Home Theater

Top 5 Home Technology Trends and Opportunities for 2016

Audio and video analytics, home automation user empowerment, the 4K UHD ecosystem, LVDC power distribution and front-door amenities such as smart doorbells top CE Pro's 2016 Top Home Tech Trends to watch for 2016.

Top 5 Home Technology Trends and Opportunities for 2016
CE Pro's Top 5 Home Technology Trends for 2016: 1. LVDC, 2. 4K Ecosystem, 3. Front Door Technology, 4. Audio/Video Analytics, 5. User Empowerment in Home Automation

Julie Jacobson · January 22, 2016

Every year, CE Pro selects five "things" that could have a major impact on home technology, especially as it relates to the integrator channel. Everything's fair game, from audio, video and home automation technologies, to macroeconomic trends, to shifts in consumer behavior.

This year, our 5 Top Home Tech Trends to Watch for 2016 are:

1. Low-Voltage DC Power Distribution
2016 won’t be the year that we chuck traditional AC power for PoE lighting systems and giant in-home batteries like Tesla’s and Rosewater’s. But it will be the year that home technology pros should start thinking about new ways of powering (and wiring) the home, because chances are we will see much more DC power-distribution options in the next five years.

2. 4K UHD Ecosystem
CE Pro first named 4K Ultra HD as a Top 5 Trend to Watch in 2013. In 2015, we included 4K in our “immersive entertainment” trend that included UHD resolution, curved displays, high-resolution and object-oriented audio, virtual reality and motion. This year, we give a nod to 4K because of the ecosystem that is finally building up around the format: content, media distribution, HDMI cable, standards, and most compelling of all: high dynamic range (HDR).3. Front-Door Technologies

​​3. Front-Door Technology
It’s hard to imagine that the lowly front door could hold so much promise for integrated home technology, but start-ups like Ring and Skybell, along with social trends such as Airbnb, have delivered fresh new opportunities to the doorstep. Automated door locks, intercom stations, smart door bells, cameras, peepholes, facial recognition, motorized shades within doors and lighting all make the front door a new entry point -- so to speak -- for the smart home

4. Audio & Video Analytics
In 2016, we will begin to see a decreasing need for dedicated sensors that monitor temperature, motion, smoke, fire and even personal states such as falls, sleeplessness and illness. That’s because many of these states can be tracked and analyzed through sound and video. Think: mics that can isolate baby cries, gun shots, falls and leaky pipes; cameras that can recognize faces, sleep patterns, temperature via thermal imaging and fires before they trigger a smoke detector; and combinations that can determine if a senior aging in place is showing signs of dementia.

5. User Empowerment
Last year, we highlighted new products and industry philosophies that led to consumers to take more control of their “custom” automation systems. Customers themselves can now set scenes and schedules without having to call a pro. We’ll see that and more in 2016, with the ability for clients to enroll new devices into their systems, create their own user interfaces, turn


1. Low-Voltage DC Power Distribution


At the heart of the LumenCache LVDC system is the Power Distribution Module (PDM), which distributes DC power and data over Cat 5 cable to end devices (lights and other electronics) that are native DC-powered.

IN THE CUSTOM ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY, we’re used to DC-powered systems for a variety of applications. Wireless access points, IP cameras and little A/V boxes often get their power (and data) over Ethernet. They might even be powered over coax cables. We have “hardwired” or “panelized” lighting-control systems in which low-voltage wiring powers keypads and sometimes thermostats and other connected devices. And manufacturers who make motorized window coverings typically offer centralized power distribution modules to fuel banks of DC motors. It beats the alternative: Plugging in a big ugly power adapter (wall wart) at each shade location.

So it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine a scenario in which most or possibly all of a home’s electronics are DC-powered through a network of low-voltage cables that terminate at a single power source. That source could be the utility’s high-voltage power grid, and/or it could be a giant power supply – an energy storage hub -- fueled with energy harvested from the sun, wind or other natural source.

Many of the pieces of a DC-powered ecosystem are starting to fall into place. For example, those “giant power supplies” have been announced by companies as hip as Tesla (Powerwall) and as new as RoseWater Energy. And while the energy savings don’t yet justify the cost of these products, which run well into the five figures, Powerwall is nevertheless sold out through 2016.

