Remember those kitschy digital photo frames that flooded the market when digital cameras became a thing? They’re all grown up now, as we’ll see at CEDIA 2017, the big trade show for home-technology integrators. Meural, Blackdove, Samsung (Frame TV) and Niio (with Barco) will all be showcasing digital art for every type of consumer, from those who just want something cool to hang on their walls … to the most serious of collectors.
Each solution features curated art collections – both static and moving – to appeal to every audience and pocketbook. And each provides a big opportunity for experts in audio, video, networking, home automation and installation, i.e., home technology professionals.
“I think this whole category of elegant, wall-mounted digital picture frames/TVs can be a very good product category for us,” says Gordon Van Zuiden, whose integration company Cybermanor has a Meural digital frame welcoming guests to its Los Gatos, Calif., show home. “I have always strongly believed that one of our core strengths as a custom installer is fit and finish and these products exemplify the best of technology and interior design elegance.”
Meural was arguably the first to the custom-installation channel with a digital-art solution a couple of years ago. Since then, the “digital art” category has blossomed with higher-end solutions, especially in the emerging genre of “new media.”
An increasingly popular art form, new-media art encompasses digital technologies such as computer animation, 3D printing, virtual reality, and even biotechnology.
Typically, the art involves motion or interactivity, which makes it a hit at museums, galleries and prestigious shows like Art Basel, where viewers seem mesmerized by the movement.
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Moving media is an important phenomenon with major implications for technologists skilled in the art of integration. Imagine the skill and care that goes into shipping, installing, illuminating and protecting a giant Warhol. There are professional firms that specialize in this, just as there will be professional A/V and integration firms specializing in new-media art.
Wim De Vos of Genesis Technologies, a European distributor high-performance A/V brands, is completely sold on new media, as well as the business opportunities that go with it.
“Imagine a stunning piece of video art with an 84-inch 4K rotating display (landscape to portrait) with a custom finished frame, plus controlled lighting and crystal-clear sound,” he says. “Now compare that to the same piece on a 42-inch TV hanging from the wall next to a cluttered cupboard and using its internal speakers.”
When it comes to art, De Vos says, context is everything.
“The same glass of wine tastes infinitely better in good company and in the perfect setting overlooking a beautiful landscape than in a crowded, noisy airport,” he explains. “We as home technology specialists are offering the client a context worth as much as the art they will be consuming.”
He adds, “Rarely has our industry of home technologists had a bigger opportunity to escape the stigma of geek, TV-guy, techie or installer of products.”
Niio + Barco for New-Media Art Devotees
Barco, a leader in high-performance video projectors and displays, has spent the past couple of years studying up on new media and immersing itself in the art world – specifically, the upper echelons.
Last year at the CEDIA Business Xchange, Barco Residential general manager Tim Sinnaeve enlightened dealers and manufacturers alike about the potential of this emerging genre. He urged attendees to apply their technological expertise – and their associations with upscale clientele – to this promising new market.
Barco itself doesn’t make anything particularly tailored to art aficionados, other than high-quality video projectors and displays that create the virtual canvas. But the company is nevertheless driving the movement. Barco has teamed with Niio, a start-up provider of “media art management” tools for artists, galleries, collectors and institutions to store, manage, display and securely distribute video and new media artworks.
Niio’s digital art collection includes affordable works by budding artists, as well as limited-edition pieces for art lovers who prefer exclusivity.
At CEDIA, Barco and Niio will demonstrate the awe of new media, well displayed.
Wind of Boston: Data Paintings from Refik Anadol, from the Niio collection
“Niio is the first comprehensive platform for all those involved in the creation, collection and consumption of premium, multi-format digital art works,” says De Vos from Genesis Technologies, which distributes the Barco product line. “Often referred to as the Sound Cloud of digital art, Niio consists of a cloud-based suite of tools and a smart player, which can turn a screen into a digital art canvas.”
While Niio and the whole concept of new media is only just entering the integrator mindset, we are seeing some hints that it could become a thriving business for home-technology pros, especially at the high end.
Sinemas, a UK-based home-theater design firm, is starting to incorporate digital art into its project renderings, hoping to generate interest among integrators, manufacturers and design trades.
“I'm really interested in digital art and Niio, and I'm trying to introduce the idea when helping design living room projects,” says managing director Simon Grattidge.
For its part, Genesis plans to create reference designs and guidelines for displaying digital art, much like the distributor has done with its Immersive Cinema Experience (ICE) for home-theater design.
“The hardware is supposed to be transparent, so the art itself is center stage,” De Vos says. “The opportunity is therefore not the branded boxes that will be sold, but rather the expertise of who creates the ‘digital canvas.’”
The so-called canvas, he says, will comprise a display, sound system, lighting, network and some element of control – disciplines that all fall under the integrator’s province.
Experience Niio at the Barco Booths, #2225 and Sound Room 7 (SR7)
Blackdove for ‘New Media’ Neophytes
New media isn’t just for serious collectors and well-heeled clients, however. Blackdove, launching at CEDIA 2017, is attempting to reach a broader market with its digital-art solution.
The company provides a catalog of moving art at fairly affordable prices, starting at $5 per month for “uncurated” work for personal use, all the way up to $250 per month for curated art for commercial use.
“It’s pretty obvious that people are looking for more immersive environments,” Blackdove founder Mark Billings tells CE Pro. “The rise of fine art in the digital space has sort of been years in the making. What we’ve been noticing is that demand is starting to pick up. People absolutely are looking to incorporate video arts into their environment.”
At its heart, Blackdove is a platform for delivering and managing digital art, according to Billings. He says museums and galleries already are using the platform to deliver their own works, and “they don’t pay us anything.”
For the custom installation channel, Blackdove is bundling solutions that enable “complete, polished installs,” especially for the broader markets. Unlike Niio, which includes a hardware component, Blackdove is “only software,” Billings says.
The company will integrate with third-party hardware such as video switchers, control systems and displays, “with apps for all of the major smart TVs,” he explains.
Hardware partners will be divulged as the show nears, but for now Blackdove does integrate natively with Samsung commercial displays, which feature an embedded player running Samsung’s Smart Signage Platform (SSSP). In fact, Blackdove started as a Kickstarter project in 2015, promoting a thin-bezel Samsung display with Blackdove software built in.
The Samsung displays include built-in storage, so a moving-art collection can be played locally, rather than “burning up the consumer’s bandwidth,” Billings explains.
He sees especially strong potential in Samsung’s new QLED displays powered by Tizen 3.0, Samsung’s latest smart-signage platform.
Billings says Blackdove currently has “thousands” of works in its video-art collection.
“We do have some exclusive partnerships,” he says, “so the quality of art will be a key differentiator.”
Visit Blackdove at CEDIA 2017, booth #5709
Meural for Mainstream Art Enthusiasts
Some consumers just want something interesting and dynamic to hang on their walls.
Meural was arguably the first modern-day “digital picture frame” provider to enter the home-tech channel a couple years ago.
The company provides both the artwork and the “canvas,” a 27-inch 1080p display with a processor and local storage. There’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in for control, image transfer and streaming.
Meural offers a choice of frames that really make the pieces look like works of art – only better because of the anti-glare matte display “designed to deflect light and organically amplify color.”
Also, the frame includes a built-in ambient light sensor that informs the processor how to adjust the image according to the ever-changing lighting conditions. An onboard motion sensor reads gestures – wave left to advance, right to back up, and up to reveal information about the “now showing” image.
Although Meural has a dealer program for the integrator channel, its products currently are sold pretty much everywhere for $595. There’s a $695 “Lightbox” model that makes the canvas look like it’s floating.
The company provides a collection of more than 30,000 static images, available free of charge to users. As such, there’s no access to museum-caliber artwork, but Meural says it might contemplate a premium service in the future. Users also are free to upload their own images to the digital canvas.
Visit Meural at CEDIA 2017, booth #1611
Samsung Frame TV for Aesthetes
If clients want bigger art and a 4K TV to boot, Samsung’s Frame TV is just the ticket. Distributors tell CE Pro the smart TV – smart connectivity, smart design – is flying off the shelves.
The LED display boasts typical Samsung 4K Ultra HD quality, with HDR10 support and the company’s own “4K Color Drive Extreme,” whatever that means.
Samsung likens the picture quality to its MU8000 Series, which is impressive but not quite like the higher-end QLED models. A Frame TV reviewer from Business Insider says, “Everything looked more than pleasant in my demo; just know that you’re paying for the design first and foremost.”
And what a design it is! When not showing the morning news or a Netflix movie, the TV becomes a digital art frame, showing images from the user’s own files, or digital artwork from Samsung’s curated collection – about 100 pieces to choose from, and updated regularly.
Customers can select from a number of virtual matte boards to frame images in a digital shadow box, triptych, squares or other layout. A variety of matte colors are available in warm, neutral and bold hues.
The display has a brightness sensor to adjust the picture according to ambient light, as well as a motion sensor to dim the art when no one’s around.
The thing about these “Frame TVs” is that they don’t actually come with a frame. Out of the box, they look like ordinary Samsung TVs with a standard black bezel. Customers purchase frames separately –walnut, beige wood or white – for an extra $250.
The TVs include thin mounting hardware, so considering the frame and all, the TV can be installed flush to the wall with no gaps.
The displays cost $2,000 (retail) for the 55-inch model (UN55LS003AF) and $2,800 for the 65-inch UN65LS003AF.
They require Samsung’s external One Connect Box (included), which is powered by a very thin wire that practically disappears into a wall, which is probably why the manufacturer calls it the “Invisible Connection.”
Visit Samsung at CEDIA 2017, booth #5535
And Others …
These solutions won’t be at CEDIA, but they nevertheless speak to the growing category of digital-art category.
Depict – Expected to ship in September, the Depict Frame is similar to Meural, but the $899 display is bigger (49 inches) and offers native 4K resolutions. The Frame includes a wall mount that swivels, so users can easily pivot between landscape and portrait mode. The company offers a free subscription for a limited collection of artwork that is updated monthly. For $20 per month, subscribers enjoy a premium collection of static and moving art, updated weekly.
Memento – The Memento Smart Frame is 4K like Depict, but it’s more expensive and has fewer amenities, unless you count the optional flat, paintable cable for power ($50 for a 15-foot strip). The small version contains a 25-inch display ($599) and the larger model features a 35-inch display ($899). Aspect ratio is an odd 3:2, so most images will have to be cropped or extended with blurred edges. The company does not offer a collection of digital art.