CEA's 11th Annual 'State of the Builder' Study Finds Strong, Stable Market for Installed Home Technologies

The overall growth of the home technology market remained consistent from 2011 to 2012, demonstrating home technology has a strong, stable foothold, according to new findings in the 11th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study released today by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®.

Technology installations in new homes reached or exceeded 2008 levels, providing more evidence that the market for built-in home technologies is well on the road to recovery. Structured wiring remains the most common installed technology (70 percent), followed by monitored security (44 percent) and home theater pre-wire systems (27 percent).

“These installed technology trends signify that some home technologies have made the transition from luxuries to standard options,” said Chris Ely, senior manager of industry analysis, CEA.

Home technologies have become valuable marketing tools for new homes. Builders say they continue to find that marketing these technologies is important; close to half of builders surveyed (49 percent) said they find it much more or somewhat more important to market these technologies today. 

Logitech unveils Harmony Ultimate and Smart Control universal remote

Coming soon are two fresh bundles bearing the Harmony name: the Ultimate and Smart Control. At the heart of both is the Smart Hub, a palm-sized box somewhat similar to the Harmony Link. It receives commands from remotes via RF, or from smartphone apps via WiFi, and in turn, broadcasts its own orders to your A/V setup using IR and Bluetooth. It's especially useful for those wanting to hide their kit away in cabinets, as it translates inputs into IR signals that'll bounce around those secluded spaces. Optional extender nodes will also pipe IR into other nearby recesses.

To do that though, the Hub needs instructions, which is where remotes and apps come in. The new Ultimate remote (aka the Touch Plus) is last year's Touch remote with a few refinements, including the addition of a trigger-like nub on the underside to improve grip. It uses IR, Bluetooth or RF (to the Hub) to control up to 15 devices, and is programmed using Logitech's software for PCs that pulls settings from a database of 225,000 home entertainment products. The Ultimate's 2.4-inch touchscreen serves as a number pad, a favorite channel list for easy hopping, and is the home of one-touch "activities," which are basically macros for issuing multiple commands. Set up an activity for "Play Xbox," for example, and in one touch it'll turn on your console, switch your TV to the correct source, select the right channel on your amp, and so on. It'll even tell Philips' connected Hue lightbulbs to set a mood. Jump on past the break for more.

Alarm.com opens home automation platform to outside companies

Vienna-based Alarm.com, the purveyor of home automation technology, is trying to position itself as a kind of operating system for the home. It has begun allowing other companies to plug their technology into its system in the same way software developers create applications for Microsoft or Apple computers, tablets and phones.

Alarm.com announced its initial partnerships last week at the International Security Conference in Las Vegas. Homeowners that use LiftMaster electric garage door openers and Lutron lights and window shades will be able to control them using the Alarm.com Web site and app.

Jay Kenny, vice president of marketing, said Alarm.com’s Platform Connect allows the company to quickly expand the number of products a homeowner can automate and control using the company’s system.

“The more applications that they can draw to that platform the greater the value, in the same way the Apple app store draws applications from all sorts of developers and that brings greater value to that platform,” said Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research.

 

Speakerfy: A Free App for Whole-Home Audio

Playing music in multiple rooms around the house can be an expensive endeavor, with products like Sonos costing upwards of $300 per speaker. If you’ve already got a handful of phones, tablets and laptops connected to existing speakers around the house, why not sync them together so they’re all playing the same songs at the same time?

Speakerfy, an app that officially launches on iPhone and iPad this week, and on Windows and Android next week, is a quick and dirty way to make it happen. It allows you to synchronize audio playback on multiple phones, tablets and laptops, so you can listen to the same music while wandering from room to room.

(Whole-home audio isn’t Speakerfy’s primary intended function. It’s actually billed as a “social sound” app, allowing people to listen to music together across devices. Yes, it’s an app for silent discos. No, I’m not hip enough to partake in said discos. Whole-home audio it is.)

