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NSCA 2006: Streaming Invades the Conference Room

Sometimes the best way to judge a vertical market is by the products its key players produce. If the National Systems Contractor Association (NSCA) 2006 Expo, held March 14-18 in Las Vegas, is any indication, streaming media is fast becoming firmly entrenched in various conference rooms, boardrooms, and classrooms throughout the country.

The NSCA Expo is a gathering of audio-visual (AV) product manufacturers, systems integrators, and end users; the focus has traditionally been audio products (speakers, microphones, and recording devices), but recent shows have expanded beyond audio into the broader AV field. The last two shows, especially, have introduced data-centric products into a traditionally analog world.

This year’s show was important for the consistency of streaming media products. Not only was there a sizable increase in the number of multi-track uncompressed streaming audio products using technologies such as CobraNet or Digigram’s EtherSound, but streaming also found its way into digital signage, classroom, and wireless video replacement products.

LANtasm, a new company created by former AT&T, Northpoint, and Intel execs, seeks to leverage a patent-pending multicasting process to the digital signage space. Digital signage—which typically uses vertically mounted plasma or LCD displays to provide customer information in airports, hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments—is one of the fastest-growing verticals in the AV industry. LANtasm’s products, which were on display for feedback, make use of a Gigabit Ethernet switching fabric, allowing up to 100 channels of content to be moved across a wide network of display devices.

"Our key strength is a varied network topology," says LANtasm CEO Steve Blasingame. "In many instances, installation of digital signage using a star topology is impractical and costly. LANtasm’s patented system can be configured in a traditional star topology but really excels when numerous devices are daisy-chained together. If a loop can be created between devices, our switching fabric is smart enough to correct a user-created break in the loop, so that unplugging one digital signage device doesn’t result in the loss of content displayed on the remaining devices."

On the wireless streaming video front, Avocent—better known for its keyboard, video, mouse (KVM) switches—showed off its second-generation wireless streaming device. In early 2005, Avocent introduced the LongView family of devices, which utilized the 802.11a radio spectrum to stream low-latency VGA and XGA content across a 100-foot range. The new product line, dubbed Emerge, broadcasts full-motion video up to 1,000 feet and was awarded an NSCA 2006 Innovations in Technology Award.

"On the source side, the transmitter connects directly to the repository files located on a computer, DVD player, VCR, or cable box receiver," said Matt Nelson, Avocent’s director of strategic business for wireless technologies. "At the remote end, the receiver connects directly into the output device, which could be a VCR, plasma screen, projector, or monitor. The Emerge EWMS1000 is capable of transmitting up to 1366x768 WXGA signals."

The Emerge system can be used for point-to-point video extension or for point-to-multipoint broadcast applications, meaning that multiple device types can be connected to a single transmitter.

On the H.264 front, Montreal-based HaiVision Systems was showing off its CPU-based H.264 encoders and decoders. According to VP Peter Maag, the company plans to release DSP-based H.264 D1 encoders soon, both in a standalone small form factor as well as a high-density multiple encoder "blade" form factor. These products are expected to mimic HaiVision’s current MPEG-2 small form factor and blade encoders.

A similar product line was noted by a representative from a company that wasn’t showing at NSCA but plans to showcase a similar product at NAB in late April. Will Bakewell, vice president of Visionary Solutions, Inc., said that interest in high-density blade encoder systems was high, as current market solutions were focused on telecom providers, leaving a gap in the market for MPEG-2 and H.264 high-density encoder systems aimed at the mid-range corporate and AV markets.

Two other well-known streaming product manufacturers were also showing updated systems at NSCA. Sonic Foundry showed off an updated version of its Mediasite recorder system, while Accordent released version 2.0 of its lower-priced equivalent to Mediasite, the Accordent Capture Station. Backed by IBM, this second-generation all-in-one capture device improves processor speed and includes a 3-year onsite warranty. In a sign that remote encoding is becoming more common in classroom settings, Capture Station 2.0 allows administrators to remotely provision resources such as classrooms and encoders, as well as automatically stop and start the presentation capture process from a centralized location with Accordent’s Event Scheduling & Notification module. Accordent has also announced integration with VBrick’s EtherneTV product line, which leverages VBrick’s MPEG-4 codec.

One final area in which streaming was prevalent at NSCA was the area of building paging systems. While paging might be considered a mundane application for streaming, the ability to modify paging zones on the fly during conferences or important meetings has attracted the interest of several product manufacturers. One in particular, TOA Electronics, won an NSCA 2006 Innovation in Technology award for its N-8000 series IP Network Intercom Systems.

"The new IP Intercom products occupy minimal network bandwidth for station-to-station calls," said TOA marketing director Steve Mate. "Controlled and monitored through software or by a Web browser, the system includes the ability to program up to 160 paging zones and time-based call forwarding."

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