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, 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."
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
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.
CasaTunes®, the leader in streaming multi-room music solutions, today announced a line of CasaTunes Multi-Room Music Servers with seamless integration of popular multi-zone AV Receivers. The CasaTunes Music Servers start at 3 wired rooms and 5 wireless rooms and support up to 24 wired rooms with 10 wireless rooms. "Our new CasaTunes Music Systems scale, both in terms of performance and cost, matching the needs of smaller homes as well as larger homes," said David Krinker, CEO of CasaTunes. "Our CasaTunes systems provide installers great flexibility, allowing them to install a wired-only solution, a wireless-only solution, or a hybrid wired and wireless solution. The Multi-Zone AV Receiver integration adds even more flexibility, allowing homeowners to leverage their current technology to power CasaTunes music servers throughout the house." CasaTunes Music Systems distribute streaming music to a combination of wireless and wired speakers through Airplay speakers and devices, multi-channel amplifiers and multi-zone AV Receivers. Homeowners can listen to a different playlist in each room and all speakers are continuously synchronized without any echoes. To control music and audio programming by room, homeowners use the CasaTunes Smartphone (iPhone or Android) and tablet (iPad or Android) Apps, a web browser or keypads. Full Press Release.
For most of us, entering the house and turning on the lights involves a flick of a switch. Turning on another light is another switch, the fan, the air-con and so on. However with home automation starting to catch on, we wouldn’t be surprised if one day the majority of us lived in homes where our gestures could control more than one gadget from a single switch, and that’s what the Ube WiFi Smart Dimmer is hoping to accomplish. Making an appearance at SXSW, its creators have announced an upgraded version of its Smart Dimmer that will be able to control other smart devices at home. As it stands, the Smart Dimmer does exactly as its name implies, which is adjust the lighting in your home by swiping on the touchpad. A single swipe turns your lights on/off, while using two fingers will adjust multiple lights. Now no longer content with merely adjusting the lighting in homes, the updated version of the Smart Dimmer will be able to control other smart devices, such as a smart water sprinkler simply by swiping the letter “W”, or enabling/disabling your home alarm by tracing the letter “A” on its surface. No word on when this updated version will be released, but for those interested in its current iteration can head on over to its Kickstarter page for the details.
Several major pay TV distributors are stepping up efforts to market home security and automation services to subscribers this year, offering subscribers the ability to monitor their homes with security cameras, and control lighting and thermostats. Comcast charges subscribers $39.95 monthly for its Xfinity Home service, while Time Warner Cable's Intelligent Home service costs $33.95 monthly. Verizon has undercut its cable rivals with its Home Monitoring and Control service, which costs $9.99 monthly. AT&T hasn't yet detailed the pricing for its AT&T Digital Life product--a wireless service that it plans to launch in March. For MSOs such as Comcast, supplying subscribers with gadgets such as outdoor night vision cameras, flood sensors and carbon monoxide detectors can help drive increased broadband revenue. Look for cable operators and other telecom providers to eventually add remote healthcare products to their home automation services. Amdocs, which supplies a billing system to Comcast and other telecom providers, has been pitching service providers a cloud-based eHealth Solutions product that could allow operators to supply subscribers with glucose monitors, blood pressure readers, pill dispensers and scales. More from Fierce Cable article: Top 10 Cable Technologies of 2013
Contrary to what many at the press have been preaching since 3DTV was introduced in 2010, 3D is still alive and active in the industry, and many consumers still want to experience 3D at home. What it should be dead is the approach of inflated advertising and improper reporting of 3DTV as a whole new television set or system that replaces what you have, although it appears that the market and the industry have finally adapted to the idea of considering 3D as what it should have been considered since day one: just a “feature”, one more feature of a good HDTV, to seldom enjoy a 3D movie or sport, then, when the 3D program is over, continue with everyday’s HD viewing. For this reason it is a must to have 3D transmissions backward compatible with HDTV transmissions. As expected, CES 2013 showed many demonstrations of Ultra HDTV LED and OLED (even in Ultra HDTV resolution, such as Sony’s and Panasonic’s 56” OLED Ultra HDTV prototypes), and there were also 3D demos of the same Ultra HDTV and OLED panels, not to mention the huge 3D wall at the entrance of LG’s booth. Additionally, Stream TV Networks, Hisense, Toshiba and others demo their 1080p and Ultra HDTV auto-stereoscopic (no-glasses) 3D panels as well. Full Article.
If there is one thing that UX and UI designers should take away from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, it is that the next big thing is home automation, and we better be ready for it. From dishwashers with digital interfaces to smartphone apps that can manage an entire home heating and cooling system, this shift in home appliances means that these new digital interfaces will need just as much TLC as a new web app. These transitions present some incredible opportunities but also plenty of challenges. The team at ÄKTA sat down to discuss the matter. Here are both the opportunities and the challenges that will come with home automation. Breakdown of Current Silos We imagine that this shift will create a breakdown of silos. We will no longer see "product design" and "digital UX” as two different pieces of the building process. Rather, we will start to focus on a more holistic user experience that covers everything from the physical product to the digital interface. Because of this breakdown, cross-system and cross-platform areas of expertise will become invaluable. Take for example a smart washer by LG that we spotted at CES 2013. A repairperson brought in to fix this machine will now need to know how to fix network systems in addition to plumbing systems. Full Interview:
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