Thousands of buyers and sellers of audiovisual (AV) technologies convened in Orlando earlier this month for the annual InfoComm trade show–and many of the new products they discussed were aimed at schools.

InfoComm organizers say this year’s show was the largest ever, with a record 770 exhibitors participating. Reflecting strong demand for AV technologies in education and other markets, attendance at the end of the first day of the conference topped 25,000, show organizers said. (Final attendance figures were not available at press time.)

One of the topics causing quite a buzz at the show was the “going green” of new AV technologies. New environmental regulations, called the “RoHS” directives (for “Restrictions of Hazardous Substances”), go into effect July 1 for all new electronics products sold in Europe–and Jan. 1, 2007, for those sold in California. As a result, many vendors were promoting the fact that their latest products are RoHS-compliant at InfoComm.

For instance, GTCO CalComp (http://www.gtcocalcomp.com) announced that its InterWrite PRS RF product is now 100-percent compliant with RoHS directives. The system enables students to answer questions and interact in the classroom with wireless, radio-frequency “clickers.” A two-line Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen enables educators to ask advanced numeric questions that include positive and negative numbers, decimal points, and fractions, in addition to multiple choice or even short-answer questions. Teachers can receive instant student feedback, stir classroom discussion, quickly and easily grade tests and quizzes, generate student assessment reports, and even take attendance using the system, the company says.

Also, ELMO USA (http://www.elmousa.com) announced that its new TT-02 Teacher’s Tool document camera is RoHS compliant. The device’s camera automatically adjusts to changing levels of room brightness, ensuring easy-to-view presentations, even in darkened rooms, ELMO says. A “microscope viewing” mode lets users display microscopic materials in science classes, and a removable stage makes it easy to annotate materials being presented.

In addition, Samsung Electronics has launched a new online service to help its customers demonstrate RoHS compliance. The service, available at http://www.samsung.com/rohs, provides easy access to the documentation necessary for showing RoHS compliance, as well as a search index for environment-friendly products. Other companies that have added a section to their web sites with information about their RoHS-compliant products include Panduit Corp. (http://www.panduit.com/resources/102212.asp), a maker of AV accessories, and Toshiba America (http://www.toshiba.com/taec/adinfo/leadfree2).

Digital projectors

In the digital projector market, Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology seems to have emerged as a leading architecture for projector displays, with a majority of new projectors introduced at InfoComm employing DLP technology.

For instance, Dell (http://www.dell.com) profiled its new 1200MP and 2400MP DLP projectors. At $649, the 1200MP should appeal to educators on a budget, with 2,000 ANSI lumens–bright enough for showing images in most classrooms without turning off the lights–and SVGA-quality (800 pixels by 600 pixels) resolution. For those looking for even brighter and sharper images, the new 2400MP offers 3,000 lumens and XGA-quality (1,024 x 768) resolution, and it sells for $1,099.

Mitsubishi (http://www.mitsubishi-presentations.com) also announced two new DLP projectors at InfoComm: the XD435U-G, which offers a quick power-down feature and a USB flash memory slot for faster setup and breakdown to accommodate tight classroom schedules; and the PK-20 PocketProjector, a second-generation, micro-portable projector with a Secure Digital (SD) card reader. The XD435U-G features 2,500 lumens and sells for $2,495; the PK-20 sells for $899.

Several companies also unveiled new LCD projectors. One of these was Epson (http://www.epson.com), which claims its 3LCD technology provides brighter images with more natural colors that can be viewed more comfortably for longer periods of time compared to DLP technology. Epson’s 3LCD technology is a three-chip design that uses a series of mirrors to break up light into red, green, and blue waves–similar to how the human eye perceives images.

At InfoComm, Epson introduced two new 3LCD projectors: the PowerLite S4, a 5.7-pound projector that offers 1,800 lumens and SVGA resolution for $699, and the PowerLite 6100i, a 3,500-lumen, XGA-resolution device that is intended for high-use environments such as colleges and universities.

