ISE 2018 Report: Integrated Systems, Audio Trends, and User Interfaces

February 8 2018, 17:00
We are now already at the third show of 2018. Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2018, the 15th edition of the world's largest AV and systems integration show, followed the amazing NAMM show that we wrote about last week, which in turn followed CES 2018. All gigantic shows, among the best in the industry, serving completely different industries and application segments. Of course, many technologies are common to these industry forums and it is increasingly visible how they are affecting or even disrupting different applications - one of those being voice recognition and its use for Voice Interfaces, which continues to expand on the commercial and residential installation sectors.
ISE 2018. The largest show we've attended at the Amsterdam RAI.
ISE 2018 is now the largest business-to-business event for the professional audiovisual, electronic systems integration, and related IT industries, with the largest exhibition area, the largest number of exhibiting companies (1,288) and the largest international attendance, supplanting largely the two shows promoted by the two founding associations CEDIA and Avixa/InfoComm International. Integrated Systems Events was projecting 80,000 visitors for this year's edition but judging from the crowds we've seen on the second day (Wednesday) and the fact that it was already hard to move in any of the walkways connecting the record-breaking 15 halls, I would say those figures have been underestimated.
The Bang & Olufsen and Origin Acoustics
partnership continues to expand for custom
Another thing that's noticeable at ISE 2018, is the fact that purely AV companies are now completely surrounded by smart building, education, and conferencing/communication systems, lighting, digital signage, and many other applications sectors, all attracted by the "smart" (or should we call it IP-based?) residential and commercial integration market expansion. And the 2018 show attracted an even larger number of audio and live event technology companies, as well as more residential audio solutions providers, so there's growth in all the represented application segments.
Apart from the display technologies and digital signage massive exhibits, at ISE we can find interesting perspectives in terms of audio processing, beam-forming speaker arrays, networking, and the optimized use of the latest speaker drivers and technologies, not forgetting the always evolving control solutions. 
Perhaps one of the most surprising trends at ISE 2018 is directly related to voice and has to do with a new reenergized Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) segment, now focused on small and medium conference/meeting rooms, workspaces, and huddle rooms. The topic merits a dedicated report, but I wanted to point it out as one of the key show highlights - and I would mention once again the innovation that is being introduced by collaboration-solutions company Nureva, which is doing for audio conferencing technology what smart speakers are doing to home audio. Read the story here.
Apart from some established players in the UC&C segment, there was a significant number of companies presenting new solutions designed to transform workspaces with enhanced collaboration and facilities management. We've noticed that small to large companies all are entering - or reentering - the segment with new, simplified, UC&C solutions. And related or unrelated with communication and new acoustic spaces, companies are also exploring how to use the latest sound technologies to create new immersive experiences outside of the traditional concepts.
At ISE 2018, we've seen a number of interesting approaches to integrated sound and acoustics installations. Plantronics was promoting its unique and groundbreaking "office" workspace approach introduced in the fully integrated Habitat Soundscaping system, which includes software that connects and controls speakers, sensors, acoustic treatment solutions, and visual displays to ensure natural harmony within working spaces. An approach based on extensive research on intelligibility, sound masking, and the latest trends in open offices and workspaces, taking into account all the known disciplines, combined with an interesting new take in soundscaping.
The L-Acoustics L-ISA Private Island
From a completely different perspective, there's the luxury residential approach of the L-Acoustics L-ISA Private Island , that combines an immersive sound installation with 18 main channels, a bass channel and up to five overhead channels, creating an Island of sound that the company says is immune to its surroundings - hence the "private island" motto. The turnkey solution includes complete entertainment services integration, from streaming to Blu-rays and gaming consoles, on a rotating mattress that can be placed anywhere (!).
Sony was also showing a new spatial audio array technology, Sonic Surf VR, which the company says was designed to allow people to dive into "a virtual sea of sounds." The concept combines newly designed multi-channel speakers and specially developed software that enables creators to design "popping, moving, and partitioning sounds in one space," creating an interactive experience "where sounds appear to move around by themselves." Sony says that Sonic Surf VR is suitable for a wide spectrum of applications such as theme parks, exhibitions and museums, aquariums, and corporate showrooms.
Sony's new spatial audio array technology.

Another trend is a new concept of "immersive" sound for installations and events. d&b audiotechnik is betting on expanding the sound integration concept with d&b Soundscape, a solution that combines d&b loudspeaker systems, a new networked (Dante) audio system processor and two software modules to allow sound experiences with object-based mixing and sophisticated room emulation. d&b Soundscape is described as "a toolkit to enable the creation of an unparalleled listening experience - natural, harmonious, enveloping and emotionally engaging." Like the L-Acoustics L-ISA concept, d&b Soundscape was designed as a new direction that seems to be in line with the proposed Sennheiser AMBEO concept, and could probably also be explored by Meyer Sound, with the evolution of virtual acoustics, pioneered in the company's Constellation system.
I thought these references would serve as an interesting teaser to more in-depth articles that we intend to include in the magazine very soon. And since there's hardly been any time to digest all that was presented in the shows we've attended, I also thought it would be appropriate to revisit one of the things I wrote a year ago on this occasion. Contrary to some industry analysts, I like to revisit  my own takes on industry trends and market predictions, revalue the consistency of my reports and, eventually correct distorted views.
For Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2017, last year, I wrote a piece for the ISE Daily, entitled "User Interfaces: Voice Personal Assistants Disrupting Integration Concepts," on which I compared what's happening with the introduction of voice interfaces with what happened at ISE 2011, the year Apple launched the iPad, a fairly expensive device for consumers but a real bargain for integrators, considering the technology that was included and the fact that it could replace the typical $3,000 touch panels.
And the iPad - and subsequently also the iPhone and smartphones in general - completely disrupted the "user interface" for AV solutions, both on the commercial and residential sectors. For the first time, the Bring your Own Device concept was at the core of the installation and the smart home and the focus for systems integration was no longer in the platform itself but on the way the "control" software could interface with the user, gradually becoming completely transparent. The business for Crestron, Extron, and AMX, was never the same and even though the industry tried to integrate with the more generic "tablet" concept, the truth is Apple's powerful ecosystem of hardware, software, apps and services remained inescapable and completely changed the paradigm for the AV industry.
The dedicated touch-screen controllers are back!

Funny enough, at ISE 2018, while there are no new significant trends to report on the use of voice recognition as a user interface, it seems that the "touch-screen" trend evolved and we now have both the iPads still going strong as controllers, but also the return of dedicated touch-screen controllers, mostly simply based on cheap, Android-based devices that apparently, as manufacturers explain, users don't tend to divert or take away as they do with Apple's devices. And because of that, the number of companies selling "secure" iPad frames, also continues to increase.
Related to the increase in the number of UC&C solutions, as we've mentioned, there's also Microsoft selling "Surfaces", as the main tactile interface for workspaces and huddle rooms - which is naturally related with the company's dominance in that market, with Office 365 and Skype. Funny enough, I heard very little about Apple HomeKit or Google Home at ISE 2018, which means integration and control systems companies still prefer to ignore how smart home automation is being commoditized - as anyone attending CES know. I wonder if any of the companies selling dedicated touch-screen controllers actually realize how important the use of these devices is for consumers and learned the lessons from the iPad? How they could actually influence the integration industry as much (or more) as voice control?
Control4 continues to expand the Triad-branded line of high-resolution audio products clearly targeting the smart home experience.
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