You can learn a lot from CEDIA

“Whether we like it or not, we’re a proving ground for the masses.”
– Dave Pedigo, CEDIA Senior Director of Learning and Emerging Technologies

Virtual golf booth at 2013

One of four virtual golf products I saw at CEDIA Expo 2013

At first glance, the CEDIA Expo, held in Denver last week, might not look all that relevant to those of us who are more interested in finding new ways to watch TV than in where to buy rows of theater seats. Pedigo, speaking at a panel discussion sponsored by Dish Network, summed up the counterargument in that sentence. Today’s 4K video upconverters are tomorrow’s $40 Walmart DVD players. Okay, maybe day after tomorrow.

CEDIA stands for the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. These are the people who assemble and install wonderful entertainment goodies in the houses and mansions of clients who can afford the very best. They’re the type of folks who think that a $4000 Kaleidescape movie server would be a good fit for their home theater project. As a rep at the Dish booth told me, “This is not our typical customer.”

Pedigo’s statement also contained another truth – today’s new tech standard might be tomorrow’s Betamax. Already buzzards are circling around 3D TV, the tech darling of 2010. (I think that 3D will come back strong once it works out glasses-free, big-screen displays, but it’s not here yet.) Standards and technologies that are only recently available will be what we live with 10 or 20 years from now.

“Good design is about removing complexity from users’ lives.”
– Zean Nielsen, President of Bang & Olufsen America

Bang & Olufsen announced at its CEDIA press conference that it will be the first to launch a product certified by the Wireless Speaker & Audio (WiSA) Association. According to the WiSA site, it’s “an industry group dedicated to promoting the adoption of WiSA-compliant wireless audio technology.” That should give you a good hint about the nature of that product, for which I’m under an NDA until October 30.

I mention that announcement as another good example of what’s going on here. Companies line up behind different standards, and some of those standards are destined to be ubiquitous in a few years. Sure the prices are not those experienced by the median Dish customer. (A Sound & Vision magazine distributed at CEDIA Expo raved about the “crazy-affordable” Fluance XL7F speaker system, available at the “unbelievably low price” of $800.) But their wave of influence will reach that average Joe eventually.

“Convenience is Number One for consumers. Give them the best product so they won’t look elsewhere.”
– Vivek Khemka, Dish Senior Vice President of Product Management

SonyBlurWhat more can I tell you? Here are more of my notes:

  • More than 470 exhibitors and 17,900 attendees from 84 countries attended CEDIA Expo this year. That’s about an eighth of the International CES’s numbers from January. In almost every way, CEDIA Expo resembled a scaled-down CES, except that its training sessions seemed a lot more down to earth. Teaching real installers how to work with different technologies is useful no matter where you are.
  • Sony held its press conference in its 4K demonstration theater on the CEDIA Expo exhibit hall floor just as the show opened. Around 35 guys crowded into a black room designed to seat 20. As the Sony reps began to show off their newest and most dazzling products, the convention’s announcer’s voice boomed around us that CEDIA 2013 was underway. Even as the screen in the dark room showed the amazing glitter of the Carnaval in Rio (captured to the best of my iPhone’s ability here), we heard the swarms of conventioneers passing within a few feet of its walls. It felt as though we were taking cover from a hurricane in a packed storm shelter.
  • Dish Network opened the APIs for its Hopper, and that effort began to pay off as it announced its upcoming integration with Control4, one of the leading home automation and control companies. Dish promised that it will be working with more partners soon. As a Dish shareholder, I’m glad to see it go after this high-end market.
  • Only one exhibitor even mentioned over-the-air TV. Veteran satellite and OTA antenna manufacturer Winegard had a small booth to promote its new FlatWave AIR outdoor amplified antenna. On the other hand, TiVo was promoting its Roamio line of DVRs. Unlike the TiVo models that I fell in love with a decade ago, the Roamios have no OTA inputs.
  • On a related note, Bruce Leichtman of Leichtman Research Group pointed out that those early TiVo models, which were so influential and game-changing when they were introduced, never reached more than 2 percent of TV households, while today over half of households use a DVR. The lesson there is “consumers like it better when it’s incorporated in their receiver.” Personally, I can just imagine the sea change once a serious over-the-top service gets integrated with a standard pay-TV receiver. Dish Anywhere and Roku are closing in on this idea from different directions. Who will be the first provider to include include dozens of OTT-delivered channels in its receiver’s live TV guide?