Speakerfy streams audio over your local Wi-Fi network, or over a shared mobile hotspot, to any device that’s also running the app. Just send an invite to the devices you want to connect, then choose a song, album or playlist from your music collection. The other devices will start playing music in time with the host device.

Linear Expands Home Automation Offerings with Z-Wave Lighting Products

Linear LLC has added Z-Wave lighting products to its line of wireless residential and commercial offerings. The new products represent a benchmark for Linear as the company seeks to unify wireless lighting control products with existing security and access control systems, and other Z-Wave products.  

This powerful smart chip and compact protocol enable two-way RF communications among Z-Wave enabled devices. Linear is now manufacturing, selling and distributing Z-Wave lighting control products that include: wall dimmers, wall switches, wall outlets, lamp modules, appliance modules, 3-way switches/dimmers, fixture modules, as well as international versions of the same products. Linear will also utilize its extensive OEM resources to manufacture Z-Wave products for partner companies seeking their own intelligent lighting solutions.

The products also fit in nicely with Linear's recent acquisition of 2GIG Technologies since 2GIG's GO! Control platform is Z-Wave certified and provides an elegant and user-friendly control panel for the management of lighting, security, access control and more. Z-Wave enabled products represent the world's largest ecosystem of interoperable smart products giving Linear dealers more options and opportunities in a variety of segments.

"The addition of Z-Wave lighting products gives Linear customers access to a widely adopted wireless control protocol that is easy-to-install, modular, affordable and intelligent," said Duane Paulson, senior vice president of product and market development. "The extensive product offerings and adoption of the Z-Wave protocol across many industries will create opportunities for Linear dealers in new and existing markets."
 

How to save the AV receiver

There are a lot of reasons why sound bars are taking over home audio, but one of them is increasingly obvious: AV receivers are terrible.

While receivers are fine for enthusiasts who know what they're doing, they're a frustrating experience for everyone else. Most technology gets better over time, but AV receivers seem frozen in amber, with giant chassis, thick inscrutable manuals, and onscreen interfaces that could only generously be called "standard-definition." They're embarrassingly backward compared with the rest of your home theater gear, yet they remain a begrudging necessity for those who want something better than a sound bar.

AV receivers don't have to be this bad, but they need to completely reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Here's where they should start.  Click for Full article by Matthew Moskovciak of CNET.

Linear Closes on Acquisition of 2GIG

Linear, LLC a subsidiary of Nortek, Inc. (Nasdaq: NTK), has closed on its acquisition of 2GIG Technologies, which will become part of the security and control group within Linear. The acquisition of 2GIG was announced by Nortek in February 2013.

With the acquisition, Linear's dealers and OEM partners gain access to 2GIG's Go!Control platform, the first widely adopted integrated security and automation system that includes a system CPU, touchscreen interface, Z-Wave radio for automation, cellular radio for communications with a central station, and narrow-band RF for communicating with security sensors. 2GIG also provides a wide range of wireless peripherals including thermostats, panic buttons, keyfobs, glass break detectors and wireless carbon monoxide detectors, all of which can be integrated into a home automation system that can be remotely monitored, managed and controlled via the Internet.

"Acquiring 2GIG positions Linear as one of the world's top-tier hardware developers and manufacturers in the rapidly growing residential security and home automation markets," said Michael O'Neal, president of Linear. "We're especially excited about the synergy between the brands since 2GIG offers products that can be leveraged by Linear and its dealers to grow their businesses. At the same time, Linear offers products that can expand and enhance the 2GIG home automation platform, potentially opening doors to new market opportunities."
 

Home entertainment consumers taking to UltraViolet

Consumers are taking studios' commitment to UltraViolet seriously. UltraViolet accounts have surged from 9 million to 11 million since the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Approximately 9,000 titles are available to UltraViolet consumers. The service allows customers to buy a product once and store it in the cloud to play on any device. However, the service has not been without its hiccups.

“[Consumer tech support] problems have gone down very pronouncedly in the last six to nine months as we’ve rolled out improvements,” said Mark Teitell, per Home Media Magazine. Teitell is the GM and executive director for the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the cross-industry consortium of companies behind UltraViolet.