Over the next several years, the move towards LVDC (low-voltage/direct-current) will occur in baby steps, most likely starting with power hubs in individual rooms. The products will plug into a standard AC electrical outlet and distribute DC power to the room’s electronics – not unlike Sanus’s EcoSystem centralized power supply that includes a bank of both 12- and 5-VDC outlets. With the right-sized plugs, devices such as phones, loudspeakers, Roku boxes, IR repeaters and routers plug right in, without the need for hot, leaky, bulky power adapters. Such AC-to-DC adapters, or inverters, typically waste about one-fifth of the electricity coming into the house.

LVDC Momentum, Q4 2015

  • CEDIA Expo featured at least three new exhibitors showcasing LVDC lighting systems: Innovative Lighting, Rimikon and Illumadrive. 
  • Cisco partners with lighting giant Philips on a new networked-lighting venture. 
  • The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and Bureau of Indian Standards presents what appears to be the first major international conference on Low Voltage Direct Current (LVDC) in New Delhi. 
  • IEEE collaborates on AC/DC power-distribution standards with EMerge Alliance, an organization dedicated to the “rapid adoption of DC power distribution” in commercial buildings. EMerge is involved in more than 75 hybrid AC/DC projects powered via on-premises “microgrids.” 
  • NextEnergy, which promotes energy-related initiatives, organizes the second Net Zero Zone at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Expo, featuring an end-to-end DC-powered ecosystem from solar panels to 24- and 380-VDC loads. 

In the transition to DC, “It's not like all our power lines or even all our wall sockets would switch to DC,” says NPR’s Audrey Quinn. “Instead, you'd have this one super-efficient DC converter box in each room that you'd plug your electronics into.”

Eventually, we will have standards for whole-house DC power distribution, from grid to end device. Computers, for example, will plug right into the wall, straight into the low-voltage wire that powers the house, with no AC/DC adapters in the path. Installing a light fixture won’t require an electrician. Instead, low-voltage contractors simply poke a hole in the ceiling and tap into the LV line.

DC power distribution offers plenty of benefits to consumers and installers alike:

  • Eliminates bulky power supplies for individual products, as well as the energy leakage associated with these always-on adapters.
  • Reduces shock hazards and burdensome electrical code restrictions; low-voltage contractors could tackle much of the work now done by electricians.
  • Can easily be combined with data networks, so one set of cables provides both data and power.
  • Could save money both in both installation and operation.
  • Exploits the public’s interest in home power generation and storage.

Low-Voltage Lighting Systems

While we’re still some decades away from chucking 120/240V AC altogether, we can certainly begin taking advantage of the movement towards LVDC, starting with lighting controls.

Today, we have several “low-voltage” lighting-control systems to choose from. But the data and the DC power stop at the switch or keypad. They don’t extend to the fixtures themselves, which are wired the old-fashioned way: with Romex for line voltage (or “high voltage” as lay-people call it).

Worse, you can’t even run the line-voltage unless you’re a certified electrician.

The first real triumph in whole-house DC power distribution will be when the bulk of household lighting can be converted, allowing individual fixtures to be both powered and controlled over low-voltage wiring.

A few years ago in the custom electronics channel, a couple of niche companies launched LVDC lighting systems, and both are coming along nicely. NuLEDs, from the creators of Numinus low-voltage lighting for home theaters, now offers a complete PoE lighting ecosystem. The company supplies networked-lighting gear for Cisco’s Canadian headquarters.

Led by former integrator Derek Cowburn, LumenCache has completed several projects in both residential and commercial buildings, using Cat 5 for wiring (but not PoE).

Cowburn says his parents were the guinea pigs for LumenCache four years ago when they built a house. He says his father asked, “Should we bi-wire with Romex?” and Cowburn replied, “The world is not going back.”

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2. 4K UHD Ecosystem Evolves


Samsung showcased its UBD-K8500 4K UHD Blu-ray player with HDR support at CES 2016.

4K MAKES FOR A PRETTY TV SET, but for the essence of Ultra HD to really occur, the entire ecosystem must be in place, from the content to the display and everything in between. That is happening.

While the past couple of years the debate has centered on whether users could truly see and benefit from the differences between 1080p (2K) and 4K, the discussion is over — 4K is here and it will become the standard.

The maturation of the entire 4K ecosystem, which covers both the residential and commercial markets, is aided by the increased awareness of the high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WDG) provisions that video experts have been calling for, which may translate into real money for integrators.

