CEDIA 2019 home tech highlights

We follow the CEDIA trade show, as its where many manufactures strut their new home tech stuff. Earlier this month, this year’s show was full of home technology wizardry. Here’s what caught our eye.

TVs, TVs, TVs

TVs are always a big part of these shows, and the likes of Sony and Samsung showed off their fancy TVs. Sony joined the 8K TV push this year with their TVs like the A9G and Z9G series. You can future proof as much as possible for 8K and get a dazzling TV that you can enjoy today. It might be wise to wait until prices drop a bit though, especially if you’re interested in their Crystal LED Display video wall (scalable from 109 inches to 65 feet!) The amazing 219” one they demoed (yes, that’s 16 feet x 9 feet) is available for a mere USD877,000. Although LG’s transparent OLED screen is focused on commercial installations (like digital signage), we can see this trickling into homes in the future for art and control screens.

Short throw projectors

Speaking of TVs, short throw projectors were also literally shining bright. Short throw projectors are designed to be placed very close to your wall and projection screen. For example Epson showed a package of a short throw laser projector with an ambient light rejecting screen. Laser projectors can produce bright images and don’t need their bulbs replaced. An ambient light rejecting screen will do just that – not reflect the room’s ambient light but allow the projectors light to get to your eyes. The Epson LS500 Laser Projection TV will be available in 100″ or 120″ screen sizes that you can watch with the lights on.

Other notables

A few items that will help fill specific gaps in homes were the Luxul’s Epic Mesh, Sonos Move outdoor speaker and Lutron’s LED+ dimmer. For homes where it doesn’t make sense to re-wire, Luxul’s Epic Mesh system should provide another option for better Wi-Fi. While the Sonos Move isn’t the last word in portable outdoor speakers, it is the one that works with a Sonos system. You can use in your yard and take it to the beach as a Bluetooth speaker. With the Lutron LED+ dimmer, Lutron makes it easier to match a smart dimmer with lightbulbs and LEDs lights. While not effecting home owners directly, this dimmer should make it easier for professionals to help clients.

The CEDIA trade show is focused on home tech professionals, but its really is about sharing interesting products that we can then help get into people’s homes. Some may be pricy today (we’re looking directly at you Crystal LED Display), but prices will eventually drop. Others like mesh Wi-Fi and portable Sonos speakers are affordable today. Either way, its a home tech win.

 

New home tech from CES 2019

The Consumer Electronics Show is a yearly blast of technology from big and small manufactures. CES is a good barometer for all technology trends, now and in the future. While there was much that caused a buzz, here’s the new home tech that caught our eye.

LG rollable TV

Last year LG presented a prototype of a rollable TV. This year they showed off what they’ll be shipping later this year; a slick TV that rolls up into a box. There’s currently no pricing on it, but assume that it will have a very premium price. It also looks like it will only have one case option, but there is a stand if you don’t want to put it on a table or cabinet. Hopefully there will be more case options or even custom enclosures in the future to really hide it away.

Samsung Serif TV

Samsung showed off their updated Wall TV (at a measly 219” 😉) which is actually assembled with modular panels, but they are also offering interesting TVs that are much, much more affordable. In the same vein as their Frame TV, they’re adding the Serif TV. The idea is that the Serif TV is a statement in your home – why mask the TV when you can show it off? Perhaps the Serif is an acquired taste, but its great that Samsung is providing options more than another black TV panel for your room. We’ll have to wait on pricing and availability for Canada.

Wi-Fi as a home automation standard

It may sound like a no brainer to use Wi-Fi for home automation, but currently it’s not the right technology for home automation. The main knock against Wi-Fi is that, in its current incarnation, it’s not designed for low power battery powered things. (That’s one of the main reasons we have other standards like Z-Wave, ZigBee and Bluetooth.) Some manufacturers are indicating decent battery life, but we suspect actual milage may vary when relying on Wi-Fi. Then there are other issues including Wi-Fi coverage and typical consumer Wi-Fi routers will likely fail with too many devices on its network (e.g. over 30 devices). All that said, there are light switches and dimmers (at least they have a good power source) and locks available. Ordinarily we’re technology agnostic, but Wi-Fi as a home automation standard makes us uneasy. We’ll see if the market agrees.

CES covers all consumer electronics, from car audio to home theatre to widgets that are hard to put in a category. In terms of new home tech, TVs and audio/video gear have always been a focus. Its good that home automation is continuing to grow, as it will provide all of us with more options.

