Many large corporations including Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Philips, Panasonic etc. have entered the fray. Some have seen that the future of the PC is limited unless it expands into the home networking environment. Others note that each home in America now has 2 TV's and one PC (soon to be 2 PC's) as well as umpteen other electronic devices. Why not capitalize on this fact and network all this stuff together. CES99 demonstrated to me that these players and many others are serious about Home Networking.

CES '99 in Las Vegas

Bob Hetherington

CES '99 in Las Vegas
Bob Hetherington

Many large corporations including Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Philips, Panasonic etc. have entered the fray. Some have seen that the future of the PC is limited unless it expands into the home networking environment. Others note that each home in America now has 2 TV's and one PC (soon to be 2 PC's) as well as umpteen other electronic devices. Why not capitalize on this fact and network all this stuff together. CES99 demonstrated to me that these players and many others are serious about Home Networking.

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The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is one of the largest trade shows to take place in this busy city and certainly the largest to include Home Automation equipment and systems held anywhere. This year it was quite evident that this industry is on a roll. The morning before the show I opened USA Today to read the headline about Home Networking at CES ... and the keynote speaker John Chambers, President and CEO of Cisco Systems, talked about Cisco’s role in extending Internet innovation from business to the consumer market by demonstrating how consumer products and appliances can be remotely accessed over the Internet using Echelon’s LONWORKS control networks.

To get things in perspective, the CES occupies 4 venues including the Las Vegas Convention Center as well as the Las Vegas Hilton, Sands and Alexis convention halls. It's huge with 100,000 people or so attending. Much of the Home Networking / Automation action took place in the North Hall of the Las Vegas convention center and I must report that in my opinion this was the busiest area of the whole trade show. After all, I think there are only so many new things you can do with TV's and Sound Systems ... after that you want to have some fun setting up interactive control systems and networks to make these devices jump out and sing at you.

Brenda and I spent the better part of 2 days wandering from booth to booth meeting many of the folks that were just email addresses and voices over the phone in the past. I also had demos of some of the new equipment and systems that are ready to go or due out soon. Here's a few that come to mind.

  • The SmartLinc 2 way switches are almost ready to ship and they are definitely going to be a popular item. I also had a look at their touch screen and it's a beauty eh!
  • Smart Corporation had one of the larger booths showing off their CEBus system (and some of the soon to be released SmartGear equipment).
  • Several companies showing soon to be released network systems and devices. Home Networks can use RF Wireless, Powerline, Telephone or dedicated cabling to communicate between devices. This market is Hot and there are many new contenders chasing the killer application here. ShareWave won top honors at the show for their Wireless solutions.
  • Home Automation Inc. teamed up with HAL and HomeTouch to demonstrate how their systems can interface for voice and touchscreen control solutions.
  • Mike Elder from HomeVoice demonstrated voice recognition with wall microphones that worked amazingly well even in the noisy environment of the convention hall.
  • The IBM Home Director is here and it's going to be a force to reckon with. The interface is the television screen at this stage but more to follow. I hope to include more details in another article in this issue.
  • The Phast system was being displayed in a huge display called Cinemaforte along with other companies such as Runco, Accoustic Innovations etc. It was so busy that I couldn't get a word in edgewise ... but I did get a free T-shirt so the visit was worth it :-) Lots of attention being paid to this system and I'm on a mission to find out more about it for a future issue.
  • X10 Pro had 2 booths at the show and were also very busy answering questions from would be dealers and distributors.
  • Had a great demo of the latest Aegis system from Jeff Jerome of Home Systems Plus. Their Audio Video Management system is awesome and the touchscreen interface is one of the best I've seen. I'd like to do a review in the near future.
  • Cabling companies such as Leviton Telcom and Seimon were showing off their latest systems and again ... there was a lot of interest.

Of course, I've missed many other displayers at the show ... but then again it was a pretty hectic 2 days and I'm old :-(   I did also see lots of cool Home Theater equipment etc. HDTV is going to take over the world and there is nothing more incredible than the clarity of a 60" plasma screen hanging on the wall. Gotta get one ... when the price gets in range. My advice ... get ready to use that old analog TV as a boat anchor. Digital is the future and it won't surprise me if analog signals disappear completely within 5 years. So you thought the upgrade trap was limited to the computer world did you ... let's see ... multiply the number of analog TV sets to be replaced times $$$ = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Oh yeah ... just in case that's not enough ... I saw a demonstration of a 360 degree TV.  That's right it sits in the middle of the room and no matter where you sit around it the picture is the same. Due out in a year or so. Hang on ... you may have to redesign that home theater and buy new furniture as well to facilitate "TV in the round". Yipeeeee more $$$$$$$$$$$$$$. The idea does present some problems however. You won't know whether the person across from you is watching the TV or watching you scratch your nose. A whole new era of TV watching jokes could evolve.

My impressions of the show ... bottom line ... Home Automation has hit the main stream and in a very diverse way. In the first issue of this Ezine (Oct 96), I wrote an editorial lecturing (as usual) that HA needed to be marketed to the masses for it to become successful as an industry. That hasn't happened yet in my opinion but I think it's about to. Many large corporations including Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Philips, Panasonic etc. have entered the fray. Some have seen that the future of the PC is limited unless it expands into the home networking environment. Others note that each home in America now has 2 TV's and one PC (soon to be 2 PC's) as well as umpteen other electronic devices. Why not capitalize on this fact and network all this stuff together. CES99 demonstrated to me that these players and many others are serious about Home Networking. The battle is joined ... the technologies have been developed ... and the products will hit the market this year. Look out Lulu ... here comes the buzz.


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