EDITORS CHOICE 15.08.16

The Role of Switchers and Extenders in the Connected Smart Home

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At Crestron we see IoT as a holistic solution to make technology work to seamlessly enhance the family home lifestyle, and video is a big part of that.

Maybe Dad likes to watch business news after work but sport updates in the morning. When a child turns on the family TV we want to make sure they can only access cartoons, and not the more grown-up content that their parents watch after their bedtime. Maybe Mum is watching TV in the living room at night, but wants to duck into the kitchen to grab a snack and wants to keep watching her show on the TV in there. The system should understand all of these things and automatically adjust to fit the current situation in every room. IoT-enabled switchers and extenders are the piece of the puzzle that allows the integrator to centrally manage all video content and distribution, as well as understand how the systems are being used, which is required to realise this vision.

The infrastructure of the home might also require connected switchers and extenders. For example, if you want to extend your video distribution to your annex, guest house or pool house but only have one Category cable available, that one cable is busy extending your home network. With this scenario of not-connected switchers, it is either the home network or the video distribution. However some connected switchers (like our DigitalMedia solution) can do both over the same Category cable, without the need to choose, significantly simplifying your smart home network. It’s also possible to take this a step further and have the connected switchers encode your video sources to one or multiple video streams. Or decode the H.264 videostream from your network camera’s to be watched on any display in the house.

But why is this equipment integral to successful integration of IoT devices, especially in custom installation projects? Well, in order to ensure that any content is available at every display, all content sources must be connected to a central video switch, typically in a rack in an equipment room or cupboard. This configuration also enables the system to prevent children from accessing specific content, no matter where they are in the house. The switch also needs the intelligence to be able to feed customer usage data back to the system to so it can understand how it’s being used and react accordingly.

The integrator-installed system allows for an IoT system rather than a jumbled collection of IoT devices. 

As the sheer number of IoT devices on a home network increases it has become more and more apparent that the network is unable to function well. The reality is that today’s DIY systems are not integrated. My thermostat may be internet-enabled, but it’s not working with my lighting system to cohesively handle everyday scenarios like the morning routine, bedtimes or holidays. And video distribution is not currently being seriously addressed by the DIY IoT space. The integrator-installed system allows for an IoT system rather than a jumbled collection of IoT devices. What is the point of all data being dropped onto the “internet” in separate silo’s rather than interacting with each other by using the data from one silo (for example the heating system) in another silo (for example lighting system) as mentioned above.

As an analogy, modern cars have started doing this as well. For example, a specific German brand of plugin Hybrid cars have an interaction between the navigation system and the battery/motor management. The available navigation data is used to identify, in advance, the sections of the route and driving situations that are best suited for the electric motor or for charging the high-voltage battery. 

Such interaction creates intelligence and perfectly applies to a residence as well. Isn’t a ‘Smart’ home supposed to be intelligent?

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The important thing is for these systems to stay ahead of the blistering pace of progress we see in the television space.

Most of these DIY devices have an app for the mobile device. Again, all independent from each other. Think of your living room: An app to control your TV, an app to control your AVR and an app to control your cable box. You are watching a movie and suddenly you receive an important phone call… how quickly can you open multiple apps to turn the volume down or pause the movie while your mobile device is receiving a phone call? Maybe you need turn the lights back on because you have to write something down. A professional integrator can make sure that all these actions can be done by simply pressing one button.

Looking to the future, for smart home intelligence, the important pieces of the switching and extension technology are already here. As the brains of the smart home get smarter they will be able to make better use of the data available. The important thing is for these systems to stay ahead of the blistering pace of progress we see in the television space. 4K video is here and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content will soon be available, which really looks amazing. Moving beyond that we will soon have increased frame rates, color depths and even 8K.

In the commercial space we’re starting to see video distribution move onto the network. The network video technologies that support the latest video formats are still quite expensive (and complicated!) for residential installations, so HDBaseT extension technology will remain dominant in the residential AV space for some time. But, keep an eye out: that may change in the coming years.

Stijn Ooms in the technology director of Crestron EMEA