CEDIA 2017 Recap: 5 takeaways from San Diego

cedia 2017 showfloor on thursday at san diego convention centre

After every attendee to CEDIA 2016 left Dallas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Centre with the word “Alexa” on their lips (whether a good/bad/slightly fearful uttering), the 2017 edition of CEDIA was always going to be an interesting year.

Interesting in many ways – a) How would swapping Dallas for the blue skies of San Diego fair? b) How would manufacturers react and adapt (well, some of them) to the rising crossover between the pro and consumer home technology industry? c) Would this year see a burgeoning trend dominate the show floor and the conversations that followed, or would it be the sort of show we ponder for the weeks that follow. (Also maybe d) How quiet would the show floor be on the Saturday morning following day one and a few festivities in the Californian sun? ...As it turns out, very).

Looking back, San Diego was a fitting location for a number of technological developments to emerge, as well as a couple of surprises. Here are some key trends we found exploring the San Diego Convention Centre’s busy showfloor:

1. Josh.ai Micro seriously impresses

HiddenWires had a conversation with someone senior at an industry ‘heavyweight’ who has worked on both the home automation integration and manufacturing side about Josh Micro after the show’s dust had settled. We fully expected the “yes, that product’s okay, but our stuff is so much better”-spiel, but alas, it didn’t come. We haven’t met one person in the residential industry not impressed by CEO Capecelatro’s drive. In development since January, Josh Micro shines not just as a home control processor, but for the product’s interactive interface that can be programmed to activate scenes and use it to physically control lighting, volume and more, in conjunction with your last command.

“We want to go beyond voice and make a sophisticated sensor that triggers all the things you want to happen in your home automatically,” said Alex Capecelatro and a pre-show meeting with him and co-founder and investor Tim Gill (founder of Quark). “People have been asking us since Day 1 for our own microphone. We integrated with products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home but integrators want something that’s custom-made for this channel.”

Josh.ai's Josh Micro hardware for voice control with illuminated smart touch ring on surface

The fact Micro fits in the palm of your hand (something we can attest to) and supports PoE is the icing on the cake when it comes to Josh.ai's hardware offering. Micro shines for both bringing something new to the market (i.e. locational awareness and the ability to handle multiple commands at once) that can have a broad appeal (with Josh.ai’s full home system was limited to a rollout of around 50-100 systems in the super high-end home bracket). Although the price point (only available to dealers) may be lower than the manufacturer’s first offering, Micro shines as a fully scalable product. And the interest is already there in the marketplace; “We have a big home that wants 80 of them,” notes Capecelatro.

The sad news for those of us on this side of the pond? Josh.ai looks unlikely to be heading to European shores in a big way anytime soon as it concentrates on expanding its presence in the US. “International integrations are just different... Getting past EU regulations is difficult, but then we still have launch each country individually. For example, there’s a different mentality to how you partner and sell in the UK compared to anywhere else in Europe,” said Capecelatro, on his experience of ISE earlier in the year. Regardless, the team Josh.ai is unwavering in its quest to innovate in the industry, and Capecelatro says he hopes to continue to bring a new type of product to the market each year, with AI the big focus for 2018.

2. Manufacturers open up channel with entry level products & reacting to emergence of “DIY”

Manufacturers really have no choice these days but to take note of the shifting tide in the industry and make technology more accessible, and the results were noticeable. Of LG, Samsung and Sony’s stands dedicated to their respective offerings, Sony was certainly the busiest – and it was one particular corner of its both drawing people in: its new entry-level 4K projectors. Chatting with Thomas Laemmel from Sony’s Home Entertainment and Sound division, he said the projectors had been garnering the most attention at its stand. The most notable introduction for opening up the UHD market is the Sony VPL-VW285ES 4K (4096 x 2160) projector packing in 1,500 lumens of brightness, and offering a viable upgrade in the mid-market for many by coming in under the $5,000 mark.

High end audio manufacturers Meridian and Barco also sought to increase their appeal to new customers (as well as putting on a slick ‘5K’ demo) with the former launching its 200 Series (the 251 and 271) controllers for cost-effective multi-room audio, and the latter launching its Medea 4K projector. Priced at the $25,000 mark (a relative bargain by Barco’s standards) and shipping in November 2017, the entry-level 5,000 lumen Medea shares the same control system as its highly-regarded, super high-end sister models, the Loki and the recently introduced Balder model, and comes with seven all-glass lens options and HDR10 support.

Our hats additionally go off to Control4 and its impressive When/Then offering which was another popular debut at the show, notably for putting control into the homeowner’s hands whilst still having that pro service on hand if needed. Simply put, the service solves what was previously a massive time-waster for many an installer by allowing users to customise parts of their Control4 system (i.e. create lighting scenes, set up schedules or alerts) by themselves. What's that you hear? Control4 dealers everywhere breathing a sigh of relief…

More on this on number #3 with the big launch at Origin Acoustic’s booth.

3. “We do Alexa, we do Google Home, we will be doing Bixby… (are you satisfied yet?)”

It was inevitable that the novelty of asking Alexa what the weather will be like on the way home or telling Crestron or Control4 to turn your ‘Good Morning’ scene on would slightly wear off, eventually. Those late to the party were still keen to showcase their latest Alexa or Google integration or new speaker (see Harman’s Allure, – though some may suggest it has bigger issues on its plate then dabbling in voice).

