Ingram Micro held its Spring Vendor Expo last week in Scottsdale, AZ. Ingram is the world’s largest technology distributor, owning AVAD and DBL Distributing, two companies serving as major distribution partners to the custom installation industry. The Expo featured more than 125 different vendors, including Samsung, Vizio, Sanus, Sony, Microsoft, and Hisense.
Ingram invited key dealers from around the country to attend the Expo and meet with their sales and vendor partners to discuss business opportunities. For many that weren’t able to attend CES it was an opportunity to see exciting new technologies like UHDTV and Samsung’s curved displays.
The theme of this year’s Expo was, “How We Are All Better Together,” and it kicked off with a featured presentation by Tom Bamrick, VP and GM of Ingram Micro CE. This was followed by a panel moderated by Ed Hecht, VP/publisher of Resi System’s sister publication TWICE. Panel members included Stephen Baker, VP of industry analysis at NPD, Craig Birmingham, VP of sales at Ingram Micro, Wayne Newton, sales and business development leader at Belkin, Garry Wicka, marketing director at Dell, and Stephen Panosian, director of marketing at Samsung, and Rick Beiderbeck of Arizona’s Spencer’s TV and Appliance. Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive at the hotel in time for the panel, (I was waylaid watching OmniMount’s & Ergotron communications and PR manager, Betsey Banker getting zapped by a TASER. Click here for the video!) but Hecht told me after that the main themes were the need for business diversification and how home automation is growing business segment especially as things like security cameras and lighting control are becoming more DIY.
Frank Ratel, Ingram Micro’ senior business development manager, educated vendors on opportunities available within the government and education sector and explained resources and programs available from IMCE to support growth in these markets.
Samsung had a three-and-a-half hour reseller training session explaining how it sees big audio growth segments being led by soundbar, multi-room audio, and GIGA Audio. Industry sound bar leaders include Samsung, Bose, Vizio, Sony, LG, and Sonos.
Samsung’s senior product manager, Digital Audio, Bill Hadam, explained that Samsung expects tremendous growth opportunities in wireless audio, which Samsung sees as “the future of audio.” To capitalize on this, Samsung brought in many industry experts to assist in design and development and launched its premium audio initiative, Shape. In the Shape world will be speakers, soundbars, Blu-ray players, TVs, HTiBs, and the Link Mate to support legacy systems. Each Shape component includes six months of premium Pandora subscription that can be stacked, meaning a four Shape sale would get someone two years of Pandora premium. They announced upcoming support for iHeart Radio, rdio, Spotify, 8tracks, and Samsung’s own Milk music service.
Another anticipated audio growth area is the Sound Stand TV speaker base option. As people continue to replace older 40-46 inch flat panels in the main viewing area with bigger and better sets, they will naturally want better audio to travel with these sets to the bedroom or wherever the old set will be going, and Samsung sees Sound Stands as being a popular, lower-cost alternative.
I’m not totally sure how to categorize GIGA other than as an insanely loud, portable DJ/PA speaker system meant to power spontaneous block parties or post soccer celebration flash mobs to insane volume levels. The new GIGA MX-HS9000 system has dual 15-inch subs and 3400-watts of power that can “match the decibel level of a helicopter.” (Samsung was unable to confirm what kind of helicopter. I mean is it an Apache, a Blackhawk, a Little Bird, or one of the stealth copters used in the Bin-Laden raid…? Rotary-wing loving audiophiles need to know!) I can say that the GIGA system powered an after-party in a large ball room, and at roughly 35-percent volume was so loud it was bordering on painful. Samsung says that GIGA has been successful beyond expectations and that dealers that have brought in product can’t keep the systems in stock.
The big video stories for 2014 will be UHDTV as well as curved. Samsung explained that bigger screens require higher pixels per inch (PPI), which is why UHDTV will be important. According to CEA research, eight percent of households plan to buy a UHDTV in 2014, however lack of content and pricing remain the big questions and concerns on consumers’ minds.
