“Demo or Die!”

House 5G arcade
No, the 5G cell array won’t appear in the movies, but when it rolls out to your town it will speed things up for gaming and many other applications.

For just a moment, put yourself in the way-way back machine. I mean the REALLY way-way back machine. Back in the days when audio was mono and TV was black and white. When colour came along it was clearly easy to demonstrate the difference and user advantage, but stereo? What was that, people asked and “Why do I need/want it?”.

Yes, I know that was, for most readers, a long time ago, if not ancient, antediluvian history. However, think about some of the technologies, products and concepts just reaching, or about to burst into the marketplace. People knew what recorded sound was like, but did they know what two, then multichannel and, now object-based audio is? Everyone knows what a cell phone is, and many have heard terms such as 4G, but do people know what 5G really is? Presumably, everyone gets what “reality is”, but do they know the difference between “virtual reality”, “augmented reality” and “mixed reality”?

If you and your staff can’t explain all of this, not only verbally, but in real time and space, it will often be hard to get the message across. Back in the early days of home theatre, when we were trying to get across the benefit of matrix surround, a good friend of mine who then worked at Dolby Labs reminded countless dealers of his mantra that still rings true today: “DEMO OR DIE!”. Or, to expand upon an old saying: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a demo is worth a thousand pictures.” (Or a thousand Tweets or social media posts, as well.)

5G Speed Test_A
An easy way to show the speed of 5G vs 4G is to run speed test apps. The difference is not subtle!

Thinking back to the early days of both stereo and multi-channel, the most important thing we learned is something that some have forgotten: the importance of the demo material. It seems obvious, but how carefully do you select demo tracks? In the mono-to-stereo days it was LPs that invariably included recordings of a ping pong game. No, not very musical but it was hard to miss what the demo was. In the early days of home theatre, I can’t tell you how many times I played Top Gun at trade shows or to prospects. An Oscar winner? No, but again it was the sound, not the art that was the object. 

That’s great for the past, but what about the present? Looking for great demo material became such an art that my wife would often poke me during a movie and later say, “Great demo material!” That notion still holds, and rather than scour the latest releases why not do it the easy, and successful way. Many of the major video brands and both of the audio format technology companies provide demo discs or USB downloads with great demo material. They are cleared for retail demo playback and if the companies who make the sets and codecs don’t know what content best shows off their products, who will?

WAIT, you’ll say. If everyone reading this follows this advice and uses the same demo material, how can you win the sale? The answer is actually quite easy. Make sure your demo area is top notch. Are the displays properly calibrated? Is the lighting done correctly? Is the audio tuned and EQ’d? That’s right, let the rest of them use the same demo material and show how you make it look better than anyone else.

The “art of the demo” for audio and video systems and components is a well-known concept, but just the first purveyors of stereo audio had to figure out how to demo, what do you do in the face of today’s fast paced technology world? How to not only demo new tech, but at the same time explain it to prospects who might not even know what they are looking at and why?

5G VR Sign

This sign on display at the AT&T Shape event at Warner Studios tells the story of 5G’s many benefits, particularly with VR.

AT&T, the US telecom giant that is not just a wired and wireless carrier, and owner of the satellite and streaming activities of DirecTV. They have finally closed the acquisition of Time Warner, giving them control of the famed Warner Brothers Studio, HBO, CNN and host of other related properties now grouped together are Warner Media. With all their content as well as the channels to distribute it, how would they demo to convince and close the sale?

I guess it is somewhat easy when you not only own media properties, but a major studio lot and facility. In late June they invited 20,000 or more consumers to the fabled Warner Studio lot in Burbank for an “AT&T Shape” event that showcased 5G and the products and content that it will enable. Yes, I know, you can’t take over a studio to demo your wares, but what I saw for two days at the studio will give you a number of hints as to how to conceptualise, explain and demo.

