As the pro A/V industry sets its sights on Infocomm 2003 in Orlando (June 2 to 5), there are plenty of questions to be answered and hot topics to debate. The sluggish economy and some pretty brutal price wars in the projector and monitor segments have many dealers and users wondering when and what they should buy.

LCD projectors are plummeting to all-time low prices while small increases in brightness and decreases in weight continue to be announced. DLP projectors still command a price premium, but even these products are feeling the pressure of commodity pricing. There has even been an attempt to justify the higher cost of DLP-engined projectors with a study that purports to show a rapid degradation in LCD projector image quality.

As projector manufacturers look for new markets to conquer, the home-heater and educational channels seem particularly attractive. But the former is a small channel, and the latter is very price-sensitive. Lower-cost business projectors are now being sold against higher-priced home-theater models in the same channel, and given the small image quality differences, it is proving to be a real fight.

The flat screen market isn't any less confusing. So many companies have jumped into the ring to sell OEM products that it's hard to determine which company actually makes which products. Due to overcapacity of plasma production lines in Japan and Korea, smaller resellers are making aggressive deals to buy production-line capacity a month at a time. The result is deep price cuts, which are turning the plasma market on its head.

And now there's a wild card, as Sharp, Samsung, and LG Philips get ready to launch a line of TFT LCD monitors and integrated TVs in 40in., 42in., 46in., 52in., and 54in. sizes with even higher resolution than plasma. Although these monitors still command a price premium over plasma, that gap is expected to close very quickly in 2003. Which technology will win out? Some think that LCDs will dominate the market up to 42in., with plasma holding sway above that. But for how long?

Signal distribution continues to be a puzzler. For years, video and audio have been moved around with different varieties of coax and balanced lines. A few years back, some enterprising companies started RF-modulating these signals and transmitting them over twisted-pair (UTP) Cat5/6 wiring, a solution that works up to about 300ft. or so. There are several players in this market who continue to roll out new UTP transmitter, receiver, and hub products.

But other transmission modes are viable. One company continues to proclaim the advantages of fiber-optic distribution, while a few large Asian manufacturers have been beating the drum for IP distribution of digital packets over LANs. Which system will win out? It's still too soon to tell, although the table is already stacked in favor of IP, given the widespread use of LANs.

One thing is for certain: There will continue to be aggressive price-cutting as manufacturers try to kick-start the market. When portable LCD projectors first appeared in 1994, they took the world by storm and were largely responsible for the unprecedented growth of the professional A/V market these past nine years.

Keep your eyes open for more low-priced front projectors. While NEC's VT460 is available for less than $1,000, that's a subsidized manufacturer price. You will likely see some true-blue, sub-$1K boxes with SVGA resolution and more than one XGA model with a list price less than $2K. There's still a scarcity of three-chip DLP imaging in the $20K to $30K range, so look for Panasonic's PT-D7500U and PT-D7600U to have new neighbors at the show.

What will the next big thing be? Cheaper plasma? LCoS? IP connectivity? LCD displays? One trend that has already been seen in 2002 is the we'll-sell-anything attitude among companies that once operated exclusively in the projector marketplace. Everyone's got a plasma monitor now. Everyone's got a projector. Good luck in sorting out their parentage!

Here's a sampling of the new products you'll see on the floor in Orlando:

Christie has announced the DS30, a unique 6.6lb., single-chip front DLP projector. It uses a 1280×1024 DMD, is rated at 3000 lumens, and is supposed to have a noise level of only 28dB. At the high end, Christie will show the RoadRunner LX100 and LX65 LCD projectors. Both are XGA (1024×768) resolution models that are rated at 10,000 and 6500 lumens respectively.

Barco has a bunch of tricks up its sleeve for Orlando. The new iQ G500 LCD projector uses three 1.4in. polysilicon LCD panels and is rated at 5000 lumens. Features include advanced picture-in-picture, seamless source switching, and dual-lamp design for improved reliability. The iQ Pro G500 goes one step further with a computer server integrated in the projector design. Barco's SLM Executive series gets two new models, the 10,000-lumen G10 and R10. Both have PiP, a LAN connection, and seamless scaler/mixers. In the big-screen area, look for the new SLite LED display with 10mm and 14mm pitch versions and hot-swap capability.

Digital Projection also has a pair of compact DLP projectors. The iVision sx looks just like Christie's DS30 and has the same 6.6lb. housing with 1280×1024 resolution, using a .9in. DDR DMD. At NAB 2003, DP also showed a prototype of a single-chip 6.6lb. projector with a single 1280×720 DDR DMD, a first for high-end business projectors. In addition, look for the Mercury at Infocomm; it's a 5000-lumen design with three 1024×768 DMDs that weighs just 52lbs. (Rumor has it that a version using 1280×720 DMDs is in the works.)

Sony is pushing ahead with networked projectors and digital signage. Check out the VPL-PX35, a 2600-lumen XGA (1024×768) projector with network compatibility, 90-degree tilt capability, and a power direct on/off feature. There's also the VPL-FX51, a brighter (5200 lumens) IP-compatible installation design with Windows CE on board. It can take upload and display a variety of image formats directly, including .PPT and .BMP files.

Sony will also officially roll out PJNet! networked projector software. This program can monitor up to 255 projectors simultaneously, schedule on and off events for groups of projectors, provide remote diagnostics and monitoring, and report lamp hours. To round out the picture, Sony will also introduce two new TFT LCD monitors for video production, the 17in. viewable LMD-170 and the 23in. viewable LMD-230. Both have controls and operating interfaces similar to Sony's BVM-series monitors.

In addition to the groundbreaking VT460, VT60, and VT660 portable LCD projectors, NEC Technologies will have some new high-brightness LCD boxes out for view. The GT5000 offers XGA (1024×768) resolution, and the GT6000 is an SXGA (1280×1024) design. Both projectors have a dual-lamp system and are rated at 3000 lumens in single-lamp mode and 6000 lumens with both lamps on. NEC's SweetVision de-interlacing and Faroudja DCDi processing is standard on both models. There's even a throwback overhead-projector design called the WT600. The NAB 2003 demo unit used a single .7in. 1024×768 DMD and can create a 100in. diagonal image with less than 24in. of projection throw.

Canon plans to unveil the LV-5200, a 9lb. desktop/installation LCD projector rated at 1700 lumens. It provides SVGA (800×600) resolution with intelligent scaling and includes a DVI-I interface, 1.5X motorized zoom lens, and a 34dB fan. Epson will showcase the PowerLite 735, which tips the scales at 4.4lbs. and combines 802.11b wireless capability with XGA (1024×768) resolution and 2000 lumens of brightness. Also look for the PowerLite 8300i, supposedly Epson's brightest-ever projector at 5200 lumens, and the PowerLite 7800p, which is spec'd at 3500 lumens. Both models use new 1.4in. XGA (1024×768) LCD panels and incorporate Epson's new EasyManagement LAN-based projector control and management software.

Hitachi has been on a weight-reduction program lately. Look for its CP-S210W, a 6.6lb. SVGA (800×600) LCD projector spec'd at 600 lumens. It offers vertical keystone correction and multiple connector options. For a little more horsepower, the CP-X870W offers 2000 lumens and XGA resolution in a 13lb. housing.

Dukane's ImagePro 7100HC is an SVGA DLP projector that weighs less than 7lbs. It is rated at 1000 lumens with SVGA (800×600) resolution, HDTV compatibility, Faroudja DCDi video processing, and simple setup with color-coded connections. Panasonic will have the PT-LC56U on hand. It's a microportable SVGA (800×600) LCD projector rated at 1600 lumens and incorporates one-touch setup with digital keystone correction, plus a host of anti-theft features intended for the educational market. Above-the-projector lens offset and a super-short focal length are also of interest.

Toshiba's got its own “mini” with the TDP-D1, an ultra-bright DLP projector weighing in at 5.3lbs. The TDP-D1 is rated at 2000 lumens and has XGA (1024×768) native resolution and automatic keystone correction. In addition, Toshiba's TLP-T720/T721 series projectors combine XGA (1024×768) resolution, 2400 lumens brightness, and a built-in PCMCIA memory card slot with WiFi 802.11b interfaces. The 7.5lb. TLP-T720 is a stand-alone projector, while the TLP-T721 incorporates a built-in video copy stand.

Optoma is an up-and-coming player in the projector market and will have three new offerings. The EzPro 725 is a single-chip DLP unit with 1100 lumens, XGA (1024×768) resolution, a somewhat long 1.8 to 2.1 zoom ratio, and HDTV compatibility. Its companion EzPro 731 uses an SVGA (800×600) DMD and is also rated at 1100 lumens, while the H76 is a home-theater projector with 1280×720 16×9 DMDs. It'll crank out 1000 lumens and weighs 16.5lbs., and it comes with mechanical and digital lens shift.

