I Propose An Infocomm Northwest

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Leaving Las Vegas: Why InfoComm Should Also Visit Seattle or San Francisco, Where AV Innovation Is More Than Just Stagecraft

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

I was honored to be a special guest this past Friday on AVweek, a weekly podcast produced by AVnation.tv that discusses current events of the audiovisual industry.  After the podcast, the other contributors and I started talking about how the annual CEDIA expo may smell a little different this year, as this September, CEDIA expo-goers would now have the liberty of trying some of Denver’s new, umm, legislation…

I started to think about all of the cities where I have attended conferences geared towards audio and video.  I have traveled to Philadelphia, PA for EduCause; Amsterdam,NL for ISE; Anaheim,CA for InfoComm and NAMM; Indianapolis,IN and Denver,CO for CEDIA; New York,NY and San Francisco,CA for AES; and Orlando,FL for Infocomm.  And, of course, Las Vegas,NV for both CES in January (when the weather is kind of nice), and the Infocomm in June (when I sometimes wonder if I died in my sleep, and then woke up within the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno.)

Whenever I get back from these conferences, and I am inevitably reminded of the advances in technology taking place where I live on the Bay Area.  One might even argue that the bulk of American technological innovation comes from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle, and that the rest of the country is simply trying to keep up with the West Coast (with extra emphasis on the word argue, as I sure many hipsters in Brooklyn or Austin would be terribly offended by my statement. If you are one of the offended, then I suggest you go buy yourself a RumChata, and you will feel better.)

So why is the Infocomm Show held in Las Vegas, anyway?  I think the main reason is logistics.  Las Vegas is more centrally located than most of the other cities I mentioned.  The Las Vegas Convention Center is certainly large enough for the Infocomm Show, and there are plenty of hotels and restaurants for meetings.  AV manufacturers and integrators based in Southern California can simply drive their gear to Las Vegas.  Others from around the country can easily find flights to Vegas.

There is also the wow-factor and live performance aspect of Las Vegas that can not be matched in other cities.  Between the Cirque du Soleil shows and purpose-built concert halls, there are plenty of places for manufacturers to host after-hours events; not to mention all of the bright lights and video screens: all help to remind AV folks exactly how big of a deal AV can actually be, when there is adequate budget.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, why not host an Infocomm Show in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, or Seattle? Isn’t the Infocomm Show supposed to be a gathering of the vibes for the AV industry? If we are embracing the so-called AV/IT convergence (where audiovisual meets information technology, hangs out, and has a few beers), why isn’t this annual AV trade show hosted someplace where Information Technology people hang out?

Again, I know in the end it’s probably about logistics, and if that is the basis for choosing the location for InfoComm, well then I will never win this argument.  Hotels and flights to the San Francisco Bay or Seattle would certainly be much tougher for AV folks, especially those on the East Coast. But flights to Orlando are not easy for anyone on the West Coast, either. Food and drinks are much more pricey in the Bay Area, and the convention centers are just not as big as Vegas.  But that is exactly why we need to put logistics second, for at least one year, and put technology first.

If Infocomm was only about logistics, and keeping costs down, we might as well host the entire trade show online.  Each booth could have a five or ten minute video showing their new products, with live Q&A available for engineers like me who ask way too many questions. Virtual meetings could take place using Google Hangouts, and participants could simply scan a QRcode or “click here” for more information from a given manufacturer.  The classes and seminars that are normally offerred at Infocomm could be accomplished using on-demand webinars and online testing.  But we all know the Big Show is much more than just business meetings, educational seminars, and seeing new products.

Infocomm is about synergy.  It’s about the random person you meet on the monorail who happens to know so-and-so and suddenly the two of you are discussing a current design challenge or potential project.  The energy and excitement of meeting new people and gaining new skills, while seeing old friends and past co-workers is what makes the Infocomm Show so awesome, and that is precisely why it needs to happen as a live event each year.  Infocomm gets us out of our shells and the shear fact that you are not back in your office or on a job site doing an installation, means you can focus more on learning (I know, I know, easier said, than done).