“We’d love it to be zero, but it’s a pretty low and manageable pace right now,” he said.

UltraViolet can now easily merge accounts and consolidate usernames and passwords. According to a survey done by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, more than 55 percent of home entertainment consumers are aware of UltraViolet and 50 percent said that an UltraViolet enabled title would make them more likely to purchase. Since consumers are currently at the crossroads of disc and digital, having the title provided to them in both formats at purchase has become important.

New tech aims to transform homes, shopping in Spain

With a flick of the wrist, residents of a futuristic home developed in Spain can browse Internet pages displayed on the living room walls, switch off a giant projected alarm clock in the bedroom or transform the entire interior into a busy streetscape or tranquil beach.

It may seem light years ahead of current "smart home" technology, but this prototype apartment in Fuenterrabia, a city in Spain's northern Basque country, is far from the realms of fantasy.

In fact, the technology used to create the interactive interior is the same as that already being used in video games.

The team behind the prototype have linked projectors which beam interactive applications on to walls to Kinect motion sensors, developed by Microsoft for its X-box 360 console, thus allowing residents to control their environment simply by waving their hands.

It seems to work like magic. In the morning, a wave at the wall will switch off the alarm and display your diary at the same time. If you fancy a change of scenery, just one small gesture will splash video on every wall, turning half of the apartment into a busy urban street or picturesque seascape, complete with sound effects. "The project is a working prototype of a smart home," said its creator, Ion Cuervas-Mons, at a visual presentation of the project to AFP in Madrid. Full Article:

Why Home Automation Systems are at the Forefront of Energy Savings

Intelligent building efficiency is not just relegated to offices. As energy prices rise and incomes are squeezed, home automation systems will become a more enticing investment as their efficiency improves and costs decline due to innovation and scale. And, consumers will start paying attention: currently the average household pays over $100 a month for electricity according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Half of those costs are to keep the motor and compressors in operation in air conditioners and heaters. So if smarter systems are going to save consumers money, the work must start with the machines that cool us during summer and keep us warm during the frigid winter months.

And if consumers had the ability to control their home’s climate control systems remotely from a smartphone or a web application from a remote location, they could save money without sacrificing convenience and comfort. In my interview earlier this month with Emerson’s VP of Marketing at Emerson Climate Services, he shared with me some of the challenges, future benefits and upcoming trends in the home automation technologies market.

“We’re data hungry–we want it at our fingertips. At the same time, when it comes to our comfort and convenience, we want it easily and quickly with no distractions.” — Geoff Godwin describing the role of data in the development of cutting-edge home automation systems.

Currently less than two percent of homes in the United States have some form of home automation or smart grid system, but Godwin sees huge growth in the next four to five years. Communications protocols such as Zigbee have improved in their sophistication to match the growing complexity of HVAC and water heating systems that consume less energy than ones manufactured just a few years ago.

 

44% of U.S. broadband households interested in troubleshooting features for connected appliances

Parks Associates research shows consumers value connectivity in appliances as a means to protect their investment, with 44% of U.S. broadband households highly interested in smart troubleshooting features. The international research firm, host of the 17th-annual CONNECTIONS™ Conference, announced today Honeywell, Qualcomm, AlertMe, and Arrayent will discuss connected-home strategies in a special session that examines consumer and market trends driving creation of the "Internet of Things."

The session "Integrating Connected Home Platforms with Connected Devices," Tuesday, May 21, 11 a.m., moderated by Parks Associates, addresses new features and functionality created as companies add connectivity to controls, energy, security, and home management solutions.


"Internet-enabled devices are common in the home, so companies are developing connected-home strategies, creating scalable platforms that ultimately will enable the Internet of Things, where objects in the real world have an accompanying virtual object in the cloud," said Tom Kerber, director, research, home controls and energy, Parks Associates. "Understanding what offerings consumers want and will pay for is a fundamental issue to help grow this market. This session focuses on new products and services, consumer demand, and the key value propositions that prompt adoption." 