Mitsubishi will display the XD350U ColorView DLP projector. It's rated at 2500 ANSI lumens in a 6lb. package, provides XGA (1024×768) resolution, and features both horizontal and vertical keystone correction. Its universal-learning remote can be programmed to operate two additional video sources, such as a DVD player or VCR.

The new XL5950 ColorView LCD projector has a built-in motion-sensitive antitheft alarm. (Can you tell that it's aimed at the education market?) It also features horizontal and vertical lens shift and 3D CineView, a proprietary video processor. Both projectors are compatible with Mitsubishi's ProjectorView networking system, which connects its projectors via an external serial-to-Ethernet translator.

At the Sharp booth, you'll see the Notevision PG-A10X, which offers 1300 ANSI lumens brightness and native XGA (1024×768) resolution, and the SVGA-resolution PG-A10S (1500 ANSI lumens). Both models are part of a new line of no-frills, “value” projectors. The 6.4lb. PG-A10X is suitable for both installation and portable use, is HDTV-compatible, and also offers a network connection through its RS-232 input.

Sanyo continues to push the polysilicon LCD envelope with the new HD10, an installation-grade front projector that uses four lamps for increased brightness and reliability. It is the first front projector to employ 1.65in. 1920×1080 polysilicon panels (possibly of Sony manufacture) and will crank out about 6000 lumens.

Over in the flatscreen world, V Inc. will show off the Vizio P1, an integrated 32in. plasma TV. It has a pixel resolution of 852×1024 and supports a wide range of PC and video formats, including 480p, 720p, and 1080i. Samsung will feature its 42in. PPM42S2 (852×480), 50in. PPM50H2 (1366×768), and 63in. PPM63H1 (1366×768) plasma monitors, as well as the new 40in. 403T LCD monitor (1280×768) that uses Samsung's PVA LC alignment process for better contrast.

Fujitsu will be showcasing three recently introduced widescreen (16:9) Plasmavision SlimScreen monitors for the commercial market. The 50in. P50XCA11 (1366×768), 42in. P42HCA11 (1024×1024), and 42in. P42VCA21 (852×480) are completely redesigned from previous models, and all three incorporate Fujitsu's exclusive AVM (Advanced Video Movement) advanced digital video processor. Each monitor includes two sets of analog RGB inputs (15-pin and BNC) plus an expansion slot to accept an optional video card for additional connectivity.

TV One has several new rackmount LCD video monitors. The LM-404R Quad contains four LCD Displays, each with 4in. diagonal viewing area. The LM-563R Triple contains three LCD Displays, each with 5.6in. diagonal viewing area. The LM-682R Dual contains two LCD Displays, each with 6in. diagonal viewing area. These dual input monitors accept composite video and S-Video signals.

In addition, TV One's LM-1501 has a 15in. diagonal viewing area, and the LM-1701 has a 17in. diagonal viewing area. These monitors accept composite video, S-Video, stereo audio, and PC signals. The LM-1501 handles resolutions up to XGA, and the LM-1701 up to SXGA.

There's lots of news from the interfacing world. Kramer's KPro Elite line of matrix switchers consists of the VP-88xl, VP-128xl, VP-168xl, and VP-1616xl. These models offer Matrix Mapping, whereby individual R, G, B, H, V and audio L, R channels can be switched independently for flexible expansion. Kramer's Room Grouping function allows each switcher to be configured to act as up to four individual switchers in one box, and an RGB Delay feature permits the sync to precede the video for cleaner signal switching.

Kramer will also showcase the value-priced VP-720DS and VP-723DS scalers. These interfaces are true multi-standard video to RGBHV scalers that convert video, S-Video, component video, VGA through UXGA, and DVI signals to multiple user-selectable output pixel rates. They also allow fade-to-black switching between inputs. Look for the unique VP-14T “Linker,” used to couple Kramer video scalers with seamless fade-through-black switching to other Kramer serial-controllable switchers.

TV One will introduce the C2-770 Universal Video Scaler, which handles any resolution up to 2048×2048. In addition, the C2-770 is also a worldwide standards converter, chromakeyer, lumakeyer, aspect ratio converter, and time-base corrector with genlock. You'll also find the Image Matrix 400 series matrix routing switchers, available in a variety of matrix sizes from 8×8 to 16×16 with 400MHz bandwidth to support RGBHV formats at resolutions up to 2100×1600 and YPbPr formats in all HDTV resolutions.