A unique filtration system on the 6100i reportedly captures particles in the air (such as chalk or dust), preventing them from accumulating and potentially harming the projector’s internal components over time–and out-of-the-box networking technology allows technicians to monitor and control the unit from a remote location via a local-area network or the internet. The 6100i sells for $3,199.

Amid the debate over DLP versus LCD technology, at least one company–Canon (http://www.canon.com) –is staking the success of its newest line of projectors on a different display technology altogether. Canon is touting its own Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology as providing a “best-of-breed” combination of LCD and DLP systems.

According to Canon, LCOS technology produces lattice-free, seamless images, without the “screen door” effect that reportedly can mute the color and detail of some LCD images. The technology is featured on Canon’s Realis line of projectors, three of which–the SX6, SX60, and X600–are recent additions to the series. All boast at least 2,500 lumens and XGA-quality or better resolution. The least expensive model (the X600) lists at $2,999.

Interactive whiteboards

SMART Technologies (http://www.smarttech.com), had a busy show: Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the company announced eight new products–including a 94-inch whiteboard with 33 percent more whiteboarding space, a networkable unit with a built-in projector, and a new version of its conferencing software.

The new SMART Board 600i is a network-ready, IP-addressable device that can be attached to a school’s network. A menu on the board allows you to select any other device on the network to save your notes to–so you could save your work to a central server, print it from a networked printer, and so on. The system also reportedly can operate without a computer: It contains its own power button on the unit itself, and it features a USB port for saving work to an external drive or other USB device. Most radical of all, the 600i comes with its own integrated, short-throw projector arm that mounts to the wall above the device, eliminating the need to buy a separate projector, the company said.

The SMART Board 690 is a new, 94-inch interactive whiteboard that takes advantage of the 16:9 aspect ratio that is beginning to surface in some projectors. The 690 reportedly offers a 33-percent larger working surface than the 680 (77-inch) model, SMART’s next-largest unit.

SMART also introduced GoWire, an auto-launch cable for its SMART Board software that gives users full access to the software and its functionality right from the cable itself, without having to install the software on their computers first. This could be useful for SMART Board installations in lecture halls or meeting rooms, where guest presenters who might not have the software installed on their laptops still could use the board, SMART said.

In addition, the company released Bridgit 3.1, the latest version of its conferencing software that allows Windows and Mac OS X users to connect with each other and share information real time; two new interactive pen displays, the Sympodium ID350 and ID370, which bring whiteboard functionality to a smaller writing surface; an updated version of its SMART Board software; and an overlay that creates a touch-enabled interactive surface for 32-inch flat-panel displays.

SMART faces new competition in the interactive whiteboard market: Hitachi (http://www.hitachi.com) has come out with its own line of whiteboards, the StarBoard series, that include networking features and reportedly costs less than SMART Boards. At InfoComm, Hitachi demonstrated its new FX-63 and FX-77 boards, which feature screen sizes of 63 and 77 inches, respectively. The boards operate on StarBoard software, which offers functionality that is comparable to that of SMART’s software–but they cost less than $1,600. Another advantage, according to Hitachi: All the electronics are housed in a box at the corner of the screen, making the boards more durable and less prone to damage. One disadvantage, however, is they don’t have rear-projection capabilities.

Hitachi also makes an 82-inch version with a display aspect ratio of 16:9, as well as a Bluetooth-enabled interactive pen display, the StarBoard BT-1 Tablet, that is similar to SMART’s Sympodium. Up to four BT-1 Tablets can be connected to each StarBoard system and passed wirelessly around the room, enabling students or audience members to contribute to the presentation, Hitachi said.

Audio systems

If you’re looking to enhance the sound of your whiteboard-based lessons, Califone International (http://www.califone.com) has a solution. At InfoComm, Califone announced a new 30-watt UHF wireless whiteboard speaker system designed to work with any type of board. A typical system consists of a transmitter that plugs into an interactive whiteboard, and two speakers–one for the front of the classroom and one for the rear.

