Letter From America: Trickle down/trickle up

Michael Heiss reviews what he’s seen at NAB Show and Display Week and how they affect our industry.

Main image: If BoE’s 110”, 16K, 3D display finds a place in a consumer market product you’ll see images that will seem to jump right out at you from a theatre sized screen

“Trickle Down”. It’s a phrase and concept that has many meanings, depending on the usage application. For example, “Trickle Down Economics”, something you often hear when politicians and candidates claim that tax cuts and incentives to big business and the wealthy will also help the rest of us as their benefits will “trickle down” the economic scale to us regular folk. Closer to our world, trickle down is when a technology or product starts out as an expensive piece for broadcast or high-end video/audio production or distribution and then becomes less expensive to the point where it reaches the residential and consumer world.

“Trickle Up”? You may not have heard that one before, but let’s imagine a consumer product that becomes so good that despite its humble origins it moves up the food chain to professional applications. The use of mobile phones and their cameras for content production is a very visible example with Apple, in particular, promoting that some of their latest iPhone models are good enough that you can shoot a feature film on them. Indeed, all of the videos in the recent Apple product announcements have been shot just that way. More frequently, DSLR cameras, originally the province of consumers and hobbyists, are used regularly for feature films and broadcast applications.

Why bring this up? This issue’s report comes at the time of the year when I have just come back from my yearly trips to two related industry events where there is more than enough “trickling”, in both directions, that I should have brought an umbrella with me. Neither is aimed at our industry. The NAB (formerly National Association of Broadcasters) Show is where those in content production look for products, services and technologies to help them create programs. Similarly, as I’ve reported in years past, Display Week is a true B2B event as it is where those who make displays go to learn about the latest technologies and shop for panels and similar components and technologies that they then put into the end products we buy.

Even more than in past years, there was much trickling down and up, so herewith some examples. In addition to hard products trickling up there were also current and future products that recognised trends and demands from our market. For example, the increased interest in gaming has consumers asking for things such as faster frame rates and larger curved screen monitors with larger radius. Fear not, the major panel manufacturers such as LG Display, Samsung Display, TCL/CSOT and others hear you, and prototypes such as a 57” curved monitor with R1000 curvature from TCL/CSOT means that what has come up will hopefully soon come back down to you. That company also showed a 1000Hz 4K gaming monitor and LG had an 800R 39” monitor. Those and more are good things. 

TCL’s CSOT panel manufacturing arm showed a huge 57” gaming monitor screen with an R1000 curvature. That would certainly immerse you in the action!

Looking for things that will trickle down to eventual residential consumer use has always been something to be on the lookout for at NAB. One example was the products on display at NAB from Soundproof Windows. Their products are a natural for studio use but they may also be useful for us in residential applications such as a “grand room” that is also used for a theatre setting yet which is right next to a noisy outdoor area. Windows with STC up to 57, sliding (patio-type) doors up to STC 65 and standard doors up to STC 67, this might be a product to keep in your back pocket to bring up when the architect, interior designer or owner demands a quiet room but also wants doors or windows where you would not otherwise recommend them due to noise infiltration.

Transparent screens are another example of where technology trickle down meets demand trickling up. The consumer facing divisions of LG and Samsung showed transparent OLED and dvLED, respectively, back at CES. The fact that there were more transparent panels at Display Week shows that there is enough interest for prime suppliers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more for things such as AUO’s 60” transparent dvLED, which shows that this is a real category to watch.

Even 3D, long since dismissed from its consumer product days back a decade or so ago with clumsy glasses, is something that may make a comeback if some of the prototypes seen at Display Week trickle down to us as real products. They were there in all sizes from an incredible 110”, 16K (!) 3D display from BoE and at the other end of the size spectrum a 1.3”, 4K, micro-OLED lightfield (3D) display shown by LG display. Imagine that as they showed it in a demo. If it was a Mickey Mouse watch face Mickey’s hands would seem to jump out and shake with you! There were Lightfield displays in a variety of other more traditional sizes shown and it will be interesting to see if they also trickle down to the consumer market as actual products.

Since NAB is, at its heart, the preeminent global conference and trade show for content creation and production, it should be no surprise that there were hundreds of things in that area that might trickle down and be of interest to help you solve some client requests. This came to front of mind when I saw a display in the stand of a lighting manufacturer that brought me back to my comments in a recent issue about the impact the Barbie and Oppenheimer movies might have on our part of the industry. Little did I think that might be the opportunity to think about possibly creating a part of Barbie-world for a client.