Based on Samsung’s research, customers will pay more for curved TV, and there is a much higher close/purchase rate after people have experienced the curved TV for themselves in person. One of the features unique to the curved line is Auto Depth Enhancer designed to improve contrast and make foreground images “pop.” They did caution that calibrators should definitely disable this feature as it “would be impossible to calibrate the TV with this feature on.” Video processing, scaling, and input switching on the curved models is handled by an outboard box. This box connects to the TV via a proprietary “One Connect” cable, currently limited to 3 meters, but available in a 10-meter length soon.
Vizio 2014 LCD Share
Smart is a big focus for Vizio with 13 million smart TVs in the marketplace in 2014, and 74 percent of all Vizio TVs shipped to retail being smart. Due to this, Vizio is leading the Smart TV category. They expect this trend to continue and said that by 2017 39 percent of all TVs sold will be smart. Vizio expects that 50-inch and larger sizes will make up 30 percent of its sales in 2014. Vizio will have three series for 2014: the entry E-Series, the step up M-Series and the UHDTV P-Series. They briefly mentioned the Reference R-Series displayed at CES, Beyond being UHDTV resolution, the R-Series sets will have 10-bit color, support native 24 and 48 fps, have an ultra-bright 800 nit back light enabling High Dynamic Range and will feature 384 active LED zones for precise contrast control. Unfortunately there is no timeframe yet as to when this series will come to market. Vizio is aggressively looking to increase market share, and partnering with Ingram Micro to expand dealer base is one of the things they are actively pursuing.
CE State of Industry
Chris Ely, CEA senior manager industry analysis, gave a forecast and state of the CE industry discussion. Ely said that weather has negatively impacted Q1 CE sales and that tech sales are “suffering” at the hand of pent up demand for durable goods like cars and houses. However on the bright side, consumer credit is growing and the CEA is optimistic about 2014. The “CE Big Five” sales leaders are smartphones, tablets, HDTV, mobile PC, and digital cameras. Top trends in video include Ultra HDTV and internet streaming devices and leading the audio category are wireless speakers, soundbars, and headphones, which continue to be one of the top planned purchases for 2014 across all spending levels.
CE Most and Least
While penetration for UHDTV is currently under one percent (and more like 0.1 percent, he offered), they expect that to be a huge growth category. Also interesting was the lack of penetration of smart thermostats—just three percent—showing a lot of sales opportunities for automation integration.
Ely discussed retailing trends, which include more specialty stores, the store-within-a-store concept, and brand stores. Customer service, knowledge, and building relationships are all becoming more keys to successful retailing, and competing on price and viewing the customer as a commodity is going away.
CE customers, pre-purchase
The information on customer’s pre-purchase and in-store activities were incredibly telling and should certainly give custom showrooms a real sense of optimism. The answer for, “Why do you shop at retail stores?” was overwhelmingly “to get a demonstration, to see the product in action, and to get more information.” Pre-purchase research says that a majority of consumers are more informed, having done research prior to purchase. Interestingly, 45 percent actually compare pricing.
CE in-store pre-purchase
Despite the fears of “showrooming,” research shows that only 15 percent of customers compare prices using a mobile device while in a store. Seeing, touching, and using the product are overwhelmingly the reasons for consumers to visit a store, as is talking to a salesperson. When it comes to knowledge, experience, demonstration, and recommendation, the specialty dealer should (hopefully) come out ahead.
Ingram Micro held its Spring Vendor Expo last week in Scottsdale, AZ
Prior to the Expo floor opening was an hour of “speed dating” where you were given six private one-on-one sessions with vendors to learn more about their products and see how they might be work with your business.