Califone also announced a new infrared classroom amplification system, as well as a 90-watt portable sound system that reportedly is the first on the market with an SD memory card slot for playing saved audio recordings; it also contains a USB port for connecting and playing music from an iPod or other portable sound device.

The classroom amplification system includes two sensors that are installed in the ceiling, instead of the typical single sensor, and a belt-pack transmitter that sends signals to the sensors. It uses the same “array technology” that underlies Califone’s wireless whiteboard speakers, according to Tim Ridgway, vice president of marketing. This technology projects a more focused, high-quality sound, Ridgway said, instead of emitting a random, non-directional sound.

A brand-new company, Revolabs Inc. (http://www.revolabs.com) of Maynard, Mass., introduced two new sound systems of its own at InfoComm: the Solo Executive and Solo Desktop wireless microphone systems.

The Executive system consists of a charger, a receiver, and eight wireless microphones, each about the size of a lipstick case–and each with its own secure communications channel. Revolabs says the solution would be ideal for school board meetings or other conferences with multiple speakers. The Desktop system, which would be more appropriate for classrooms, consists of a single wireless microphone and a base that connects to speakers. The Executive solution costs $8,000, and the Desktop solution sells for $500.

Video capture and recording systems

A category of products that is really catching on in schools is video capture and streaming systems that can record, archive, and stream video recordings of lectures, lessons, and presentations over the internet. Schools are using the devices for video conferencing and for making events such as lectures or school board meetings available to students and stakeholders, either in real time or by downloading for later review.

One maker of such devices is Codian (http://www.codian.com), a London-based company with U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Codian displayed its IP VCR 2200 Series of video recording and streaming servers at InfoComm. One advantage of Codian’s system, according to Sales Director Jim Christopoulos, is that it works with any manufacturer’s video conferencing endpoints–so schools can extend the utility of their existing video conferencing equipment.

Codian also makes a line of multimedia conferencing units–the MCU 4200 Series–that serve as video conferencing bridges, with 40 video and 40 voice ports. The systems are compatible with both IP and ISDN networks, Codian said. They are currently being used in nearly every university in Virginia, as well as 10 of the 18 Education Service Centers in Texas, according to Christopoulos.

Another maker of video recording and streaming solutions, Advanced Media Design (AMD), the developer of an AV-over-IP collaboration technology called MediaPOINTE (http://www.mediapointe.com), announced new additions to its Digital Media Recorder (DMR) line, including six new products with more than a dozen new features.

The new additions will allow users to record and stream video in several new resolutions, including WXGA and high definition (HD), the company said. Several DMR models now include AMD’s Copy Me! technology, which uses integrated optical and flash-drive ports, allowing users to record a lecture or session and take it with them. The new DMR 150 can record two unique video sources for increased flexibility, while other DMR models have a built-in CD-RW drive with the new Copy Me! feature, AMD said.

Still another maker of such lecture-capturing technology, Anystream (< a href="http://www.anystream.com">http://www.anystream.com), was the subject of a recent story in eSchool News (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6270)–but it was a different capability that Anystream promoted at InfoComm: The company claims to be the first to offer an enterprise podcasting solution for higher education.

Anystream’s brand-new Apreso Podcast product automates the many steps required to capture, encode, and publish lectures for downloading to Apple iPods and other MP3 players, according to the company. Given the growing popularity of Apple’s iTunes U, which allows colleges and universities to post lectures and podcasts free of charge for their stakeholders and students to download, there could be high demand for such a solution.

A maker of a different kind of media recording technology, Disc Makers (http://www.discmakers.com), demonstrated its CD and DVD manufacturing systems at InfoComm. These include Disc Makers’ Elite series of disc duplicators and printers, which start at $2,490. Schools can use the devices–which can be set to burn up to 200 discs automatically–to create CDs for a number of applications, from video yearbooks, to recordings of school performances, to virtual campus tours for new or prospective students.

