On a recent coast-to-coast commute, I stopped in Indianapolis for my annual visit to the CEDIA Expo, the premier event for the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. It's a trade show of home theater and home electronics fanatics, people who design and build home theaters, run corporate screening rooms, and build high-tech homes. At CEDIA, you can see the latest and greatest in everything from digital projectors and big-screen TVs to home theater seats and switchers, amplifiers, digital converters, and even popcorn machines.
The reason I go is to spot trends and observe the latest developments in the digital home entertainment space. I'm always interested in learning more about the context surrounding the viewing experience: How will people watch our shows in the future? What kind of experiences do they seek? And what are the consumer electronics companies and home electronics designers doing to meet those needs?
There's an entire home media ecosystem that comes together at CEDIA. A leading trend of late is the blending of home management or home automation with home entertainment. You can control your lights, HVAC, security (lots more cameras now that Ethernet cams are less costly), irrigation, open and close shades, and feed the pets. In today's economy, these offerings are mostly for the higher-end customer. Yet, as with many tech innovations, the most popular features eventually make their way to the mainstream consumer household.
The big trend this year was the migration to iPad and Android apps for tablets and smartphones. There used to be a huge business in selling touch screens. Consumer electronics companies would exhibit dozens of them here. No more. "We can't compete on price or visibility with Apple," one dealer told me. So they make and sell apps instead of creating their own closed-end software and touch-screen hardware.
Just like at CES, Apple had no exhibit at CEDIA. But brilliantly, its influence was everywhere as the exhibits were overflowing with apps. So now it's a battle of whose app is better and what controls what. Speaking of controls, many of the remote control makers are there, and I got a great demo of new units from Universal Remote Control and others. One of the stars of CEDIA is always Crestron, which is the Tiffany & Co. of customer electronic entertainment control. It did not disappoint this year. Besides having the largest exhibit, the company had the cushiest carpet (critical for your feet after walking cement floors all day). I lingered in front of the "custom design and control for sports bar" display for 10 minutes (a veritable lifetime on the conference circuit). Multifeed via matrix switching..multi monitors...instant game switching...it was my version of heaven!
As always, it's all about customization and simplicity. Give the viewer their choices ("my personal TV" vs. "our family TV"). And make it easy and enjoyable. In my house the WAF has to be very high in order for any new piece of technology to be fully embraced. For those unfamiliar with the term, WAF=Wife Acceptance Factor! My wife insists that the technology in our home is straightforward and easy enough for all members of the family to use. Ultimately, the measure of any device's success is determined by whether casual users and digital denizens alike can easily operate and enjoy it.
Once I got my CEDIA fix, it was time to take my glimpses of the future and head back to reality. Time to launch a new season, promote new shows, and bring new TV to America once again. How will they enjoy it this year and in future? I'll be staying tuned to find out.