Extron's VSC 900 and VSC 900D Video Scan Converters offer proprietary scan converting technologies for sharper, crisper images. Both models convert high-resolution computer images from up to 1600×1200 down to video rates such as composite video, S-Video, component video, and/or RGB video; the VSC 900D also outputs Serial Digital Interface (SDI) digital video. In addition, both models include genlock to external black burst signals and RGB-level attenuation.

Extron has expanded its IP Tools series of compact Ethernet-to-serial interfaces with integral Web servers. The two new models are the IPL T S4 with four serial ports and the IPL T S6 with six serial ports. These complement the previously announced IPL T S2, which provides two serial ports. All IP Tools enable any A/V device to be controlled, monitored, and accessed from any computer connected to a LAN, WAN, or the Internet.

For those hideaway installations, Extron's HSA 822 is a vertically lifting, architectural interface panel. The HSA 822 enclosure fits nearly flush with a table surface, keeping A/V and interface connectors neatly out of sight. Pressing down on the top of the enclosure releases a mechanical latch, allowing the HSA 822 to rise vertically from the installation surface and present the connectors at a 90-degree angle to the tabletop.

Communications Specialties is big on fiber-optic signal distribution for video and audio. Its new Pure Digital Fiberlink Flex System is a custom-configurable fiber optic link that can transmit one channel of video in one or two directions, four independent audio channels in one direction or two in each direction, and two channels of bidirectional data. The Flex System is available in card and box versions and works with either single mode or multimode fiber, operating at wavelengths of 850nm, 1310nm, or 1550nm.

CSI's Pure Digital Fiberlink 7070 system is designed to support all formats of component video, including Y-PB-PR, Y-CB-CR, YUV, and Y/R-Y/B-Y, along with two independent channels of audio over one single mode or multimode fiber. The system features 14MHz bandwidth luminance and 7MHz chrominance bandwidth, and the two line-level audio channels on the 7070 series may be user-configured to have either balanced or unbalanced inputs and outputs. Keep your eyes out for the unique 8000 and 8100 series optical distribution amps. The 8000 is a single-input, four-output design, while the 8100 can handle one optical input with twelve outputs. Single- and multimode fiber is independently selectable on outputs and inputs.

UK-based Electrosonic is showing two new video processors for use in corporate communications and control and command applications. Director is a network-enabled display processor that can access, manage, control, and display multimedia information sources, and it provides the link between A/V equipment, IT equipment, and content management.

Vision Network is specifically designed for environments that are heavily integrated with a networked infrastructure, such as traffic management, the military, and network operating centers. Information can be presented directly from networked devices, and system control can be initiated from multiple locations across a network. A Windows 2000 operating platform allows for easy integration with existing and custom software applications.

Aurora Multimedia's TVP-1000+ plug-in video scaler and the external XTune+ version have dual NTSC tuners, dual S-Video and composite inputs, and DVI-I interfaces. In addition, the TVP-1000+ has DVI-HDCP. Both versions can combine two SDTV sources with picture-in-picture.

RGB Spectrum's new RGB/Videolink 1690-1U and 1690D1-1U scan converters are now available in a single rack unit configuration. These converters accept interlaced or non-interlaced RGB inputs from virtually any workstation or desktop computer and synchronize to signals with screen resolutions up to 1600×1280 pixels. NTSC/PAL composite video, S-Video, and component analog video outputs are standard, and SMPTE 259M digital output is available as an option.

The DGx 102 dual-channel recording system captures, compresses, stores, and plays back imagery at up to 1600×1200 pixel resolution, and it can record multiple signal types simultaneously including computer, radar, video, sonar, FLIR, and X-ray signals, as well as audio. Recordings are time-stamped and may be event-marked for random access. The Model 102 offers high-capacity digital tape and digital disk storage options, and a DSS option provides 9- or 15-hour recording capacity on removable hard drives.

Folsom Research is bringing back memories of the good ol' days of widescreen multi-image with its new VMS-1000 Video Mapping System. This modular product can be configured to support geometry correction, color balance correction, and edge blending for one to 12 high-resolution (up to 1280×1024 pixels) video sources. The VMS-1000 allows flexible projector placement and lets you project onto surfaces that are not flat. It will also seamlessly blend projected images for wide-field-of view presentations.

Folsom's BlendPRO will also be out for inspection. It accepts RGB video from up to four high-resolution video sources and processes the video for display in multi-projector widescreen format. Processing includes data doubling to generate overlapped projected regions as well as edge-feathering of the overlapped images, and the amount of data overlap and the edge feather transfer function are user-programmable.


Pete Putman is president of Roam Consulting Inc., Doylestown, Pa. He can be reached at vspete@projectorexpert.com.