The AV industry has seen its share of inflection points over the last half century.
In 1967, Japanese company Noritake introduced the vacuum fluorescent display, which would go on to become familiar as the readout on the front panel of millions of VCRs (which would continuously, annoyingly flash “12:00” until the first generation of contemporary AV professionals took time out from their eighth-grade homework to figure out how to program them).
Developments followed swiftly in sequence, including portable computers, optical-disc media, surround sound and LED illumination.
But what sets the second decade of the present century apart from that remarkable earlier run is not just the number and type of new technology platforms that have arrived on AV’s door-step — including drones, plug-and-play networking, immersive media, virtual/ augmented reality (VR/AR), Internet of Things (IoT) and even self-driving auto-mobiles and trucks — but how they have done so in a virtually convergent manner, creating both synergies and challenges.
“Each of these platforms is a game changer, but when you bring them together in a relatively brief period of time like this, you’re really looking at a new era,” says Brian Edwards, founder of Edwards Technologies, Inc. (ETI), developer of multisensory AVL systems that have pushed the AV envelope in verticals like retail and theme parks.
He adds that part of what makes this point in time in the AV business as remarkable as it seems is that many of these new platforms have matured very quickly.
“The challenge,” Edwards adds, “is putting them all together coherently.” And that’s what AV integrators are setting out to do, looking at 2017 as a watershed year for new technology platforms and how they integrate with the landscapes of legacy and future applications.
Immersive media are rapidly changing consumer expectations in virtually all AVL verticals.
Projection mapping has already become commonplace, driven by the surge in live-event production as corporate work recovered after the 2008 recession and by the house of worship (HOW) market, which embraced the concept as a way to both reinforce a message and to cost-effectively “renovate” spaces to keep audiences engaged.
But the big advances in immersion in recent years have come on the audio side, with an array of formats, including Dolby Atmos, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology’s MPEG-H, Barco’s Auro and DTS’ DTS:X.
While Dolby’s Atmos is making inroads into cinema, its broadcast iteration, AC-4, became the dominant element in the forthcoming ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, the sonic counterpart to the 4K or Ultra HD that will be its video format.
This radical new approach to sound means audio elements can not only be placed in a 3D space but also includes the potential for allowing users to rearrange the relationships of those elements, adding personalization to audio’s new frontier.
While cinema is the first primary application for immersive audio formats, they are already finding their way into other verticals.
In broadcast, the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) board in 2016 approved the Dolby AC-4 system as their recommendation for the next-generation audio standard for NABA’s membership, including the United States, Canada and Mexico.
For live sound, Dolby Atmos’ foray into dance clubs is at London’s iconic Ministry of Sound, where a total of 22 Martin Audio loudspeaker channels were installed in the venue’s main dance room, The Box, using Atmos as the processor, where it will also be synchronized with the club’s moving-head lights.
Another format, Netherlands-based Astro Spatial Audio’s SARA 3D audio rendering engine, is also positioning itself as an immersive 3D audio tool for live and other entertainment venues, including museums and HOWs.
“It’s all about creating unique experiences for audiences as theater becomes more elaborate and competitive.”
—Geoff Shearing, Masque Sound’s president
The system encompasses object-based audio technology, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute, to generate spatial audio that doesn’t limit listeners to static positions, such as theater seats. It’s specifically engineered for synergy with some other recent developments, including support for Dante audio networking, and an HTML5-based GUI that is optimized for use with OS X, PC or Android device.
The first U.S. deployment of SARA 3D will likely come through Masque Sound, a leading supplier of AV to Broadway shows.
“It’s all about creating unique experiences for audiences as theater becomes more elaborate and competitive,” says Geoff Shearing, Masque Sound’s president, who says he’s eyeing an upcoming AV installation at the Hayden Planetarium for the system’s U.S. debut.