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Five Things I Learned at ISE 2014

Combining CEDIA and InfoComm into one big happy family, Integrated Systems Europe took place last week in Amsterdam. After my first visit to this show, I took away a lot about the European market that seemed relevant for our readers who are mostly here in North America. It’s a fantastic show that I highly recommend anyone interested in visiting Europe in the winter make time to drop by for the experience.

Combining CEDIA and InfoComm into one big happy family, Integrated Systems Europe took place last week in Amsterdam. After my first visit to this show, I took away a lot about the European market that seemed relevant for our readers who are mostly here in North America. It’s a fantastic show that I highly recommend anyone interested in visiting Europe in the winter make time to drop by for the experience.

Here are some snippets of whom I saw and what I observed.

1. Europeans love their distributors.

There are many ways in which the European and U.S. systems integration market differ. The biggest and most apparent is that commercial versus residential doesn’t matter; it’s all AV. This is how ISE makes perfect sense to combine InfoComm and CEDIA together into one show, and it works brilliantly. I will add another angle by noting that the combined show results in crowds like at CES. This is by no means hyperbole. I felt like I was navigating the crammed hallways of the Consumer Electronics Show. Visitors turn out big time for ISE. There were 47,000 pre-registered attendees, as detailed by Mike Blackman, managing director, ISE, at a press conference. Final attendance numbers have not yet been released.

There were other signs of the show’s growth, including the first-time exhibition by Bang and Olufsen, as well as Jensen Transformers and Knoll Systems, distributed and marketed, respectively, by Radial/Primacoustics, and on display at ISE directly with its European distributor, Belgium-based Face. I believe there were more than 100 new exhibitors at ISE.

The key to success in the European market for U.S. manufacturers is their relationships with their distributors. This was a comment I heard over and over again. Nick Phillips of Pakedge noted that his company’s 15 distributors in Europe cover about 50 countries. The young company is “finding our way in the European market,” he said. Pakedge’s value-added distributors “bring the best to us,” he said. Pakedge will make its first appearance as an exhibitor at InfoComm this year.

The sentiment was echoed by Stealth Acoustics, where Brian Azzano told me that at ISE, “visitors are in tune with the market,” crediting international growth to Stealth’s distributors. “The Stealth name is out there more than ever,” he said.

Middle Atlantic Products is preparing to open a new European warehouse later this year to shorten lead times and shipping for about 10 international distributors.

2. Partnerships were everywhere at ISE.

New partnerships were announced by Calibre UK and Kramer electronics, to share marketing and product development resources [read my story about that here.

Control4 announced new partnerships with Toll Brothers—a building developer—and Lilin, a security company. Control4’s booth was essentially a consortium for its many partners, including Fusion Research, Tru Audio, Leaf, and Fortress Seating. It reminded me of the booths that the Z-Wave Alliance brings to CEDIA and CES—an intriguing comparison.

3. There were many new and/or interesting, out-of-the-box market categories

I’ve always been intrigued by AV installs on yachts. This in itself is nothing new, but deep down, don’t we all want a fancy yacht to cruise the world in our own private style? California Audio Technology (CAT) happens to be really active in this small niche field. I happened to meet a representative from the world’s leader in marine installation, van Berge Henegouwen installaties b.v., based in The Netherlands, which didn’t surprise me after a dinner cruise along Amsterdam’s canals had me eyeing a vast assortment of house boats in the city.

Marine AV installs are primarily isolated to a few integrators worldwide, some of which are based in California, CAT president and CEO Brian Barr said. Barr also told me about an even more niche segment: submarines. Apparently, international pirates have a hobby of going after yachts, so there’s a significant investment by yacht owners in defense. Part of which, includes decked out submarines in the event a classy escape is required. I admit this sounded a lot like some Hollywood concoction, but Barr had some really interesting information about the custom security systems military defense contractors take advantage of here. All in all, it made for a really fun idea.

CAT’s most low-end speaker system starts out under $20,000 and ranges up to $100,000 to $200,000. The truly one-off custom solutions feature speakers made without any plastic, paper, or MDF, opting for aluminum, stainless steel, Corian, and Avonite instead, to “take custom to the Nth degree,” Barr said.

Another AV install area I was surprised to learn about is the advanced automation systems required in California’s medical marijuana growhouses. I struck upon this discovery in talks about CEDIA preparation, and how I had already heard a lot of jokes circulating about Colorado’s now legal recreational marijuana industry. I found out that Leviton supplies access control, video surveillance, fans, temperature control, and other automation features to many of these. I imagine features like daylight harvesting and occupancy sensors that Lutron and many others offer are probably useful in this application. This is an interesting vertical market to examine as CEDIA EXPO in Denver draws near this fall. But it goes to show that there are endless uses for AV and automation in today’s buildings, and it’s a reminder for integrators to think outside of the box in pursuance of new markets.

4. Ultra high end still reigns supreme

Integrators have more flexibility to go after high-end or entry-level consumers, but they should be careful not to overlook some of the ultra high-end elements.

Over at Cineak, sales director Andy Willcox described a surprising reality in which dealers are thinking too much with their own wallets when it comes to ultra high end products, like “the Bentley of cinema chairs,” as he playfully described the Fortune flagship cinema seat. Consumers can literally match their cinema seats’ material to the seat in their Bentley. The high-end furniture is a major value add-on for dealers, but many of them seem to see furniture as an afterthought, or they balk at Cineak’s prices. Interior designers adore Cineak’s completely customizable furniture pieces, but they don’t want to sell them. The designers rely on dealers to bring the pieces into a home, but Willcox said many dealers are leaving this value-add on the table. Some of the features include heating or cooling, complete automation, heated or chilled cup holders, and lumbar support, all accessible via any control system (by RS45/IP) and a mobile app.

Here’s a picture of me taking a brief respite from show floor on one.


You can also read my blog detailing how Savant remains committed to the luxury end of the market it was established in, despite recent news that it is targeting a lower end of the market as well.

5. This ain’t your ol’ man’s AV biz

As I expected, there were many signs of what I like to call the new age integrator, representative of the internet of things on the residential side (more so) and the craze for collaborative communications on the commercial side. It further confirms that new technologies, less in the vein of traditional audio video, are the wave of the future.

LED lighting control is a big sign in this direction. Lutron’s booth highlighted an alley of LED lamps, representing the thousands of LED lamps Lutron tests and issues report cards on to help dealers specify and save time on programming. Lutron also has an LED Control Center of Excellence program, to help make LED lighting trouble free.

Vantage Controls introduced a new dimmer for the Middle East market. I spoke with Andrew Wale about how Vantage is addressing the serious lack of education with controlling, integrating, and programming LEDs. Part of the solution is what was behind the Equinox system of controls Vantage released most recently, which simplifies the control and interface for dealers and end users alike. Vantage is also providing regional training to help dealers, in addition to online video resources.

I saw bits of the new age integrator over at Savant, with a SmartPlug, which can detect energy overuse, and a Wi-Fi lamp module.

Also, read my live coverage from the show about Bang and Olufsen’s new initiatives toward whole-home control.

On the commercial side, AMX’s booth focused on a new slogan, “AV for an IT world,” explained Shaun Robinson, VP of product management. The various solutions on display at AMX’s expansive booth focused on solutions more than products.

Were you at ISE? Feel free to share some of your observations from the show in the comments section.


Peter Janus of Radial/Primacoustics shows off the Jensen Transformers Cat-5 baluns transmitter and receiver, launched at ISE 2014.

Kevin Knoll, with Knoll’s display at ISE, including the Q450 multiroom controller amp.