Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market. 10/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market.

The LG Electronics BD300 Blu-ray Disc player is equipped with BD-Live features, 
which allow its users to enjoy movies or games on the Internet.

The LG Electronics BD300 Blu-ray Disc player is equipped with BD-Live features, which allow its users to enjoy movies or games on the Internet.

Installers who have traditionally felt sheltered from bad economic news by a luxury base immune to market downswings were whistling a different tune at the CEDIA Expo 2008, which was held in Denver Sept. 3-7. The recent plunge in new construction caused installers to be anxious and had manufacturers depending on their CEDIA channels to hunt for new ways to take care of business.

SpeakerCraft CEO Jeremy Burkhardt termed 2008 “the most challenging year since CEDIA has been in business” before telling journalists at the company's press conference that it was putting business practices before product at this year's show. At its booth, SpeakerCraft officials focused on educating dealers about how to survive outside of the new construction market by mining existing customers for referral business, exploiting the retrofit market, exploring new business opportunities, and managing business better.

It was only outside of the booth that the company showed its product line — including new, more durable Rox loudspeakers, a Wi-Fi-based iPhone interface, 3in. flangeless in-ceiling loudspeakers, and Sound Pillow surface-mount loudspeakers for the multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) market.

“Face it: There's not a lot of groundbreaking technology coming out of the show,” Burkhardt told reporters. “This year, our focus is different from anything we've done before.” Product innovation continues to be important, Burkhardt said, but in the current market, business management should be dealers' primary focus.

“More dealers this year are going to go out of business than ever,” he said. “The ones who get it right are going to rise to the top. It's the survival of the fittest. The average CEDIA dealer is much smaller than you thought. Our message to them is to get better at what you do and learn how to run a better business.”

Monster Cable Products founder Noel Lee echoed Burkhardt's concerns over business in the custom channel. A year ago, Lee said, dealers felt protected from the slumping new-construction market because they had priced out systems a year in advance and business hadn't been affected. “Today, that's not the case,” Lee said, “and our best customers are looking for ways to increase profitability and provide more value to the consumer.”

Lee reiterated the need for high-margin products such as accessories to bring relief to drooping bottom lines. He urged dealers to promote Monster's high-speed HDMI cables — launched last year — as a way to build points into home-theater projects.

Silicon Image and HDMI Licensing were sharing a rather small booth this year, but what was happening there was what HDMI Licensing President Steve Venuti called “evangelizing.” Now that HDMI is a de facto standard in the industry, Venuti said the next step is to meet the market needs and to educate integrators by providing future seminars that focus on the technology, rather than specific manufacturers, as well as working on an HDMI certification program. Nothing is set in stone yet, but both Venuti and fellow HDMI evangelist Jeff Soo H. Park are eager to make the playing field level by getting integrators the information to do their jobs.

“Getting the technology was half the battle,” Venuti said at the show. “Now, the battle is marketing — meeting needs with education,” including the issue of clearing up confusion surrounding HDMI's version numbers, for example.

Auralex Acoustics introduced its new sound-control product, SonicPrint, at the show. Wanting to provide a custom solution to any space (even educational and corporate environments) that goes beyond traditional, monochromatic fabric sound-control panels, Auralex sought fabric that could be printed on, while still absorbing reverb. The company recently signed a three-year deal with Hallmark Licensing to use Hallmark's supply of stock photography on the panels. Major movie titles are in the works as well, but clients have even more options available to them: their own personal photography collection.

Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market.

“We don't have a picture of Andy in our booth because he's a good-looking guy,” said Director of Sales and Marketing Tim Martin, referring to a panel in the booth that showed Andy Teipen, Auralex Acoustics' west regional manager, with his bride during their recent nuptials. “We have it here because it shows just what we mean when we say custom. When we say custom, we mean custom.”

It's an artful spin on traditional panels. The panels start at $149 for a 2'×2' model. The company offers its free room analysis and custom onsite cut-and-trim service.

In addition, Monster Cable, along with NuVu and Russound, used the down market to encourage dealers to pursue the largely untapped retrofit market with wireless solutions.

Monster's Digital Express PowerNet 200 will ship in October, for instance. PowerNet delivers Ethernet over the power line, part of a series of Digital Express products the company announced earlier in the year. Monster calls PowerNet 200 the “Ethernet Anywhere” product that brings a high-speed connection to virtually any room in the home without the need to install new wires.

Lee promoted powerline Ethernet as a more robust and faster solution for video downloads than wireless networks, which can be plagued by interference and other issues that consumers don't notice when browsing the Web. Now, with Blu-ray Disc players packing Ethernet connections for BD-Live, along with videogame players such as the Sony PlayStation 3 offering the ability to download high-def movies, consumers need a reliable download method, Lee said. “Am I going to do that on my wireless? I don't think so.”

Monster tested Wi-Fi against its powerline solution using an HD movie download via the PS3. Monster's PowerNet delivered the 2-hour movie in 7 hours versus 11 hours for a Wi-Fi network. Lee admitted the Monster solution still has a way to go, but he said, “There's a heck of a difference. The product is about delivery of Ethernet anywhere you have electricity. I can go through my router at the highest possible speed to any room where I have Blu-ray or a PlayStation 3, and I can get download speeds equivalent to a hard-wired connection.”

PowerNet 200 uses an Intellon chipset, based on HomePlug AV, which delivers theoretical data rates of 200Mbps. The PowerNet 200 can carry up to four HD data streams over existing electrical wiring.

NuVo Technologies showed components of a HomePlug-based multiroom system, which the company plans to test-market post-CEDIA. The company has worked closely with its dealer advisory board on the ground-up system, which NuVo says will endure more testing than any product in company history. The goal is a reliable, user-friendly, and installer-friendly system that delivers the quality and reliability that NuVo dealers expect.