New home tech

There are two large technology trade shows in early September for new home tech; IFA in Berlin and CEDIA in San Diego. IFA allows the general public (and purchases on the spot!), and CEDIA is focused on home technology professionals. Both are a springboard for companies to demonstrate their latest gear. Here are some of our favourites from this year’s shows.

Virtually invisible fibre optic cable

Fibre optic cable is an affordable option to move large amounts data around a home. Its not just for computer networks though. These days the biggest home data use comes from video streaming. Video, especially 4K video, is really data hungry. Unless you’re renovating, an older home is usually stuck with Wi-Fi to move all this data. As many people know, Wi-Fi can be less than ideal. Cleerline has a really thin, transparent fibre optic cable to move that data and more. It can be retrofitted inconspicuously along baseboards or ceilings, up walls, etc. You can caulk or paint over Cleerfiber so its virtually invisible. This will allow easier placement of TV systems and other tech gear where you want it and not have to worry about relying on often poor Wi-Fi.

Samsung updates The Frame TV

Speaking of nearly hidden cables, Samsung has updated their Frame TV by combining power into their One Invisible Connection. Now there is only one cable between the TV itself and their One Connect Box. While they’ve also updated specs like the picture quality and art selection, and have added a black bezel option, most people will likely appreciative the simple, tidy set up that one tiny, almost invisible cable will offer.

Samsung also provided more detail about their 4K 146 inch Wall TV that delivers outstanding brightness, contrast and viewing angles. When you buy a Wall TV, you actually get 16 TV cabinets that are installed on a reinforced wall to create one seamless picture. It also runs about US$300,000, so not many of us will be ordering one soon. If you have the space (and budget), you can also go for their 292 inch 8K Wall TV! Its an interesting idea that could lead to wall sized TVs at average consumer prices in the future. Apparently over 40% of screens that Samsung is selling are over 65 inches, so there’s definitely demand for larger screens.

RTiQ intelligent remote monitoring

One of the new professional home tech movements is to use intelligent systems that allow remote monitoring of technology systems in homes. RTi’s RTiQ allows home tech professionals to intelligently monitor clients’ systems and receive email and text alerts when issues occur. We can then remotely resolve issues, reset devices, etc. This allows for a better user experience, less downtime and reducing need for someone to come and physically fix things (which sometimes is just a power cycle). Even simple systems occasionally need a reboot or small adjustment, so although not a sexy gizmo like a big TV, anything that makes things run better for everyone is great in our books!

These new home tech devices provide an indication of where home technology is heading. People are looking for bigger screens to watch their ultra high definition streaming content. They want it to installed clean and simple – and to keep running smoothly no matter how complicated it is behind the scenes.

Top Smart Home Products from CES 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is North America’s largest electronics and tech show. You can find everything from electronic gadgets to smart home gems. While there’s a lot of hoopla and noise around all the products, we think some of this year’s products were not only cool, but they could also be instrumental for smart home tech.

Samsungs “The Wall” TV

Samsung Electronics showed off “The Wall”, a modular MicroLED 146-inch TV. The self-emitting TV display is not only bright, but being modular – its like TV Lego – you can build TV screens sized to meet your needs. May be a nice way to dial in right sized TV for your room. Perhaps even literally create a TV wall that is a multimedia art installation until you want to watch TV.

LG rollable TV

LG demonstrated a prototype rollable 65” TV. When not being watched, it rolls away using a remote. It can be left partially unrolled to allow some information to be displayed, such as weather or what’s playing on a streaming music player. Looks like a nice way to have a large TV while minimizing its impact in your space when not being used.

Z-Wave makes a smart home splash

Z-Wave is a technology that enables low-energy wireless communication from device to device. There’s a growing list of Z-Wave devices including lighting, smart thermostats, locks, and window sensors. You start with a hub that’s the brains to control your personal universe of devices, and then add the devices as you like. This hub can be a DIY type like a Samsung SmartThings Hub, or a professional system such as RTI’s ZW-9 Z-Wave Interface Module with a control processor.

Smart devices to help prevent fires

There’s already smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors such as from Nest and First Alert, but 2Gig, iGuardStove and Innohome want to prevent a fire in the first place. These new products intend to shut down stoves or burners before bigger issues develop. A very interesting direction for smart home smarts.

We’ll keep an eye on these, and we should know how these fare by next CES. We’re always hands-on testing products for their real world usefulness where we can, so we can provide advice where needed.

Holiday Tech Gift Suggestions

It’s holiday time again, and if there’s a tech lover on your gift list, there are lots of great tech gift choices again this year. Here is a roundup of some of our favourite home tech gift suggestions for this season.

