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Annual confab to include behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld

ORLANDO, FLA.

(click thumbnail)Approximately 775 exhibitors will occupy more than 425,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Orange County Convention Center for Infocomm 2006, June 3-9.
They are scorned A/V geeks no more. In fact, the annual gathering of professionals from the audio and video industry is expected to be a throng of 75,000 strong, who will descend on the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, June 3-9. They come in part to celebrate an industry that has survived the instability of sluggish sales and a recovering national economy, due in part to the breadth of the technology's reach across myriad markets: corporate, education, government, health care and beyond.

"This is the place for content, education and networking for the A/V industry," said Jason McGraw, senior vice president of expositions of InfoComm.

The 2006 convention will illustrate just how far the A/V industry has evolved, with 120 sessions on issues such as business practices and education, and 775 exhibitors on more than 425,000 square feet of exhibition space. The show is also an international fete, McGraw said, as attendees from 80 countries are expected to attend.

APPLICATION SHOWCASE

The show is best described as an "application showcase," McGraw said, as well as a place to see how the professional audio/video industry has undergone a horizontal growth over the last few years. "We've seen a lot of new market segments appear," he said. "We've gravitated toward the integration of [new and existing] technology solutions for those different market segments," such as homeland security, he said.

Take for example the rapid expansion of digital signage. It's no longer uncommon to see a three-foot-long electronic sign--beckoning a customer to try the coffee or buy one and get one free--in both a small mom-and-pop stores as well as large retail chains.

"No matter where you have A/V, you use the same technologies," he said, which helps account for the industry's continued growth and expansion.

The industry has also seen increased interest from some traditional high-end broadcast equipment manufacturers.

Grass Valley is one company that has expanded its presence at InfoComm over the last few years, and will have a significantly larger booth with new product lines specifically targeted toward the prosumer A/V industry at InfoComm06, said Mike Wolschon, director of strategic marketing for Grass Valley.

"Pursuing the pro AV industry has been a strategy under development for some time," he said. "When we decided to enter this market, we already had a lot of higher-end knowledge about how the production process works. We can now bring the same high-end user interface and workflows to this market at a lower price point."

The company hopes to see a 40-percent increase in revenues from the A/V market over the next four to five years. As part of its ongoing interest in the A/V industry, the Grass Valley also will continue to look for strategic partnerships that bolster the company's role in this marketplace, such as its recent acquisitions of ParkerVision and Canopus, which both offer a line of A/V prosumer-friendly solutions.

FOCUS ON AUDIO

Over the last year the A/V industry has also seen particular growth in digital content creation, lighting and staging, and HD conferencing. The industry is also seeing a boom in the integration of A/V and IT networks, creating a new breed of "networkable systems that can be controlled and accessed remotely," McGraw said.

McGraw also sees the boost in digital signage as a sign of things to come. "Many companies are moving away from traditional print [advertising] toward digital, and tying many of those technologies into IT networks," he said.

Attendees will get a glimpse of what the future holds from seminars such as "Introduction to Streaming Media Video Production Strategies" and "Migration from ISDN to IP," on topics that range from audio and digital signage to networking and project management.

InfoComm will also usher in a new host of sessions and conferences, including a revamped lineup of audio events, featuring 12 audio demo rooms highlighting technology from companies like JBL, AKG, Soundcraft and others. An audio pavilion will showcase the offerings of more than 250 companies including Sennheiser and Telex Communications. Also new this year: a four-day audio conference by Synergistic Audio Concepts, who will cover the fundamentals of room acoustics and sound system design.

The organization is also offering new InfoComm Academy courses in areas such as AV/IT, homeland security and project management, designed to offer new skills and provide certification testing to beginning, intermediate and advanced professionals.

And InfoComm is introducing a new system programming and GUI design gallery this year, which allows members to delve into complex system design and programming using 15-inch Creston touchpanel computers. The gallery is designed to give visitors insight into the confusing world of design and programming, where designers must ensure their work is appropriately integrated while simultaneously allowing the end-user to easily navigate the system.

An expanded video focus includes the Large Venue Display Gallery, the Digital Signage Pavilion, the Digital Content Creation Pavilion and the Projection Summit, which will look at the newest technology advancements and market forces impacting the large-screen display market.

IN ON THE ROUNDTABLE

Eschewing the typical keynote address, attendees can instead sit in on the InfoComm manufacturer's forum, a roundtable discussion about the state of the industry with CEOs from AMX, Barco, JVC, Meyer Sound and Tandberg Television.

Attendees will also be able to take advantage of the collocated EduComm conference, a national education conference, whose keynote speaker will be Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computer.

For the religious community, a "Technologies for Worship" conference will feature a pavilion on the exhibit floor with mixing classes, location lighting sessions and discussions on issues such as creative uses of broadband distribution for worship.

InfoComm also is partnering with the ESTA Foundation this year to provide a round of workshops and demonstrations to focus on issues such as rental and staging management and operations. Designed to illustrate safe rigging practices, these sessions will show how truss, motors, lights, line arrays, LEDs and safety harnesses are used to prepare for a big event. Other sessions include "Working Successfully with Labor" and "Entertainment Electrical Power Distribution & Safe Practices."

One of the key draws of the convention is the series of AV Tech Tours that show the inner A/V workings of various local locales. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at how cutting-edge technology and the antics of sea animals are combined into daily exhibitions during a tour of SeaWorld Orlando. The tour will include SeaWorld's Blue Horizons event, a show that uses motorized rigging to allow for acrobatic tricks over the water. Attendees will also get a first-hand look at the A/V magic put to work in the Cirque du Soleil La Nouba show. This non-traditional circus troupe uses a range of computer-controlled technologies through SeaWorld's audio, lighting and automation department. A third tour will take InfoComm attendees through the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management where they will get a tour of the campus' interactive television capability, multimedia equipment, digital signage, wired and wireless networking, and VoIP system.

More information on InfoComm06 can be found at http://www.infocomm.org.

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.