Let’s jump into a time machine and go back to 2010: a year where audio video technology was seeing great improvements but was still chained up in high end home theater installations. Since then we’ve seen many new products and features expanding the audio and video industry well beyond the home theater and into the rest of our lives. New developments improved an already wonderful experience in the theater and video content delivery is now a daily part of lives throughout the home, information screens and personal viewing in hotels and hospitals, productivity and collaboration in the office, and even restaurants in the form of video menus and interactive ordering. As more affordable consumer devices draw people into the realm of the smart home and eventually the world of more complex custom integrations audio and video solutions must maintain their position in the forefront of the customer experience. In order to do so our industry continues to develop new and exciting capabilities to offer more to viewers and listeners.
2020 has been a challenging year for everyone due to a global pandemic. Manufacturers faced a lot of hurdles to continue to meet expectations and deliver products and support to a world that rapidly changed to rely on video systems and remote work capabilities almost overnight. Despite all the setbacks, 2020 couldn’t hold back innovation and new advancements. We were even able to see the successful launch of the first HDMI 2.1 sources and displays, 3 years after the release of the specification in 2017. With so many people working from home and spending more time in their house while social distancing many people are realizing that they want more in their home audio video systems. New TVs, sound systems, game consoles, and control integration are at the top of the list for people now spending a large amount of their time at home. Let’s look at AVPro Staff’s Top 5 advancements in AV Technology in 2020:
With the newly expanded bandwidth support offered with the HDMI 2.1 standard we are now able to expand beyond 4K. This year the industry started to welcome the first 8K displays into the market. There are a only a few models each from LG, Samsung, and Sony at the moment, but more models will surely be available in the future. Some of the models to keep an eye on are the LG Signature ZX, LG NanoCell 99, Samsung Q950R, Samsung Q950TS, Sony Z8H, and finally the Sony MASTER Series Z9G.
Now that we are seeing some displays in the market, we can get excited and start switching everything over to 8K right? Well, unfortunately, it isn’t that fast and easy. 8K comes with its own challenges and you will need to make some system upgrades in order to support 8K content bandwidth requirements. Installers and consumers need to make sure all their video processing and switching devices support HDMI 2.1 in order to get the bandwidth required for 8K. The higher resolution is currently limited to 30 frames per second (FPS) uncompressed, or up to 60 FPS compressed, on available products. Like the launch of 4K we also need to wait for more widespread content availability, however gamers are some of the first to get to take advantage of the new resolution offerings.
New Video Game Hardware:
To pair well with the new 8K displays we have a few different video game hardware products. Two new video game consoles, new graphics card lineups, and some new VR hardware. Both Microsoft and Sony released new console generations this year, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. For more information, and some things you should consider about using these products in an installation, see our integrators guide to the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Console gamers are all excited, but PC gamers also had a great release year with the NVIDIA RTX 3090 and AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT graphics cards released this fall. These devices can all output 8K, pairing well with the previously mentioned 8K displays, but also support 4K at 120 FPS and variable refresh rate (with the Xbox Series X and Radeon RX 6900 XT supporting AMD FreeSync technology). Native HDMI 2.1 variable refresh rate (VRR) is a big step forward for all gaming devices for image quality (at the expense of a few ms of latency) and don’t rely on proprietary matching protocols to get the job done. Keep in mind that to use VRR your entire video signal chain must support VRR. If image quality is important while gaming VRR is something you should be looking for in your audio video installation or gaming setup.
Aside from the consoles, there have also been some good developments in virtual reality (VR). In 2020 Oculus launched the Oculus Quest 2. The Quest 2 offers the best performance and highest resolution display from Oculus yet. The Quest 2 is also Oculus’ first “universal” VR device, ending the need to have a different product for mobile and tethered PC use. In 2021 they will end the sale of the Rift S and sell only the Quest 2. With a refresh rate from 60 up to 90 FPS, on a 1832x1920 (per eye) display, it is the best performing consumer VR headset available.
