When a major trade show approaches, one of the questions you hear asked most frequently is, “What are the new things that I should be on the lookout for?” That is certainly a valid question and it is one of the key reasons people go to events such as CES, InfoComm, NAB, and the many regional manufacturer and distributor-driven events. With this year’s CEDIA EXPO, September 11-13, in Denver, the question will be asked again. In planning your visit, however, we suggest an alternate, overarching question: “What will be on display, discussed, or be the subject of training that I need to find out about that will have an impact on my business?”
By now it is safe to assume that everyone has heard about the new object-based audio formats such as Dolby Atmos, AURO-3D, and others, but to date the details are slim as the concept evolves. We’ll certainly unearth more about that side of the market in Denver.
What, if anything, will be announced with regard to distribution plans for 4K content via streaming, optical disc, satellite, or something else? How will the traditional suppliers of automation systems respond to the challenge from DIY and app-based systems? What will we see in terms of lighting, shades, and similar that help push the energy reduction agenda? Pick almost any area of practice and there is something that might be announced at EXPO that we’ve heard of but which isn’t on our maps yet that might turn out to be a treasure.
What other treasures we think might remains to be seen, but here are a handful of possibilities.
4K/Ultra High Def
UHD displays are available, the content is here and more is coming, and the in-home and external delivery systems are taking shape. We can certainly expect to see more UHD displays at EXPO, but will they continue to be flat panels or will we see more true 4K projectors? Will we finally see something concrete about 4K native content availability from cable or satellite services? Will there be any hints about 4K content via optical disc? Will there be any new streaming devices to deliver 4K content services using something other than the apps built in to a smart TV? Remember, while virtually all of the UHD flat panels have Netflix and H.265, you won’t find that, at least for the moment, in a front projector.
Presuming that we do see some 4K content delivered via a scheme that requires a set-top box or optical player, the subject of HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 rears its head. To date some AVRs have one or the other, but a scant few have both. Will EXPO bring more products capable of handling both the 600MHz bandwidth required for full carriage of 2160p/4:2:2/12-bit or 4:4:4/8-bit content AND the HDCP 2.2 content protection surely to be demanded by the studios? Indeed, it will be worth looking around the EXPO show floor to see if there will actually be and native 4K content at 60p, 10- or 12-bit color and greater bit depth for these systems to carry.
Of course, while HDMI has a commanding market share lead with regard to digital content distribution, everyone should take the time to see what is new from HDBaseT, from the various wireless video schemes, and maybe something not on the map right now will be uncovered in the same category of alternatives to HDMI. For example, check for products compatible with MHL, Display Port, Thunderbolt, and other methods of connecting computers, phones and tablets to displays, audio processors, and distribution networks.
New Video Displays
When it comes to technologies and applications for high-resolution video, the display is at the center of everything. One thing we’ll be looking for is to see if there will be any announcements of hard delivery dates for products with High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology including Dolby Vision and similar systems. It is important to remember that HDR is something that can benefit conventional HD as well as UHD, so keep your eyes wide open in this area. HDR has significant potential to improve video quality, and if it is available it should be high on your list of things to use as a discussion point for client upgrades.
Also on the map for displays, will we find more OLEDs, and perhaps more importantly, UHD OLED sets? Curved flat panel screens are getting a big push from some manufacturers, and EXPO will be a good place to gauge their market acceptance depending whether or not we see more of them, as many suspect will be the case, or will that be a “flash in the pan” trend? Will we see more use of full backlit LED arrays with local dimming for better contrast? Will the commercial AV market’s laser-based projection systems discussed in the August issue make it to EXPO? Will they, in turn, begin a trend to short-throw, laser-driven projectors along the lines of what we expect to see from Sony?
An Audio Evolution
CEDIA EXPO 2014 is likely to be the major formal introduction point for Dolby Atmos and, to perhaps a lesser degree, AURO-3D. At press briefings in mid-August, Dolby stated that EXPO will be where they make public more of their roll-out plans for Atmos, particularly with regard to when there will be Atmos-enabled content via streaming, traditional satellite or cable distribution, and/or optical disc. We’ll certainly see–and hear–more “Atmos-enabled speakers” to use in applications where in-ceiling speakers are not either possible or desirable.