“Wide color gamut and HDR are going to make the sale,” says Michael Heiss, longtime industry tech guru and member of the CEDIA Technology Council. “4K video is a wonderful improvement over 1080p with all that resolution, but it’s not about ‘more pixels’ but ‘better pixels’ and ‘faster pixels.’”

Judging by the products on display at CEDIA Expo 2015 last October and likely even more so from the upcoming International CES 2016 in January, 4K with HDR will be an important driver for the market in 2016. Companies such as Sony, Epson, Digital Projection, Barco, Christie, Vizio, LG and others were showing a variety of projectors, displays and other 4K solutions in 2015, and more were shown at CES 2016.

Texas Instruments is finally set to deliver its 4K DLP chip in the spring, eliminating Sony's virtual monopoly on consumer-oriented 4K projectors.

Where's the content?

With 4K UHD TV sales growing, one caveat that’s held back more widespread adoption is the slow rollout of 4K content both streaming and from physical media.

The consumer trend of “cord cutting”and the continued adoption of streaming in lieu of physical media is shaping product development, with 4K content delivery led by Netflix and Amazon. Additionally, rental/download service Vudu through television manufacturer Vizio recently announced it will offer 4K movies with the added benefit of Dolby Vision (an HDR format) from the Warner Bros. library; movie server manufacturer Kaleidescape has implemented 4K offerings through its online download store and the new Strato player/server products to play them throughout a home.

At CES 2016, LG demonstrated the first live 4K over-the-air broadcast with HDR using the new ATSC 3.0 (candidate) transmission standard.

Also, don’t write off physical media. In May 2015 the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) announced the completion of the Ultra Blu-ray Disc specification. The specification calls for content up to 3840 x 2160, as well as for the inclusion of wide color gamut technologies, including HDR, high-frame rates, and the next-generation, object-based surround-sound formats such as Dolby Atmos, which are making their way into homes straight from commercial cinemas.

Panasonic, with its DMR-UBZ1 Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player, and Samsung with its UBD-K8500 Ultra Blu-ray player are ready. Other solutions in the consumer market include Sony’s FMPX10 4K Ultra HD Media player, and do-it-yourself 4K PC servers.

Meanwhile, Dish Network’s small-foot-print 4K Joey STB is capable of delivering streaming media and broadcast, and Dish introduced its latest 4K machine at CES: the 16-tuner Hopper 3. Other options like the Roku 4, Amazon Fire TV and TiVo Bolt promise to bring 4K to the forefront.

Finally, at CES 2016, LG demonstrated the first live 4K over-the-air broadcast with HDR using the new ATSC 3.0 (candidate) transmission standard. The feed was provided by the local Las Vegas station KHMP-TV to ATSC 3.0-enabled receivers at the convention center. The next-gen broadcast standard provides higher capacity to deliver 4K services with improved spectrum efficiency through the HEVC encoding standard.

So, yes, OTA 4K is on its way.

4K End-to-End

For all the glory that 4K brings, however, integrators will have to answer to consumers who want to upgrade to something as simple as a 4K media server. To get the picture -- not just a good picture, but any picture at all -- the customer might have to replace every non-compliant device between the server and the 4K display. Everything in the chain must be compliant with the new HDCP 2.2 copyright-protection scheme to pass through protected content.

“You cannot piecemeal it,” Heiss warns.

Thankfully, the in-between parts of the ecosystem, such as switchers and receivers, are starting to come to market with HDCP 2.2 compliance. New HDMI cables, meanwhile, are being developed to carry the extra data that comes with WCG and HDR. And there's no lack of "certification bodies" popping up to anoint those cables. Jeff Boccaccio's DPL Labs has been certifying HDMI cables for years. Now he will be joined by both UL and HDMI LLC in the quest to become the consecrators of cable.

“In six months as HDR becomes more prevalent, your cables will start to fail," Boccaccio, a CE Pro contributor, warns. "Ask your manufacturers if they can handle HDR, not if they can handle 4K. If they do not know, walk away."

Finally, wireless and wired transmission technologies are achieving new milestones every minute to handle 4K video and other high-bandwidth needs. The super-fast 802.11ag (WiGig) for very short distances is out -- Qualcomm had a compelling demo at CES -- and newcomer Keyssa took the CTA TechHome Mark of Excellence Disruptor award for its 60GHz wireless technology for extremely close range. As for wired transmission, USB Type-C connectors deliver speeds of up to 40Gpbs. HDBaseT is ... working on it?

