The Audiovisual Edge

There's so much new AV technology coming into the market that sometimes the advancing technology itself seems to be the industry's driving force. New products seem to come out every day that are brighter, lighter, less distorted, faster, and sleeker. Here's an up-to-date report on the latest technology.

Multimedia Presentations Computer-driven presentations are now the order of the day. Instead of changing transparency sheets on an overhead projector or clicking on a remote to switch from one slide to another, a complete multimedia presentation can be loaded onto a speaker's laptop computer and run through the AV system. A huge benefit: Speakers can easily change the images if they need to.

It's not uncommon for more elaborate presentations to use three or more screens, multiple data/video projectors, wireless microphones, background mu-sic, video cameras, TelePrompTers, or computer-generated images, along with pre-recorded and live video. These visual extravaganzas are coordinated by a technical director who uses another computer (or set of computers) to get the right things on the right screens, at the right times--and make it look simple.

For example, Electrosonic Corp.'s WorkSurface program is a recent innovation that re-maps the internal frequency of the separate media so they can be projected with virtually the same crystal clear resolution. It's a feat somewhat akin to taking songs in different languages played on 33, 45, and 78 rpm records, audiotapes, film strips, and compact discs, and then making them play at the same speed, in the same language, with digital clarity and no pops, hisses, or glitches.

Another innovation is the compact component field production and show control unit, such as AVHQ's AirFax 8. These units let you combine and manipulate 35-mm slides, computer-generated graphics, and video in new ways.

Before these new presentation products were available, we did a meeting for Microsoft where the speaker used two separate projection screens to demonstrate the differences in a pair of Internet browser programs. He showed the browsers working on the same task at the same time to compare their efficiency. At the time, we thought it looked pretty good. But just months later, we can place both browsers in side-by-side windows on a screen. We can even put four different browsers together on one screen.

Advances also allow effects such as "trucking," in which one image projected on a screen--say a live shot of a speaker at the podium--can be pushed along to another screen by the next image or series of images.

With the advent of more powerful computers and fancier equipment, we're also seeing more complex sequencing. A program can be set up so that with each hit of a button, a longer, more elaborate series of actions will ensue. For instance, our company recently staged a 37,000-square-foot exhibit to show off the capabilities of Sony's game system. Using show control computers and a platoon of technicians, we wove together 28 miles of video cable, 14 miles of audio cable, 48 laser players, more than 100 monitors, and 17 video projectors. We constructed a room-sized video game battle area, a real-time interaction zone where game character Crash Bandicoot reacted to the audience via a video wall, a blastosphere featuring seamless 360-degree-round projected images, and many playstation kiosks.

For corporate meetings, video walls, windows, wipes, swipes, spinning windows, distinctive graphics, and live pictures of executives videoconferenced onto a screen via ISDN lines are common. And just like on evening television news shows, satellite datalinks can be used to bring people from far-flung locations right into the meeting site.

It's also becoming more common to construct a portable television studio for electronic field production capabilities. This lets companies shoot video during the meeting and drop it into the program as needed, with little lead time.

Going Digital So what's next? Right now, everything that isn't already digital is heading that way, making it all sharper, clearer, faster, and easier to manipulate.

Last year, we did a show in Rome for Bentley Software Company. Before it began, an employee spent four days taking pictures around the city with a digital camera. Those 400 pictures were downloaded into the computer and in short order were enhanced, sequenced, and made into a 14-minute conference wrap-up. The digital capability circumvented the need for time-consuming photo processing and manual tasks such as placing the pictures in slide frames--shaving dozens of hours off the job.

LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors are dropping in price and getting brighter and more portable. They're also seeing competition from DLP (digital light processing) projectors. In addition, the newly introduced gas plasma technology screens enhance picture quality.

In the next few years, high-definition digital images will make their way from HDTV home screens to the corporate meeting arena, providing crisper and more lifelike images. And expect to see virtual sets as well. Using the same type of technology that allowed Hollywood director James Cameron to recreate the Titanic and place dozens of actors "on the ship" without ever stepping out of a sound stage, speakers will be able to make a virtual appearance in any type of location without leaving the podium.

Here's what you can expect to see in AV within the next few years:

* Digital photography will let people easily enhance and manipulate images for presentations.

* Liquid crystal display technology will grow more affordable. Digital light processing projectors will also surface.

* HDTV will transmit lifelike images.

* Virtual TV will let speakers appear in any location without ever leaving the room.