2016 will be remembered as the year of voice-control for home automation, the year SnapAV began to dominate the home-technology installation channel, and the year Icontrol and Alarm.com initiated a shake-up in the SHaaS (smart home as a service) business.
Also, while relatively small in the scheme of things, the tenuous position of Kaleidescape and Prima Cinema in the high-end movie-server market could impact the home-technology installation channel. They are the industry's two lifelines to Hollywood.
Voice Control Changes Everything
Before Amazon Echo made a splash in 2016, voice-control was just a novelty in the smart home, reserved for geeks and those with disabilities. But Echo, and later the Amazon Alexa speech engine, changed everything. Now voice control is not only acceptable but increasingly integral to everyday life, from the moment we ask Alexa to “Turn on good morning” to the mid-day request to “Play NPR” to the parting “Good night.”
By CES 2017 in January, we'll see scores of products with Amazon's Alexa speech recognition built in — no Echo required.
Along came Google Home and the Google Assistant voice-recognition engine, as well as Apple’s Siri, touted as a key feature of the emerging Homekit smart-home ecosystem.
In just one or two years, Google and friends undid some three decades of voice-control development in the home-technology channel. It's a whole new ball game.
It didn’t happen overnight … but it happened pretty quickly: SnapAV has come to dominate the home-technology channel. What started out in 2006 as an importer of commodity products for residential integrators has become a powerhouse in the channel, providing a full range of well-engineered networking, surveillance and home-control systems, all tied together with the OvrC smart-home-as-a-service (SHaaS) platform, “one of the most important initiatives in the company’s history.”
Could OvrC do for home-technology integrators what Alarm.com has done for security dealers?
In 2016, SnapAV acquired the popular media-server company Autonomic, as well as the up-and-coming video-analytics company Visualint. Last year SnapAV acquired SunBrite TV, showing the first fruits of that deal – the Veranda series of outdoor TVs – at CEDIA 2016.
DIY, Mesh Networking Evolves
The DIY world finally got serious about home networking, with about a dozen new solutions offering ample wireless coverage, simple configuration, and advanced services such as parental controls and malware detection.
Eero started the “Wi-Fi mesh” thing – kits comprised of router/WAPs – but others have followed suite at a rapid pace: Luma, Google Wifi, Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi, Netgear’s Orbi, Securifi’s Almond 3, and another from at least one big company at CES 2017.
Yes, we can finally provide an apt comparison to Nest – the company that managed to convince America that we should spend $250 for a thermostat. Americans used to spending $59 for a router at Walmart are now forking out $300 to $500 for home-networking gear.
In the installer channel, two key networking companies — Pakedge and Luxul — were acquired by Control4 and Legrand, respectively.
The fact that Sonos now integrates “officially” with third-party control systems was both a huge story and a non-story for 2016. Pretty much everyone already integrated with Sonos in the first place, and the “official” Sonos integration actually eliminates some functionality that is available through unsanctioned drivers.
Still, we did see at least two important new developments from Sonos’s newfound (if limited) “openness” – Lutron’s new Pico for Audio keypads (hub required) and iPort’s xPress Audio Keypad for direct control of Sonos.
Icontrol, Alarm.com Shake up SHaaS
In 2016, Comcast and Alarm.com announced they would acquire parts of Icontrol, a leading SHaaS (smart home as a service) provider. As Icontrol and Alarm.com dominate the SHaaS field today – with a combined subscriber base of around 5 million consumers, and a large portfolio of key patents – the two companies could monopolize the category if the merger goes through. The FTC is still scrutinizing the deal.
A whole new crop of smart-home players emerged this year – Google (Home), Amazon (Alexa, AWS), Apple (HomeKit), to name a few – providing real competition for Alarm.com and Icontrol. Ironically, these same forces that threaten the two companies … could also pave the way for their merger.
2016 was a huge year for Z-Wave, one of the most ubiquitous home-automation standards. In February, UL awarded Z-Wave a UL 1023 listing for security, making it the first mesh-networking protocol approved for life-safety applications.
With the listing, security dealers no longer need to install both traditional security sensors for life-safety and Z-Wave devices for home-automation. One Z-Wave device can serve both purposes.
In another important move for Z-Wave this year, technology owner Sigma Designs made Z-Wave a free and open spec, with no licenses required for implementation. Granted, you can’t use the Z-Wave brand, nor guarantee interoperability with other Z-Wave devices without paying dues to the Z-Wave Alliance, but the newly open spec invites innovation … and fills Sigma’s coffers with silicon sales.
Finally, Z-Wave developed an Installer Tookit, which allows integrators to better plan and troubleshoot Z-Wave networks.
4K Projectors Arrive
The January 2016 headline says it all: “No More Sony 4K Home Theater Projector Monopoly: TI 4K UHD Chipset Finally Hits Market.”
Because of its own home-grown silicon, Sony has dominated the 4K home-theater projector market until this year, when TI released silicon of its own, and several other projector manufacturers released their own 4K products. By CEDIA 2016 in September, most of the major home-theater projector companies had something to show in 4K that was better than earlier Faux-K “wobulation” efforts.
Digital Projection, Sim2, JVC, Optoma, BenQ, Acer and Barco are all on board the 4K-projector wagon, but Sony still has the broadest range of native solutions.
Kaleidescape, Prima Cinema Regroup
2016 was a curious year for streaming and on-demand video content. First, the studios finally killed Slysoft’s AnyDVD ripping software and they plan to kibosh other overseas providers of DVD-ripping products. As far as we know, it is still illegal to copy protected DVDs – even ones you purchased back when people purchased DVDs.
At the high end, we saw Kaleidescape – the maker of high-end movie servers that Hollywood tried to take down – close its doors in 2016, only to re-emerge a few months later to try to make its high-resolution download store work.
We also saw the super-high-end maker of same-day-and-date movie servers Prima Cinema run into trouble. The company hopes to make a comeback in 2017.
The survival of Kaleidescape and Prima Cinema is important to home-technology integrators. The two companies are the channel’s only ties to Hollywood.
Meanwhile, 2016 also was the year when virtually every big brand in content launch live-streaming TV bundles, following on the heels of Dish’s Sling TV service launched in 2015. Now we have (or will have) PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now from AT&T, Hulu Live TV, YouTube Unplugged and Amazon Live TV.
Savant Slims Down
Savant, a leading home-automation provider for professional integrators, “reorganized” its sales force when founder Bob Madonna returned to the helm. We have heard varying reports that up to 100 employees left the company. William Lynch, brought in two years ago from Barnes & Noble to bring Savant to the masses, left the company after launching the Savant Remote to the DIY channel. Madonna promises to amp up Savant’s commitment to the channel.