And through it all, we can imagine that Crestron will be vetting all of the links in the 4K chain through its exhaustive 4K UHD Certification Program.

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3. The Front Door


Elan Home Systems, a Nortek Core Brands company, focused on the front door at CEDIA Expo 2016, promoting its camera intercom system and integration with automated door locks.

REMEMBER WHEN NEST TOOK AN ORDINARY UTILITARIAN PRODUCT that everyone has but nobody thinks about … and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar business in just a few years? And then it took a dull, annoying smoke detector, added some bells and whistles, doubled the price, and for the first time in history got people excited about a bulky white thing that the government makes you stick on your ceilings?

Well, the next stale technology to hit the big time is the doorbell, which has barely seen a makeover since it was invented over 100 years ago. Sure, many super-tech households adopted front-door intercoms with NuTone  consoles inside, consuming wall space the size of an iPad Pro. But the common residential “access control” system didn’t become cool until a couple of years ago when SkyBell and Ring (originally Doorbot) launched “smart” doorbells with video cameras, two-way voice and apps. 

Rejected on ABC’s Shark Tank,” Ring went on to land a $28 million round of Series B funding led by Richard Branson in 2015.

Many other companies have entered the DIY doorbell fray, including August (of door lock fame), Yale (Digital Door Viewer peephole cam with ZigBee and Z-Wave), Chui and DoorBird (brand new), and Chamberlain (although the company has been quiet since announcing Notifi at CES 2015).

In the professional installation channel, the giant service provider Vivint, best known for its door-to-door sales of security and home automation, launched the Vivint Doorbell Camera in 2015 and sold more than 100,000 units in the first five months. The device – along with its companion cloud service -- is the company’s best-selling product ever. Among Vivint’s new subscribers who buy multiple devices, 46 percent select the Doorbell Camera.

Soon Alarm.com, whose IoT technology powers Vivint and others, will launch its own doorbell camera, enabling more than 2.5 million subscribers to add the product to their existing service. The solution, which has not been announced publicly, will open new doors – so to speak – for thousands of dealers who install compatible security/automation panels from 2Gig, DSC, Interlogix and Qolsys.

Front-door cameras go hand-in-hand with automated door locks, another category of growing popularity, especially in the new sharing economy. Airbnb recently launched Host Assist, a cloud service for managing digital key exchange and keyless entry through the company’s booking platform. Hosts need not worry about scheduling virtual keys for their guests. It’s all tied to their Airbnb account.

Host Assist works cloud-to-cloud with network-connected door locks from August, Danalock, Igloohome, Kevo, Keycafe, Lockstate, Miwa, Nest, and Yale Locks.

Vivint, best known for its door-to-door sales of security and home automation, launched the Vivint Doorbell Camera in 2015 and sold more than 100,000 units in the first five months. The device – along with its companion cloud service -- is the company’s best-selling product ever.

What about the Custom Channel

When CE Pro wrote about the Vivint Doorbell Camera last year, the first reader comment was: “Why are the manufacturers in our channel allowing bottom dwellers to out-innovate them?”

The fact, of course, is that our channel invented the smart-entry category, with integrated intercoms, cameras and doorbells from the likes of Aiphone, Channel Vision, Panasonic and more recently Holovision. They simply haven’t been molded into sexy standalone packages like the new consumer products. And they’re not cheap.

But they sure are good, and they seem to be enjoying a revival in the channel. In the past few years, virtually every major home-control vendor has introduced VoIP (SIP) intercoms. More recently, they have been developing touchscreens and apps for enhanced audio-video communications and monitoring.

At CEDIA Expo 2015, the front door stood out at Nortek's Core Brands booth. Literally.

Elan Home Systems put a bright orange front door at the center of its booth to promote a new intercom feature in its 7.2 software release. New dedicated touchscreens include cameras, mics and speakers for two way audio and visual communications, both locally and across remote networks. Elan pioneered the doorbell-interrupt feature for A/V distribution, and the company builds on this legacy. Elan’s g1 controller can wake up the television when someone rings the doorbell, and display the front-door camera through the on-screen display (OSD). This type of functionality cannot easily be replicated with DIY solutions (although Echostar is trying with its new Sage home automation system).

