The Next Revolution - ResidentialSystems.com

The Next Revolution

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So the annual CEDIA show in Indianapolis was, as always, quite a visual and audio treat. But this years CEDIA didnt quite capture me like ones in past years.

There didnt seem to be any great big buzz about something or other that was just going to rock our industry to its very core. Where was that one thing that marked a coming revolution?

I began my search in the forthcoming high-definition DVD arena. Certainly those new blue-ray DVDs would produce new equipment sales and control system upgrades. Newer, higher resolution displays would have to be required. Installers would sell more hardware, control system integrators, whether traditional or IP-based, would have to provide more programs, and hardware vendors would provide new and improved HD-DVD players and discs. There is, however, one major problem with deploying all of these new HD-DVDs. Everything is limited to component video connections if you want to have any more than one HDMI or DVI connection. More than that and youre off to look for another box that is custom designed for switching HDMI or DVI connections.

There is no doubt that all of this would indeed spur sales and increase consumer spending and home movie enjoyment, but its more of an evolution, not a revolution. This new technology will be expensive, so its still going to fail to really penetrate far down into the consumer ranks.

One change that had greater representation at the show was the rise in totally IP-based control systems, threatening the proprietary wiring interconnections and programming needs of the Crestron and AMX worlds. These indeed are threats to integrators wiring and coding those proprietary equipment types. However, the integrators that sold hardware would be all right because they would have to adapt to new equipment, just like theyd done in the past. But the programmers and user interface designers would definitely be more exposed. Standard IP control with standard code and standard UI screens from these new IP-based control systems would surely put them in harms way.

Was this all really the panacea to achieving truly affordable high-quality A/V for every consumers home? I dont think so. You would still be saddled with having that one specific vendors control system and requisite control hardware. It was good for me, but not enough for the smaller consumer. This was definitely in the right direction, but not a revolution.

So what could we keep from this IP-based solution, and what needed to change? The use of Ethernet was solid. The ability to identify new parts as they were added and that would automatically announce who and what they were was solid. The elimination of having to develop custom user interface graphics was a major cost savings, but still limited the solution to one specific vendors idea of what these graphics should be. If that vendor didnt get around to that product, it got no UI, and, of course, no functionality. That was definitely a problem.

So I tried to think of what products have these kinds of desired features, but without these specific shortcomings. The only ones I could come up with were Macs and plug-and-play PCs. Plug in a new video card, and the vendors code had their UI appear as well as their program. Remove a part and it goes away. The basic operating system of Mac OSX or Windows merely puts them all together and lets the vendors provide the functionality of their programs and UI. So if we could provide an audio/video machine based on a centralized operating system (such as Windows Media Center and others), then the A/V components would be essentially automatically connected internally or Ethernet plug-and-play connected externally. All of the custom programming would be gone, which would be a major cost savings to the consumer. Each vendor providing the hardware would provide the user interfaces, thus shifting the UI development costs off of the control system manufacturer and integrators and onto the vendor, who can amortize it over hundreds or thousands of units sold, and not on a per-client custom basis. Again, this would provide a major cost savings to the consumer. Throw in wireless IP-based speakers, to say nothing of streaming wireless video for source-to-receiver connections, so no wires would be required, and Id definitely take a hit on what I would be left to provide.

Carl Easton (ceaston@axiomdesign.com) is the director of systems engineering at Axiom Design Inc.

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