CEDIA is the premier residential low voltage conference in the country.
Home theaters, distributed audio systems, lighting control, shade control, system integration, and security were all well represented.
The low voltage systems for almost all of the insanely great houses I have produced have been designed and installed by Engineered Environments, a great group of professionals providing an integrated solution to phone, security, audio, video, and lighting control. I love these guys...
I had a chance to walk the exhibitor’s floor with Engineered Environments’ Tim Johnson, who designed the low voltage system for a recent project I produced in Palo Alto.
They are up for two Electronic Lifestyles Awards for this job, one for Best Overall Integrated Home, and one for Best Dressed System.
I have a deep appreciation of both Tim’s experience and his passion in coming up with systems that are designed well, and installed well.[Ed. Note--Engineeered Environments won three CEDIA Gold awards for our project.--Way to go!]
There was a lot of cool stuff at CEDIA this year—from
- the new 1080p video displays, to
- the shoot-out between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD high def DVD players, to
- integration layers, to hardware, to new speakers, to
- three chip DLP projectors.
I was amazed at the amount of 1080p projectors and displays—when there is no native 1080p content available! The pace of this industry moves very fast, and the benefits can be oversold.
[Ed. note--Tim advises me there are a few 1080p native format discs and players available.]
My objective was to see where the value lies today, and how costs are trending. Low voltage systems have a cost/performance curve that is asymptotic--a few percentage points more in performance can cost a great deal more.
As usual, there were a number of technologies in search of a problem—I guess you see that in any field that is technologically juiced.
The problem I typically need to solve is to have lighting, hvac control, audio/video and security systems that are
- Have an understood migration path, and
These systems constitute 12 to 15% of hard cost, and the technology moves fast.
Here’s what methinks merits a further look:
Windows MCE2005 is turning out to be a reliable and relatively intuitive platform for integration, and I saw a couple of solutions that provide functionality without having to be completely programmed (there were 430 hours in the system I mentioned above).
A lower cost alternative to the integration layer I have deployed previously is being offered by Lifeware, based on the MCE 2005 operating system.
It has that annoying blue MCE screen background, but at $2PSF of gross buildable, is worth looking into. Did I mention that they are bankrolled by Microsoft, Intel and HP?
Look for some great integration applications to come out of this platform, and to be a lower cost solution to integration if you don’t need the programming power of AMX. Looks like programming is done off the .NET platform.
Niveus Media Center is a media storage server and media control center that is built off the MCE 2005 platform that had some great looking hardware—they have these massive heat sinks on the sides of their servers (eliminates the fan noise).
Integration is a big deal in the homes I produce, so I spent some time at Crestron, AMX, and Vantage integration layer vendors—I don’t see a great deal differentiating the three, other than AMX works better with Lutron Homeworks, which is my preferred lighting control system.
AMX did have a new remote product, that uses the Zigbee technology to tie into the integration layer.
Sonance has several in-wall speaker options, with minimal grilles and is carrying the old mud –in Sound Advance line—they bought them a while ago.
Artison has a new inwall subwoofer product that has the functional equivalence of a 15” sub, but with an opposing driver design, fits into a standard stud bay and very limited vibration (the opposing drivers cancel each other out—eliminating inwall vibration. They also have a solution that provides center channel audio without a separate center channel speaker box.
Fujitsu plasma monitors are the best plasma product around—Tim explained to me that Fujitsu gets first dibs on the plasma screens they manufacture, selling the lesser grade products off to their competitors.
Sony LCD flat panel displays are the best LCD screen on the market.
Stewart Filmscreens' Cinecurve product is the hottest screen product. Using an anamorphic lens and masking system, this product gets creates the correct screen area for viewing media with different native aspects--it gets rid of the black bars. Microperforations (allow you to hide speakers behind the screen), and the curved projection screen combine to make this a great part of your next home theatre.
Kaleidescape media servers had a real crowd around them. Nice product, great user interface, and extremely intuitive.
Chief in-wall screen arm plasma display mounts disappear into the wall, but are massive enough to support a 65” screen.
Tim raves about California Audio Technology’s custom speakers—they have gone into two of my jobs. They provide a custom product tuned for a specific environment.
Tim really liked the AudioPatch Precis LT, an 8X8 (1RU) or 18x18(2RU) digital signal processor to customize each room of a distributed audio system.
My takeaway is that the integration layer is getting more robust, as they like to say in the tech business, and that there is a dearth of media high def enough to make the numbers work on the beautiful monitors I saw today. Up-converting is left to the eyes of the beholder--Faroudja was showing off several solutions to take video to a 1080p format from a DVD source (480i).
The Economist judged there was close to $25,000 in electronics in the new 7 series BMW (~25% of the total cost)—I don’t think we will approach that percentage in these insanely great homes.
I can easily see 10% without a lot of video distribution and touchscreens, and once you cross this line, 15% +/- 3% is probably a more realistic number.