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Inside the CEDIA Tech Panels

There are many reasons that people attend the annual CEDIA EXPO event, but one of the main additions to to the convention in the past two years has been the return of panel-driven sessions where industry experts speak freely with a moderator and respond to questions from attendees about specific subjects that simply d

There are many reasons that people attend the annual CEDIA EXPO event, but one of the main additions to to the convention in the past two years has been the return of panel-driven sessions where industry experts speak freely with a moderator and respond to questions from attendees about specific subjects that simply don’t fit into traditional courseware.

For complete transparency, with the disclosure that, as a member of CEDIA’s Technology Council your humble author arranged for many of the panels, and we the moderator of the two to be discussed here, the panels certainly seemed to resonate with the attendees. For that reason, I wanted to bring you some of the highlights of some of the panels.

First held last year, the “HDMI Hot Seat” has proven to be a vibrant forum for those directly involved in various aspects of HDMI to get their individual messages across, to provide some updates and education, and then to sit back and answer questions from the floor.

Michael Heiss moderates the HD Hot Seat panel.

The Heat on HDMI was Palpable
At last year’s Hot Seat, Steve Venutti, HDMI Licensing LLC’s president showed a great sense of humor by showing up wearing a T-shirt with a target on the front, but there were few arrows shot. This year, the heat was more palpable. There was much rolling of eyes from the participants, no small amount of loud voices, and more than a little finger pointing from the audience. Gee, all that fun and hopefully everyone learned something, too!

Standing in this year for HDMI Licensing LLC was Jim Chase, their director of technology, who pointed to the widespread adoption of HDMI through over a thousand firms signed on as “adopters,” and with “billions and billions served” in terms of HDMI-equipped devices. When later questioned from the floor about whether or not HDMI is easy to use, that last number became important, as it does indicate that that when compared to the number of devices in consumers’ homes, the complaints are small.

Why Not Test HDMI at Your Facility First
Responding to installer attendee concerns, perhaps the most useful advice was emphasized by all, but particularly Eric Bodley, a former CEDIA president who now heads up the consumer sales for commercial cable powerhouse PPC and Quantum Data’s VP/CTO Mark Stockfisch, whose company is a leading supplier of test equipment to those who design and qualify HDMI-equipped products. “TEST IT IN THE SHOP BEFORE GOING TO THE JOB SITE!” One can be no more emphatic than that.

Some Just Won’t Accept HDMI
Of course, that didn’t deter those who simply would/could not accept HDMI for what it is, despite what are admittedly some imperfections. The testing for HDCP that is now mandatory in the latest HDMI specs has helped some, as have industry plug fests, but it seems that not everyone can be pleased, but like it or not, HDMI is here to stay and through careful component design, system configuration and installation, it was agreed that most installations can and do work, and that most (non-custom) consumers are satisfied.

A Move Away from HDMI ‘Versions’
Perhaps anticipating some of the concerns from the attendees about clearer messaging to consumers about what specific HDMI features a particular product offers, HDMI LLC’s Chase re-enforced the goal of LLC to move away from using “Version” numbers with future HDMI updates, and, indeed, to prohibit the use of that type of designation on new products from the start of 2011. When will that inevitable “HDMI Next” suite arrive? Perhaps a two-part answer from the panel: One is “not anytime soon…we need to get the advancements of the latest Version 1.4a under everyone’s belts first”. The second ties to the move away from broad-based “versions”, with the idea of possible feature-by-feature updates as technology permits or the marketplace requires.

What About Wireless HD?
But back to the “fun” part of the panels’ discussions. Also represented were Leslie Chard, formerly president of HDMI Licensing LLC, and now president of WHDI LLC, a means of distributing HDMI signals using unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band, and John Marshall, chairman of the WirelessHD Consortium and president of WirelessHD LLC, whose technology operates in the similarly unlicensed 60GHz band. The discussion around these two technologies, along with mention of HDBase-T and WiGiG, as well DisplayPort, Diva and the various technologies and products for sending HDMI over Category or fiber cable either via baulins or as IP data brought to mind another sports analogy: the WWE. Despite the raised eyebrows and steely glances, it was clear that the panelists knew and respected each other, but it was a great show.

The HD Hot Seat crowd heats up at CEDIA EXPO 2010.

The Outcome?
For wireless carriage of HDMI in a multi-room situation, the 5GHz frequencies allow WDHI to do what WirelessHD can’t. Both claim to be able to have HDMI v.1.4a compliance in the works for their systems, so that one is a “draw.” Which is better in terms of bottomline quality, ease of configuration and use and QoS? That’s one that is perhaps best left to CEDIA EXPO 2011, where we’ll try to plan an “HDMI via Wireless Shootout” and let both attendees eyes, and perhaps Quantum Data’s test gear be the judge. For now, the best recommendation post-panel is to try both out for yourself.

