Top 5 Home Tech Opportunities for 2014
How will these soaring categories affect your business in 2014? We take a closer look at high-resolution audio, mass-market home automation, Cloud video surveillance, more sensor opportunities, and automated door locks.
Each year we assemble a list of trends that represent big opportunities for CE pros, and present them in our annual State of the Industry Report. Here are the Top 5 Home Technology Opportunities for 2014.
High-Resolution Audio: Consumers Have “a Higher Appreciation for Great Audio”
By Julie Jacobson
The audio division of the Consumer Electronics Association counts high-resolution audio (HRA) as the top priority for 2014 - so much so that at the division’s annual meeting last October, HRA was practically the only subject on the agenda.
“The audio board is going to devote our year to it,” says division chairman Walt Zerbe of OnQ/Legrand.
High-resolution audio is a rather ill-defined term but basically refers to “anything above CD quality,” according to Zerbe.
Top 5 Techs to Watch in 2014
Much like CEA’s Ultra HD moniker for 4K TVs, high-resolution audio (also a CEA-inspired term) does not come with specific technological requirements. Rather, it is a marketing term meant to rally the stakeholders, including consumers, around audio quality beyond compressed formats such as MP3.
Those stakeholders have aligned like never before, finally making HRA a real opportunity for 2014 and beyond.
“The hardware and software communities are aligning in maybe a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” says iBiquity’s Peter Brady, the outgoing chairman of CEA’s Audio Division.
He counts the content providers, recording communities and hardware and software makers among the allied interests in HRA. Getting all of the parties on board has been a “chicken-and-egg” situation for many years but it “appears all of the sudden” they’ve come together.
Zerbe notes that a major obstacle in the past has been agreeing on a particular format for HRA, but “now we have chipsets that decode everything.”
High-Res Audio Panel at CES
CE Pro will hold on January 9 at 8 a.m. at CES 2014 a free breakfast panel called “High-Performance Audio: Winning Demo Techniques for iDevices and Vinyl.” Led by an expert panel that includes Grammy winning producer Jack Joseph Puig, this interactive educational session will examine where high-performance audio is heading, and what the technology means to dealers. Register today
On the content side, HRA has been bolstered through a collaboration between download service HDTracks and Universal Music, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, as well as hundreds of other labels and distributors. Late in 2013, HDTracks began worldwide operations, launching a new, more consumer-friendly site featuring more than 10,000 albums - including a large chunk of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” - available in 24/96 and 24/192 bit/sampling rates.
The company says that business has more than doubled every year since HDTracks debuted in 2007, “a success that mirrors the explosive, double-digit growth of high-resolution digital downloads overall.”
Contrary to the popular belief that the younger generation cares more about convenience than quality, Zerbe says that higher-performance headphones have given these consumers a “higher appreciation for great audio.”
CEA research finds 39 percent of consumers with a moderate interest in audio indicate they are willing to pay more for high-quality audio electronics. Nine in 10 say sound quality is the most important component of a quality audio experience. Other factors identified include compelling content (85 percent) and superior audio electronics (72 percent) as vital to consumer enjoyment of audio.
Consumer electronics are making it simpler than ever before to acquire and listen to HRA content. Previously, the audio ecosystem required a computer, DAC and an array of software, but now it “won’t require an engineering degree to download,” says Mark Waldrep of the HRA download service iTrax. For example, Sony introduced two high-resolution audio players in September 2013 that handle everything from music downloads to storage to decoding.
“When you buy downloads, it automatically pushes it to the machine,” says Jayson Savage, technical specialist for custom audio and video at Sony. “You don’t have to pull another wire. You don’t have to worry about firing up your NAS (drive). You don’t need to worry about the network.”
A seemingly perfect storm of hardware, so ware, content and consumer thirst for quality is shaping the market for high-resolution audio. Products such as Sony’s new 500-gigabyte HAPS1 high-res music system, which pares down the previous HRA ecosystem, could be your ticket to winning over audio clients.
Retailers Rejoice at HRA
“High-resolution audio is experiential,” says Waldrep. “You cannot hear it by reading about it in a chat room. It needs to be more than one company putting an end cap in one retail store.”
That’s the good news for specialty A/V shops.
“I’m enthusiastic about it,” says Bjorn Dybdahl of Bjorn’s in San Antonio, Texas. “We as specialists have an advantage, but they [HRA product and service providers] are going to have to give us help.”
An additional HRA opportunity rests in clients’ existing music collections. Sony, for one, offers Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technology for enhancing music quality. The flagship model of Sony’s new HRA lineup, the HAP-Z1ES Hi-Res hard-drive Music Player, for example, features “DSD Re-mastering engine to convert and enhance virtually any music files to DSD (5.6M) quality,” the company says.
“We are most excited about what DSD can and will do to compressed files that already exist in the customer’s library,” says David Berman of Stereo East in Frisco, Texas.
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