Media Streaming's Popularity Drives Product Innovation

In this age of nearly ubiquitous streaming media access from the internet, consumers now expect to have all their subscription and purchased content available instantly–wherever they are–without manually moving files around or syncing devices.
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The Kaleidescape movie server provides users the ability to create and automatically manage personal libraries with high audio and video fidelity. In this age of nearly ubiquitous streaming media access from the internet, consumers now expect to have all their subscription and purchased content available instantly–wherever they are–without manually moving files around or syncing devices. This proliferation of broadband internet access and streaming services provides both challenges and opportunities for manufacturers of media server technology and custom integrators that sell and install these products in homes, making them accessible in any room.

“In the custom space, it’s now just as important for media server manufacturers to support all of the popular internet streaming services as it is to provide massive amounts of storage space for personal media collections,” noted Mark Buster, co-founder and CTO of home automation systems manufacturer BitWise Controls.

Today, media content extends far beyond that available on most media servers, as integrators strive to maintain optimal fidelity and seamless control within a multitude of formats and platforms.

“Offering reliable and affordable system integration will help drive the entire industry forward,” said James Meredith, product manager for Wyrestorm Enado, a browser-based user interface/controller for home AV distribution and automation systems that will be launching at CEDIA EXPO. “The ability of end users to access, control, and distribute media via their personal devices improves familiarity with our products and enables integrators and manufacturers to develop more innovative and customized solutions to meet our quickly evolving content demands.”

Autonomic Designs CEO Michael de Nigris agreed that the streaming media trend is driving the need for new product development and innovation in custom integration. “The growing popularity of streaming content is creating more consumer awareness as they seek better ways to access their entertainment media,” he said. “The Autonomic cloud-based solutions are designed particularly for the CEDIA integrator looking to provide superior value and functionality to their customers versus lesser mainstream media server products.”

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Autonomic’s cloud-based solutions are designed particularly for the CEDIA integrator.

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At the head of Control4’s new media distribution family is its first 8x8 HDMI matrix switch. Savant EVP Jim Carroll went further in his assessment of the content landscape, predicting that the era of physical media is in its twilight. “We are seeing end-users trending toward streaming services and cloud-based entertainment media in increasing numbers,” he confirmed. “There are two significant trends impacting this segment of the market; iTunes radio, which Savant will support, and streaming services that Savant customers can access via our SmartMedia Player.”

Crestron’s marketing solutions manager Delia Hansen, believes that media servers and multi-room audio distribution solutions will continue to have a place in high-end installations, but her company acknowledges the shift to streaming media as well.

“We understand the homeowner’s need for hard disc content or content from their hard drive,” she said. “We offer video and audio distribution solutions with the flexibility to support streaming and other emerging technologies.”

Crestron’s DigitalMedia for video and Sonnex for audio offer homeowners the option to stream media or to retrieve content from their hard drive, with no loss of quality, according to Hansen.

Despite the apparent ubiquity of media content, managing it at the hardware level can be a nightmare for consumers, which in turn provides an opportunity for integrators, suggested Gefen automation product manager Orrin Charm. “The good news is that there has been a major shift from centralized analog distribution systems to networked IP distribution within the home,” he said. “Rather than switching one or more sources to multiple displays and sets of speakers over dedicated cabling, it is much more practical to make all of the content available on the local network– both online and local content–and then select and stream the desired content at each location. This minimizes cabling, and allows the user much more control over content, while still allowing a “party mode” where a source can be played everywhere.

Not surprising for a company that prides itself on premium quality content and user interfaces, Kaleidescape CEO Michael Malcolm pointed to the “void between the quality of streaming and that of a Blu-ray or DVD movie.”