It’s that same synergy that has convinced me that there needs to be an Infocomm Northwest.  Every time I go to a trade show, I notice that many of the attendees are locals who, if the show was located in another state or country, simply could not attend.  The same is true for employees of the information technology and internet-based companies in Silicon Valley: many of them do not have the time to travel to Las Vegas (despite their unlimited vacation), BUT if that same Infocomm show was located in the Bay Area, they might be able to attend for a day or two, without impacting their work load, or their Burning Man camp planning.  As Kevin Costner learned in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”.

Let’s take a company like DropBox, for instance.  Many AV installation firms use Dropbox as a way to share files, yet DropBox probably has no idea that Infocomm even exists!  This example can be expanded to almost all IT, software, and internet based technology that is born in the Bay Area or Seattle.  They don’t know there are audiovisual consultants, because we are nothing in comparison to the larger information technology business model they are used to dealing with. We need to change that, and get on their radar, before the entire AV industry goe the way of the wireless microphones based in the VHF and UHF channels, now banned from use due to changes in the IT sectors.

So I say, “Hey Infocomm, let’s leave Las Vegas, maybe not for good, but for at least one year.”  Let’s host an Infocomm Northwest here in the Bay Area or in Seattle, where technology is being born, not chased.  Wouldn’t you rather travel to Northern California or Seattle in June?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below, via Twitter @pkaudiovisual or send me an email to pkav.info at gmail.com.

Yes, I use gmail; don’t you?

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Moiré Patterns in Video Conferencing

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Watch What You Wear When On Video

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

As I religiously watched Nightly Business Report with Tyler Mathisen and Susie Gharib last Friday, I could not help but notice the dapper suit coat that Tyler was wearing. Unfortunately, the reason I noticed his coat was because of the wavy moiré pattern his coat created in the YouTube video stream, see below. The moiré pattern is instantly recognizable when Tyler comes on about 40 seconds into the program:

I can not say if this pattern was detectable on high-definition or standard-definition television sets, because I recently “cut the cord” of cable television, and now watch NBR online. The YouTube video stream is decent, but not high definition, and it could be the down-sampling that caused the moiré pattern. Here is another YouTube video that illustrates the moiré effect when two similar sets of parallel lines intersect:

What happened in Friday’s NBR video was Tyler’s coat had vertical and horizontal lines that intersected with the horizontal scan lines of the video stream. Video is traditionally recorded as of horizontal lines of pixels, and each pixel is essentially a sample of the actual color or pattern being recorded. So when these sampling lines intersect with Tylers’ coat lines, a moiré pattern emerges in the video.

I was surprised to see this happen on such a long-running business news show on PBS and other stations, but maybe the pattern was not visible on the professional 1080p cameras and broadcast monitors? Maybe they did not notice until it was uploaded to YouTube? My guess is that Tyler only had one coat with him, so there was little they could do about it before they started airing. Hopefully, CNBC and Tyler learned a lesson, and he will try to avoid those patterns in the future, at least when on video.

This video lesson applies to all of us, not just television newscasters. For example, if you are working at or attending an online university, you certainly do not want moiré video patterns that distract from the teaching. Corporate video conference systems like GotoMeeting, Webex, Polycom and Cisco are also prone to moiré patterns, and many people use Skype, Facetime, or Google Hangouts to video conference with family and friends. So how can you avoid it? First, avoid wearing shirts or ties with small parallel lines. How small depends on the resolution of the camera, the sampling rate, and the distance. Since there are so many variables, just avoid parallel lines, or plaid or checkered outfits (like Tyler Mathisen in the first video).

In addition to avoiding moiré patterns, and watching what you wear, you should always think about two things whenever you video conference: sound and lighting. Is there any background noise from windows, televisions, or other people talking? You should reduce this background noise before you start any conference call by closing windows and doors. You should also close the blinds or shades and turn on all of the lights, as this will help with the room acoustics as well as the lighting. Sunlight is the enemy when it comes to indoor video, because the contrast is too much, so its best practice to use artificial lighting from above, ideally angled towards the faces.

