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CEDIA Subtleties

Here's a quick look at what I observed at EXPO 2008.

In a year when many in our industry declared “flat” as the “new up” in business, the not-so-big news at CEDIA EXPO was the subtle evolution of technology, instead of flashy “game-changing” product introductions of years past. Here’s a quick list of what I observed while in Denver.

1) I’ll leave the details to Michael Heiss (p. 48), but one of the bigger stories out of CEDIA was the continued evolution of automatic volume level adjustment options for AV receivers. With these technologies from Dolby, THX, Audyssey, and SRS, there will be less reaching for the volume control when switching between sources, channels, or even within a movie with sudden transitions from quiet scenes to loud explosions.

2) I heard a lot about developing solutions for long-distance, multi-room distribution of 1080p signals over powered HDMI cables or Cat-5 wires. Not everyone agrees on the best approach, but I was most intrigued by Crestron’s explanation of the intricacies of authentification between sources such as Blu-ray and AppleTV and its soon-to-be-released solution for speeding up this process.

3) Just about every control systems manufacturer now boasts of iPhone integration and its availability through Apple’s Apps Store. I remember once pondering a future where our homes could be controlled via cell phone interface, and that time actually has arrived. SpeakerCraft’s answer to the iPhone has been promoted for months, but EXPO saw introductions from most of the big players.

4) A relatively small trend involving three of the big guys in control systems, as well as relative newcomer Life-ware, is integration with Zigbee- and Z-Wave-enabled Baldwin door locks from Black & Decker. This development makes it possible to connect the front door lock with a security system so that arming the alarm also locks the door, and it allows a home owner to remotely unlock the door after checking a security camera to let in a guest while away from home.

5) Perhaps the most potential for positive improvement in our industry comes from the environmental or Green initiatives. Many companies mentioned their plans to reduce shipping materials and to drive down the amount of energy required for their systems to function properly.

6) Nearly everyone I saw at the show noted the success of his or her international business. What was once a market 10 years behind the U.S. is now at most three years behind us. Our overseas peers are catching up and are hungry for new technology to serve their increasingly wealthy clientele. The most notable effect of this trend is the addition of international languages support on control systems used in our industry and the introduction of European-style keypads and even Din Rail control panels from companies like Crestron.

7) Rhapsody is this year’s HD Radio. For year’s, Sonos has promoted its integration with this digital music delivery system, but now it has become nearly ubiquitous with companies from Niles to Escient to Control4 integrating the service into their offerings.

8) Thinner continues to be better with flat-panel TV manufacturers. The trend has gotten so pervasive, in fact, that a company like Leon Speakers has already created thinner on-wall LCRs speakers to match the sleek profiles of these displays.

9) Media servers continue to dot the CI landscape, with more server space available and better user interfaces becoming created. The big trend here seems to be seamless content aggregation between iTunes and many other non-iTunes sources.

10) Last but not least, I’m already enjoying the battle brewing between competing Power Line Carrier-based multi-room audio control concepts from Russound and NuVo Technologies. I commend both companies for exploring creative ways to serve a mostly untapped retrofit market, with their Collage and Renovia concepts.