Even the best smart homes today aren’t much more than a cool collection of dumb gadgets managed by a controller with a good memory. Few, if any, of them aren’t intelligent enough yet to figure out when to do tasks on their own. Programming what actions should happen when and under what varying conditions or triggers is a large part of why home automation has been confined to the posh multi-thousand square foot homes of the rich and powerful or the often not-so-posh and much smaller homes of the electronic tinkerers and makers. (Of course, the cost of controllers, sensors, devices, and installation doesn’t help put home automation in the “mass market” category yet, either.)
Despite its relatively high price ($250 - or $3.2 billion, if you’re Google), the Nest thermostat is very popular (I saw one on the wall in a local Subway restaurant a couple of days ago) because - in addition to its Applish-elegance design - it “programs itself so you don’t have to.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it turns out that there are a lot of people out there who absolutely hate programming a thermostat; and hate it enough, apparently, that they’re willing to spend four-to-five times more $ on a “learning thermostat” than they would on an average 5-2 day programmable thermostat. So any smart home automation company looking to break into the big time needs to take note of this fact. Does anyone really believe that these same folks want to spend the time and effort to program an entire home of automated gadgets? “It programs itself so you don’t have to” needs to be the smart home mantra.
Recently a couple of smart home systems caught my attention because of their learning capabilities...
There’s certainly no lack of interesting DIY home monitoring cameras at CES2016. The original Oco is here, still featuring self-learning sound and motion-detection algorithms, night vision capability, and two-way audio communication. But the diminutive 1280 x 720 (25 fps) camera isn’t alone at the company’s booth.
Late last week, CustomFlix Labs, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, announced that CBS News had selected CustomFlix and Amazon.com to distribute thousands of hours of prime-time and classic news content. The treasure trove of past CBS News content includes broadcasts from "60 Minutes", "CBS Evening News", and a variety of long-form documentaries produced by CBS News Productions over the past 10 years.
For one of my last demos of CES2008, I stopped by the Definitive Technology room in the Venetian. There, in addition to showing off the newest Mythos ST speakers, they were putting on demos of the company’s new Solo Surround Array speakers. The SSAs join the growing number of single speaker simul-surround thingees that reduce the multiple speakers of the traditional surround system to one slim one. Of all the slender systems I’ve heard, the Definitive SSA-50 is by far the most impressive, the most surrounding, and the most amazing. Regardless of whether I was standing in the back of the room or in the middle of the room’s “sweet spot”, the effect was stunningly immersive. It certainly won’t replace a full-blown 5.1-channel system, but for the rear-speaker challenged, wire-averse, or stubbornly dcor-driven, this is a single-speaker solution that will make you sit up and listen.
On April 18th, Quirky Wink HUB owners got an up-close and a little too personal look at the perils of putting control of your smart home into even the most well-intentioned hands over the internet. According to Wink:
Summit Wireless keeps charging forward in their quest to conquer the wireless home theater audio world. While the company was cagey about upcoming announcements regarding products coming to market, the people in-the-know hinted that exciting things are about to happen. Summit Wireless technology enables wireless 5.1- and 7.1-channel home theater systems. But it’s more than just a set of wireless speakers. The technology allows the user to tailor the sweet spot of the system to any location in the room with the press of a single button. The system automatically figures out where all the speakers are in relation to each other and can process the audio signal to compensate for less than optimum speaker or listener positioning – and it does it with a single button press. It’s quite possible that we’ll soon start seeing the Summit Wireless processing technology showing up in flat panel TVs, in which case adding a simple dongle to the USB port on the TV will enable the TV to send audio to a set of powered, wireless speakers in your home theater.
Aperion Audio is the first company to have actual, real products available for sale. The 5.1-channel amplified wireless Aperion Audio home theater system will be shipping soon for $2,499. The 7.1 version will sell for $2,999. The controller box (which takes the place of an AVR, which is no longer needed since the amps are built into the speakers) has one optical input, once coax digital input, three HDMI inputs, two stereo analog inputs and has decoding for DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD.
Snell Acoustics is tightening the grilles and polishing the dust caps on three new upgraded speakers which they'll introduce to the world during the CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis on September 7th. But you don't have to wait to hear about these new THX Ultra 2 Certified models, because we're going to spill the beans here before anyone else does. (Besides, unless you're a dealer or custom installer - or unemployable writer-type like most of us here - you wouldn't be able to crash the heavily armed security at the CEDIA Expo anyway. Just be thankful you've got us working for you. We sure are.)
Dolby Atmos, for you members of the unwashed and uninformed masses (yeah, you know who you are), enables film sound designers to treat individual sonic elements as virtual “objects” that can be placed and moved almost anywhere within the three-dimensional space of a movie theater. Two things are important about its adaptation for home theater. First, the soundfield—in its original, discretely encoded version, not an extrapolated one—is no longer limited to a two-dimensional plane circling around your ears.
CEDIA 2012 has receded into the poorly lit reaches of my cobweb-covered memory. But the one thing that most stood out
in the cornucopia of all things custom-install still stands in sharp relief today: HouseLogix’s absolutely amazing VoicePod. Actually, it sits in sharp relief – right on the top of my desk thanks to HouseLogix’s CEO and Founder, Ted Rosenberger, who shipped a beta version of the VoicePod for me to play for the last few months.
Denon calls it their "flagship" receiver; but if you want to fully carry out the nautical metaphor, you'd have to refer to the new Denon AVR-5805 as the biggest, baddest, boldest combination battleship/aircraft carrier/submarine/destroyer/frigate/(throw in some secret stealth technology reference here) ever to have floated on the home theater seven seas. Denon claims it's "the world's first A/V receiver with 10 built-in amplifiers and 16-channel output...[and] unprecedented multi-source and zone capabilities with perhaps the most comprehensive analog and digital audio/video switching configurations ever offered."