If possible, you should always do a test video call beforehand, and ask the “far end” how you look and sound to them on video. Tell them exactly why you are asking, and ask them to be honest. It’s the video conference equivalent of asking a friend, “do I have anything stuck in my teeth?” after eating a big meal. In the end, everyone wins.

If you have any questions about moiré patterns, video conferencing, lighting, or room acoustics, please don’t hesitate to comment below, or write me directly at pkav.info @ gmail dot com.

How Video Streaming Is Changing Education [INFOGRAPHIC]

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In The Future, Higher Education Will Be Free, Via Massive Open Online Courses (And Advertising)

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Last month, Starbucks announced a new program called the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, that would essentially give their employees the opportunity to achieve a college education at a reduced cost. Baristas and other team members can attend Arizona State University classses online using a special discount code. 3rd and 4th year students will even receive reimbursement for non-tuition expenses like books, beer funnels, bongs…just kidding.

Google openly “supports the development of a diverse education, as learning expands in the online word. Part of that means that educational institutions should easily be able to bring their content online and manage their relationships with their students.” Google has worked with edX as a contributor to their open source platform, Open edX, as well as MOOC.org. Google also leads the Girl Code effort.

AT&T now offers nano-degrees that unemployed people, retirees, or even teens can use to get into the workforce.  Dell recently released a YouTube video mockumentary about the Center For Selfie Improvement as part of its real-life Learning Means Doing campaign.

Sure, there’s been hundreds of programs designed to teach kids geography, history, or math while they play video games (Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego or the classic Oregon Trail).  And computer software and programming courses, from Logo to Java, have been taught in schools for years’ but recently, something has changed in education.

The kids learning to code today are no longer lonely individuals playing video games in a AV closet. Nowadays, programming is a very social endevour, and you must know how to work as a team, just like you would work as a team in the new first-person-shooter video games. Teens are also learning to drive better with web-based training tools.  Yes, there’s an app for that.

High schools and universities like Stanford are adopting their programs to fit this new style of online learning. There are also for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix where students can earn a degree on their own time, taking the classes at night or on weekends while working other jobs. Its important the classrooms that are used to “film” the video course have adequate lighting and good acoustics so that the quality of the video course is as good as being in the classroom.

There is also a new type of online video student that has emerged, who learns new skills by watching videos on YouTube, Linda.com, live webinars, and/or other sources of video classes that are definitely not typical college courses. Many of these skills could not be learned as easily before the Age of YouTube, unless someone had shown you how to to do it in person.  Here are some examples:

  • Learning a new recipe, gardening, or .i.y project
  • Cyclists can learn to do their own bike repairs
  • Sewing or knitting techniques, fashion trends
  • Restoring a classic car, boat, or motorcycle
  • Promote your business using Facebook & Twitter
  • Become a better investor by learning stock charts
  • Teaching yourself guitar chords and cover songs
  • Optimize your Linkedin Profile for search engines

Getting back to Starbucks and Dell, I believe these corporate video education models are going to be more and more popular moving forward. The skilled worker gap will be filled by companies who realize that the only way to fill it is with education. I envision companies like CVS and Walgreens starting their own indentured-servant-style pharmacist degree programs.  In the future, maybe medical students will go to school for “free”, as long as they promise to work for Kaiser when they graduate.  As companies become larger and larger, they will realize its easier to offer “free” education, than it is to recruit and hire.

I keep putting the “free” in quotations because as much as I love the word free, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Although not widely monetized, many YouTube videos have commercials or pop up ads that users have to sit through like movie previews. Free apps and video games are usually subsidized by banners, audio, and video clips.

It hard to say which comes first, the chicken (the audience who want things for free) or the egg (advertisers who want the audience) but in the end they both need each other to survive, and I believe that will be the future model of educational videos. Online college students will have to sit through video commercials during classes.  Electronic books will be free with banner ads.  Computer and tablets will be available for free as long as they can track everything you do online.  “Free” education will continue to grow as advertisers realize the potential sales of the online audience, and foot the bill.

In closing, I shared this infographic a while back, but its still very relevant to MOOCs. By the way, I am not sold on the term MOOC, but I am quite sure this learning-by video thing is here to stay. -pk

MOOCs
Source: BestCollegesOnline.org