As background, the back lot streets of the studio, familiar to all for their appearances in movies shot as far back as the 1930s and more recently TV shows, were turned into venues for 5G, VR and AR demos. If you’ve never been to a studio lot, you need to know that the facades are just that: exteriors of buildings and streets only. Walk inside the charming village house, bar or café, courthouse, high school or emergency room you’ve seen countless times and there is often nothing there. The actual “interiors” are typically shot in the more controlled environment of a sound stage. However, for this weekend the sparse rooms behind the sets hosted demos that wowed the crowd.

Speaking with a random selection of non-industry consumer/attendees I came away with some interesting ideas, as most of the folks I spoke with came to the event with limited knowledge and understanding of 5G; many said they got the idea and left knowing what it is.

While you likely don’t sell 5G service, sooner or later you will deal with in-home devices that use it. How to make that case? Here are a few ideas.

While speed is not the only improvement with 5G, just as resolution is not the only benefit of 4K, it is the one that is the easiest for most to grasp. When 5G comes to your trading area one suggestion is to get not just a 5G phone, but a 5G hotspot. Netgear is among those already offering them and they showed them off to great success at Shape. The easiest wat to prove the speed is a simple one: connect one device to the 5G hotspot, and another to a 4G hotspot. Run a program such as Speedtest.net and the results are very obvious and hard to argue with.

Netgear WiFi6_B
WiFi 6 will be the perfect complement to 5G. Take a hint from this slide and show how WiFi 6 enables more connection end points than older technologies.

Remember, speed is not the only benefit of 5G. As, if not more important, is its ability to connect to man more devices than 4G, and do that with low latency. Great, but how to demonstrate that?

The “multiple slices” demo is something that actually leads you to how to demo WiFi 6, formally known as 802.11ax. On demo at Shape were some of the new Netgear WiFi 6 access points, and while they told the story with a slide, take that to the next step and you’ll have a convincing demo. Measure the speed of the data stream input and then connect it to as many as 12 endpoint devices. Make sure that one or two are phones, tablets or PCs that can display the speed, or streaming devices that have a speed measurement function. With WiFi 6 you’ll get close to full speed performance at each device. Then, using the same SSID, switch to an older access point and the speed difference will be apparent. OK, it may take a bit of configuration and perhaps some old devices sitting in a drawer, but the impact is dramatic.

If HDR is what many claim is the real benefit made possible and popularised by UHD/4K, then low latency is its parallel with 5G. Low latency means that the connection time between the end device and cloud or another device is so low as to be almost non-existent. I’ve heard video gamers describe it as instant “push to shoot and hit”. You press a controller button and your action hits before long latency lets the opposing player or zombie move fast enough to avoid what otherwise would have been a hit.

A great way to demo this was with a racing game with a “steering wheel” accessory. Play the game with a 4G connection and the lag between turning the wheel is noticeable. Yikes! You’ve crashed! Then, change to a 5G connection, preferably with a switch that is mocked up to resemble a gear shift lever, Run the same game and the car on the screen moves instantly as you steer. Easy to see, easy to explain, easy to understand.

To make the point with VR and AR, Shape had some interesting demos. The same sort of 4G/5G switch when used for the feed to a VR game proved the point the same way. For AR, MagicLeap had a very popular demo that not only drove home what AR is, but also the high speed, low latency benefits of 5G. Inside the façade of what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies as a “general store” I used a MagicLeap to play chess with someone across the continent in Florida. We both saw the same board and moved our pieces with ease. I was able to point at a map on the wall in front of me, point at a location, and then see images of it in the MagicLeap headset while wearing my own prescription glasses. There was even a Game of Thrones game, but I’m not that big a fan and even with the ability to “jump the line” as a press person, I passed. However, those lines were quite long, indicating the interest in mixed reality.

Yes, I know you don’t own a movie studio or lot and don’t own or have media partners. However, the demos AT&T showed will hopefully give you some ideas as to how to effectively and convincingly explain and demo the marketing pitches for new technologies.

It held true when stereo came in to supplant mono, when multichannel succeeded stereo, and when HD replaces SD and then 4K and soon 8K raise the bar for video. If you want to survive in a hyper competitive marketplace the answer hasn’t changed: “DEMO OR DIE!”

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.