gave it a try. Quality wasn’t bad: Hell’s Kitchen wasn’t quite as good as my over the air HD, and I can now get BBC America content, so I’m sold. For those who want more than the paltry one week free trial on offer on AppleTV, follow this link to get two months free. Sign up and then simply select “I already have a HuluPlus subscription” when prompted on the AppleTV Apple has long treated AppleTV as a hobby. Maybe things are changing in Cupertino.

Retail tech heats up to beat holiday shopping lockdown

While the holiday shopping season doesn't kick off till the fall, the behind-the-scenes tech preparations for the season are already heating up this summer — and those technology deployments should be even bigger and better this year. And a recent study suggests that retailers will be spending even more on high-tech this year in an effort to steal a march on competitors and surf the bleeding edge of customer engagement technologies. From basic POS system repairs to digital signage installations, retailers are tackling a variety of tech projects now in order to prepare for the holiday rush in Q4, according to tech service company OnForce. Because when the rush starts, these repairs and upgrades will mean downtime they can't afford, especially at the register. And their deadline isn't Black Friday — it's Halloween, which generated almost $7 billion in retail revenue last year. And according to new research from the Computing Technology Industry Association, 63 percent of retailers expect to increase their spending on technology solutions in the coming year.

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