Show Overview

Nov. 30, 2005
Offbeat Trade Shows Offer New Perspectives on Technology

by Dan Daley

Just what everyone needs: more trade shows. Given the pace of change in the technology sector, it’s a wonder there aren’t even more. Certainly, there are more than most individuals could try to attend, even staying within their own market sectors. The trouble with technology is, though, it loves to cross boundaries. That’s where ARCHI-TECH followed it, to three expositions, three months in a row, where some new ideas and concepts that will ultimately further invigorate the convergence of architecture and technology could be found.

NAMM (July 22-24, Indianapolis) is an acronym for the National Association of Music Merchandisers, a somewhat vague rubric that until recently had been pretty much a guitar-bass-and-drums show, a conclave of musical instrument dealers who gathered twice yearly to look over new musical instruments and tried to figure out what the spiked-hair set wanted for Christmas. (The larger of the two annual conventions, in Anaheim each January, is affectionately referred to as “Spandex City.”)

But digital technology has morphed the convention into a showcase for audio recording technology, a tech sector that’s increasingly blurring the line between residential and commercial spaces. The notion of the “home studio” has joined the home office as a common techno-nexus in living space.

“I’ve found myself in situations where I design a home theater, home studio, and home office in the building,” says Carl Tatz, of Carl Tatz Design in Nashville, who recently did exactly that at the Governor’s Mansion, an area country club.

Furthermore, audio recording media are putting even more emphasis on room acoustics than home theaters have. Fortunately, architects, systems designers, and installers now have more off-the-shelf acoustical solutions than ever before, as evidenced at numerous booths at the show.

“Our core focus is in helping people get the physics right and getting affordable products that get results,” says Jeff Hedback, southern regional manager at Auralex, the largest player in this market. Hedback says Auralex has configured its product line, which includes systems that deal with the major components of sound management - absorption, diffusion, bass trapping, and mechanical sound transmission - into packages that are scaled to both studio space sizes and degree of sophistication.

RPG Diffusor Systems’ signature product is found in multimillion-dollar recording facilities throughout the world - a box-framed set of slatted panels that diffuse sound by breaking up the waves it travels in, thereby avoiding the buildup of standing waves that can distort the perception of the sound’s content. Increasingly, they’re being seen in studio-equipped residences. Stock diffuser panels with gypsum or other materials for the slats can cost upwards of $1,000 each; custom-made ones using more exotic materials such as ceramics and specialized glass go for considerably more.

EMX (August 30-31, Los Angeles) was a concatenation of several marginal shows, including the Surround (sound) Professional exhibition and awards. But the convention’s biggest focus was on the new media disc formats currently, or about to be, rolled out. The battle is on between two growing camps, one led by Sony and its Blu-ray disc format, the other by NEC and Toshiba championing the evolutionary HD-DVD. Then there’s the UMD (Universal Media Disc) developed by Sony for its PlayStation Portable (PSP) game platform. While Blu-ray and HD-DVD are still fighting a war of words (neither camp expects to have significant hardware or software ready before Q1 2006), UMD has found traction well beyond games - several film studios are already releasing home videos on UMD and DVD simultaneously. UMD took off so fast, in fact, it caught Sony flat-footed without turnkey authoring systems ready to market for literally hundreds of content makers ready to embrace it.

They’ll have plenty of digital real estate to fill up: These high-definition formats use a blue-violet laser to write and read data. This blue laser has a considerably shorter wavelength than the red laser system used by DVD, which makes it possible to read and write smaller pits. Thus, these discs can hold up to 15 GB (HD-DVD) and 25 GB (Blu-ray) of data on a single-sided, single layer 12cm disc. This increased storage capacity will be essential when HDTV becomes mainstream, in order to allow storage of HDTV shows or movies on an optical disc at the same level of resolution. You can record about 13 hours of standard TV but only a little over 2 hours of uncompressed high-definition TV on a 25 GB disc.

“All of these formats will be significant to technology-savvy architects and systems designers because they’re the logical extension of the revolution engendered by DVD,” says Guy Finley, director of operations for the International Recording Media Association (IRMA). “What DVD did for home theater in the home and for things like digital signage and kiosks in the commercial sector is only going to increase with these new larger formats.”

CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, September 9-12, Indianapolis) is the confab of residential and commercial systems designers and installers, and it was an architectural technology heaven looked over by an estimated 26,000 exhibitors and attendees.

A strong underlying theme at CEDIA was convergence: of audio, video, and multimedia technologies, and of the architecture that surrounds them. The home office was viewed as the nexus of these trends. Steward Film Screen was showing a dual-projector system that offered both very large (20- by 15-foot) images and that also offers PIP (picture in picture). “This type of projection system gets us out of the shoebox, regardless of whether it’s the home theater,” says Manfred Frieberger, Stewart’s director of marketing and international sales. “On this scale, architects will be able to plan the location of projection systems in at the blueprint stage. Imagine a real estate company able to project huge and high-resolution images of properties to any agent’s office or home office. The possibilities are enormous. It really blurs the line between commercial and residential applications of architecture and technology.”

Roger Stamm, marketing manager for lighting developer Lutron, which was exhibiting a new window covering automations system, sounded a similar note. “The big new trend is that with more control over how natural light is distributed in a space, the architect can include more natural light sources, more glass, in the design,” he explains. The system can be timed to follow the traverse of the sun throughout the day, changing shade configurations to adjust lighting and save energy. (Interestingly, Stamm notes further that Lutron began as a commercial lighting company. “We migrated to residential, as well, which is another indicator that the line is blurring between what is a commercial and what is a residential space,” he says. Frieberger adds a practical note: “The technology-savvy architect that does one type of pace for the client becomes better positioned to be the architect of the other as well.”)

The show illustrated the increasing importance of control systems. Jeff Singer, a manager at Crestron, waxed philosophical. “Form used to follow function, or function followed form; now, they have to work in tandem,” he says. “The technology can’t be an afterthought anymore. It can’t be subordinate to the architectural design.” To support the thesis, he noted that many of the new projectors at the show looked more like works of art themselves than like technological tools. “No one’s trying to hide the projectors of the displays anymore,” he says.

Walter Schofield, vice president of sales and marketing at high-end audio systems developer Mark Levinson, says that the future points increasingly to the confluence of technology and architecture. “IP addressability is the next major trend and it’s going to be big,” he says. “The notion of space of any kind is becoming one of ‘plug-and-play,’ and architecture is going to follow that line into the future.”

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