Monday, January 16, 2006

CES 2006: New Products for Multifamily

If you’re not one of the 150,000 lucky enough to attend the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas every January, here are the basics: it is the largest, most-attended tradeshow in the country, and it is possibly the greatest indicator of how technology will influence your residents’ daily lives, and what products they’ll be using, in the near future. Here’s our birds-eye view of the show, the trends to watch, and the products you may want to consider for your next project.

Personal Computing and Networking
Clearly, the personal computer and the home network are center-stage in today’s world of consumer electronics. Industry giants like Microsoft, Google, Intel, Sony and Yahoo presided over the keynotes and the majority of the media coverage. The top five consumer electronics manufacturers by sales in 2005 were Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Apple, Toshiba, and Panasonic. H-P and Toshiba are almost entirely in the PC market, and Sony, Apple, and Panasonic benefited greatly from PC sales.

There were quite a few exhibitors showing networking products using powerline and coax media, as well as Cat5 and wireless devices. Asoka had a full line of powerline Ethernet products, including MDU products. Multilet has teamed with Winegard to offer networking over existing coax, and AuraOne Systems won an Innovations Award for a product designed to extend 802.11 networks over existing coax, but not DBS (satellite), systems. Corinex also showed a line of products offering connectivity over Cat5, coax, powerline or wireless, up to 200Mbps. D-Link was showing their “GamerLounge” routers that were designed to prioritize gaming devices to minimize lag.

Although still very much a niche solution, broadband over powerline is gaining traction among some manufacturers. Panasonic showed a line of powerline Ethernet adapters, as well as IP cameras, and a new wireless telephone system that integrates landline telephones, cellular phones, and video cameras.

Service Providers and the Small Screen
HDTV was the second focus of the show, with a plethora of new HDTV sets of all types and sizes. At Bill Gates’ keynote speech, he announced that DirecTV would soon be integrated with Microsoft Media Center Edition PC’s, presumably through a DirecTV tuner card (and presumably HDTV!).

DirecTV also showed several portable video players that can download video directly from a DirecTV digital video recorder (DVR), and also a line of flat-panel LCD TV’s with integrated DirecTV receivers in partnership with Humax, which should be a godsend for Clubhouses and Fitness Centers where there is no good location for the receiver boxes!

Dish Network was also showing “PocketDish” personal video recorders (PVR’s) with direct download, and also integrated TV sets (although they said they were not offering the screens for sale), as well as a single-coax solution for dual-tuner HD DVR’s. Dish was also showcasing the VOOM HD channel lineup.

Verizon took over the Press Room, with several spaces showcasing their FiOS optical fiber services, and lots of PR staff, although they were not showing any MDU-specific solutions. Their set-top boxes are from Motorola and are capable of interfacing with IP video systems as well as conventional CATV QAM overlay distribution. The boxes also integrate with a home network to transport both incoming and locally-originated content. They were also showcasing some novel consumer-friendly features such as one-button access to local weather data.

Audio and the IPod Effect
Although Apple was saving its energy for their separate MacWorld show, there were plenty of iPods and associated accessories on display everywhere at CES, along with many competitors hoping for a slice of the leftover market share. Many manufacturers were showing docking cradles, with a number of them offering integration with the iPod controls and display. The most amusing product I saw at CES was an iPod docking station with a vacuum-tube amplifier!

Denon has a new A/V receiver with front and rear ports for an iPod, including video connection and the ability to display program information on the front panel. Their receiver also features HDMI switching and up-conversion, RS-232 and Ethernet control ports, XM radio, and automatic setup with an included microphone. The up-conversion means that a single HDMI cable is all that is needed to connect with a projector. Yamaha and Sony also have new A/V receivers, but the Denon was unique.

Russound showed an iPod docking station that connects to their new receiver with a single Cat5 cable. They also have a new line of intercom products with door stations, which can use distributed audio speakers for communications.

Channel Vision was showing an iPod dock that mounts in a single-gang wall box, and comes in two versions – one that provides remote line-level audio terminals, and another that functions as a local source input to a Cat5-based A-Bus system. This should be a great add-on for clubhouses and condos. The Sonance iPort is a similar concept, but comes with a flush wall mount and a much higher price tag. The Sonance system, however, can also deliver video and control signals, and can be upgraded in the field.

In non-iPod-related audio news, Sonos was showing a new Zone Player that featured line-level outputs instead of the integrated power amplifiers in its current line. Audioplex was showing a new media link that allowed transmission of audio and video signals over Cat5 cable, which may be useful for adding remote sources to Clubhouse audio/video systems.

Apartment Automation
Several new products appear to have potential for full-home control for apartments, condominiums and townhouses. The newest entry in the field was from Monster Cable, which was showcasing its “Home of the Future” in a series on demo rooms. They were showing a new whole-house control system that integrates all devices and controllers, so remotes, keypads, PC’s, web tablets, PDA’s, and cell phones can all be used interchangeably to control system functions. The system features an animated avatar who guides the end user through the setup process, so they claim that very little dealer support will be needed to program and update the system. Given Monster Cable’s marketing skills, this may be an attractive offering, and a good company to partner with.

Monster was also showcasing their M-Design furniture line, that offers high-end furniture with built-in features to accommodate high-end audio and video systems, including plasma screens with built-in frames or with mirrored fronts to hide the sets, furniture designed to hold TV sets and components, and even sofas with built-in subwoofers. It is all designed to please the most discerning interior designers.

Control4 also had a large booth showcasing their entire product line of automation controls, which CTO Eric Smith said are all shipping in quantity now. Their price points make them an attractive offering as upgrades for the townhome/condo market, and they are interested in working on multifamily projects.

HAI was also showing their new touchscreen panel with video capability, which lends itself to better integration with audio/visual and security systems. The system is now compatible with the Russound CAV 6.6 and Nuvo distributed audio systems, and is now also available without security, for applications which require separate dedicated security systems. HAI President Jay McLellan was also just elected to Chairman of the CEA TecHome Division.

Xantech was showing a new hand-held version of its touchscreen remote controller, which is fully compatible with their wall-mounted models, and a new audio server that will display on the touchscreens.

We want to congratulate CEA for a very smooth-running show this year – a deluge of pre-show information, and plenty of buses, made this the best CES experience ever! And next year, if you’d like to see the future of consumer electronics for yourself, we encourage you to attend – just book your room early; this show gets more popular every year!

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