TWICE: How much of an impact are some new technologies having on the custom market, and what will be their future impact?
Mike Hench, The Edge Group: Media Center PCs are creating awareness of what can be done and opportunities for our dealers to make plug-and-play really work, as is Ethernet distribution of A/V content, but the latter is adding an unhealthy dose of confusion caused by the actions of the entertainment industry as they search for ways to put the distributed-video content people out of business.
No-new-wires control of home systems and content distribution has great potential for DIY customers but limited potential for our dealers.
Jay McLellan, CEA executive board member and Home Automation: We believe in MCPCs as long as the customer understands that they have some maintenance requirements (upgrades, patches, etc.) We offer a plug-in that gives an MCPC user control over his system using the media center remote and the big-screen interface. It's impressive. We don't, however, advocate systems that use the MCPC as a 24/7 core of a home automation system.
Ethernet distribution of A/V content is very important. As bandwidth goes up, and it does, we'll be able to subscribe to movie services and downloads as easily as music today. It will be nice to share the service with multiple devices in the home.
No-new-wires home-system control enables retrofits and handheld control devices. UPB powerline carrier is doing very well for lighting control in the market with easy set up and high reliability.
As for no-new-wires distribution of content throughout the house, custom installers should pull wire for this if they can. No-new-wires technology for home control can deal with the inevitable dropouts and repeated messages, but they wreak havoc on an audio or video stream, especially HD.
Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft: In Ethernet distribution of A/V content, Crestron and AMX have lagged, PCs and Microsoft let us down and Apple TV is close. SpeakerCraft is on the bleeding edge with our new Apple system. Apple is where it is.
In no-new-wires technology, there are a lot of great ideas, but the sound quality is lame.
Jeff Kussard, Russound: Media Center PCs will be huge. Russound is making a big commitment to the category, particularly when it comes to our partnership with EI. Just look at how the category has evolved over a few short years. In no time, it has gone from a fledgling category devoted to automating access to home entertainment to a product concept that gives consumers almost limitless control over their home environment.
Today, the PC is the leading source of music storage in the home. Once products like Lifeware become a more ubiquitous part of our daily routines, the MCE category may well be one of the strongest consumer technology products in the history of the business.
The Ethernet will continue to be a primary "mover" of A/V content throughout the home, but new technologies such as PLC [powerline carrier] are destined to become increasingly prevalent over the next few years. Russound is committed to the powerline concept. We believe it will open numerous markets for our company and others as new products make it easy for consumers to control lighting, entertainment and assorted household appliances from any room, without having to open walls and add new long wires.
It's all about moving information throughout the house, which will become more important as oil prices continue to rise. Soon, it will be relatively simple to control the thermostat, for example, without having to be in front of it. We're talking about real ROI for the consumer.
TWICE: How did some of the more "traditional" categories fare in 2007, and what are their prospects for 2008?
Hench: Multiroom audio will continue to grow as customers become aware that it is easier to use and that the cost per room has come down significantly. Multiroom video has good potential but a lot of confusion. What's the entertainment industry really going to do about video storage and distribution? And the cost of video servers is still sky-high for most people.
Dedicated distributed-audio multizone receivers, HDD music servers and A/V servers also offer great potential as these products' installation flexibility that allow them to be integrated into a variety of configurations and installations.
In home satellite radio, HD Radio and Internet radio, we've seen some growth, but these are all great products that give customers a lot of content choices.
Integrated systems that control audio, video, lighting, security and so on have lots of potential. And these products all need to be installed and programmed by trained professionals.
Kussard: Home theater has evolved to the point that it's possible to implement a system in every room, large or small. For our part, we recently introduced our first on-wall home theater speakers as well as high-efficiency speakers for lower powered systems, to make sure our installers have a full palette of options for nearly any project.
Streaming A/V will continue to grow, making it imperative for custom installers to learn about networking before it's too late. It's a perfect example of how an installer can position himself as a leader instead of an antique.
Products such as multizone stereo receivers and HDD music and A/V servers will continue to evolve and become more fully integrated. Every new development opens the door to additional possibilities. It's just a matter of knowing what technologies will best serve your customers' interests.
The market for integrated systems [that control multiple home systems] will grow exponentially once products such as Lifeware find their way into consumers' homes. It won't be long before these systems are sold primarily by word of mouth as more people experience the benefits when visiting friends' homes where they see for themselves how so many seeming disparate products can all work together with the ease of turning on a light switch.
U.S. Housing Starts
|Sources: Census Bureau
National Association of Home Builders for 2007-2009 forecasts and projections © TWICE 2008