Also at CEDIA, RTI recently enabled the intercom feature on its T3x remote. Control4 announced its own video intercom system with a discrete camera that is treated like any other IP camera in the Control4 video surveillance ecosystem. Newcomers like Invixium and Comelit worked hard to grab some CEDIA mindshare as the video intercom category heats up. And Fibaro announced one of the sleekest-looking doorbell cameras of the bunch -- a Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled unit with a 180-degree HD camera and HDR clarity, as well as two relay outputs for control of a door or gate.


4. Audio & Video Analytics


Caption

'AUDIO ANALYTICS' MIGHT SOUND LIKE A GEEKY, new-fangled concept, but the technology has been around for quite some time in the security industry, where glass-break detectors are calibrated specifically to detect the sound of breaking glass, while ignoring similar sounds such as coins dropping on a marble countertop.

Similarly, we have seen “video analytics” at play in security cameras for a very long time, starting with basic motion detection: When pixels are disturbed, we know something in the space has changed, so wake up, security guards, and look at the monitor.

Audio and video analytics have come a long way, especially in the last two years and especially in the consumer market. Cameras (with their on-board or cloud-based processors) can now recognize faces, detect fires early, count people, detect fever, and even catch the early onset of dementia.

Listening devices can detect water leaks and termites behind the wall, distinguish between cries of anguish and joy, and issue alerts based on the sound of doorbells, smoke alarms and microwave dings.

Audio Analytics

CES 2015 marked the beginning of mass-market audio analytics for the smart home. At least a dozen companies announced new Internet-connected products that would listen for the blares of “dumb” smoke/CO detectors -- and then alert the homeowner via email or text message. CentraLite, First Alert, Kidde, Leeo, Roost, Swann, Wemo and others all introduced these types of products, usually retailing for $100 or less.

The Science of Listening

Start-up Cypher, whose leadership includes former Control4 execs Glen Mella and John Yoon, started life as a provider of mobile-communications technology that filters out everything but human voice. The technology doesn't block noise, per se, it extracts human speech, so that is all the listener hears.

The implications for voice-control is clear, but there's more.

In the process of isolating human voice, Cypher has amassed profiles of other sounds, for example, barking dogs.

With such a database of distinct sounds, Cypher's technology can be used in a number of ways, for example, alerting joggers to barking dogs or honking cars. 

Going further, newcomer Cocoon introduced a consumer product featuring its own “Subsound” technology, which learns the sound patterns of a home, and alerts homeowners when unusual noise is detected – not just gun shots, for example, but wood creaking or water dripping behind the walls. The company utilizes infrasonics – the same low-frequency sound monitoring used by seismologists – to capture inaudible activity throughout the premises.

Listnr is another consumer-electronics maker working on listening technology, although its project was suspended on Kickstarter in 2015. Even so, the initiative reveals the potential of audio analytics. Listnr could be programmed to respond to different sound commands such as snapping, clapping or foot-stomping. It purported to discern between crying, laughing and screaming. This is all technically doable, just not by Listnr.

Many of the real listening devices feature intelligent sound detection technology from UK-based Audio Analytic. Cisco and Next Level Security, for example, use the technology for their IP cameras to detect car alarms (from seven standard suppliers), gunshots (and their unique muzzle blasts) and aggression (measuring acoustic changes in voice). Louroe Electronics, a leader in audio monitoring and verification for security and productivity applications, recently added the Audio Analytic technology in its enterprise-grade microphones and processors.

On the consumer side, Sengled is introducing at CES 2016 a smart bulb called Sengled Voice that incorporates a microphone for both voice-control of smart-home systems, as well as audio analytics. The company says the bulb provides “enhanced security by detecting sounds like glass breaking and babies crying.”

Video Analytics

Security agencies have used extensive video analytics for years, for example, to distinguish between people and animals at an illegal border crossing, identify and track objects in an airport, and verify identities through facial recognition. Commercial enterprises might use the technology to analyze traffic flow at a store, estimate the demographics of guests, or measure worker productivity.

One of the governing standards for video analytics, OpenCV (computer vision), has been exploited to extend analytics to many new applications, including such things as flame and smoke detection, enabling advanced warnings before traditional sensors detect heat and smoke-related chemicals.

