Connected Home Conference 2003

Rob Mouser reviews the Connected Home Conference that was held in London in September 2003 – What is it about trade events? You never quite know what you’re going to get when you arrive. But lets face it for us UKHA folk the subject matter is enough to get us reaching for our credit cards for that ticket!  Well yes I was there and for the benefit of those who did not go I have written a brief (OK, not so brief!) report…

So what was it like? – Well the first point to note is that there was precisely ONE exhibitor stand (Out of the THREE!) with anything to demonstrate. That honour goes to Opus Systems who had a stand with their multi-room audio product (OPUS WEBSITE).

So firstly lets talk about that. I’m fairly familiar with the Opus product and had the chance to demo an early install some 12 or more months ago. The product was originally launched under the Mordant Short brand which is part of Julian Richers empire of audio companies and off course his pile it high discount Hi-Fi stores.

OPUS links your home entertainment equipment via a discretely situated Master Control Unit (MCU) to a number of zones around your home (e.g. bedrooms or reception rooms) and sub-zones (e.g. en-suite bathrooms). These are individually accessed and controlled using Wall Control Units and System Remote Controls. This wall pad is one of the nicest looking units from any of the multi room product stables with its cool blue backlight and clear LCD display. One very nice feature is that it shows relevant RDS data when using the tuner so you actually know what your listening to.

To connect these components together a specially developed balanced transmission cable is used, which, unlike most multi room systems, requires only a single run of cable to carry audio, data and power to and from each zone. This is achieved by having a discrete zone amplifier that sits in your ceiling void keeping your speaker wire runs short. It also gives the added flexibility of allowing more powerful amplifiers in larger or difficult zones. The amplifier units have also been carefully designed so they fit through the speaker cut out making retro fitting simpler.

Opus are heavily targeting this product at the new house builders across Europe and have schemes where builders can pre-wire their homes with their unique single run cable. As added temptation to the prospective new home owner the builder/developer can choose to install ‘dummy’ wall pads which look identical to the real thing but simply have a message in the section for the LCD panel saying “To enable your multi room Hi-Fi call this number” which I personally think is a great idea. Unfortunately the take up by the UK house build industry (Who are traditionally pre-historic in their attitudes to any thing new.) has been slow.

So who was there? – Well firstly in terms of delegates there were approximately 100 people on the first day and 75 on the second. Those there were without question all from trades in the connected home marketplace with a definite lean heavily towards software developers. I also got the impression that a number of people were guest listed from the companies of the speakers.

In terms of speakers there was a good mix of delegates from a number of different disciplines. I have to admit a number of the speakers were really quite poor and did little to excite the delegates. Perhaps the most disappointing factor was the distinct lack of kit on show. Only Intel actually had something physical to demonstrate, everyone else was the defacto Power Point presentation and lots of words.

A little more detail – Below I’ve summarised some points from what I considered to be the key speakers. But first let me tell you the overriding message that came from the conference:

“The connected home is coming, its going to be as big as the emergence of the mobile phone industry” – 
“Opus say that the multi-room audio market ALONE will be worth 400 million US Dollars by 2009 in Europe alone.” When is it coming? Well for us ‘Early Adopter’ its here now but most at the conference it was one of the many points where no one could agree. Take your pick. Somewhere between 2 and 10 years from now!  If however it is going to succeed it needs to become a lot simpler. The BBC summed up the need for simplicity by showing this one picture:

“The Connected Home has got to be as simple to use as this”

Connected Home 2004, should I go? – Well that depends. If you’re reading this because you have a more than a passing commercial interest in the Connected/Automated Home market place then, yes. If you’re an enthusiastic DIY’er, propeller head, geek, guru or just plain nuts about gadgets then, No. Your just not going to see enough toys in the flesh to excite you.   If this year is anything to go by you need to have a serious commercial interest in the emerging market place to gain any benefit.  OK so on to the speakers:

Director of Home Communications, BT – The opening speaker of the event and for me the most coherent speaker over the two days.
So just what is home automation?  Well BT’s interpretation is:

“Connecting things together simply and wherever I want” – I guess not surprisingly BT believes that Home Automation is all about broadband technology and the internet. The speaker practically oozed excitement about the coming of the “Broadband Ecosystem” in our homes and yes, you guessed it! BT want to be the one supplying you the service. Interestingly they also have clear plans to play a major part in structured CAT5 cabling as a natural extension of their engineers portfolio into our homes. In fact BT (Or at least this speaker.) clearly believe that wireless technologies wont take off and that fixed wire is the future.

So what do we want from Home Automation? – Well according to BT the Broadband Ecosystem falls into 4 key areas:

Play Work Relax Monitor – According to BT the UK public at large currently fall into 4 categories:
RESCUE ME: 25% of UK households have 2+ PC’s. 50% of these households fight over internet access!
EXCITE ME: Give me laptop freedom. Give me Music, Video and Gaming.
REASURE ME: I’m scared! What about all these new wires in my home? What about security, will my house be disabled by a virus? Are the microwaves from all this wireless technology going to fry my brain?

