There are mega-events in China and Japan that may pull more people in sheer numbers, but Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) is widely viewed as the biggest multinational pro AV trade show in the world.
After cancellations and truncated versions of the show during the peak COVID era, the show returned somewhat to normal recently in its new-ish home of Barcelona, Spain.
The trade show had outgrown Amsterdam, and was set for a new era along the Mediterranean starting in 2021.
That turned into 2022 because of COVID, and the version that wrapped up in early February was the first genuinely full show at its new digs. It attracted more than 58,000 people and 1,000+ exhibitors, down from its Amsterdam peak in 2019, but well up from the COVID-era events.
The general feeling was that 2023 was the year the show was truly back.
Though I am North American-based, ISE is a show I try to hit every year. It happens, in normal times, at the front end of the calendar year and right after CES in Las Vegas. The first quarter of a year is often when hardware manufacturers start showing their newest, shiniest display products. So the OLEDs, QLEDs and microLEDs that get talked up at CES then also show up at ISE.
It is a massive show, and like its US counterpart InfoComm, it serves a lot of markets and interests, and involves a lot more than just digital signage technology. There are entire halls devoted to audio speakers and mikes, and other areas all about IOT and commercial/residential building automation. It would be reasonable for a first-timer to start walking around and wondering, “OK, why did I come here again???”
But walk into certain halls and the answer is very clear. There’s a dedicated digital signage hall, and a main hall that was filled with the finest pitch LED video wall products and the tightest, slimmest, brightest LCDs and OLED displays. The LGs, Samsungs, Sonys and others were all in there, and big tech companies like Google now also turn up at ISE.
For someone researching or specifying a big visual display product, the show is a place for inspiration. The display vendors, in particular, have gradually learned that their presence at these shows needs to involve a lot of thought and investment in the creative run on screens.
It was not that long ago that even the largest display companies weren’t doing much more than running whatever HD video they could dig up – like aerial flyover videos.
Now, most vendors had custom creative specific to the booth set-up. The most notable vendors for that were LG, which had a terrific demo of transparent OLEDs as window material, and the Turkish display manufacturer Vestel (Yes, there is a very large display company in Turkey), which had a very large stand thematically tied to old painting masters.
For people like me, who in normal times attend a lot of trade shows, the products and services tend to represent incremental improvements, as opposed to great leaps forward. So if the finest pitch LED I saw the last time I was at ISE was 0.7mm, now it is 0.4mm.
Mere mortals like me would be hard-pressed to squint and tell the difference between 0.7mm and 0.4mm, but one manufacturer looked to one-up the competition by trumpeting a 0.3mm pitch, which was really 0.39mm.
The specs race can all get a bit silly.
Along with great creative on the big screens, the stuff that excites me – I’m a bit weird – is what I call boring signage. And there were lots of good examples of boring but tremendously valuable on-screen efforts.
While flashy, high profile and often very expensive creative drives experience at big venues like office complexes, shopping malls and airports, there are more and more examples of what I’d call meat and potatoes signage that also drive experience. What that means is while there may be huge, very impressive art installations that use LED video wall technology to reinforce ideas like the excitement of travel, there are also all kinds of smaller screens that relate how long security screening will take, and which screening areas are open.
I saw, stopping in the UK on my way to Spain, a couple of screens outside some public toilets at London Paddington train station. They related the real-time occupancy rates, so if they were full, a rail traveler could perhaps try another set of toilets elsewhere in the sprawling station.
That sort of thing will probably never win digital signage awards, but as a simple utility that also boosts experience, I thought it was awesome.
The pro AV crowd in the US generally waits until the InfoComm show in June, which cycles annually between Las Vegas and Orlando, to see new tech and catch up with its partners and resellers. It is very similar to ISE and shares an owner – the trade association AVIXA. But I’d make the argument that going to both is worth it, if the budget is there.
Even if a company is not really active in Europe, ISE offers a new perspective, and can result in new business ties that make expansion and sales outside North America feasible and worthwhile.
I also just think it is good to see what others are doing. Americans and Canadians can think, at times, that what they do is advanced and even world-leading. But going to Europe and ISE can be a real eye-opener. There’s a lot of innovation in Europe, and in many ways there is more innovation and investment over there.
In the eight or so years I have been going over, I have meant so many more companies and learned so much about a broader ecosystem and different ways of approaching digital signage. I’ve also made a lot of new business friends.
The next ISE is late January-early February 2024, back in Barcelona. Getting there can be a challenge, but once there, it is easy to get around and costs are relatively, especially compared to London, New York or Las Vegas (which is now anything but a cheap visit).
One more thing. If you are going, learn a few phrases. I was assured English was very common in that amazing city. Nope. I had a bunch of cab rides that started with a lot of work bridging the language gap about where I needed to go.
Don’t let that stop you from going, though.