Cameras can capture hidden menaces inside the house. Thermal imaging, popularized in the consumer market by the Flir One smart-phone camera accessory, can “see” anything that emanates heat, such as electrical shorts, water leaks and bad guys. Flir now integrates with the cloud-based if/then engine IFTTT, so users could automatically be notified if there is unusual activity behind the walls. 

Bosch demonstrated in 2015 a camera that picks up a small flame in a big open warehouse long before traditional sensors detect the danger.

Now this technology is being implemented in consumer-grade products, primarily for facial recognition, with more to come. It used to be that a camera would capture motion at the front door, and then start recording, possibly alerting the home owner with a 5-second video clip. Now these cameras can determine who is at the door, so the system can save storage space and preserve battery life by recording only when an unknown guest is knocking.

Between Intel’s new RealSense camera technology and implementations like Microsoft’s Windows Hello, we can see how facial recognition might become the de facto login mechanism for computers, phones and other devices. We can also imagine how an automation touchscreen could display your personal preferences as you approach the monitor because it recognizes your face.

At CES 2016, we saw facial recognition in several buzz-worthy consumer cameras like the Netatmo Welcome, Simplicam by Closeli (powered by ArcSoft facial recognition), and Sengled Snap, a screw-in outdoor LED floodlight with a built-in camera. The new Tend Baby app, powered by Kodak, does all the usual baby-monitoring stuff, but also includes algorithms to track the sleep patterns of the tyke, and to alert parents when their little one is “awake and agitated.”

Implications

Soon, the right combination of hardware, software and algorithms will be used to replace many of the dedicated sensors used in homes today, from motion sensors to flood detectors.

But they can do so much more.

For example, a Spanish technology firm called Tecnalia is working on a project for early detection of dementia, using sensor networks in the home and some sophisticated processing. The system would go into a house while the resident is relatively healthy, in order to establish a “normal routine.” Over time, sensors would pick up changes in activity such as slowing down, skipping meals, restlessness and certain signs of Alzheimer’s – as when a person stops in her tracks and reverses direction, possibly signifying disorientation. 

While this particular implementation happens to use traditional sensors, those sensors could be replaced by a single camera with the right analytics.

And the "cameras" don't necessarily have to capture images. Apical, for example, offers similar functionality as in the Tecnalia example above, but with sensors that work more like video analytics without the video.

The technology, which might be likened to a “very very good PIR” or “video analytics without the video,” looks at “pixel disruption” in light streams to decipher activity, according to Paul Strzelecki, a business consultant for Apical Limited. The company's new ART technology employs image sensors like you might find in cameras, but extracts only the data, not the images, thus reducing bandwidth requirements and dashing privacy concerns.

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5. User Empowerment


When users create an event or make a change in their Pyng-enabled Crestron system, the changes are automatically reflected on every user interface, including Crestron touchscreens, as well as the complext programming software stored in the cloud.

OUR 2016 TREND OF 'USER EMPOWERMENT' is a follow-on to the 2015 trend of “engaging home automation.” By “engaging” we meant consumers could set scenes and schedules all by themselves, without having to call a pro – a feat that might seem silly to the DIY community, which has enjoyed this privilege for decades.

But the seemingly simple “feature” of letting consumers make even basic changes to their systems – like adding a light switch to a scene -- has evaded the custom home automation market. And that’s not just because manufacturers and dealers wanted to make more money by locking their customers out.

The problem has been that the back-end of these systems is so complex that it’s tough to put a consumer-facing layer on top of it. More difficult yet, since you have two major parties involved in any given system – the integrator and the customer – you have to manage changes in both directions. That gets tricky since software resides in a box at the customer’s home, on a server maintained by the integrator, possibly a laptop used by the programmer, and then more bits at the manufacturer, where system upgrades are pushed out … either to the integrator or the customer directly.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer with a DIY system, it’s just you and the manufacturer. Easy.

In the case of professional integration, you really need a solid cloud-based foundation to ensure that everyone is on the same page all the time, from the end user to the integrator to the vendor(s).

Well, now that they have that foundation, manufacturers are rushing to overhaul their system architectures to really empower the end user. When a customer changes a scene, the change is automatically reflected in the advanced programming software maintained by the integrator. That data exchange is kind of a big deal: There’s only one version of the program floating around.