As consumer demand for larger displays continues to trend upward video walls have made an appearance beyond large scale commercial advertisement boards. You can now find these displays in a variety of locations such as commercial locations like sports bars, business office spaces where they can act as a presentation screen, and it has even been seen in some residential installations. This year with the release of the Fresco Cap 9 more precise images and accurate content recreation are possible on a large scale via Dolby Vision supported video walls! Here is a quick refresher on Dolby Vision:
WHAT IS DOLBY VISION?
Dolby Vision is the brand name for a high dynamic range (HDR) 4K video format developed and promoted by the folks that brought us Dolby Surround and all its subsequent permutations. To use the Dolby Vision logo on a TV or Blu-ray player, manufacturers must pay to certify their products and license the name. The Dolby HDR format is also used in video production, making it a professional as well as a consumer brand.
Managing the Dolby Vision HDR metadata and ensuring that the content you want to play and the sources you hookup to the video wall are getting the most out of your equipment. Now you can create a large video wall without giving up all the benefits of Dolby Vision.
Netflix and YouTube are two of the largest streaming content delivery systems used in the US. As such you will commonly find them researching and developing new technologies and features for us to benefit from as the viewers! Let’s look at a few new tech bits from the streaming realm. This year Netflix switches to support per shot video encoding. What they are doing is determining on shot by shot basis encoding content to be the best quality based on the content in that shot to reduce the bandwidth load on your network while retaining the highest perceived quality to the end viewer. Read here for more detailed information: Netflix Tech Blog.
YouTube is making some slightly bigger waves this year with the new 8K video streaming to 8K TVs that support the AV1 streaming codec. AV1 is a newer streaming codec, initially released on 28 March, 2018, and is an open royalty-free video coding format designed for streaming over the internet. It can compress video without noticeable quality changes significantly better than VP9, seeing up to 30% more compression. The bandwidth savings offered by AV1 enabled YouTube to offer 8K content and with supported TVs they have enabled 8K streaming. Although Netflix has also been seen utilizing AV1 in the wild when sending content to Android phones, YouTube is the first to the market when it comes to 8K streaming. We are excited to see what content comes to YouTube for people to watch and how the other players, like Netflix, in the streaming space follow suit. Perhaps they may seek to use other compression algorithms such as Versatile Video Coding (VVC / H.266).
With the COVID-19 pandemic many people across the world, and here in the US, have had to switch over to completely work from home or mixed work environment solutions. While this isn’t a breakthrough featuring a new technology feature or product offering, the massive shift at such a large scale has made a dramatic impact to how we are working now and in the future. According to information and polls provided by Gallup, at the start of the pandemic in March as many as 62% of Americans were working from home in some capacity. Months later, in September, Gallup reported still upwards of 58% of Americans are working from home in some capacity (either full-time or part-time). In the fall update polled Americans also indicated that 65% of the workers wanted to continue working remotely post COVID-19. This large shift needed many forms of support: cameras, microphones, headsets, and other audio video support equipment. Now that many people have gotten the desire to work remotely, and businesses have been shown that full time remote work doesn’t prohibit productivity, what does our future as a workforce look like? This is something designers and integrators will need to consider as we look to a future where people are working in a mixed environment and teams have both in person and remote employees. Including devices like pan, tilt, and zoom cameras and integrating teleconference systems like Zoom or Teams into the workspace should be a priority to any new conference room construction or renovation.
Despite all the challenges presented by the pandemic this year you can see all the advancements and breakthroughs that allowed our industry to show its ability to continue to grow and thrive. From new video games to streaming, there are many ways for you to utilize the new 8K TVs that are on the market. Dolby Vision video wall support is new this year, as was the massive change to a mixed work from home environment. 2020 turned out to be a pretty good year for new developments in the audio video industry and we look forward to what is coming in 2021!
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