Caution About HDBase-T
As to all of the buzz over HDBase-T in recent months, the panel seemed to think it was an interesting concept, but there was caution expressed as to whether or not it would achieve widespread adoption. Outside the panel, HDBase-T was demonstrated both on the EXPO Show floor as well as in CEDIA’s Technology Pavilion, demonstrating for all to see that it is, indeed, “real.”

Similarly, MoCA technology was shown on the floor as yet another technology that could present an alternative means of using “no new wiring” to distribute HDMI signals with the proper adaptors.

Summing it all up: much was discussed, much was learned, some good points were made by all participants, both on the panel and in the audience. Of course, there were clearly some who also went away feeling that their questions were not properly answered, casting doubt in some minds as to the viability of HDMI. Here, again, a last word from the moderator: “It isn’t going away. Do the best you can to learn to deal with it properly or your competition will. With a sunset looming for HD component outputs, don’t stick your head in the analog sand when it comes to HD signal distribution.”

The Future of Entertainment is 3D
For another sports analogy, the Future of Entertainment panel was as calm as a Sunday Cricket match on the pitch in Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, compared to what seemed like Mixed Martial Arts at the Hot Seat. Calmly speaking among one another and with attendees, the wide variety of participants gave all a range of directional views.

Active or Passive Glasses?
From Insight Media’s Chris Chinnock the thought that 3D is here to stay came through, with the notion that while the sets may eventually all be “3D Ready” at most price points, the question of whether the technology in the long term will use active or passive glasses remains open.

Of course, not all content will be 3D, so with consumer preference for the 3D experience or not, along with cost, determining whether or not to splurge for the glasses and needed accessories such as an IR emitter if it is not built into the display. From a delivery and hardware, all participants agreed that neither hardware or distribution channels would present a barrier, though it was acknowledged that cable, satellite and eventually broadband, along with physical media, will remain the carriers for 3D programming; don’t count on 3D over terrestrial channels in the foreseeable future.

The dependence of services on broadband was clear in the various comments of Ayinde Alakoye, CEO and co-founder of streaming audio service “Hitch Radio,” Verizon Telecom VP or product management, Eric Bruno, and Augusto Cardoso, VP of engineering at Pioneer Research Center USA.

With different products, of course, there were some different opinions. Verizon, of course, provides a set-top box for its FIOS service, and Pioneer is in the business of selling a variety of consumer electronics products. Either way, connectivity services will be there as embedded applications that require little installation, as well as through the connectivity to outboard products or PCs that will require a bit more integration work on the part of the designer/installer.

Another Word About ‘Over the Top’
Along similar lines, all agreed that “over the top” delivery mechanisms will grow in importance to consumers, even as services such as FIOS, along with U-Verse, the other telco-based service, cable and satellite will continue to deliver traditional program service offerings. Here, too, the problem was acknowledged to be availability of sufficient broadband speed and service availability along with a variety of interfaces and hardware systems needed to deliver it all. It’s coming, but it may not be as easy as it seems at first glance.

For example, Alakoye’s Hitch Radio service is likely best accessed through a computer, or perhaps in a future iteration via smart phones or pad/tablet products. The notion of combining a social media-type search engine with broadcast radio search is a compelling concept, but it could present a challenge to implement in a main room system where there is no PC. That is both a possible problem, and a potential opportunity for the D/I.

A wide variety of services are central in the work of Cardoso and Bruno, also offering the mix of challenge and opportunity. The challenge? Integrating the different and fixed interfaces from these products into a unified system for your clients. The opportunity? Doing just that as best you can to get the benefits of the services and options. The good news is that while those who deal in areas where broadband service is still slow are certainly at a bit of a disadvantage, Bruno, in particular, saw coverage increasing and speeds expanding, even in service areas where his company is not the local provider.

Remote System Monitoring
While not directly fitting the panel’s billboard as “Entertainment,” panelist Michael Maniscalco of ihiji played evangelist for a broadband delivered service that his company, as well as others at EXPO provide: remote system monitoring, alerts and possible diagnosis and patching/correction. Proving perhaps, that the best entertainment is that which you enjoy at home, undisturbed by weekend or late night-calls from clients, these systems give your staff advance notice of possible system infrastructure problems.

Knowing in advance that something might be wrong, along with the ability to prepare for a scheduled on-site fix if a remote solution isn’t possible not only increases your productivity, it hopefully lets you fix problems in advance of a weekend-busting emergency service call to correct a catastrophic fault. Even better, thanks to the ability to attach a monthly or other periodic service charge for the monitoring, you can even secure an additional revenue stream. What could be better than that?

With other panels at this year’s EXPO addressing the growing market for Digital Home Health systems and the Future Opportunities for Residential Communications, this type of “outside expert-based” discussion has proved to be a great addition to the many educational opportunities at CEDIA Expo. If you are thinking of making the trip back to Indianapolis next September, be sure to remember to carve out some time to attend the panels along with your educational courses. We’ll see you there!