This month’s article is a continuation of our take on consumer electronics based on our attendance at the CEDIA conference in September.
One major theme jumped out to us, and most likely everyone, at CEDIA this year. Voice control seemed to be at every booth. It appears every manufacturer of electronic components and ancillary equipment have been working on getting their products integrated in some capacity with Google Home or Amazon Echo.
One interesting product was an assembly that allows you to mount your Amazon Echo in the ceiling just like you would a speaker. We liked the idea, but it could be an inconvenience to power reset the device, which we all know has to be done on occasion.
It seems like all of the other devices (TVs, Music Players, etc.) on display have some sort of interface that ties into these voice control systems. The purpose is to make simple actions like turning them on/off, adjusting the volume and channel as simple as saying “Alexa. Turn on Living Room TV”, “Alexa. Tune Living Room TV to channel 504”, “Alexa. Adjust volume to level 40”. Those are the commands that you must say in that exact syntax if you want those things to happen. We anticipate many consumers would rather just grab the handheld remote and press a button. But, it is available if you prefer voice control. Keep in mind, your devices must support being controlled by the Amazon Echo or Google Home, so if they don’t, you will need to upgrade those as well.
4K video was everywhere. We love the picture that TVs and projectors can now produce. “Stunning” is the best word to describe a 4K image. There are a few things to keep in mind to see that image. First, for the eye to really see the benefit of the 4K picture it needs to be displayed on a screen 65″ or larger. The human eye has a very hard time telling the difference between a 1080P image and a 4K image when displayed on screens smaller than 65″. Second, the reality is that a lot of components that were installed just 1 or 2 years ago will not pass a 4K video signal. If even one component such as a 3 ft. HDMI jumper cable does not conform to the 4K standards, the equipment will step down to a lower resolution. When you think 4K you have to think of changing more than just the device that is displaying the image. Finally keep in mind that 4K starts at the camera. “Gone With The Wind” will never be a 4K movie. Only movies produced in the last few years have the capability to be shown in 4K because they were filmed in 4K. If you are looking for live video in 4K, you probably won’t see it for quite some time. It is a HUGE investment in camera and broadcasting equipment. Most TV production companies are still writing down their investment into 1080P equipment.
One overall topic that was talked about a lot at CEDUA, but was not prominently displayed is networking equipment. All of the latest devices such as voice control systems and streaming of content will experience problems without a rock solid network foundation to operate on. The most reliable network infrastructure is hardwired using category 5e/6 cable but almost everything is being advertised using Wi-Fi connectivity. Wi-Fi is great for what it was originally intended for which is the mobility of devices. But WiFi is not the best thing to use if you need “always works” stability because it can be impacted by so many external things. The good news is that there are enhancements coming out for Wi-Fi.
Currently there are some new “Mesh Networking” devices on the market that perform well and are easy to deploy. However, a problem with mesh networks arose while at the show. It seems that the RING doorbell will not work with mesh networks. Hopefully that will be fixed in the near future by RING.
Another change is something called MU-MIMO. Multi User-Multi Input Multi Output. Currently Wi-Fi routers/access points only talk to 1 device at a time. (Yes only 1 device. Don’t fall for some of the advertising that states otherwise.) It has been this way since 1997 when the 802.11 standard for Wi-Fi was ratified by the IEEE. MU-MIMO will allow multiple devices to talk to a router/access point simultaneously. The catch is that the communicating device must also support MU-MIMO. Almost all of the devices, including the top shelf laptops, do not support MU-MIMO. The unanswered question at this point is; will the devices be up-gradable by a firmware upgrade or will a hardware change need to be made? We will let you know when we know.
We hope you enjoyed our look at some of the interesting things happening in the consumer electronics industry and that you think about these pros and cons when shopping this holiday season.