Offsite, Russound showed a powerline-based system, which the company hopes to ship early next year. Dubbed Collage, the retrofitable system provides multiroom access to digital audio entertainment, legacy sources, intercom functions, and color security cameras over standard AC wiring. Russound representatives said by eliminating the need for a centralized controller, amplified keypads and system sources can be placed anywhere in a home where AC power lines exist.

The Collage amplified keypad connects to a standard Romex wire that supplies both power and communications to a Russound Media Manager. The latter bridges the PLC signals to a local area network. Sources on the network — including IR-based DVRs, CD players, iPod docks, CCTV cameras, and online music services — can be accessed from any of the installed keypads.

Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market.

Loudspeaker companies got into the wireless act, too. Infinity, for one, expanded its line of wireless subwoofers. The retrofit-friendly PSW310W, PS212W, and PS210W subs — which operate over the 2.4GHz frequency range — allow installers to add a subwoofer to a surround-sound system without the need for connecting wires from an AV receiver to the subwoofer.

Elsewhere at CEDIA, Control 4 expanded its partner base and unveiled affordable options and high-end video plans for its IP-based home control system. While some companies were pulled from the corporate world into the residential market by the custom channel, now custom dealers are seeking to expand into small-venue businesses including bars, lounges, and hotels as another way to reduce dependence on the housing market.

Control4's partnership with Panasonic covers residential, hospitality, and commercial projects by way of Panasonic's IP/PBX communications system. Users can monitor local and remote Panasonic network cameras; open or close powered doors; and adjust temperature, lighting, and energy features through a Panasonic home or office phone.

In another CEDIA announcement, Control4 said it had partnered with Simplikate, the technology arm of First Management Partners, to integrate Simplikate's techcierge hotel product and the Control4 Suite Systems operating platform. As part of the agreement, Simplikate will become a Control4-certified partner and a preferred distribution partner.

On the support side, Control4 announced a software update to be released later this fall that will include a new video proxy for integration with third-party media. With software release 1.7, the Control4 system will detect music and video content anywhere on the system and generate a centralized list of all content. Users can then identify the songs or movies through cover art, and the Control4 system can play the movie or music in any room.

High-end AV receivers showed new punch at CEDIA. Integra's top two new THX Ultra2 Plus-certified AV receivers are the first to incorporate Imaging Science Foundation Certified Calibration Controls (ISFccc). ISFccc allows ISF-certified technicians to custom-define day and night settings for each video source component connected to the receiver. Each input includes a third calibration memory that can be accessed by consumers to adjust video output to their specific tastes. In the past, custom video calibration has generally been possible for only one video source connected to a display.

Sony bolstered its CEDIA-grade receiverlineup with two models packing Cat-5 connectors for second-room audio/video distribution. Sony's first network receiver, the STR-DA6400ES, adds a second Cat-5 connector that's Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)-compliant, enabling homeowners to stream music, photos, and video from a DLNA-compliant PC. The receiver can also access online music content from Rhapsody and Shoutcast Internet Radio without a PC.

Sony prepared dealers for its HomeShare HD multiroom entertainment solution that's due to ship in early 2009. The entertainment and intercom system delivers up to 16 zones of entertainment — including four zones of HD video — to satellite rooms via Cat-5e wiring. The HomeShare HS-KP1 keypad includes a 4.3in. LCD screen based on Sony's XrossMediaBar two-way graphical user interface. The system offers local source capability through Sony's Digital Media Port technology.

Blu-ray was in the spotlight at CEDIA, with Sony, Panasonic, Denon, LG, and Pioneer showing players on the component side. Pioneer's “overbuilt” BDP-09FD Elite Blu-ray player boasts a 16-bit video engine said to provide high-end video decoding, IP conversion, video scaling, and video adjustments of HD and SD content. The player also includes a 1080p/24fps output and an Ethernet port for BD-Live.

Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market.

Panasonic's DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55 Blu-ray players integrate proprietary 4:4:4 signal technology that processes each pixel of the Blu-ray video signal in the horizontal direction to complement vertical direction processing. The feature requires playback on a compatible Panasonic Viera PZ800 series TV to “recreate images with the original film quality,” according to the company. The players feature BD-Live and BonusView.

Inteset showed its Media Center extenders and Movie Collection server modules that support Blu-ray. The extenders play back Blu-ray content at 1080p resolution over DVI and HDMI interfaces.

To help spur sales, Inteset is now offering a financing plan through which dealers can buy an Inteset server for $1,000 down and pay the balance plus a finance charge on the server and extenders over a two-year period. Inteset is promoting the financing program as annuity-based revenue to dealers.

The ubiquitous iPod extended its presence in the custom channel with scores of third-party docks and interfaces based on the iPod and iTouch interfaces.

Crestron cemented its support of the iPod as a music source with iServer, a permanent, integrated iPod-based home audio server that connects to a home computer network and automatically syncs with an iTunes library whenever new content is added or new play-lists are created. Creston calls the iServer the “first audio server that stores and plays back iTunes, automatically updates without undocking the iPod, and is permanently installed and available to enjoy at all times.”

Life|ware was previewing its Life|ware client interface for the Apple iPhone and iTouch devices for whole home automation. Using an iPhone or iPod touch, users will be able to connect to their Life|ware systems over the home network. The iPhone or iPod Touch then becomes a full-featured remote control giving the user complete access to and control of all of the home's digital entertainment as well as home-control subsystems such as lighting, climate, security, and surveillance. (See p. 14 for coverage of video technology at CEDIA Expo 2008.)

SVC Online Editor Jessaca Gutierrez contributed to this article.

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