I don’t think Apple could have ever forseen all the applications that the iTouch would be used for when they first conceived this product. So many AV manufacturers have written iPhone/iTouch Apps for their products that almost anything AV can or will be controllable with this device. And now that Apple has just lowered the price of the entry level iTouch to $199, it suddenly makes for a pretty inexpensive touch screen. Leave it to the creative geniuses at Sonance to come up with an in-wall dock for it. Price has not been set, but check out the concept prototype below. It has the potential for 4 hard buttons around the outside. Right now, one is dedicated to “Home” function and the others could possibly be customized. Since the unit is perfectly square, it can be rotated 90 degrees to make a landscape orientation if desired. The bezel attaches with magnets.
I did get a couple of keychain bottle openers, a nerf football from AMX, and a little fold up Frisbee from Omni Mount. Actually, on the last day was able to score a pretty nice 25’ locking tape measure from Phase Technology and partners. APC had a decent metal water bottle with carabineer, and ADI had a pretty nice deck of cards. Other than that, it was your typical pens, mints and rubber bracelets. Come on Vendors! We deserve better than that. I’m giving you until next year to think up something useful.
- Wireless HD Transmission: Sony and LG have the techology built into TVs. This allows you to send 1080p video from an equipment rack to a flat panel TV that has been mounted over a fireplace for example, without any cables between the two. You just need power at the TV location. Gefen has a transmitter and receiver combo that claims 30 meter range. Most of these products have a more limited range. Of course, how they actually perform in real world scenarios is yet to be determined, but this technology has the potential to open up flat panel install possibilites for lots of folks.
- Digital HD Distribution Over Coax: Another new product that will make installers lives easier and make HD distribution throughout the house easier is the ZvBox 150 from ZeeVee. It is essentially Digital Modulation. It can take a component or VGA video signal and modulate it onto any one of 135 digital TV channels. You could hook up a Blu-Ray player, HD DVR, or a computer to it and send that signal to any TV in the house over the existing coax infrastructure.
- HDMI Cable Fixes: As the HDMI cable has proliferated as one of the preferred methods of HD video and audio transmission, it has not come without it’s challenges. And I am not talking about handshake issues, picture quality, cable distance limitations or delayed switching. Two basic mechanical properties have plagued installers and consumers alike. The first is that the cables are loose fitting, and easily fall out or come loose enough to lose signal. The second is that the connector is long and rigid, making it difficult to fit behind a flat panel TV or be crammed into a shallow equipment cabinet when it is connected to the back of an AV Receiver. Several Manufacturers have come up with solutions to these delemas. Accell has designed a locking HDMI cable which cleverly releases when you pull back on the connector casting. They avoided a push button release mechanism since HDMI cables are often crammed close together on the back of a receiver, making the button inaccessable. Planet Waves also introduced a plastic sheath that can be fitted over their HDMI cable and uses a screw to lock the cable into place. Many, but not all HDMI devices have this screw hole above the connector. Planet Waves also showed 3 Right angle HDMI dongles for up, down and sideways install scenarios. These will help keep flat screens flat. Several other manufacturers, including Monster Cable, showed swiveling HDMI dongles.
While these are not earthshaking developments, they are clever solutions to some of AV’s nagging issues. Thanks to all the clever minds that are helping to make our lives easier.
- CinemaScope for the Home: Lastly, I saw a trend in Anamorphic projector display starting to gain some momentum. This allows projectors to show full 2.35:1 Cinemascope images, which takes advantage of all the pixels on a projectors chip to create a wider and higher resolution image. Products that are helping to make this a reality are Anamorphic add on lenses from manufacturers like Panamorph and multi-masking screens from Stewart Filmscreen and Da-Lite. More projectors also have the Anamorphic scaling mode built in to allow the add on lenses to work. These technologies can still be quite expensive, but have been steadily coming down in price. For now, they are still a high end option, but the trend is encouraging.
Control 4 continues it’s rapid pace of innovation with a slew of new products and service announcements. On the hardware side, they are introducing a fireplace switch with integrated relay to allow the easy integration of a gas fireplace into the home automation realm. They also showed a new 1 RU IO extender ($399) which makes installers giddy, but probably doesn’t excite too many homeowners. It adds 8 IR, 8 Contact Closures, 8 Relays, 4 Serial Ports, and 3 Audio outs (2 Analog, 1 Digital) to an existing controller. They also have a Reverse Phase dimmer which makes it possible to dim CFL bulbs with the dimable feature. ($139) A new Media Player will be out soon ($399) that can decode MPEG 2, MPEG4, and H.264 video from a networked hard drive. This is not to be confused with a Media Server, like the Pioneer ETAP. It has a 1RU compact chassis and can be mounted to the back of a flat panel TV. It has Composite, Component and HDMI 1.3 outputs. Finally, they showed an EMS-100 mini touch screen controller with built in Director software, that is initially designed to be sold to the power utilities to complement Smart Meter installations. The EMS-100 is a home energy management solution, that can be further expanded into home automation.
On the software side, they are showing the upcoming Flash based Composer 2.0 GUI. Going to Flash will enable greater customization of the interface as well as make it easier for 3rd party developers to create skins and custom icons. This also allows the use of Widgets for informational services like news, weather and sports. Along with this, they announced an Apps store that will allow developers to write apps for the Control 4 system and push those out to customers thru the Control 4 GUI. They have also added whole home views for lighting and thermostats, instead of the current room only based view. Also in the works is a revamp of how the system streams music, allowing Control 4 to go out onto the network and automatically find and stream music without having to scan it first, or have it stored in one place. Add to this Zigbee Pro implementation and it begins to make your head spin.
There was also some significant product introductions from Control 4 partners, including an Intercom system from Audio Share, a Zigbee controlled door lock from Black and Decker and a bridge device from Card Access to translate GE security sensor data to Zigbee. Control 4′s influence and partner ecosystem continues to expand at a dizzying pace, helping to cement their postion as the OS for the home.