4K TVs (and projectors!)

Once again this year, 4K TVs are out in full force. Prices are very competitive, including the larger models such as 55” and 65” TVs. But this year there are also 4K projectors joining the affordable fray. While there are great higher-end 4K projectors like those from Sony and JVC, there also more price friendly ones from Epson and Benq. While technically the ‘4K enhanced’ projectors like those from Epson, aren’t full 4K, they offer great bang for the buck, as they look really close to full 4K. Its likely that 4K projector prices will continue to fall, but they’re definitely offering good value if the person on your list just can’t live without a really big 4K picture!

Voice control assistant

While Google has had Google Home available in Canada for a while already, Amazon Echo officially unleashes Alexa here in Canada on Dec 5th, so you now have a couple options for voice control assistants. Voice control assistants can be fun for asking for the weather, asking for measurement conversions, or even asking for a joke. They can be useful for controlling compatible music players and lighting controls as well.

Better Wi-Fi

Basically everything relies on a strong network these days, so better Wi-Fi is a gift that keeps giving. If you have a modern home with all the right network wiring in the walls, professional grade Wi-Fi Access Points like those from Araknis will create a solid Wi-Fi experience. Although a professionally designed Wi-Fi network using a wired network is best, you may not have the luxury of having the right wiring in your walls. This is especially true in older homes. In such cases, you can look at mesh Wi-Fi networks that allow you to create a Wi-Fi network that uses wireless nodes to relay data.

Audiophile wireless audio

Sonos offers great wireless speakers for your home, but there are other options available as well. If you have an audiophile on your tech gift list, you can consider higher-end speaker systems such as those from Bluesound and KEF. Bluesound offers a product line similar to other wireless speaker systems, but their focus is on taking the benefits of wireless audio to an audiophile level. KEF has taken their award winning LS50 speakers and created a wireless version of them. The LS50 Wireless speakers make it easy for an audiophile to set up a simple but amazingly satisfying experience. Combine these with some high quality music, like some Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) tracks or compatible streaming service, and you’ll be on the path to audiophile bliss.

Whoever the techy on your list is, there are great tech gifts waiting. Hope some of our favourites will become their favourites as well.

Sonos’s new wireless music toy

Sonos is known for their wireless music speaker systems. They make standalone speakers, streamer separates, and TV sound systems that mesh streaming music with a TV sound system. In general, if you’re looking for a music streamer system, Sonos is definitely one to consider. Their latest product is a sound base called Playbase. The Playbase is similar to their Playbar sound bar, but is meant to be placed under your TV stand.

Sound bases

Sound bases are speakers that go under your TV, but these products haven’t been overly successful. This may be because the shape doesn’t work with all TV stands or because its easier to get a wider sound stage from a speaker bar, but its most likely due to awareness and marketing. Sonos wants to change all that with their Playbase. The Playbase is similar to their Playbar in that it requires an optical output from your TV (most modern TVs have it) and sounds pretty darn good. While not for custom media rooms and home theatres, these products can work great for certain rooms and setups. Its definitely a great upgrade from a TV’s built in speakers. The Playbase improves on the Playbar, as it not only leverages Sonos’s latest technology, but the boxy shape helps get fairly decent low-end bass. It has incorporated side speakers that do a pretty good job filling the room with sounds as well. Its available in black or white.

Options for expansion

You can get good milage from the Playbase alone. You can always start with just the Playbase and add speakers for surrounds and sub in the future. Of course, you can always add more speakers for other rooms as well.

You can set up the speaker to work with your TV remote, and their music interface app is excellent when you just want to play music. If you’re a do-it-yourself-er, any of their speakers are somewhat do-it-yourself friendly. If you want to upgrade your TV’s sound system and get into wireless music players, then the Sonos Playbase is worth looking at.

CES 2017 tech trends

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the big consumer electronics show in North America. It offers glimpses into current and future tech products for your home. There are nearly endless gizmos that get introduced at the show, but here are a few tech trends that caught our attention: LG’s ‘wallpaper’ TV, Sony’s Acoustic Surface TV and Sevenhugs Smart Remote. All have interesting features that could prove useful for homes today and in the future.

