SmartHome Show 2006 – Review

The SmartHome Show 2006 took place in the NEC in Birmingham over the 2nd to the 5th of March.

AV was once again a large component of the exhibition and the ubiquitous flat screen LCD’s and Plasmas seemed to be on every stand. However there was also plenty of lighting control, home networking, whole house audio and cctv/security too. – The Simply Sonos stand was a busy place and Simon Lever was evangelising the benefits of the system. He was preaching to the converted in our case as Automated Home awarded the Sonos system our first ever “Top Tech” in our long-term review last year. The little ZP80 un-amplified zoneplayer was there and is even smaller and cuter in the flesh than in the photos I’d seen. ZP80s should be available in the UK in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately there’s no good news on the Rhapsody service coming to Sonos users in the UK yet. It seems rights issues are continuing to keep this excellent subscription service away from our shores. Our American cousins have access to the 1.5 million tracks for $10 a month!

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Simply automate showed off their latest incarnation of the Harmony touchscreen, interestingly running on Linux from a CF card. Their MCE interface was on show too and their newly named installation wing – Smart House with its innovative Menu pricing allowed the uninitiated to get an idea of how far their budget would go. Their new website and brochure covers almost a dozen key areas for home owners to consider. Also on display was a pre-production sample of a new switch being developed by simply for use with Harmony and Dupline. Mark Harrison commented that a lot of smart home retailers are selling “Rolls Royce” solutions. Simply are aiming at the much more affordable and subsequently larger end of the market.

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(Click pic to Enlarge) – Being a subscriber to T3 magazine since issue 1, I was delighted to bump into James Beechinor Collins, editor of the world famous gadget magazine. James showed us the new Sky HD box that was creating a lot of interest on the T3 stand. Of course like all techies we were more interested in the rear of the device than its surprisingly attractive black and silver front. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to photograph the back of the box, but I can confirm there were analogue HD connections, USB, Ethernet, HDMI and a SATA connector. Apparently Sky are being so protective of the box at present they had it collect from the stand each night and returned the next morning!

(Click pic to Enlarge) – Andy and John showed us the latest version 6 of their distributed automation product – The Webbrick. The enthusiasm from the webbrick guys is infectious and they showed us an array of sample applications for the device on their stand. The new webbrick is a much nicer package and the guys have gone to great lengths to improve the design, allowing it to pass all the latest and most stringent test as well as adding the phoenix screw terminals preferred by installers.

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(Click pic to Enlarge) – Chris White’s stand showed a selection of the products from various suppliers.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – The USD stand was most attractive. Suppliers of whole-house audio, video and electronic lighting automation systems, USD were showing a range of devices from Niko. They also had a nice ceiling mount “body drier”. Like a large version of a hand drier that you stand underneath after getting out of the shower, it blasts you with huge volumes of warm air drying you with the minimum of effort.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – Invision UK showed the range of Harmony remotes. They were also selling from the stand. I’ve yet to try a Harmony remote, but my own Prontos are setup in the “activity” based system that Harmony uses.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – Installers, MACAudioA were showing Control4, an American system just arriving in the UK with a similar looking interface to Windows media center edition, but running on a dedicated (non-windows) box. At around £2,000 for the controller it should be of interest to those with a medium sized budget.

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(Click pic to Enlarge) – Automatic Buildings are an installation company based in Birmingham. I was interested to see their display of Dupline products, this is the first time I’ve had a look at this range. Interestingly the standard controller is equipped with a GSM module giving SMS control of the home as well as allowing the home to send event information directly to your mobile back.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – The Seimens EIB truck that attended our UKHA2004 event was present again this year. In addition there were around half a dozen other stands showing EIB, a noticeable increase from last year. Colin Price from Ivory Egg ran us through the comprehensive offering from his company. It was good to see a range of options from these guys. There are systems available with reduced functionality for home owners with more basic expectations. As Colin comment, even moving up to a simple dimmable system is a big step up for most people. Of course a “full-on” feature rich system is available too. This beautiful little door entry system from German company Gira caught our eye.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – We spent some time on the Sensible Heat stand where there were several interesting products like the £100 wireless zone radiator valve pictured. No wiring required at all, even the motor is powered by the 2 x AA cells and according to David Robinson the battery life is around 2 years! This seems like a great way to retro-fit zoned heating to any property. Also on show was a neat system that included the option of a telephone interface, making it ideal for controlling the heating in a holiday home. A web interface for the system is also available.

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(Click pic to Enlarge) – David Free’s stand was one to visit if you’d like to hide your flat telly away. You can buy a lifting system to conceal your panel, or opt for an entire fireplace complete with coloured lighting. Prices range from around £2,000 to around £5,000.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – An alternative to hiding your screen away is to use one of the many Mirror TVs around. These seemed to be everywhere at the show this year, there was even a towel drier/radiator on show with built in mirror telly. Mirror Medias TV start at around £1,500 and go up to around £7,000 for the huge 55″ screen.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – Thinking Bricks are an installation company selling solutions rather than products. The wall mount for the iPod allows it to serve the entire home in a whole house audio setup.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – We sat in on one of the expert seminars. Frank from IP HomeNet presented on “Home Networking”. There was lots of good advice for the uninitiated. “You can never have enough CAT5”, now where have I heard that before. These seminars really are invaluable for self builders who probably have no interest in the technology, but want the benefits they bring.

(Click pic to Enlarge) – Crestron are one of those companies where I always get the impression if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it. But as ever there is always plenty of room to dream of what to buy if your numbers ever come up on a Saturday night. This Crestron 15″ touchscreen was absolutely gorgeous, but at around £10,000 it’s the price of a small family hatchback. The smaller wall mount screens were around £1,000.

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(Click pic to Enlarge) – Abitana was one of many mini-rack distribution systems on display (another notable device was the “CHRIS” system on a couple of other stands). These dinky little racks are very neat, and just the sort of thing I would be encouraging any “normal” person to install in a new build (19″ racks are only required for the hard-core enthusiast or millionaire having a large pro-installation). Minitran also showed you can get a faceplate for pretty much everything these days, from F-Types to Fiber. Also on the stand was a nice 1U plate from Hubble that allows you to create your own custom patch panels for practically anything.

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This biometric door lock system was on display, interesting if a little unwieldy.

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While a couple of stands had small displays of Clipsals C-Bus products it was once again disappointing to see no proper stand from Clipsal UK at the show.

This years show wasn’t double the size of last year inaugural event as promised. Organisers say there was 20% more space, although the aisles were wide and stands mostly bigger than last time so I’m not sure if there were many more exhibitors. Despite this initial disappointment the show had around 60 stands with mix of high end and more mainstream products.

I’m sitting in the departure lounge waiting for my flight home as I type this on my O2 XDA Exec (what a superbly useable keyboard for such a tiny device). Resting my weary feet from two days at the smart home show, meeting lots of old friends and marvelling at the huge choice available in smart home kit these days.

Once again the SmartHome Show proved to be a very worthwhile experience for anyone interested in adding automation or entertainment technologies to their property. Hopefully next year’s event will add even more stands and a few more products aimed at the enthusiastic the mix.

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1 Comment on "SmartHome Show 2006 – Review"

  1. Best company ever Invision UK, love using its products

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