Trends that Stood Out in 2013

As 2013 winds down, it seems appropriate to share the trends—tech and otherwise—that struck me at the annual CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) Expo this past September in Denver.

Economy on the Rise
In recent years, the uncertain economy left a sense of despair that hung heavily in the air, casting a pall over the show. Fortunately, the vibe at this year’s show was definitely more upbeat, and nearly all of the integrators I spoke with were busy, with new projects in the pipeline. CEDIA also felt more crowded and alive on the floor, with the show drawing just shy of 18,000 attendees (a 6 percent increase over 2012) from 84 countries with more than 470 exhibitors. Also impressive was a first-time year-over-year attendee increase of 50 percent, showing “new blood” returning to the custom install industry.

Video No-Show
In years past, you could expect to see all the big names of video at CEDIA, but nearly all the major players—Samsung, Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba, Vizio, LG—took a pass. This was surprising/disappointing with the imminent rollout of 4K and OLED, especially with the initial batch of high-priced displays likely to be sold and integrated by the very people who attend CEDIA! Sony was at the show and unveiled the new sub-$15,000 VPL-VW600ES true-4K video projector; it looked great in the demo. Sony also revamped its flagship 4K offering with the new VPL-VW1100ES.

JVC added refinements to its projector lineup, introducing eight new models, but none offering native 4K resolution. JVC’s new lineup did add support for video inputs to accept true 4K video signals. At the high end, Digital Projection displayed the world’s first three-chip 1080p projector driven by LEDs, which produced a phenomenal color palette, making Avatar absolutely pop on their large screen. As far as CEDIA is concerned, 3D—glasses or otherwise—seems to have run its course.

HDBaseT Is King
Even though custom installation is the show’s theme, many manufacturers touted retrofit-friendly products requiring no wires for existing construction. When it comes to video, we’re now living in an all-digital HDMI world, but HDMI is limited in how far signals can travel over a traditional cable (typically maxing out around 10 meters). This has been limiting in creating house-wide video distribution systems, where cables may need to run hundreds of feet from a centralized distribution point. Since many homes are wired with Category-rated (Cat5, Cat6, etc.) cabling, the solution nearly all companies are adopting is HDBaseT. This allows uncompressed, full 1080p video and audio to travel up to 330 feet over a single Cat-rated cable. HDBaseT supports HDMI 1.4—including video up to 4K at 60 frames per second and 3D—and all high-resolution audio formats. HDBaseT was everywhere at CEDIA this year, including embedded inside video projectors from Epson, A/V receivers from Integra and Pioneer, and matrix A/V distribution hubs from Atlona, Key Digital, Wyrestorm, Control4, Crestron, Gefen, Extron, Leaf, Savant, and others.

Manufacturers Get Shade-y
At CEDIA 2013, I counted five companies—Lutron, Hunter Douglas, QMotion, MechoShade, and Somfy‐with battery-powered motorized shades, in a ton of styles and price points. Lutron expanded its battery-powered lineup by offering new Serena roller shades in several styles, and Hunter Douglas demoed its very cool Pirouette with motorized veins, one of 15 different battery-powered shading solutions from the company.

Inconspicuous Audio
Many manufacturers like Paradigm, Monitor Audio, and KEF showed new in-wall/in-ceiling speakers at CEDIA, but the two demos that most caught my ears were from GoldenEar Technology and Sonance. GoldenEar’s setup included an in-ceiling surround demo featuring the Invisa Series HTR 7000, which sounded stunning. It was so good that it made you briefly question whether presenter and president Sandy Gross was tricking you by actually playing floorstanders. (He wasn’t.) And Sonance was so sure of the sonic capabilities of its new Visual Presence speakers, they directly compared them to similar priced models from B&W and Revel.