So are we going to pay? – Well according to BT’s consumer research our spending habits follow this trend:

So the message is clear; If its fun we’ll open our wallets!

The Killer Application!? – There was a lot of talk at the conference on this subject. So does the killer Home Automation application exist and what is it? Well according to BT, NO!

The only product they talked of was what they described as the “Letterbox Printer” which apparently is nothing more than a concept devise at this stage. The picture was of what looked like a traditional letter box but it concealed a thermal roll printer which spewed out electronic mail onto your door mat. I’m not even going to comment!

Digital Home Marketing Manager, EMEA, Intel – As I mentioned earlier Intel deserve a mention if only because they were the only ones brave enough to actually demonstrate one of their products. Although it has to be said hardly anything ‘cutting edge’ for us die hard HA enthusiasts!

Presented as the “Intel My iHome” it was a wi-fi enabled (802.11b) digital media centre. Capable of streaming video, music, photos and internet across your wi-fi network in your home and onto your TV set. All neatly controlled by an infra red remote.
Was it anything special? Well to be honest no not really and similar offerings have been launched by nearly every other manufacturer over the past few months. Its user interface showed remarkable similarities to the new Microsoft Windows XP Media Centre Edition.
Did it work? Well yes. Although the 30 seconds movie trailer was not enough to really test its application!

Hang on! BT said that the future is not wireless? – Ah you noticed! Well according to Intel the future IS wireless.This is an important point to make. Not one manufacturer or speaker over the two days agreed on anything! It is clear that the market still has a lot of growing up to do and each manufacturer has their own ideas, agenda and take on the market place.

So what about the killer application? Does Intel believe it exists? – Well, no not yet. But apparently when it arrives it will be made by Intel or have Intel inside!

Director of Standards Realisation, Motorola & President, OSGi – “The OSGi Alliance is an open forum. Our mission is to specify, create, advance, and promote an open Service Platform for the delivery and management of multiple applications and services to all types of networked devices in home, vehicle, mobile and other environments.”

Ok firstly this speaker gets a mention purely for the sheer weight of data and market research on the Connected Home marketplace presented. Both speakers representing the OSGi alliance fell squarely into the category of “Home Automation Evangelists”!

Trust them here, the future is Home Automation! Be prepared for the domination of the IT world and the biggest thing since the mobile phone.
I’m really not going to go into detail about OSGi (Partly as I’m no IT guru!) so if ou want to know more take a look at their WEBSITE.

OK here we go, below are some sound bites from the presentation. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

  • There will be 117million broadband enabled homes in the UK by 2005 and 75% of them will have a home network.
  • By 2005 20% of ALL homes in the UK will have a home network.
  • Services need to be relevant. People buy on the basis of need or desire.
  • Above all people buy media and entertainment.

The speaker also outlined their work with IBM in the creation of a Smart Home village in Virginia USA were they have tried to encompass a goal of Energy savings, Insurance cost savings and above all convenience.

What about the killer application? – Well for the OSGi its apparently here and is recently patented solution by a US company called Open Peak who have developed a 802.11 to IR bridge as used in the new Philips iPronto. Read more about it HERE.

Head of Corporate Communications, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe – Well you will be surprised to know that Sony believe the future of Home Automation is…..YES you guessed it the GAMES CONSOLE! A brief mention was made about the now released PSx console form Sony which is a games console, PVR and media server all in one box. You can read a more detailed review HERE.

One thing this speaker did hit home hard was what their consumer research had found. In summary their finders were that the consumer buying Home Automation products want technology that is:

  • Easy to program
  • Single means of access
  • Affordable
  • Aspirational
  • Offer compelling content or solutions
  • Smarter
  • Sexier
  • Safer
  • Synchronisedbut above all………

MORE FUN! – OK, OK tell me about the killer application!Need you ask? The PSx off course! Actually no. In Sony’s eyes the killer app in Home Automation will be “Time Shifting” yes your good old hard disc based personal video recorder.

Hang on though Tivo is already here? Well according to Sony the Tivo failed to succeed in the UK market because: “They marketed the technology NOT the benefits to the consumer”

SummaryWell there you go. I could carry on writing for pages and pages about the hundreds of issues and opinions raised but I hope I’ve given a good overview. As I said at the begging

“its coming, its gona be BIG!” – How big? Well who knows, depends who you talk too. But trust me! We are not talking “flash in the pan” here. There is just too many major players investing too many corporate millions being spent in convincing the consumer that we need and want it. And if I’m wrong? Well I’ll eat my iPAQ!

Be the first to comment on "Connected Home Conference 2003"

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.