CEDIA 2013: A Few of My Favorite Things

Shortly before CEDIA 2013 kicked off in Denver last month, I wrote a post about some of the things I was looking forward to seeing at this year’s EXPO. There certainly wasn’t anything earth-shattering or paradigm-shredding introduced within the confines of the Denver Convention Center. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few standout products and super-slick demos hidden amongst the hundreds of crowded EXPO booths. We covered a lot of them here.

Of course, one man’s excitement is another man’s (safe and effective) Maximum Strength Sominex dose, a prime example of which was DISH’s announcement that it would be sharing significant portions of the API for the company’s Hopper satellite HD DVR system with Control4. Although the ever-boisterous CEO of DISH, Joe Clayton, led off the hour-and-a-half press conference/lunch with the information, even he didn’t seem overly impressed – perhaps because he was in the uncomfortable position of having to share some of the glory and attention with another company. As a matter of fact, the DISH folks spent more time at the press conference letting a couple of extremely well-informed analysts rattle off numbers and percentages (and then more numbers and percentages) – all without visual aids or handouts – than they devoted to discussing what a boon the announcement portends for the home automation industry.

In the past, home automation systems, such as those from Control4 and others, had to rely on controlling many components by emulating those devices’ remote controls; and in a manner that always said “professionalism” and “prime time”, this necessitated that installers stick or tape cheap-looking IR emitters over the components’ IR windows. And we all know how wonderfully unreliable one-way IR control of an AV system can be, especially when you start introducing even simple macro command strings.

But because of this move by DISH, Control4 controllers will soon be able to grab a DISH Hopper by the balls, and get it to do its bidding at virtually the Hopper’s DNA level. This won’t be simplistic IR remote control emulation. DISH is going to let Control4 controllers (and other companies’ controllers in the future) do a Vulcan mind meld on any Hoppers that are integrated into a Control4 system – to the point of being able to manipulate security-sensitive things such as Pay-Per-View and Video-On-Demand purchases directly from Control4 interfaces (handheld remotes and touchscreens, for example).

I don’t want to overstate the importance of this move on DISH’s part, but I think it’s close to being a watershed moment for home automation in general. (Retro-futuristic thermostat maker NEST also broke its vow of maintaining a closed architecture by announcing that Control4 systems would soon gain the ability to adjust the current temperature setting of NEST thermostats.) If DISH (and NEST) is willing to share its API with other companies and developers for the purposes of integrating Hoppers into systems with automation controllers, this might be just the kick in the ass other manufacturers that make cable boxes, AVRs, and the like need to get them to realize that playing nice with each other is a good thing for everyone. The easier it becomes to automate home theater rooms and entire homes, the more acceptance there will be among the general public. Ideally, greater public acceptance and awareness should lead to higher sales, which – again, ideally – should lead to lower prices and even greater public interest in home automation. In other words, more cool stuff that all of us can afford.

I was also very impressed with GoldenEar’s risky demo of a home theater setup using in-ceiling speakers across the front. You don’t find many in-ceiling speaker demos at CEDIA for two reasons. First of all, in-ceiling speakers aren’t generally thought of as high-performance products; and, until recently, that was pretty much true across the board. Secondly, it’s a tremendously daunting task to set up an in-ceiling speaker demonstration at CEDIA. If the speakers don’t use a sealed design, for instance, back boxes need to be built to provide the necessary enclosure. Then the flimsy ceiling of the demo room has to be reinforced to hold the weight of the installed speakers/back boxes so they don’t come crashing down during the middle of a demo. (Causing head injuries is never a good way to close a sale.)

There’s also the problem that the so-called “sound rooms” on a convention floor (be it at CEDIA or CES) are never great places to demonstrate speakers of any kind. So, in addition to potential bodily harm, the company doing the demo runs the risk of having it sound like crap through no fault of the speakers.

I spoke with Sandy Gross, GoldenEar’s co-founder, a week or two before CEDIA about his plans to demonstrate three Invisa HTR-7000s (GoldenEar’s flagship architectural speakers) mounted as LCRs in the ceiling of the GoldenEar demo room along with a pair of Invisa MPX in-wall/ceiling speakers installed in the rear wall. He sounded confident about the final outcome, but he admitted that his team had doubts as to whether they could pull it off – and have people leave the room impressed.

I certainly left the demo impressed, as did a lot of other people. I’ve reviewed several of GoldenEar’s floorstanding speakers and have found them to be absolutely phenomenal across the board. As part of my review of the GoldenEar Triton Sevens, I installed a pair of Invisa 650s in the ceiling as the rear surround speakers. I liked the way the Invisa 650s performed; and I expected that the Invisa HTR 7000s and Invisa MPXs would sound great, too, since they all incorporate a version of GoldenEar’s fabulously smooth High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter (HVFR).

What I didn’t anticipate was how well the Invisa HTR 7000s were able to fool you into thinking that you were listening to a floorstanding arrangement of LCR speakers in front of you rather than a trio of architectural speakers installed in the ceiling above the TV. The magical effect wasn’t 100-percent flawless, but it was certainly the best performance by a set of in-ceiling LCR speakers I’ve heard to date. Perhaps even more impressive was the spectacular way the HTR 7000s sounded with two-channel music, and the carefully detailed imaging they produced – despite the fact they were a good four feet above my head.

On a smaller scale, one other item that I found to be quite interesting but that a lot of people will yawn at was Brother’s P-touch EDGE PT-E300 – wait for it - industrial handheld labeling tool with rechargeable Li-ion battery! That’s right, a handheld labeler. But it’s not your ordinary, office-supply-store variety labeler. The PT-E300 has “smart label application keys” with preformatted templates for cable wrap, patch panel, bar code, and serialized labels. It prints labels up to .7-inches wide with up to five lines of text. But, coolest of all, is that in addition to using He and TZe tape cassettes, the PT-E300 can also print Heat Shrink Tube labels using HSe tape cassettes. It also comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery plus an AC adapter/charger or can be run on six AA batteries. At around $150, it’s probably more label maker than the average person interested in electronics and home theater needs; on the other hand, it has so many cool features and seems so easy to use that it’s hard not to talk yourself into buying one.