To solve this problem, the Kaleidescape movie server provides users the ability to create and automatically manage personal libraries with high audio and video fidelity and to grow their movie collections with the added convenience of internet downloads in bit-for-bit Blu-ray quality. Released in late July, the company’s Cinema One product lets consumers store and instantly access up to 100 Blu-ray or 600 DVD-quality movies. With its new form factor and price ($3,995), the Kaleidescape Experience is no longer limited to just high-end custom installations, the company said.

Leviton Security & Automation was so influenced by current trends in wireless and streaming technology that the company discontinued its dedicated three-channel media server in January of this year.

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Wyrestorm Enado, a browser-based user interface/controller for home AV distribution and automation systems that will be launching at CEDIA EXPO. “Truly, we did this in favor of Bluetooth connectivity to our distributed audio system, Hi-Fi 2,” explained Greg Rhoades, director of marketing for security and automation. “With the super wide range of audio sources available via smartphones and tablets, we’re focusing on making everyone the DJ, not some bulky media server that requires care and feeding. Let your kids pull out a tablet and share music from Rhapsody, Pandora, iTunes, YouTube, or whatever the flavor of the week happens to be.”

Leviton’s distributed audio system uses built-in speakers, and the mobile device treats those speakers as if they were a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones.

This increasing reliance on not only streaming services but also wireless access of audio and video content, the network is becoming a vital part of the home AV backbone.

“Network switching has become just as important as traditional matrix switching when it comes to content distribution and media streaming,” said Greg Schlechter, initiative manager for Intel Corporation and a board member for AVnu Alliance, the industry consortium that certifies audio video bridging (AVB) products for interoperability. “Adding foundational support to the network such as managed switches, network security, and eventually AVB to manage timesensitive traffic is critical for building a truly converged network for consumers and their content.”

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Leviton’s distributed audio system uses built-in speakers, and the mobile device treats those speakers as if they were a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones. At this month’s CEDIA EXPO Control4 will be introducing a new lineup of audio and video distribution products designed for faster installation, simpler setup, and bullet-proof performance. At the head of Control4’s new media distribution family is its first 8x8 HDMI matrix switch, which enables the transmission of full 1080p 2D or 3D video, multi-channel audio, Ethernet, and RS-232 (serial) and infrared (IR) control signals over a single Cat-5e or Cat-6 cable. In addition to eight HDMI inputs and eight HDBaseT outputs, the Control4 8x8 HDMI matrix switch also features two local HDMI outputs, eight LAN pass-through ports, eight stereo audio outputs, eight RS-232 ports, eight bi-directional IR control ports, and an Ethernet port for control.

Also at CEDIA, Fusion Research, a long-time player in the traditional media server category, will be introducing its Ovation Wireless Player (OWP) that extends the abilities of the company’s Ovation Music Streamers by adding additional sources wirelessly throughout the home. The Ovation System supports the streaming music services including Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, MOG, internet radio, or the client’s own music collection. Every zone has the ability to offer any service or all zones can completely sync together so that a single source can be played throughout the home without delays.

“[This is the] first wireless audio source distribution system aimed only at the CI channel,” stated Fusion’s VP of sales Ingo Schmoldt.

Mozaex, a manufacturer of multi-room Bluray entertainment servers and peripherals, will introduce at CEDIA its new Apple iOS app as well as a new Control4 and Vantage 2-way apps. The company already supports Crestron, AMX, Control4, Elan, RTI, Apple, Vantage, Savant, URC, Bitwise, and NetStreams.

“Ever since Apple blocked IP control of Apple TV, control systems have been unable to access iTunes movies,” Mozaex CEO Douglas Kihm said. “Mozaex uniquely imports iTunes movies and music into its library so all compatible Mozaex control systems are now able to play iTunes movies and music from one common cover art library. You can also purchase iTunes media right from the Mozaex interface.”

Control4’s CEO Martin Plaehm said it best when he acknowledged that “content is king” and that consumer expectations are higher than ever.

“Today consumers expect to be able to access and distribute their music and video libraries instantaneously, and on a range of devices anywhere in their home,” he said.

Jeremy Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.

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