2021 – A new generation for homes?

After what has been a pivotal year for the home AV, automation and technology industry, and not in a good way, Amy Wallington looks at what 2021 might have in store.

There’s nothing like a pandemic to completely transform not just this industry, but the whole world. Although 2020 wasn’t kind to us in that respect, it has seen people all over the world spending more time at home. I won’t use the phrase ‘new normal’, but we have seen many changes in our lives that are likely to be permanent or at least semi-permanent. We are already seeing people investing more in their homes and this trend is set to continue into this year.

Entertainment

Adam Dover, UK home cinema account manager, Sony Professional Europe recognises the benefits this can have on home entertainment. “Perhaps one of the most positive stories to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the significant period of growth we’ve seen for the residential market, with us spending time at home more than ever before and cinemas closing their doors. Subsequently, we’ve been investing a lot more to upgrade our home entertainment setups. With that in mind, and with a lot of major sporting events set to return in 2021, we think the demand will continue to grow into this year.”

With this change in consumer behaviour, many are looking into multipurpose rooms that would give them various entertainment options. Dover adds: “No one can deny that home cinema is a key market at this time, but we think we’ll see more investment particularly in multipurpose applications for gaming or golf/driving simulators with users bringing these immersive experiences into their own homes.”

Growth in home entertainment has been significant in 2020, and even led to many streaming services lowering their quality in order to ease the strain on bandwidth following a huge surge in users. Andrew Oattes, UK & Ireland sales director at Fine Sounds UK, recognises this growth as a positive to come from the lockdown: “Movie services like Netflix and Amazon Prime saw huge uplifts, as did Spotify, TIDAL and Qobuz. During lockdown, people had more time to reconnect with music in general and, as a result, a great deal of them then became curious about high quality streaming so tried TIDAL and Qobuz as higher performance options. I think this will be a lasting change; a complete pivot from commoditised MP3 and low-cost streaming back towards better quality. And this will be the same for cinema systems too.”

Oattes also believes that we will see more spare rooms and garages being turned into cinemas or media rooms, a trend that has been ongoing for the past couple of years now but is only going to increase this year.

Looking into other home entertainment that isn’t cinema or music, Oattes thinks that home fitness and gaming will also experience growth this year. “I think augmented glasses will start to make a breakthrough in 2021, with better integration for indoor and outdoor fitness and also potentially gaming.”

With many venues struggling through the pandemic not being able to open or having to limit visitors, a shift to online experiences is happening. “I also think there will be a general desire to maximise online experiences, with expanded use of interior building mapping to allow virtual tours,” continues Oattes.

With investment in home entertainment growing, there is now even more opportunity for installers to upgrade or upsell systems to clients, as Oliver Kriete, product manager Europe, Denon and Marantz, points out: “For home cinema, there is more scope than ever for installers to create truly immersive setups with up to 13 channels of sound to make the most of new surround processing such as DTS:X Pro. And to go hand in hand with these trends, we are continuing to see a rise in the number of custom installations incorporating discrete in-wall speaker setups. There is an ever-increasing range of products to choose from such as our Definitive Technology architectural series.

“There is also a growing demand for family-friendly installations for gaming as well as cinema, providing installers with an opportunity to get even more creative with room designs.”

Kriete adds: “There will also be a wider range of smart wireless multiroom speakers and soundbars to choose from this year with many so far ‘inactive’ models gaining voice control through activation of the built-in microphones. In addition, we expect to see an even wider range of music services being incorporated for smart speakers and network products, according to each country’s preference and customer demand.”

Back to the office?

The home office is also going to be a big part of our future since Covid-19 forced many of us to work remotely. Not usually found in a home environment, residential integrators should expect to be installing more office technology into home offices. Just before Christmas, Crestron announced its audio conferencing solution to blend the smart home with a functioning home office, and I’m sure many companies will be following this trend. 

While some will return to offices, many businesses have discovered that their workers are just as productive, if not more productive, working remotely, which can save a company money by not needing a central office space, or at least not something so big. With this in mind, if companies want their workers to return to the office, changes will need to be made.

Steve Detmer, residential product manager at Lutron Electronics explains: “To warrant continued investment in an office space, facilities managers will need to ensure that their offices offer benefits that employees can’t get from home. Collaboration, productivity and wellbeing need to be enhanced by a workspace.

“Communal spaces are now under increased pressure to be Covid-safe and to futureproof for other, similar disruptions. Swapping hot-transmission spots, such as traditional light switches for touchless solutions, will be a priority for office managers as employees return to the workplace.”

He also recognises that lighting will continue to play a big part in working lifestyles, be that from the office or from home. “Colour-tuning is an exciting lighting trend that is yet to see wide adoption in the office setting. This is a great solution to enhance wellbeing and productivity by giving occupants the ability to tune light – both natural and artificial – to suit their individual needs. Going forward, we can expect to see application of personalised colour-tuning in a bid to enhance the employee experience.”

Looking at the residential sector, Detmer sees the lighting investment increasing into this year. “In the residential sector, investment in lighting has already seen a boom that will continue into 2021. The demand for smart home technology will continue to rise, especially as the office and the home converge. The benefits of smart lighting, such as energy savings, improved aesthetic and enhanced comfort will be the main consumer demands of lighting suppliers. With demand comes innovation. Therefore, in 2021, we can expect LED performance to take great strides as the industry learns more and prices come down, creating more accessible and widely-adopted smart-home options.”

With workplaces having to adapt to these conditions, Oattes believes we could see AR incorporated into communications. “We will see the evolution of Zoom and other communication platforms towards broader streaming and including experiments in AR content.”

Home integration

We have seen in recent years that design is as important, if not more so, as the technology itself. Having as much as possible hidden is often very high up on a homeowner’s list of requirements. However, for some, especially audiophiles, it is important to see things such as speakers. Oattes thinks this is a trend that could extend into the overall CI market: “The desire to see more within custom install is growing, so it is entirely possible that we will move back towards physical speakers in the room rather than discreet or hidden. Design will play a big role in what brands succeed in this area.”

Furthermore, he also believes that we could see an increase in wall switches but with a difference: “We could see a reduction in app control for CI, with a progressive move back towards switches in the wall but with added voice and geofencing providing seamless control options.”

Oattes continues: “There will be a move towards investment rather than spending, driven by consumers wanting something to be better and last longer, with it not needing to be replaced as much. Brands with history, quality, engineering and vision will thrive. Custom installers will also move more into showrooms, driven by the desire to show off skills, integration options, and higher-end/bespoke solutions.”