Disc Makers also announced a new product at InfoComm, a smudge-proof, water-resistant recordable CD that is inkjet printable. The CD uses WaterShield technology that locks in the ink from an inkjet printer and reportedly dries instantly, leaving the disc well protected against smudging, humidity, and small spills, Disc Makers said.

AV infrastructure and controls

A number of companies demonstrated new technologies for facilitating or controlling AV systems at InfoComm. Among the leaders was Extron Electronics (http://www.extron.com), which announced a new low-cost system for integrating AV systems into classrooms.

Called MediaLink PoleVault, the product takes its name from the way it securely mounts and conceals the switching and audio amplification components above the projector, providing tamper-resistant theft deterrence for AV systems. The PoleVault system includes all the projector control, mounting hardware, switching, speakers, wall plates, and cabling needed to install a complete classroom AV system, Extron said–and no equipment rack or closet room is required for the switching and audio-amplification equipment.

Another solutions provider, AMX (http://www.amx.com), introduced a new version of its Resource Management Suite (RMS) software, a web-based program for managing and monitoring electronic equipment and scheduling meeting rooms or classrooms. RMS includes a ClassroomManager application that is tailored to the needs of schools.

New features in RMS version 3.0 include a customizable user interface, which lets users choose which controls can be viewed and in which order; an advanced help desk that enables administrators to remotely control any networked AV device when equipment is left unattended or someone needs help using the device; and a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) interface, which allows IT professionals to manage their AV systems along with their computers and other network devices in one SNMP application, such as HP OpenView.

Other new products of note

American Power Conversion, or APC (http://www.apc.com), displayed its APC NetBotz 320 Rack Appliance with Camera, a rack-mounted network appliance for environmental monitoring and surveillance of computer rooms and network closets.

The system can detect access by unauthorized personnel via a door switch or motion sensing, and its built-in software reportedly can assess the severity of threats and provide instant notification of critical issues via mobile phones, eMail, and other means. Its scalable architecture easily supports environments ranging from small wiring closets to large data centers to enterprise-wide and remote deployments, APC said. A browser-based Basic View application gives users quick access to sensor data from anywhere on the network.

Samsung Electronics (http://www.samsung.com) introduced a new 21-inch widescreen monitor, called SyncMaster. This HDTV-ready display gives viewers the ability to watch two sources of input at the same time with its Picture-In-Picture and Picture-By-Picture features, and it also gives viewers the option of using either a digital or analog interface for viewing images and text. It offers a 1,000-to-1 contrast radio and a 178-degree viewing angle, and its Digital Video Interface (DVI) provides a sharper, cleaner image and a more accurate representation of the original video source, Samsung said.

Serious Magic (http://www.seriousmagic.com) introduced Ovation, a companion software program for Microsoft PowerPoint that lets users transform PowerPoint slides into highly polished, professional presentations. The software adds visually exciting, broadcast-quality graphical enhancements to PowerPoint slides, and its special features include a teleprompter and timer to help presenters stay on time and on point.

Users still create PowerPoint presentations as usual, then drop their PowerPoint files onto Ovation’s desktop icon. Ovation also offers PowerLooks, an assortment of elegant visuals that can be applied to PowerPoint slides. PowerLooks come in a variety of styles and color choices that users can customize with their school or company logo, brand elements, or PowerPoint background.

For much more on AV products, pricing, and specifications, visit the interactive InfoComm catalog in the eSchool News Technology Solutions Center (http://www.eschoolnews.com/tsc).

Assistant Editor Laura Ascione contributed to this report.

Links:

InfoComm 2006
http://www.infocomm.org

eSN’s InfoComm catalog
http://catalogs.infocommiq.com/avcat/CTL3189/index.cfm?PIN_id=3189