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The Year of the Touchscreen

As I walked the show floor at CEDIA EXPO in Denver this year I was struck by how many exhibitors were demonstrating beautiful new touchscreen control interfaces for all of their product lines. The technological advancement of low-power CPU processors, bright high-resolution active color matrix screens, and new GUI software tools have contributed to an explosion of in-wall and handheld touchscreens that invite the homeowner to interact with these sexy new touchpanels.

By now most of us are familiar with the beautiful touchscreen interfaces and tablets that have been the hallmark of the Crestron and AMX product lines over the years. But today, products like Colorado VNETs Vibe Color Touchscreen amplifier, Exceptional Innovations Life|point touchscreen, ELANs Ol Film Interactive keypad, and a new entertainment entry from a company called Savant are adding touchscreens that are competitively priced, elegant, and functional.

Colorado VNET has always had an attractive line-up of in-wall lighting controls and now they have augmented their product line with a colorful in-wall whole-house audio touchscreen control named Vibe. Every Vibe Color touchscreen amplifier gives you instant, intuitive control of any audio source, anywhere on the system. Tap the screen to access, browse, and control the Vibe Audio Server, as well as any connected input, including CD players, iPods, AM/FM, or satellite radio, anywhere in the house. You can stream multiple independent programs to different rooms simultaneously and display metadata and full-color cover art with the touch of a finger.

Exceptional Innovation has done a very clean implementation and extension of the Microsoft Media Center (MCE) interface with its MCE My Home software. Not only can they provide intuitive whole-house control (thermostats, lighting, security, cameras, drapes, etc.) with a Media Center look and feel interface but they also support the control of multiple streams of whole-house audio and video from their Life|point touchscreens.

I had a chance to stop by the Niveus Media Center booth where they had a beta version of the new Vista version of the Media Center interface, and it was stunning. Now, when you want to control TV functions, a transparent control overlay is superimposed on the screens video as opposed to stopping the video, bringing up the control screen, and then showing the video again. These transparent control overlays greatly enhance the functionality and attractiveness of A/V control. Browsing through your music collection will be a much more enjoyable experience with MCE Vista than MCE 2005. Today, much of the screen is wasted on a sorting list on the left, while Vista moves that to the top of the screen. The current interface also displays very few albums/items at a time in a vertical array, while the Vista interface squeezes on at least twice as many items in a list that scrolls horizontally. Music libraries tend to be a lot larger than video or even pictures, and it makes a lot of sense to make this page dense with content. The selected album is enlarged in the new Vista interface, while the current MCE 2005 interface simply surrounds the album art with a green box.

ELAN was showing off its colorful new Ol display with custom overlays that are intended to augment (or replace) their existing keypad controls. The worlds first Film Interactive Touchpad (FIT), every Ol can be personalized with a collection of slide-in films in a wide variety of colors, styles, and themes. These beautiful, photographic-quality films slide easily into the touchpad, transforming each in-wall controller into a work of functional art that enables easy, intuitive control of your multi-room entertainment system. Ol also features an Organic LED (OLED) display with full-color graphical icons and text that serve as an informative guide as you navigate through your favorite music and video source selections, providing you with instant, friendly feedback.
Lastly, a new company named Savant (based out of Osterville, Massachusetts) hosted a very crowded booth where their new home-networked entertainment server was controlled by high-resolution, large touchscreen displays with control interfaces designed in Adobe Photoshop.

All of these new, elegant graphic touchscreens are great news for the custom installation channel. The more intuitive, attractive, and affordable these interfaces become, the more our clients will accept this more sophisticated level of control technology. Best of all, these high-margin products require in-wall installation, pre-wiring, and some programmingthe hallmark services of the custom electronics integrator. Imagine selling a color touchpad in each room that you now install in-wall speakers. Now thats an attractive addition to everyones bottom line.