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Something For Everyone At INFOCOMM 2000

by Adam C. Pemberton

From Plus Corporation's 2.9 pound palm-sized projector to the 30 foot LED outdoor display from Barco, this year's INFOCOMM show in Anaheim, CA offered something for everyone. Now in its tenth year, INFOCOMM continues to grow, both in size and scope. Filling over 800,000 square feet of exhibit space, this is the annual show and tell for everything related to visual communications for everything from video display, projection equipment, audio products, to integration, processor and server technology.

INFOCOMM also scored high in coolness-points, as no exhibitor worth his weight in plasma could afford not to show big at this event.. Sony, Panasonic, NEC, Sanyo, and others all featured 5,000+ lumen double-stacked digital cinema projectors ($150-200K if you have to ask). Huge, brilliant and theatre-like, every booth had drawing power--whether it was the technology, the Elvis impersonator or the Laker Girls.

The Projector Shoot-Out (featuring the world's largest assembly of projectors/displays all showing the same repeating test imagery in a controlled environment) could claim up to half a day of rudderless browsing. The shoot-out also provided buyers, who need to compare data, video, color, and other attributes of a wide variety of projectors, with some pretty useful information. Imagine roaming the "streets" in this blacked out "city", staring at incredible video on 200+ screens. Though sorted by category and brightness, if a projector didn't look good enough, some vendors pulled theirs out midway through the first day, further arming competitors' sales pitch.

Under Control
Panja and Crestron Electronics both provide programmable touchscreen controllers for corporate, home theatre and other applications. Premiering at INFOCOMM, Panja NetLinx has pushed the capabilities further into an area that should be of interest to developers of kiosk applications and corporate conference/training room systems. NetLinx technology allows direct internet navigation and control of A/V components, streaming media, lighting, and other elements of a presentation or playback environment.

At the heart of NetLinx is the Digital Media Processor Pro, which enables ASX, MP3, MPEG and other presentation (DVD) control, without the need for a mouse or PC. Utilizing Ethernet TCP/IP connectivity and an embedded HTML Web server in the DMP Pro, NetLinx is backward compatible with all other Panja interfaces, supports multiple control ports and up to 12 optional expansion cards. Applications include RS232 control of industrial DVD Video players or MPEG servers in kiosk or corporate media playback environments.

Presenting Plasma
Much more widely deployed in Europe as a public info-display technology (where even the delis post daily specials on plasma), gas plasma screens are currently "about a 40,000 unit business in North America, headed to 400,000 units in 4-5 years," says Fujitsu Senior Vice President Tedd Rozylowicz. The big news, in addition to improved brightness, contrast thinness, and overall image quality, is the aggressive pricing shown by all vendors. What used to be $12-15,000 for a 42" display is now solidly under $10,000, with Fujitsu leading the way.

Fujitsu was showing its completely redesigned 4209 Plasmavision Slimscreen, sporting a 3.3" depth and $7,999 MSRP. Fujitsu also announced its policy not to sell through internet retailers, and expects the street price to hold at $7,999.

NEC was introducing the Plasmasync 42MP2 line of gas plasma displays with its new AccuShield phosphor protection feature for preventing phosphor burn-in from continuos use. According to user-defined scheduling, the display will turn itself on and display an inverted RGB image to balance the wear on the phosphor and minimize retained images.

Pioneer made a splash with its bid to gain entry in the Guinness Book of World's Records with a new category, "World's Largest Plasma Floor." Walking through the Pioneer booth meant stepping on top of 135 PDP 502MX 50" display panels (proving, among other things, that this is a production product). The 250 square foot array sported 135 million pixels, processed at the rate of 8 billion/second. Pioneer was also showing its PDP V402 40" panel, sporting 3.5" cabinet depth, 480x680 resolution, and $8,999 MSRP.

This year's INFOCOMM saw some outstanding examples of LCD-and DLP-based projection equipment offering exceptional video image quality. With the emphasis on video (the more demanding job an LCD or DLP projector is faced with), several products were noteworthy.

JVC had one of the most impressive digital cinema projectors (about $165,000 without lenses) running at INFOCOMM, and although not widely known among lower- and middle-end projector buyers, JVC's products are very well received by system integrators, professional A/V designers, and other high-end users. In the more affordable categories, which range from $5-20K, JVC announced a new 3,000 lumen projector, model G3010Z (estimated MSRP around $15,000). While most LCD projectors use three polysilicon panels such that white light is transmitted through them (resulting in lower overall brightness when compared to the reflective mirrors in a DLP projector), JVC is unique in its use of a reflective LCD technology. Dubbed D-ILA, the JVC projectors using this technology (including the digital cinema projectors priced at $165,000) employ LCD panels on a reflective electrode substrate. Resolution of the D-ILA technology is very high, resulting in a 1365x1024 pixel display.

In the transmissive LCD category, Epson announced its 8150 projector, a 3,000 ANSI lumen projector that incorporates the same vastly improved video processing engine as on the 7250 model. Weighing in at 18.3 pounds (20lbs. less than the nearest 3,000 lumen competitor), and with a 400:1 contrast ratio, it provided an impressive video image in the Projector Shoot-out. The 8150i model of this projector also includes EasyMP.net, a TCP/IP Ethernet capability for projection of PowerPoint or other streamed presentations over corporate LAN or the internet, eliminating the need for a PC connected to the projector.

Texas Instruments, inventor of DLP, enjoyed the news of increased market penetration. Citing over 350,000 DLP subsystems shipped to date, and 20% of projector market share, TI officials estimated 30% of projectors sold by December 2000 will be DLP-based. Inherently brighter due to their reflective (rather than transmissive) design, DLP has been incorporated by 16 of the major projector manufacturers. It is well-suited for video and its compact micromirror design makes it well-suited for ultra-portable projectors.

The new ultra portable projectors from Plus Corporation and Sharp led the way in small size and weight for travelling presenters. From Plus Corporation, the 2.9 lbs., 7" x 9" x 2", and 800 ANSI lumens devices come in either SVGA (U3-880) or XGA (U3-1080) resolution, both with claimed 800:1 contrast ratio. From Sharp, the Notevision PG-M10X and -M10S come in XGA or SVGA resolution, weigh 2.9lbs. and displace just 0.7 cubic foot.

Panoram Technologies showed its PV230 DSK Desktop Visualization Display, easily the most useful display for multimedia designers, digital video editors, and other production staff. The wraparound display features three integrated, flat-screen LCD TFT active matrix display panels, compatible with all popular computer platforms including Apple, HP, SGI, SUN, and Windows/NT. Measuring 43.5" x 11.5", the 2.4 megapixel native resolution display also accepts video input, making this a great tool for 2D/3D software, non-linear editing, and other applications requiring large screen real estate.

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