As evidence of this challenge, Crestron brought in a skunkworks team several years ago to create an entirely new cloud-based platform that would become Pyng in 2014. Crestron began with a subset of core products – wireless lighting, thermostats, motorized shades, door locks and Honeywell security – that could be easily introduced and configured into a Crestron system, even by the consumer. In 2015 Crestron added support for multiroom audio and almost all Crestron hardwired systems.

What’s Driving User Empowerment in the Custom Channel?

  • Rising popularity and ease-of-use of DIY smart-home systems; end users demand those features in custom systems.
  • Cloud-based architectures that sync software between the end-user and integrator (and manufacturer).
  • Technology that enables auto-discovery and device enrollment, enabling consumers to add new devices to their systems fairly painlessly. Krika and SnapAV are two manufacturers working on auto-discovery technology based on IP communications signatures.
  • Realization that dealers don’t make money on system tweaks that could be performed by clients themselves.
  • Recognition that the more a consumer engages with their systems, the more likely they are to remain captive as a customer.

Vital to the scheme is a new architecture that allows end users to personalize their systems via an app, and have those changes reflected immediately on all Crestron touchscreens and in the dealers’ cloud-based programming – no small accomplishment. By the way, Crestron can collect data from user activity to better analyze trends in product usage and customer engagement with the system.

Today, most of the usual suspects in the custom home automation business empower customers with some degree of self-programming -- from configuring scenes and schedules, to setting text alerts, to snapping images for the user interface (popularized by Savant’s Single App Home introduced in 2014).

More manufacturers are letting consumers set scenes by capturing the state of devices – thermostats, motorized shades, music, lighting, TV shows, etc. -- at any given time and assigning a name to the new scene for later recall. Savant believes it’s the first to enable this feature through a handheld remote control (the new Savant Remote). At CEDIA Expo 2015, Lutron teamed with Autonomic to enable scene capture for Lutron lighting, shades and thermostat, as well as settings from an autonomic server, including channel selections and volume.

Next Step in User Empowerment

To further empower the customer, manufacturers are finally making it possible for the end user to add devices to their systems – an act that used to require a truck roll on the dealer’s part. For example, Savant, Clare Controls and Simple Control (the new custom group from Roomie Remote) demonstrated at CEDIA how Sonos speakers plugged into the network simply appear in the UI, ready to control.

Clare takes the concept of user empowerment to another level by attaching a business model to the phenomenon. Devices that can be automatically enrolled into a Clare system – including its own Z-Wave switches – can be purchased directly from the Clare Website by the consumer. Credit goes to the dealer, which not only receives standard margins on the sale, but also notifications when the new devices go online … or don’t. In this way, the dealer can follow up with clients to stay engaged, and remind customers why they’re paying that monthly fee for service and support.


Top 5 Home Tech Trends: Looking Back


2015

  • Production home building
  • Immersive home entertainment
  • Engaging home automation
  • The aware home
  • Cloud-based networking

2014

  • High-Resolution Audio
  • Mass-Market Home Automation
  • Cloud Video Surveillance
  • More Sensor Opportunities
  • Automated Door Locks

2013

  • Enterprise-Grade Home Networks
  • Headphones
  • Wireless Audio
  • Motorized Shades
  • 4K Ultra HD TV

2012

  • Self-contained security/automation
  • LED lighting
  • Computer audio
  • Voice, gesture, alternative controls
  • The cloud

1. LVDC Power Distribution | 2. 4K UHD Ecosystem | 3. Front-Door Technology | 4. Audio & Video Analytics5. User Empowerment




  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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Comments

Posted by almostsane on January 26, 2016

As we have discussed before, low voltage is a pipe dream as of the next 10 years. It is too expensive to install in both remodels and new. Getting builders to spend money for a whole different set of wiring and infrastructure is not a possibility. Using CAT grade wire to power low voltage lighting is not possible due to the power requirements. It is just too small for any realistic lighting of any size, even if it is LED. The rest of the new technologies are right on target.

Posted by almostsane on January 26, 2016

As we have discussed before, low voltage is a pipe dream as of the next 10 years. It is too expensive to install in both remodels and new. Getting builders to spend money for a whole different set of wiring and infrastructure is not a possibility. Using CAT grade wire to power low voltage lighting is not possible due to the power requirements. It is just too small for any realistic lighting of any size, even if it is LED. The rest of the new technologies are right on target.