Best Practice: CEDIA Future Home Experience (Expo) Report

The annual CEDIA show is always one of the highlights of my year.

This year’s show was dominated by CEDIA’s new visual identity that brought with it an indication that as an industry we’ve finally grown up. It was this sense of maturity that dominated the show for me. Rather than seeing innovation manifest itself in any new product categories, there was the sense that this year everything was just better, more developed and targeted towards making the life of an installation company easier.

Beyond 4K for video
It is arguable that 4K/UHD displays are only relevant when the viewing distance is close enough to make use of the 4x greater pixel density for the same size screen vs 1080. An upcoming technology that has the potential to enhance every display is HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR will greatly enhance picture detail in both the shadow and highlight ends of the scale. At the show, Sony were showing a very effective demonstration of this using two flat-panel displays side by side.

Best image of the show went to Barco who were showing a very bright (calibrated screen brightness was a claimed 96fl) image using a laser illuminated DCI projector producing probably the best colour and uniformity of any projection system I’ve ever seen. Pat Bradley from Display Development who had set up the demo challenged the audience to pick out the native 4K from the upscaled1080 content. I thought I could a couple of times but this just showed what a great job current 4K display devices can make of upscaling. So, nothing really ‘new’ here, just the current stuff done really, really well.

An example of a video projection product to make our lives easier was also from Barco — a new ultra short throw rear projection system which could be fantastic for big screen gaming environments where front projection is totally unsuitable.

Automation Puts the Skill In The Cloud
One of the busiest stands at The Show was Savant. They dedicated around 75% of their very large space to their new consumer orientated remote. This will be sold in big box stores for $499 and is one of many pointers to the future of the automation market. As predicted in my show preview last month, Savant already have very tight native support for Sonos with more IoT device integration to come.

Crestron were showcasing an expansion their Pyng system with more native devices from Crestron themselves, as well as integration with third-party equipment. Putting the ease of installation aside, the power of these systems is in giving the end user control over their own programming and scenes. Whilst most customers would still prefer an experienced professional to set everything up correctly, the ability to change scenes and presets without a programmer having to visit is very compelling. Though we’ve been able to do this for years with a single subsystem, these new features can build an extremely complicated macro across multiple subsystems in seconds.

Company Operations Software
In last month’s show preview I predicted that there would be an explosion in software that enables companies to be more efficient. Two stood out this year: ServiceManager from ihiji, and Slateplan. ServiceManager allows companies to store all of their customers’ information, documentation and service plan information in The Cloud, making it all accessible by technicians attending service calls. In addition, the software makes tracking customers’ service and maintenance contracts much easier as they are all managed from a single portal.

Slateplan showed a piece of software the like of which i’ve never seen before. Though still a little rough in places, having the ability to work with a customer in real time, placing devices on a floor plan and seeing how these affect the overall price was mesmerising.

Immersive Audio
Everyone is getting in on the immersive audio game this year. The show was full of (mostly thoroughly mediocre) immersive audio demonstrations with the longest queues going to Marantz who had one of the first public showings of the new DTS:X format. By far the best sounding demo was Wisdom Audio. Using a processor from Datasat, their own amplification and a room built by Maurizio Conti from HTE, they showed that simply adding additional speakers is only part of the immersiveness equation. Their demo was frighteningly dynamic and showcased Wisdom Audio’s newest line and point source speakers.

It was interesting to see the smaller manufacturers get in on the act of what is a hugely expensive undertaking to develop a new A/V processor. Notable amongst these were AudioControl with their AVR-7 and AVR-9 receivers, and ACURUS with their new ACT4 processor. Both support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2.  It was notable that both these new processors support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X up to7.1.4, but AURO-3D was absent.

At most shows there is usually one product that steals the show. This year was an exception and a real caseof evolution rather than revolution. This evolution, however, strongly points the way towards a future where we may look back and see 2015 as the year where the industry showed how grown up it has finally become. There is lots of negative talk about how commodotisation, the IoT and mobile devices are making our industry less and less relevant to digital natives. The Future Home Experience (Expo) absolutely showed that this is not the case by presenting us as a mature and credible industry that can delight customers with a level of reliability, ease of use and performance that the DIY market is still a long way from realising.

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.

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