LG’s new ‘wallpaper’ OLED

LG’s Signature 4K OLED W TV is a very, very thin OLED TV. Its so thin (at 2.57mm), that its been nicknamed the wallpaper TV. While thin and offering top-notch picture quality, it has a dedicated sound bar for sound, power and TV connections. Unfortunately if you don’t like the sound bar, its the only way the TV is available. (They had to stick the bigger parts of a TV somewhere.) The screen and speaker bar are connected by thin ribbon wiring, so you will need use an in-wall conduit if you want to hide it. The TV will likely be more than $10,000 when available in Canada, so it will only fit higher-end budgets. That said, it should help make thin OLED TVs more available and affordable for everyone as they becomes more mainstream.

Sony also gets on the OLED train

Sony has taken OLED tech and put an interesting twist in their set: Acoustic Surface sound technology. Thin TVs don’t leave much room for speakers, so the Bravia XBR-A1E OLED screen itself vibrates like a speaker. The sound can also originate from the portion of the screen where the action is. Lower bass sounds require ‘regular’ speakers, so they are built into the TV stand. Using the screen itself for sound is a interesting idea, as many media rooms have auxiliary speakers in discreet areas already (e.g. in-wall sub woofer behind an end table). The feature will be available in their high-end TVs and requires the TV stand, but this could eventually trickle down to affordable TVs.

Sevenhugs is building a smart remote

One of the things that makes Sevenhugs remote smart is that it knows where you’re pointing it. For example, if you point it towards your TV, it operates your TV; towards your light it will control your light, etc. The goal is to be more intuitive rather than the user choosing what to control on the remote. You need to put their sensors on your walls though, so the remote can figure out which way its pointed. Users will still have to choose between TV gear like a cable box or Apple TV when pointing towards their entertainment system. (Good control systems currently know what equipment to use by activity, e.g. “Watch TV” will turn on the TV, change channels on the cable box and volume on a sound system). Its scheduled to ship this summer, and if useful for people, it could steer the way other control systems operate.

These products are interesting because they offer improvements and refinements on gear currently available. These tech trends should help move technology forward to create inviting homes to fit all of our lifestyles.

CES 2016 home tech wrap-up

stack responsive

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is North America’s big electronics show. Its the event where companies show off their latest and greatest products. It wrapped up on Saturday, and as in past years, there was an overwhelming amount of gadgets from wearable tech to drones to car tech (all of which created their own buzz). With so much going on, we’ll narrow our focus to a couple home tech related themes; 4K TV and smart home products.

Like last year, 4K TV was hot at CES. This year though it looks like 4K TV is heading quickly towards the mainstream. While 4K TVevery TV manufacturer showed of their latest 4K TVs at CES, manufactures like Hisense and Sharp announced more affordable sets. They may skimp on some features and quality, such as back lighting and HDR, but they may be satisfying for the price.

TI also announced a 4K chipset (the devices manufactures will use to build projectors with) that should bring more affordable 4K projectors to the market sometime towards the middle of the year. Many also announced 4K UHD Blu-ray players. There looks to be 4K UHD Blu-ray movies on the way as well this summer, but we’ll see if people will still choose physical discs over the convenience of streaming 4K TV from services like Netflix.

Although there was a fair amount of “smart home” gear, there weren’t really new complete solutions that solved pain points. For example, Samsung and LG had ‘smart’ refrigerators, but likely the best feature was that the Samsung took picture of what’s inside your fridge. Perhaps handy to check if you need to pick up milk on yoursmart fridge way home, but maybe not worth the $5K US. Whirlpool also has some appliances including a smart stove that is controlled via a phone app. While it will also work with a Nest thermostat to send alerts when the oven is on while the the Nest thinks you are away, it really should have the smarts to know when someone has completely forgotten a pot heating on the stove. This could save a forgetful or elderly person from a common danger.

There were also products like NanoLeaf and Stack’s responsive lights that make lights smarter. NanoLeaf integrates with Apple’s Siri. Stack’s can turn themselves off when you leave the room and adjust colour of light for the time of day. The idea is that it provides more natural lighting based on environmental conditions and time of day. Cool ideas, but the average home owner would have a patchwork of apps to control them with other home tech vs. simple whole home control. In general, its good to see that manufactures are trying, so hopefully they’ll move towards products that are simple to use and solve pain points.

The main takeaways from CES 2016 for the home were the solidifying of 4K TV and that homes will continue to get smarter. The good news is that great 4K TVs are getting to price points so we can all enjoy 4K TV, and there looks to be an increasing interest in making home tech products that improve our lives.

Streaming music services update

Apple MusicA while back we looked at streaming music services like Sonza and SiriusXM, but since then Apple and Spotify have joined the fray. With extensive catalogues and reasonable monthly rates, its a good time to check out if any of these work for you.