You only have to look at floor traffic to back up whether people are actually interested in learning more about voice control products. Of course many attendees already know the score when it comes to what the Amazon Echo or Google Home can do, but these stands were relatively quiet (despite Amazon bringing the Echo Show to the event) compared to stalwarts of the industry like Control4 and Origin Acoustics who have earnt their respective CEDIA corn. (As a side note: some of our US neighbours, may see Amazon’s newly announced Home Services category being limited to only to CEDIA certified companies as a positive step forward, and it is – especially marketing-wise, but do those 10-20% commission rates really make it worthwhile right now?)

Speaking of Origin Acoustics, the manufacturer is one approaching the huge awareness of Amazon Alexa technology the right way by tackling what many lament as the weakest part of an Amazon’s voice devices: their audio performance. The Origin Acoustics Valet amp cleverly (and easily) integrates with the Amazon Echo Dot to create a four-zone or six-zone system controllable with standard voice commands, yet complemented premium audio performance. Each of the two Valet models can be linked (via Cat5 or 6 cable) to Amazon Dots positioned in the ceiling, with no tools needed.

The amplifiers can drive either in-wall or in-ceiling (behind a 3-in speaker grille) speakers and hook up to music streaming services, complemented nicely by Amazon’s new multi-room functionality. The amp can connect to a tonne of speakers which when connected to the amplifier’s inputs (like a TV) can automatically mute so Alexa can record a command. The big goal with this move according to the company’s CEO, Jeremy Burkhardt, is to make custom installation a less fearful (and more affordable) prospect for home builders and the all-important millennial market. The reaction from installers to the Valet amplifiers was very positive at the show, with its demo even attracting large crowds as the show died down in the afternoon of Day 2.

4. The design world further interweaves with home technology

Whether you view some of the design-orientated products on display at CEDIA 2017 as gimmicky/evidence “the industry’s run out of ideas,” this year products that neatly (and more importantly, tastefully) interweave bringing art and technology into the home really lingered in the mind. Whatever reservations you may have about how some of your clients would feel about Bang & Olufsen’s modular, customisable BeoSound Shape speaker system, the product is undeniably interesting. Simple to deploy and completely scalable (with a minimum of 6 needed), the hexagonal tiles can come in a variety of styles and pack a seriously impressive sound (wherever you may be positioned in the room) into a small package.

beosound shape modular speaker system by bang olufsen installed in dining area

Installers also flocked to see Samsung’s “The Frame,” which was rather surprisingly a huge focus of the manufacturer’s stand. The Frame isn’t the first and won’t be the last TV-cum-picture frame offering in the market, but the image quality is impressive thanks to packing in Samsung’s Quantum Dot technology, an environment-reacting backlight and offering customisable bezel options to match the décor of a home.

Barco additionally got in on the action, albeit with a slightly more high-end offering. The Belgium-based manufacturer is using its “art canvasses” as a platform to showcase digital and media art (powered by Niio’s cloud platform) in the commercial world and says it is also having success in the luxury home market.

5. Savant and RTI up their game in the home automation stakes

Savant and RTI’s presence at this year’s show felt different to years before. There was a different energy at both booths – new directions largely down to new hires taking the reins and trying to shake things up in a landscape where Control4 and Crestron largely dominate. Now back at the helm, Robert Madonna has been busy at Savant with more launches than ever in the home automation provider’s history. Savant’s foray into motorised shading (joining an ever-crowded marketplace), growing thermostat offerings and newly redesigned TrueImage platform now simulates a room allowing easier, DIY control of lighting affirm the company’s new lease of life.

You can’t beat honesty in the technology industry and that’s exactly what was served up at RTI’s booth. Brett Stokke, director of communications at RTI, explained that with the introduction of a number of new hires (including Ed McConaghay’s appointment as CEO in February) signals a new era for their relationship with the installer. Crucially (and what will be music to the ears’ of many integrators), the manufacturer’s new strategy prioritises opening up the channel of communication with its dealerbase and listening to the changes they need to happen (after perhaps a period of this seemingly falling down the wayside). The manufacturer was not quite as launch-happy as Savant, however was introducing the voted-for white edition of its T3x flagship remote control, alongside its CX10 10-in touchpanel and Integration Designer APEX software, with some significant launches in the pipeline.

Final thoughts

Figures released by CEDIA indicate positive growth in footfall of around the 20,000 mark for this year’s show, after two years of sitting at the just under 19,000 people. The organisation is also reporting that attendance to education sessions was up a significant 19%.

Now CEDIA 2017 is done and dusted the onus is on Emerald Expositions to deliver a show that can match, if not better, this year’s event. Although this year’s event showed an industry capable to adapting in the age of the likes of Amazon and Google’s quest to dominate nearly every industry, the show itself certainly wasn’t the easiest to navigate. The only thing that offered up more confusion than how sub-sections were laid out was perhaps Sonos’s empty stand with no products and only a few representatives telling people to head to their “Loft” for a taco (the positive being that Sonos all-but confirmed that October’s big product launch will be its voice controlled speaker to us… the negative being, they ran out of tacos).

The decision to sell the show at such a pivotal inter-section in the history of the home technology industry is certainly a brave one. Here’s hoping the industry’s continued resilience in the face of the increasing commoditisation of home technology can allow CEDIA 2018 to once again be the go-to event for installers to see new technologies, exchange ideas and network.

The next CEDIA Expo will take place in San Diego from 6 to 8 at the San Diego Convention Centre.

Over to you, Emerald.


Charlotte Ashley is editor of HiddenWires