05.01.16

Best Practice: Continued Integration Technology Evolution to Define 2016

Aylett_Enterprise Grade wireless networks are key to reliable wireless systems

My CEDIA Expo 2015 show report discussed a landscape of evolution rather than revolution. This sums up 2015 perfectly as a year where the industry has matured gracefully rather than taking any great leaps forward.

It seems slightly odd to be writing this preview to 2016 on the eve of the industry’s most influential show, CES. You’ll have to wait until next month for my full show report but looking ahead to 2016, it is likely that we are going to see some more evolutionary sifts in technology, as well as some large shifts in consumer buying behaviour.

Technology Evolution 
Our biggest challenge will probably be HDMI 2.0, or strictly speaking, HDMI 2.0a. The ‘a’ suffix adds support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) conforming to CTA-861.3. Though this standard describes metadata extensions necessary to display HDR content, we are heading for another good old format war. Dolby, Technicolor, SMPTE, Philips, Samsung, NHK and The BBC all have their own ideas about how HDR should be done. Though a display device may be labelled as ‘HDR’, we are far to early in the cycle to know who will win this war. 

Whatever happens, however, HDR is arguably a far bigger advance in display quality than UHD/4K as it’s applicable to any screen size at any viewing distance unlike 4K where you have to be close enough to notice the difference. We’ve talked for years about better pixels being more important than more pixels, and HDR combined with ITU Rec.2020 (Much older colour gamut) will deliver on this potential starting in 2016. 

New Technologies Bring Potential For Selling Upgrades As for 4K/UHD, 2016 will see an explosion of content providers supporting these higher quality transmissions. This is an opportunity for you to look back at your existing customers’ systems and visit them with a pre-engineered proposal for a system wide upgrade. Before you do this, please ensure that any installed infrastructure will be able to support the increased data rated that 4K brings. One of our biggest challenges has been specifying new flat panel TVs to replace ones that fit into a very specific space. Check and double check all of your equipment dimensions, as well as control and communications requirements, before committing to selling an upgrade. Texas Instruments (TI) will be releasing their new sensibly priced (and sized) 4K DLP light engine. This will open up the entry level 4K projector market beyond Sony and be another avenue for selling upgrades. Ensure that you do your projector geometry calculations (learn how to do these yourself rather than relying on online calculators that often give false results) to ensure that the new one will work for the existing screen size and position and also take the opportunity to sell something that delivers at least 30fl of screen brightness when calibrated. Even if the extra resolution from 4K is not really noticed at the viewing position, the extra brightness definitely will be.

Consumer Evolution 
2015 was the year when my final luddite friend caved in and upgraded her Nokia 6310 (still arguably the greatest mobile phone ever made). Now firmly ensconced in the World of Apps, she acknowledges that being able to do more than simply make calls or send texts is actually quite useful. I do not believe that we will be able to use the “people don’t want to switch between different apps” sales pitch for much longer when selling integrated building controls. Yes, a single, simple hard button remote to operate a TV-based system is still essential but beyond this most people would not think twice about switching apps to turn a light on, adjust the heating or see who is at the front door just as they do for E-Mail, texting and Facebook. The magic of pressing a button and something happening, or automating a function according to time of day is no longer that thrilling for an end user as it’s now commonplace. 

Try this exercise: Draw up a functionality matrix for a few of your customers’ systems and compare it to what could be done with commoditised IoT products. Of course, there is still the reliability argument but customers are becoming increasingly savvy to the fact that often you can do MORE using off the shelf consumer products than you can using the hard programmed, rigidly configured stuff we often supply. So, the focus is shifting as are the opportunities

Try this exercise: Draw up a functionality matrix for a few of your customers’ systems and compare it to what could be done with commoditised IoT products. Of course, there is still the reliability argument but customers are becoming increasingly savvy to the fact that often you can do MORE using off the shelf consumer products than you can using the hard programmed, rigidly configured stuff we often supply. So, the focus is shifting as are the opportunities.

Some opportunities for 2016

  • Networking. Almost every system relies on having a robust network connection these days. So many of the horror stories surrounding commoditised IoT stuff is based upon them not having reliable connectivity. This is a domain where we can add huge value as an industry. As the prices of the devices goes down, so the price of the network goes up. Get some training on how to install and configure enterprise grade networking products. Understand how to survey and manage the increasingly complex 2.4 and 5Ghz wireless spaces, and do this using sound engineering principles that you can show your customers. Consider using Cat-6a cabling for your infrastructures, and qualify them to be sure that they will be able to support 10Gbs speeds as and when the equipment becomes commoditised in a few years time.
  • High performance AV. I have a giggle when I see the new Atmos and DTS:X sound bars that are now available. Whilst for their size they are remarkable, on any objective level they do not sound anything even approaching good. High performance audio and video are massive industry opportunities. Use engineering standards to ensure that your designs perform in the real world. Using these standards is an excellent way to separate yourself from the crowds of companies slinging systems together with barely any notion of engineering science involved. I shed a tear every time i see a system that is so flawed because the designer has not understood some basic principles of cinema design. Unfortunately, this is also true of many distributors’ demo rooms that could have been so much better if they had engineered them correctly. CEDIA offer some fantastic cinema and media room design courses that will get you on the right track.
  • Recurring Revenues. Now that almost every device touches the network, it is easy to install remote monitoring systems for your customers. These ensure that critical components are monitored to allow you to react to faults before your customers even know something is wrong. For those business owners looking for an exit strategy from your company, getting a recurring revenue model into your business is the best way to increase its value. maintenance contracts based on remote monitoring are an excellent first step to dong this.
  • Beyond the home. I’ve written in 2015 about the opportunities in mobile audio being just of of many ways that you can help manage your customers’ digital lifestyles. Think beyond the home and sell your customers experiences that can be used whilst travelling, in the office or at a friend's house. This Digital Asset Curation (Thanks to Rich Green for that one!) is arguably the future our whole industry. At the high end, there will always be highly bespoke systems for the 0.1% For the other 0.9% embrace the IoT revolution and ensure that your customers have awesome experiences across all their technology interactions no matter where they are.

Conclusion 2016 will be interesting with some big technology and consumer trends reaching their zeniths. Focus on your businesses with better processes, and ensure that your staff are well trained in industry standard best practice. Though the control system market will be turbulent, there are enough amazing opportunities out there (of which today I’ve only skimmed the surface) to ensure prosperity for all of us.

Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires