LG’s Tim Alessi Kicks Off CEDIA By Showing The Signature Series W7 4K OLED TV

Like Hurricane Irma lashing into the Florida coastline, last week’s CEDIA Expo 2017 in San Diego marked yet another shift in the winds for the custom electronics installation industry.

For starters, the 28-year-old Association that started the event back in 1989 turned management over to an outside professional exhibitions company, which was handling the trade show for the first time.

From an attendees’ view point the change was more or less seamless. Key video display manufacturers like LG Electronics, Samsung, and Hisense, which are all primarily flat-panel TV companies that have made a return to the venue in recent years, continued to increase their on-floor booth presences with the latest technologies, many of which had just made an international debut at the IFA Show in Berlin, Germany a few days earlier.

Unfortunately, the absence of the huge former exhibitor Crestron last year was still glaring, but rival Control4 was on hand. The control system developer released the latest version of its operating system, OS 2.10, and with it a new personalization platform called When/Then, which allows users to personalize their professionally installed smart-home systems for themselves to easily control more than 10,000 smart home devices.

Also, stalwarts like Sony, Epson, JVC, Bang & Olufsen and others maintained their CEDIA presences recognizing the importance the integration trade commands in selling and promoting upscale audio and video technologies from large flat-panel OLED, QLED televisions and 4K short throw projectors to smart home control solutions.

From an audio standpoint, CEDIA was as vital as ever, with many of the key hi-fi brands on display to demonstrate the latest surround sound technologies with more and more dynamic 3D surround enhancement and a broader range of price points.

Overall, we came away from the San Diego event with five key takeaways that need closer watching as AV electronics entertainment evolves in the home.

Read our CEDIA 2017 takeaways after the jump:

Voice Controlled Digital Assistants: Amazon had a big presence at CEDIA 2017 as it sought to make its Alexa Voice Control digital assistant technology an integral part of the evolution of home-based systems control. But Google was there too, as were newer competitors in the form of Samsung’s Bixby and Josh.ai, which showed Josh Micro, its second home-control system based on a proprietary voice UI. The Josh Micro device is palm-sized and integrates with major home-control technologies.

All of these systems are expected to see further integration into home AV control with multiroom audio attributes, and some may join forces to create hybrid experiences such as those created by the recent partnership between Amazon’s Alexa system and Microsoft’s Cortana. In the near term, these systems are providing a new and easier way for consumers to operate whole home systems but some at the CEDIA 2017 show wondered how long it would be before these platforms become powerful enough to enable DIY systems integration.

Clearly, the early momentum leader at CEDIA was Amazon’s Alexa powered  by its Echo and Dot wireless speakers with far-field microphone technology. After gaining significant market penetration over the holidays, the Echo and Dot speakers have led both audio and video manufacturers to begin to integrate Alexa inter-operability to catch the building wave of popularity as consumers become more and more familiar with the convenience that voice-control brings.

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Meanwhile, Google is also aggressively marketing its voice-powered digital assistant technology linked through its Google Home speaker in the hope of controlling hundreds of smart home devices as well as AV entertainment products. Google has the bonus of placing the system on millions of Android mobile devices, which can be easily integrated into the home control ecosystem.

Google was at both CEDIA and the recent IFA shows to announce partnerships with companies building Google Assistant into supporting products including Sony, Onkyo, Comcast, Lutron, iDevices, URC, and others. Both Sony and Onkyo announced Google digital assistant wireless speakers at IFA to join Google Home on the market, and Sony has had Google voice control integrated into its Android TV-based televisions for some time. Many of those companies are offering products supporting Amazon’s Alexa as well.

In addition, companies with products that are voice-controlled by the Google Assistant virtual assistant through the Google Home speaker include Sony, Comcast, Lutron, iDevices, and URC.

Samsung wasn’t ready to heavily promote the use of its Bixby voice-control platform in the home integration space, although that is the next direction after activations in recent smartphones and tablets.

The 800-pound-gorilla not at the CEDIA Show was Apple’s Siri, although the iPhone maker clearly has plans to expand the home automation control aspects of its technology.

4K Ultra HD Projectors Maintain Slow Evolution Path: The 4K Ultra HD resolution story and high dynamic range (HDR) was forefront in most of the new display technology introductions at CEDIA 2017. As is customary, most of those announcements revolved around front projectors of various technology types. One of the bigger trends was in the growing popularity of short and ultra-short throw technology models, with either 4K UHD or Full HD 1080p resolution chip technologies. Sony already showed its big 4K UHD Short Throw projector for 2017 in the SXRD-based VPL-VZ1000ES, which appeared at CES 2017.

At CEDIA, Hisense unveiled its “Laser TV” 4K Short Throw projector with a laser light engine and bundled 100-inch SI projection screen for $9,999.

Vivtek also showed a DLP-based ultra short throw projector with Full HD resolution. The DH768Z-UST ($3,500 suggested retail) is a laser-driven 1080p model capable of screen sizes from 80 to 150 inches from a distance of 1 to 2.25 feet. The company said it offers 3,500 lumens of brightness output and an estimated light-source life of up to 20,000 hours.

Epson presented the Home Cinema LS100 short throw Full HD projector ($2,999 suggested retail price) offering a laser light engine enabling it to be placed just a few inches from a wall to project up to a 10-foot screen size. The projector boasts 4,000 lumens of color and white brightness, and a 2,500,000:1 contrast ratio enabling the projector to be placed in settings that have some ambient light without washing out colors or black levels.

HDMI 2.1 Not Here Yet: After a splashy specification announcement at CES 2017 in January, some have anticipated the first cables supporting the new HDMI 2.1 standard to make their debut at CEDIA 2017. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and surprisingly little was even spoken about the new high bandwidth digital interface by equipment manufacturers at the show.

In fact, the companies showing high-end audio/video receivers we spoke with said their 2017 models were likely not made with the necessary hardware to support a firmware update for the system. Representatives from the HDMI Forum working on completing the spec said that “the new specification will be available to all HDMI 2.0 adopters and they will be notified when it is released in the second half of 2017.”

No additional information is available yet, but rather than hurrying up and waiting, as we have all done countless times in the past, system integrators were urged to make customers aware that there is no need to put off video, television or home theater audio component or system purchases today.  Yes, the new interface is expected to bring a variety of new features and capabilities, including support for 8K video, some newer HDR formats and features, and a new Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), which will support some of the latest lossless and object-based audio formats, among other things. But in the interim, the latest HDMI 2.0b interface is expected to satisfy most near-term features, benefits, and services without becoming obsolete in the foreseeable future. So, there’s no sense in anyone depriving themselves of the pleasurable experiences the latest and greatest technologies are delivering right now.

Hi-Res Audio Continues To Seek Support: Audio manufacturers and recording companies continued to push and promote new systems supporting any of the number of audio formats capable of distributing so-called digital high-resolution audio that preserves much of the data lost when content is digital compressed for storage and streaming. At CEDIA, executives with MQA, the developers of a new Hi-Res digital storage and distribution format, celebrated the fat that its platform is now being used as an option with music streaming services Tidal and Deezer. A panel discussion at the show revealed that more and more Millennials and Generation Z’ers are beginning to appreciate the benefits of music they can hear and feel in full form, just as it was recorded in the studio by their favorite artists.

Indeed, despite the perception that the mainstream music industry is dead, survey findings presented at the session indicate music is still essential with many younger adults and teenagers and that there are thousands of new and emerging artists resonating with these new audiences.

Integrators were urged to heed those findings when installing new music systems and to understand the importance of keeping mobile devices a central platform when designing and installing music and AV systems for the home and elsewhere.

 All That And Flat Panel Too: When it comes to television and video products and technologies, historically, CEDIA has been the showcase mainly for video projectors. With companies including Sony, Samsung, LG, Bang & Olufsen, Hisense, TCL, Seura, peerless-AV, Mirage and others offering flat-panel displays in their booths, CEDIA was very much a flat-panel showcase this year. Among the brand new highlights were the B&O- and LG-co-developed BeoVision Eclipse 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with optional wall mount or a motorized, pivoting stand and integrated soundbar.


By Greg Tarr


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