Sigma Designs updates Z-Wave SoC Portfolio for Affordable Home Automation

Sigma Designs is known for its video decoder chipsets, but they have been trying to transform into a one-stop shop for 'powering the new digital home' by making some strategic acquisitions. One of these was the 2008 purchase of the Danish company, Zensys, responsible for creating the Z-Wave home control technology.

Sigma Designs is announcing the fifth generation of Z-Wave SoCs today. The cost of the SoCs has gone down compared to the previous generation. Sigma claims improved RF performance and lower power consumption compared to previous generation products. Platform developers now also have more memory in the SoCs to work with. With this generation, the company is taking extra steps to ensure better returns for their customers. by providing customizable reference designs and enabling faster time-to-market for end products. A feature-heavy middleware stack is also being supplied.

Android invades the home: Can we get some Android home automation?

Smartphones really are the ultimate convergence devices. People no longer question whether they’ll replace cameras, digital audio players, portable TVs, handheld gaming consoles, or Sat Navs. The question now is – how many more things can they replace? Once you reach the stage where you’ve outlaid big cash for a seriously powerful pocket computer, it just makes sense to keep adding more potential uses. That has been the foundation of the app explosion. It is what has made smartphones the fastest selling tech in human history.

There’s one exciting frontier that Android has yet to really penetrate and that’s home automation. If you cast your mind back to Google I/O in 2011 you might remember Android@home and some talk about the mesh network. Sadly, an affordable Android home automation system did not immediately hit the market. In fact, we heard nothing more about it. Before you get too despondent, it looks like references to Google messing with a mesh network and Android@home have been spotted in version 4.2.2 of Android. Fingers crossed we might get some kind of exciting announcement at Google I/O in May. Full Article.

Bryston Unveils Complete Loudspeaker Lineup

Bryston, LTD (www.bryston.com) has announced the introduction of a complete line of high performance loudspeakers engineered for both music and home theater applications. The line will consist of eight models including the floorstanding Model T, Middle T and mini t along with a powered subwoofer called the T sub, two center channel offerings, an in-wall and an on-wall loudspeaker. Bryston's James Tanner has led the design initiative for the loudspeaker project, developing proprietary drivers, crossovers and enclosures while spearheading a rigorous testing regimen.

The Bryston loudspeakers were born from the challenge to construct a reference quality loudspeaker that could reproduce real world dynamics while minimizing distortion and compression. The engineering team at Bryston has devoted countless hours to innovative driver design, enclosure vibration analysis, crossover refinement, anechoic chamber measurements, and blind listening tests. The first model to reach completion, the Bryston Model T, was subjected to over 200 separate anechoic measurements during the design phase to ensure the highest level of accuracy and refinement. Bryston loudspeakers have also been engineered to reproduce the most difficult dynamic transients-to play very loud passages of music or movie soundtrack information without the distortion common to competitive products. "I think we met with a degree of skepticism when we first announced the loudspeaker project-and rightfully so. There are a lot of speaker companies already in the marketplace," reported Bryston's James Tanner. "But we set out to create an affordable reference quality loudspeaker and went to great lengths to achieve an end result that separates us from the competition-we are confident that these products will be quite well received," Tanner concluded. 

Why graphene speakers could become the audio industry's new gold standard

We’ve heard a lot about graphene being a “wonder material” that could be used for smartphone casings and antennas, but now it seems that some engineers have found a way to incorporate it into audio speakers and headphones as well. Technology Review reports that University of California Berkeley researchers Qin Zhou and Alex Zettl have found that graphene is the perfect material for constructing speaker diaphragms, which typically work best when made from a thin material that reduces the need to conduct expensive and energy-consuming “damping engineering.”

But given that most thin materials are also fragile, crafting a perfectly balanced speaker diaphragm can become challenging. This is where graphene comes in: It’s a two-dimensional material that measures just one atom thick and has been described by Nokia (NOK) as the “strongest material ever tested, having a breaking strength 300 times greater than steel.” In other words, it’s dream come true for audio engineers who are trying to construct the world’s best speakers and headsets.

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