Think creatively as to how you can use non-consumer gear to create unique creative spaces for your clients such as this Barbie-themed home studio space

After all, while the need for in-home video and audio creation for work at home situations during Covid has mostly passed given “return to office”, the rise of content creation in the residential ecosystem for TikTok and YouTube postings continues to grow. What better way to differentiate your skills at creating unique and innovative environments than to offer custom creator spaces?

As the picture adjoining this article shows, why not offer an all pink (or colour of the clients’ choice) background with custom coloured mics, keyboards and settings? To do it right, think of using more than just standard ring lights. Rather, look for lights that have variable colour output, pink here, of course, that also allow for better control and softening as needed. They needn’t be that expensive if you do the research in advance.

To do the background properly, many home creators will want to use a “green screen” to impose different virtual backgrounds behind the physical setting. For that, one professional trick is to use “green screen paint”. Just as many of you have used specially formulated and colour controlled “screen paint” companies such as Pro Cyc and Chromalight sell primers and paint that will turn any wall in the home into a studio setting.

Home creators need to both hear and be heard in order to communicate. For the latter, the trickle down is to look beyond the standard scissor-style mic boom arm that has almost become a cliché. Show that you know how to do things differently and look for one of the many low mount mic stands that keep the mic out of the picture. Even better, do what many on-air presenters use these days: a clip on, wireless mic. There were more than a few of these at NAB that were modestly priced and had Bluetooth receivers that plug directly into a computer or even a phone.

Panasonic’s use of AI to blend a PTZ camera with a virtual background may find residential applications going forward

The former, hearing the program or a remote guest is something that advanced creators will want to do with other than headphones or ear buds. I admit it, I’ve always wanted an in-ear bud that fits behind your ear and has a clear curly cord, so it isn’t seen. Yes, just like the security teams as well as presenters and reporters use. The connection between the earpiece and the connection box is acoustic so that there is no interference or “can you hear me?” situations. Aimed at exactly the market we are talking about here, Audio Implements, the inventor of this type of product, as used globally by TV networks, now has a reasonably priced model with Bluetooth connectivity between the presenter’s pack and the audio source that won’t break the budget. Now you know how they do it and can provision it for your clients.

One other aspect of home creation that is definitely trickling down from professional to home creators is the prompter. OK, I’m old enough to remember when prompters used large type on yellow paper rolls, but those days are thankfully long gone. Today broadcasters use specialised word processing for the script, flat panel displays to play it back, and a half mirror that lets the monitor screen reflect up so that it appears viewable in front of the lens without blocking the image. One of my finds for that was similar but consists of products that take advantage of tablets or phones as the display and use another tablet, phone or PC for the script’s source to make the whole bit of kit very reasonably priced. As a fan of clever company names, how could I ignore “Prompter People”. Check them out, particularly for executives that still do remote presentations from their home office. There is nothing that makes a presentation or speech better than being able to look straight at the camera without glancing down at notes or a script.

One other thing that caught my eye at NAB is something that might have broad application throughout an installation. Even in a world where touchscreens and voice control, hard, mechanical, key-based controls are sometimes still the right choice for the task. However, in a world where we are all used to changing soft keys with a few lines of changes to the code, what do you do to customise a standard keyboard? Search no more, as X-keys can help you customise layouts with custom printed keys or keycaps and key blockers that let you create your own legends to fit under transparent keys. After all, isn’t “custom” what we are all about?

One more topic that you might ask about these days at anyone who attends any even vaguely technical trade show or conference: “What about AI?”. At Display Week the AI was mostly discussed with regard to the inner workings of panels and perhaps about how displays are a part of the total AI ecosystem.

Prompters are no longer just for professional studios as products from the likes of the Prompter People demonstrate. Here with your author looking at the camera and the prompter

At NAB, however, things were different. Given the nature of content creation from image and sound capture to editing and post-production and then on to distribution, AI was definitely a buzzword everywhere. Most of the uses are what one might call “inside baseball” as they are part of what makes the programs we eventually consume rather than letting the end user take part. Perhaps next year we’ll see more AI from NAB trickle down to where we can both use and afford it. One possible application was Panasonic’s use of an AI-enabled processor with a PTZ camera to let the person of interest walk around a blank room while the AI system places them in, or this purposes, an operating room where they can interact with the virtual background. Suffice to say, this is more than using a virtual background for a Zoom call as the image merge and placement in relation to the background was flawless and seamless. How will this morph into something for us? Tune in next year!

Where does this leave us? At first glance these two trade shows would seem to have little to do with the residential market. If you don’t look closely that might be correct. Look deeper, however, and you can see that with some thoughts about creative use products, how you might adapt them to your needs or to create new business or installation applications. Just as snow may change to rain as it comes down, so might things from one market change to another and become helpful where you might not have expected them to regardless of whether there is trickle up or trickle down.

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