InfoComm 2014: Get Ready To Network

By: Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

The 2014 InfoComm Show (June 14-20, Las Vegas) gave us a glimpse of what it will look like when the long-predicted convergence of AV and IT finally takes place. InfoComm, the trade organization for professionals in various commercial installed-AV system sectors, including sports venues, has been the annual showcase for new sound, video, projection and lighting systems. The expo has grown steadily, with over 37,000 attendees this year, an increase of 5.5 percent over 2013, with a record 947 exhibitors showing across 490,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center. However, this year saw a significant presence of IT-based systems and products, some of which are already being integrated into stadium and arena AV systems.

Audinate, whose proprietary Dante audio networking system is in use at the Tennessee Titan’s LP Field, announced its 150th licensee at the show, as well as introducing Via, a software app that transforms Macs and PCs into networked I/O devices, allowing users to build a complete, standalone audio system of networked PCs without the need for any dedicated Dante-enabled hardware to be present on the network. Any computer instantly becomes a networked audio I/O device, according to the company’s literature. The same day, Audio-Technica unveiled its first Dante-enabled microphone. Using an Ethernet connection, the ATND971 cardioid condenser boundary network microphone can communicate across an existing network of Dante-enabled devices and – with the microphone’s programmable user switch – control any of those devices at the push of a button.

Meanwhile, the AVnu Alliance, the consortium backing the open-source AVB protocol — which, depending upon who you talk to either competes with or complements Dante but in any event provides much of the audio backbone for ESPN’s new DC2 facility — held hourly in-booth AVB educational courses from Alliance members on topics including the design, deployment and management of large scale AVB networks.

But the IT presence at InfoComm was highlighted by the appearance at the show for the first time of both Microsoft and Google. “Appearance” is the operative word: the former had a mostly unmanned booth offering a small assortment of connectivity and display products, including Perceptive Pixels touchscreens and Surface Pro tablets; Google reps were on hand to take applications to fill what one of them said was a “sizable” number of AV employee positions at the company’s Mountain View, CA headquarters. But these toes in the AV waters were enough to reaffirm the perception that audio and video will inevitably become networked propositions.

But there was still plenty of audio and video at the show that wasn’t necessarily plugged into an RS232 jack:

Shure’s new 24-bit QLX-D digital wireless system features networked control and compatibility with Shure’s intelligent-rechargeable battery technology. The system’s automatic channel scan and IR sync to find and assign open frequencies. They also announced the impending arrival of ShurePlus Channels, an iOS app, available this summer for free download from the iTunes App Store that will provide real-time, precision monitoring of select Shure wireless systems, including Axient, ULX-D Digital Wireless, QLX-D Digital and the PSM1000 Personal Monitor System.

Most of the major sound system manufacturers were on hand and some used InfoComm to introduce significant new products, underscoring the show’s increasing importance as a showcase for large-scale PA systems. L-ACOUSTICS announced the North American debut of its new K2 line source array loudspeaker system featuring PANFLEX technology. The successor to L-ACOUSTICS’ V-DOSC system, which is being phased out, K2 offers K1 performance in a rescaled package that makes it well suited for stadium productions.

Yamaha showed its new NEXO GEO M6 compact line array series, aimed at fixed installations where speech reinforcement is the primary requirement, including sports venues. HF dispersion is 80-degree or 120-degree horizontal, with 20-degree vertical coverage, 0-degree to 20-degree splay when arrayed. Using NEXO’s HRW waveguide for optimum HF coupling the M620 performs in a variety of configurations, facilitated by a fully integrated 3-point rigging system.

Line arrays are ubiquitous but point-source systems are still favored in many collegiate stadiums and Community’s new I SERIES family of high-power/high-output modular loudspeakers is aimed at that. A suite of matching-height subwoofers, in sizes ranging from compact single 12-inch models, to dual-18-inch models, complements the full-range I SERIES models with powerful low-frequency extension. Optional weather-resistant versions are aimed specifically for sports applications.

On the video side, displays keep getting bigger but Daktronics had them all beat. They’re in the process of installing the largest video scoreboard yet, a 362-foot-wide, 59-foot-tall monster for the Jacksonville Jaguars. And get this: there will be two of these 13HD-pixel-layout displays, one at each end of the stadium. Other projects underway include video scoreboards for the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals. “It’s one of our busiest NFL years yet,” Daktronics’ video products marketing person Matt Anderson told SVG.

Daktronics will also be putting audio into the San Francisco 49ers’ existing video scoreboard this year, and will be using some new LED video “sticks” — thin metal rods with four-color LEDs attached — that will act as a video-enabled grille for the speakers.

In other news heard at the show, speaker maker One Systems is putting a new audio system into the Philadelphia Eagles stadium, and Danley is in the process of installing new sound systems for the University of Alabama and the University of Iowa. Meanwhile, EAW audio gear is going into stadiums for the Panthers, the Patriots and the Eagles.