A continuing emphasis on education and a fresh influx of foreign visitors is keeping CEDIA's US Expo in rude health. Margot Douaihy reports from Denver, Colorado, on the custom industry's most significant annual showcase.
With attendance at an all-time high and growing interest from mainstream consumers, CEDIA's US Expo, held earlier this month in Denver, continues to act as the primary resource for home systems integrators. The international showcase is the gathering place of leading residential technology manufacturers, and the primary launchpad for custom products. The show is also expanding its global reach; attendees from 30 countries met in Denver. CEDIA UK and Integrated Systems Europe both had a large presence; CEDIA UK's operations manager Matt Nimmons was on hand to share information about initiatives and opportunities across Europe for custom professionals.
Randy Stearns, CEDIA Expo chair, says: "This has been the biggest event in the organisation's history and we are doing the best to service our membership of installers in every area, specifically education."
Steve Simmons, an installer with Safe and Sound Systems, a custom integrator based in Draper, Utah, came to CEDIA primarily for education classes. He received Installer Level 1 Certification recently. "Expo is the best way to learn about new technology and programming," he says. Simmons' firm is the biggest Control4 dealer in his area, and primarily works in medium-sized home integration projects - the sector of the market which, it is generally agreed, the industry needs to focus on if it is to continue to grow.
Home automation was a hot topic at the show, specifically platforms involving TCP/IP. The popularity of IP-based products at Expo served to underline the fact that Ethernet connectivity has become - or will soon be - integral to the way we experience consumer electronics in the home. The CEDIA Expo show floor was buzzing with traditional manufacturers making their first foray into TCP/IP, as well as companies like NetStreams, which attract dealers with products that exploit the flexibility and cost benefits of IP control.
Despite the momentum, however, a stroll across the show floor reveals that the road to the digitally connected home is not yet fully paved. Security and fidelity are still considered barriers, and formidable ones at that. And the majority of audio distribution systems continue to send to multiple zones over analogue platforms.
But even reticent custom installers who have little in the way of a data or IT background admit that the digital home infrastructure makes good business sense, offering as it does a way to increase the scope of custom offerings. In a period of increased competition, this could be a differentiation point. The ability to use web-enabled peripherals such as PDAs as subsystem controllers gives installers more options for customisation.
More and more IP-equipped products are available for middle-market, mesh-networking projects, and the number of IP-friendly manufacturers continues to grow. This availability, compounded by growing interest from builders and architects, is opening up new opportunities for systems integrators.
Media servers are also creating big buzz. "Media servers are a gateway product," Stearns says. "And this year's generation have more protection than ever before." But, according to Stearns, what is expanding the market more than a specific product is the general recognition that people and technology are becoming happier bedfellows: "People are looking for ways to live better with technology."
Expo is also poised to address the market influence of broadband. "Broadband is a utility, just like a water system," CEDIA president Andy Wilcox adds. Content and services delivered via broadband, such as VoIP, offer further revenue potential for custom integrators.
Recent data estimates that the sales in the residential systems industry will top $8billion in the US by 2007.