Apple Music just launched on June 30 with the iOS 8.4 update.  The two pieces of good news are that it appears that iOS 8.4 is stable with no major bugs or issues, and Apple is offering a three month free trial of Apple Music. This way you can try out the service risk free. After Taylor Swift was about to pull her music if she didn’t get paid during the free trial, Apple stated all artists will get paid during the free trial (turned into quite the PR bonus for Apple!). The service is built into the Music app in iOS and iTunes. Its expected that Android users will get an app in the fall. One early knock against Apple Music is that it tops out at 256 kbps AAC vs others that offer 320 kbps MP3 quality for subscribers. Its also expected that Apple Music will be available to listen with Sonos gear later this year.

Spotify launched last fall in Canada and has gained a lot of users. You can try it out free for 30 days, and they currently have three months of their Premium service for $0.99 (what a coincidence). Its catalogue is extensive, but has some holes – for example Taylor Swift pulled her music last fall Spotify(she seems to be swinging at everyone). If you subscribe, you get access to their 320 kbps streaming rate, control in streaming devices like Sonos and Heos, and you can save music on your device for when you’re on the go.

Take a free listen to these and the others and see what works for you. Most of these services also offer a free option, but it comes with commercials and less functionality to save music or control it in devices like Sonos. Rock on!

 

 

CES 2015 Home Tech Highlights

CES 2015 Samsung UHDTVThe International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s biggest electronics event, so manufactures use it to launch and show off their latest products. This year’s CES wrapped up on January 9th with some home tech trends worth highlighting. These included smart home tech devices, next generation TV technology, and even an interesting Internet streaming TV package.

Smart home tech devices were out in full force at CES. They are ready to control your lights, blinds appliances and more. This area is still very fragmented with many products requiring standalone control (e.g. from a specific smartphone app) and aren’t designed to work with each other. An encouraging sign was that some vendors included partners for operation. For example, Schlage’s Sense smart door lock is designed to work with Apple’s HomeKit (e.g. controllable using Siri). Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage is alsoSchlage Sense smart home tech lock HomeKit compatible. It can open and close your garage door, and you can check the app to ensure its closed. There were also lighting products, like Insteon’s Hub, that are also compatible with Apple’s technology. Not to be outdone, Google’s Nest announced compatibility with Whirlpool, Jawbone, Automatic and more. Samsung talked up their future smart home products, but didn’t really demonstrate much in the space. It will be a while yet (or possibly never) before an average consumer can expect to bring home a fancy new smart home tech gadget and expect instant home tech automation goodness without professional support. At least it appears that some manufactures are thinking about that though.

Another major theme at CES was the next generation of TVs. For the most part this was focused on 4K UHDTVs. These are higher resolution TVs with better colours. That was one good sub theme – better colour. Manufactures probably realize everyone can offer high resolution pixels, so they trumped up their colour technology. Many are based on quantum dots – very small crystals that glow colourfully when charged with electricity. Others are betting on Organic LED (OLED). Regardless of whatever technology gets into your home, we agree that UHDTVs are definitely going to be part of our lives soon. Unfortunately UHDTV content has been dodgy. This looks to be improving as Dish is releasing a 4K set-top-box (for its US satellite customer), and Netflix is adding more 4K content (hope you have a killer high-speed Internet connection though!). Ultra HD Blu-ray is coming too, but using physical discs seem so 2000’s. The good news is that UHDTV prices are dropping quickly. LG OLED UHDTV CES2015The bad news is that they don’t all have HDMI 2.0 inputs with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) 2.2. HDMI 2.0 can handle the 4K content data speeds, while HDCP 2.2 helps studios thwart pirates copying content. So in the meantime, be careful as most 2K UHDTVs today are likely not future HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 compatible with the next generation of set-top-boxes and disc players.

Dish’s announcement was not a flashy gadget, but it still made a big splash at CES. They said they’ll offer a streaming $20/month service in the US that includes ESPN. This will be Internet based like Netflix but using the live TV stream (hope you like commercials). This suggests that traditional cable TV services may change faster than Big Cable may be ready for. This is a big deal because sports programming is one of the last barriers for the average viewer. It’s worth watching this trend and see what happens in Canada.

There were countless gadgets at CES, so it provides a glance into the near future and where things may lead to in the far future. Obviously not all products at CES make it into peoples homes and lives, but home tech devices, 2K UHDTV, and streaming services will only gain momentum. Since these will be trickling into most people’s lives over time, its good to understand where they are heading.