WE SPENT SOME QUALITY TIME AT InfoComm this year, connecting with new technologies, new people, new techniques, and many new opinions. More than a few people were chatting about the new category of designer that seemed to be evolving. While conversing with Bob at the show, I-Mag Live Event Video president Steven Daniels was heard to say, “there are some who get it, and some who don't.” Certainly, I-Mag gets it: they're moving aggressively into more scenic, variable video technologies, like Barco's MiPIX. Whatever you choose to call the category and the practitioners, one thing was becoming clear at InfoComm: the manufacturers were responding to the market with new powerful tools and some new configurations and updates for the gear that's already out there.

As is always the case at InfoComm, the show floor represented a cornucopia of available technologies for handling everything from large-scale blended screens to wide deployment of digital signage in retail environments. If you need to store it, project it, display it, control it, sequence it, edit it, or otherwise play with it (“it” being video in all its forms), this is your show.

Barco really accented this new market for display technologies by having an entire booth focused on the live entertainment and digital illumination opportunities afforded by Barco gear. The booth had much of the same fantastic OLite LED panels featured in the more traditional Barco booth across the floor, but, in this case, the OLite was broken into separated modules and hung variably, forming a fractalized ceiling piece. Adorning one wall was a long narrow tiled installation, featuring MiPIX with a pretty cool array of appliqués and coverings that lent the flexible LED blocks entirely different looks. The booth design was a unified manifestation of lighting and projection working together. The buzz is that we'll see more of the same from Barco at ETS-LDI 2005.

InfoComm really highlighted the macro levels of merging disciplines as well. It wasn't simply about technologies, but more about where and how. It was apparent that large-scale architectural installations of imaging and lighting had become a big market for these manufacturers. A bevy of new products were on display that were more or less aimed directly at integrated video, lighting, and feature installations. What does this have to do with me (or you, as it were)? Well, we're seeing a lot of major architectural firms reaching out to tap entertainment-based designers in realizing these flashy permanent architectural manifestations.

Some specific new technologies stood out. Dataton was showing a new version of Watchout, reportedly coded fresh from the ground up. Among the new features: high- quality full-resolution preview and new expanded attribute controls. The interface felt familiar but had certainly matured and added elegance.

AVStumpfl was demonstrating its new Wings Platinum multi-screen playback and control software. Wings bore a close resemblance to Watchout in its approach and interface. It had a couple of really key advantages in its latest version. One was the ability to simply render a high-quality preview of the output signal direct to DVD, a yummy prospect for client approvals. The other (might we say “blowaway”) feature was the implementation of a user-definable mesh warping capability on either the output as a whole, or on individual projectors or displays within the output field. Put in simple terms, this feature quickly and intuitively allows you to apply blended projections to irregular or non-traditionally shaped objects: spheres, multi-plane arrays, set pieces, undulating curve — you can map it, and in real time. Very cool.

There were unofficial sightings of the new Panasonic DVCPro-HD camera at the Panasonic booth. This little powerhouse offers a variety of HD resolutions and frame rates and adds the flexibility of recording to tape or to common flash media. The big deal with that, of course, is that if you record to flash, you can skip the expensive playback decks and extend logging sessions when it comes time to capture and edit. The only player left out of the prosumer HDV race now is Canon. Can you say XL-3 coming soon?

Vista Systems was present and accounted for with its super clean and intuitive new control surfaces for Montage and Spyder. The Spyder (a simplified and more economical means to achieve high-quality, multi-input windowing on big blended displays) really impressed and certainly allowed end users to contemplate more bite-sized forays into assembling big multi-screen systems. Making it more palatable still was Vista Systems' announcement that they would now be offering financing and leasing options. Just remember kids, ours is a debt-based culture now. So get out there and lease some sexy video gear.

The aforementioned Barco was also showing some new stuff, including a 3mm pitch of its OLite LED product. The engineering of this product was pretty breathtaking. The 3mm pitch is close enough to not distinguish individual pixels until you are right on top of the screen. You could literally have this thing as a hi-res indoor screen in your living room (if you are independently wealthy). Barco also showed a feature unique to their high-end projector line: the ability to turn the units on their sides for taller vertical aspect ratio. This is a trick we love, and only the high-output Barco units have been specifically engineered to do this (excluding some: probably not advisable to do with the XLM 25+ for instance. Check with more reliable Barco experts than us for details).

Crestron had an enormous booth featuring all sorts of options for show control and integrated facility control of all shades. New developments in portable, custom interfaces (essentially slick little touch tablet displays with very pretty graphic interfaces) boiled event control down to a very comfortable and portable level. The capabilities of these devices are only limited by what the end user specifies as a system. Control of lighting, media playback and routing, audio, and automated structural or scenic elements all spring to mind, and are possible.

At the TMB booth, Pharos Systems showed their new Pharos Control Module. This super small, wall-mountable unit was a programming powerhouse. Featuring a graphic control system that is user definable, the programming environment makes it easy to program vast swaths of LED lighting fixtures, or moving lights, or just plain old dimmed lights, or accomplish pixel mapping with media, or, or, or…. A breakthrough new interface for patching made our jaws drop. I mean we're talking about patching here — it was that cool. This is the perfect device for somebody who'd like to breed a premium lighting desk with a media server, with an added dash of show control. Wrap in a compact form factor and apply to your permanent installation, retail environment, or…skyscraper.