We heard demos of those speakers at the August events, and can report that they delivered the desired results in terms of creating the fully enveloping sound field. In fact, to a large number of the attendees they sounded better than ceiling-mounted speakers. At EXPO you will be able to see what brands are offering what types of electronics and speaker products for Atmos (and the other object-based audio formats. We urge you to check them out.
More importantly, many of the current questions about Atmos involve configuration and installation questions to which we currently don’t have answers. Dolby is working on a white paper specifically aimed at answering the questions now being raised by the custom community. Beyond Atmos, it will be critical to look at their competition from AURO-3D, and perhaps others. Will DTS or others introduce more? That will be something to explore.
At the other end of the audio world, far away from multi-channel/object-based audio is traditional “two-channel stereo” audio. This is the year where we know that there will be a big effort to support the overall concept of “High Resolution Audio,” or “HRA.” The industry as a whole, including manufacturers, content providers and trade associations, is getting on this bandwagon and it’s a great thing to support and promote. If you haven’t looked at full-range speakers, high-end DACs and similar products in a while, these are the types of things that are central to HRA, and you should be sure to take advantage of what will displayed around HRA at EXPO.
Control and Automation
Audio/video products and their application is only part of what EXPO is all about, and this year the control and automation side of the world is definitely a place to look on a number of fronts. Most critically, how have these companies positioned themselves against the increasing competition from the likes of Iris, Digital Life, Xfinity, Digital Home, Staples Connect, and the packages of products and the growing array of app-based services from major retail and utilities. It is critical to get the product information and training/education needed to properly position your business in the face of not just competition from other custom installers, but from these other forces, as well.
Competition for mindshare and business in the home control/automation space is already here, and EXPO is where you can refresh your portfolio of products and services to combat it. Part of that effort involves, a better understanding of networking and infrastructure technologies and techniques. There, your ability to provide enterprise-grade, high-reliability, high-bandwidth, managed networking is something that the consumer can’t match on their own. Take a deep dive into this growth area. Based on previews we’ve seen of products that are still unknown to the general community, you will find many new innovative opportunities ahead not only for product sale and installation, but for a means to reach the holy grail: reliable recurring revenue.
Home health services are at the intersection of systems integration, networking, cloud/big data, and the Internet of Things. As Baby Boomers age and health care delivery in general remains as a hot news topic, the use of home health monitoring and reporting systems has huge potential. It is more than just monitoring; it is the proper use and installation of the right sensor for the right task. Who does the monitoring? Who does the data go to so that prompt action is assured when needed without getting on the wrong side of HIPA and potential liability issues? Use EXPO as a place to find out what your best strategy for engaging in this challenging new category.
Apple plans to make its new product announcements one or two days before EXPO opens. What impact will the new phones, tablets, and iOS extensions such as Home Kit and Health Kit have on the custom world? Will they finally introduce an “iWatch” that has implications not only for home health, but for systems control? Will there be a new AppleTV and what will that mean?
These are just a few things that you should look into while at EXPO. But CEDIA is not only where you find the high-profile products, but the obvious, yet “background” items, as well. Central vacs, specialized workplace tools, screens, mounting products, business management software, and much more are known to be there, too, as are those unknown buried treasures that we never expected to find.
Use these suggestions as a guide to your EXPO visit and seek out what you need to know to push your business forward in the year ahead. Whether you make it out to Denver or not, Residential Systems is the place to find out all you need to know about what happens at EXPO. Be sure to follow our online coverage at www.residentialsystems.com/cedialive for up-to-the-minute reports from press conferences and the show floor, as well as in-depth coverage in print in the months to come. After all, our goal is for you to become get the information you need to create some business treasure of your own.
Sherman Oaks, CA-based Michael Heiss is a contributing editor to Residential Systems and CEDIA Fellow.