Swann’s 1080p CCTV camera
My first “date” turned out to be what seems to be a beautiful match as I got to know Swann, an Australian company that focuses on DVRs and CCTV cameras. The company is releasing a new 8-channel, four-camera kit that will offer 1080p (2.1 megapixel) resolution, and 2 Terabytes on board storage (expandable up to 4 TB with eSATA drives) for under $1,500 at retail. The cameras are IP67 weatherproof rated, include powerful night vision capability, and can be powered over Cat cabling (PoE) by being connected to the DVR. Customers can keep an eye on things using the free SwannView app.
According to Speco Technologies, the biggest complaint customers have with DVRs is trying to locate a specific recorded event that happened. You can minimize recordings by only recording on motion, but even still, if a client has been gone for days/weeks at a time, finding one instance can be time consuming. To address this, Speco is incorporating thumbnail event view on its RS, DS, and NS series of DVRs, which should making it far easier to narrow down the search window. Speco is also working on automation drivers for its NS series to support Control4, Crestron, and Savant.
The Anki Drive
Anki is a new company to me, having been founded in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon Robotics grads to bring robotics and AI to consumer products. They are also one of the few companies to have been launched on an Apple keynote stage with an intro by Tim Cook. The company’s first product, Anki Drive, is like a real-life version of Mario Kart brought to life in your living room. This $199 “game” allows players to control up to four racecars that evolve over time, letting you upgrade your car’s weapons, defense, and performance. It looked like it would be an amazing party game, and the 3.5 x 8.5-foot infrared ink-printed mat rolls out quickly to produce a racetrack virtually anywhere. The picture doesn’t do the game justice, so click here to watch the company’s video on YouTube.
I love that Sanus is doing so much to get TV anti-tipping awareness in front of the public eye and offering a simple anti-tipping strap as a solution to protect children. They also demonstrated their new Sanus Premium Brand mounts that have been reworked from the group up after talking with focus groups to make them easier for installation and the packaging more attractive and eye-catching at retail. Also of interest was an in-wall cable management system that allows for a meets-code way to run power in the wall to a flat-panel TV, and a contoured cable cover for times when an in-wall retro just isn’t possible. Also cool was Sanus’ new EcoSystem Mini, a device designed to mount behind TVs or furniture and provide low-voltage power (5 and 12-volt) for multiple devices as well as to 125VAC outlets.
Gunnar Computer Eyewear
If you spend any time in front of a computer or other screen on a regular basis, then you probably suffer from the occasional headache or eyestrain that comes from staring at a monitor or screen for hours at a time. The combination of a bright screen in a darkened environment is a vengeful duo for delivering one sweet, brain-searing migraine. Gunnar has developed advanced computer eyewear that reduces eyestrain while increasing contrast, comfort, and focus by blocking harsh light and glare and allowing the eyes to relax. Plus, they look cool and give a whole new style to “protective eyewear.”
The author is his Gunnar eyewear
Star Wars headphones
As I write this on Star Wars day—May the Fourth—I feel I had to throw a pic of these bad boys in. With filming of Episode VII underway, you know the hype for the galaxy far, far away is only going to grow, and these Street by 50 (from SMS Audio) give listeners the option to support either the Light Side (Rebel Alliance) or the Dark Side (Galactic Empire and Stormtrooper) or go solo Boba Fett style. The headphone market is huge and these are clearly the strongest with the Force.
Hisense is bringing some premium offerings to Ingram Micro)
Just as the Japanese overtook U.S. TV companies and then saw Korean companies take the TV-leadership baton from them after the switch to digital, China-based Hisense is looking to be the next disruptive force in the TV world. For the past few years, Hisense has made a huge splash at CES, taking over Microsoft’s position in the Central Hall with a massive booth and multiple cutting-edge offerings like OLED and ULED. While Hisense has traditionally been found in places like Wal-Mart and Costco, they are bringing some premium offerings to Ingram Micro and looking to establish a foothold in the UHDTV world with game-changing pricing. They also demonstrated the Pulse Pro, a device that incorporates the latest version of Google TV and can add smart, streaming features to any set with an HDMI input.